Too Many Phonics Rules, Too Little Time

Secret Stories® Phonics "oo" Secret!
Dear Katie,
I have been a Reading Specialist for thirty years, as well as an adjunct university professor. I have enjoyed great success with the Secret Stories, and my kindergarten through fifth grade students have had such an easy time mastering them and their reading levels have soared! Have you ever thought about adding more Secrets? For example, what about for these patterns, below?
—dge (as in edge)
—tch (as in catch)
—que (as in question)
—old (as in hold)
—ost (as in most)
—ind (as in kind)
—ink (as in link)
—ild (as in wild)
—ture (as in adventure)
—one (as in honk)
—unk (as in trunk)
—olt (as in bolt)
—stle (as in whistle)
—ank (as in bank)
—ive (as in give)
And finally, what are some good books and/or materials to use with, as well as to reinforce the Secret Stories? 
Best,
Laura B., Reading Specialist
Laura also send a little note from Ella, who asked me to write more stories, and also let me know that her favorite Secret Story was the secret about /th/, which is just too cute!
We had fun learning the Secret Stories.
Can you write (more) stories? My favorite is TH!”
From Ella 
I LOVE questions like these, so thank you to Laura and Ella for reaching out to ask them! Questions like this provide the perfect opportunity for me to open up a big can of worms when it comes to the way we traditionally think about phonics and reading instruction, in general.

Secret Stories® is not like traditional phonics, nor is it like any phonics program. The Secrets simply put meaning where there would otherwise be none, so as to shift instruction from brain antagonistic to brain compatible!

Secret Stories Phonics — Accelerated Access to the Phonics Code

Our brain is a pattern-making machine, and Secret Stories® feeds its craving to make sense of letter sound behavior in a way that very young (and upper grade, struggling) readers can easily understand. The rule of thumb when creating the Secrets was not to align them with traditional phonics rules, but with the brain science. The Secrets are tools, not rules, which means that they are designed for the sole purpose of helping kids crack words apart (decoding/reading) and put them back together (encoding/writing.) 

Secret Stories® Phonics— The Brain is a Pattern-Making Machine!

How to Predict the Most Likely Sounds of Letters in Unknown Words

Take -le,  for example, as in words like little or middle. There is no Secret for the —le sound because it’s not necessary in to read the words— not if learners know that the e at the end won’t talk anyway (as Mommy e® only tells the vowel she can reach to say its name, but she has no sound!) Likewise, if a phonics pattern is so rare that it would be of minimal use to elementary grade level readers, then it is not addressed with a Secret. In such cases, experience is the best teacher, so the key is to get enough real skills under learners’ belts so that they can get up and running with text, and allow text experience to fine-tune learners’ skills. An example of this would be the silent t in words containing the -st or -stle pattern, as in whistle or listen. This sound spelling applies to so few words that it doesn’t merit the time and space it would take up in beginning or struggling readers’ brains. Moreover, learners how know just enough Secrets to read the rest of such words would likely be able to make the adustment to figure out the word.

The key to being able to successfully give beginning grade learners everything they need is not to burden them with anything they don’t need. (Sorry for the double negative, but hopefully you get the drift!) In simpler terms, don’t get caught up in the minutia. Focus on what really matters and allow text experience do the rest. It is a far better teacher than either you or I will ever be!

 

In addition to providing the logical explanations for letter sound behavior that the brain craves, Secret Stories® also account for the common “default” sounds of letters in text— all of which are embedded into the graphics anchor sound posters. Because these defaults follow the same social emotional “feeling” based logic that drives learners’ own behavior, even inexperienced, beginning (and upper grade, struggling) readers are can think-through the alternative sound behaviors of letters in text, rather than always having to memorize  them as “exceptions.” Filtering out the fringe and streamlining the most common letter sound behaviors serves to foster an “if not this, than that” hierarchy of likelihood, helping navigate learner decision-making with unfamiliar text.

So before I specifically address the potential new Secrets requested, it is important to understand that just as the apple won’t fall too far from the tree, the letters won’t stray too far from their sounds! This handy saying can be used to help both students and teachers, alike to convey the flexible thinking needed when working through various sound options of letters in text.

Secret Stories® Phonics— Thinking OUTSIDE the Box About Letter Behavior!

Working with text requires learners to think “outside the box,” something they cannot do if they don’t first know what’s IN it. The Secrets ensure that learners know everything that’s IN the box so that they can easily think outside of it, something that working with text, demands. Students as young as kindergarten are easily able to identify the most and next-most likely sounds of letters in words they’ve never seen— stretching their analytical thinking and problem solving capabilities far beyond just the Secrets!

This critical analysis and diagnostic thinking game takes the form of “What else can it be? What else can we try?”….. much like the deductive reasoning process that doctors must employ when attempting to diagnose symptoms that don’t always “present” in the way that they should.

Activating Social-Emotional Learning Channels for Higher Level Thinking

When learners are equipped with Secrets, they actually enjoy engaging with text in this way, which transforms daily reading and writing into a virtual playground for critical thinking and deep literacy learning!

exceptions to phonics rules

By anchoring abstract letter sound and phonics skills into social and emotional frameworks that are already deeply entrenched within the learner, they become personally meaningful and relevant.

Secret Stories® Phonics— GH "Thinking OUT of the BOX!" (No more sight words!)

Now, let’s attack that list of potential “new” Secrets and see if we really do need to “add a few more cooks” to our phonics kitchen!

-dge  (as in ridge, sludge, budget, etc…)

Secret Stories® Phonics— C E, CI CY/ GE, GI, GY
Secret Stories® CE, CI, CY/ GE, GI, GY

If kids know the ce, ci, cy/ ge, gi, gy Secret then the addition of the letter d should pose no problem when sounding out the word. Even if they include the d sound, they would still be able to “get” (recognize) the word. Additionally, the e at the end would also cause no worry, as kids who know the Secrets know that Mommy E® can only tell the vowel to say its name if she’s one letter away, close enough to reach it!

Therefore, creating a new Secret for the dge pattern is unnecessary and would only result in our having “one too many” cooks in our kitchen! That’s not to say that knowledge of -dge as a spelling pattern wouldn’t be useful to upper grade learners, abut the primary goal is to get kids reading.  All of the research shows that reading is by far the best teacher for fine-tuning spelling, and kids who know the Secrets will be able to that experience, tenfold!

Next up— 
-tch (as in: scratch, itch, crutch, etc…)
Same as above.  

If learners know the ch Secret, then initially attacking it with the t sound before the ch won’t interfere with a reader’s ability to ultimately decode the word, even for kindergartners.

-que (as in: question, delinquents, frequency, queen, etc…)
Secret Stories® Phonics— QU
Secret Stories® QU

Knowing the qu Secret is all that is needed here, along with recognizing that as with -dge, the e at the end makes no sound. And keep in mind that when working with words not of English origin, Secret Stories® will get you close, but not all the way, as the same rules don’t apply, as with words like: bouquet, applique, etc… 

-ive (as in: dive, give, active, lives, etc…)

The first word, dive poses no problem at all, as Mommy E® is doing just what she should, which is  in telling i (who’s one letter away) to say his name! However, in the other words— give, active and live — Mommy E® is just “too tired to care,” as sometimes mommies are! Which is why sometimes,  she’ll just sit back and let the vowels do whatever they want… because even moms aren’t perfect! It’s words like these that require kids to put on their “Dr. Hat” and think-through to the next most likely sound!

decoding exception words

-old (as in: bold, cold, mold, etc…)

This one’s easy, with the only possible glitch being that the letter o is making its long (Superhero) sound instead of the short and lazy one it’s supposed to when Mommy E® or the Babysitter Vowels®´aren’t around. Even still, simply encouraging learners to “think like doctors” and trying the next most likely sound for o will enable them to get the word.

Learn the “Secrets” about Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels® in the video below.

-olt (as in: bolt, molten, revolt, etc..)

Same as above.  

-ank (as in: bank, sank, ankle, etc…)
Same as above.  

Secret Stories® Phonics— Superhero Vowels®
Superhero O and his “short and lazy” disguise!

-ost (as in: cost, post, lost, most, etc…)
Same as above, as o should short and lazy, since there is no Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® in sight, so again, learners need to “think like doctors” and try both sounds to be sure, just like any good word doctor would do.

-ind (as in: kind, windy, find, Indian, etc…)
Same as above.  

-ild (as in: mild, wild, child, build, mildew, etc…)
Same as above.  

-onk (as in: honk, bonkers, donkey, monkey, etc..)
This is like those above, with the exception of words like monkey, in which the short o can sound more like short u. Rather than having to “hire another cook” for our kitchen,  there is actually a handy trick called “Thinking Vowels—Head-Bop” that takes care of this, as well as other seemingly non-decodable sight words, like: come, of, was, love, some, does, above, etc... You can read  about it here!

Secret Stories® Phonics— "Head-Bop" Trick for Fickle Vowels/ Easy Sight Word Reading
Click here to learn the “Thinking Vowels/Head-Bop” Trick for Fickle Vowels

While we have a trick for the words above, every now and then,  kids will need to use a little more elbow grease to “bend” the letter sounds and “get” the word. Practicing is very helpful and can actually be a lot of fun, and a great way to do it is to read the books Hungry Thing and Hungry Thing Returns by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler “What else could it be? What else can I try?” 

How to Read Words that are Exceptions

-unk (as in: bunk, chunk, dunk, etc…)
No secrets needed, as the letters are doing exactly what they should!

-ink (as in: sink, blink, drink, etc…)
One of my favorite Secrets is I tries E on for Size, and it’s all that’s needed to explain why i will sometimes make e’s sound instead of his own!

Secret Stories® Phonics— "I tries E on for size"
Secret Stories® “I tries E on for Size”
-ture (as in: future, mature, lecture, etc…)
This one’s easily taken care of with the ER, IR & UR- Secret, as the t just makes its regular sound, and like some of the other patterns above, Mommy E® is just hanging out at the end, doing nothing!
Secret Stories® Phonics— ER IR UR
Secret Stories® ER, IR, UR
It’s so easy that not only can kindergartners do it, they can TEACH it!

-stle (as in: wrestle, castle, jostle, listless, etc…)

Reading Hard Words Can Be Easy, If You Know the “Secrets”

As mentioned earlier in this post, this pattern occurs too infrequently to mandate having another cook in our kitchen.  And even though Mommy E® is at the end, she isn’t interfering with how the word is sounded out, as she’s too far away to reach the vowel and make it say its name, anyway. And as for the silent t, even if learners did include it when sounding out the word, they should still be able to “get” (recognize) the word. It really doesn’t take much deductive reasoning (even for kinders!) to sound out a word like castle (with the t-sound) and be able to figure out that the word is actually castle (without the t sound)

Fostering this fluid and flexible thinking about letters and the sounds they make is what helps to  transform daily reading and writing into a playground of critical thinking and deep learning opportunities! And while the kids enjoy seeing the Secrets work, they have much MORE fun playing word doctor when they don’t— trying to figure out what else the letters might are doing and how best to tackle them! And as the more they engage, the more powerful they feel when working with text, and the more their confidence grows across the instructional day! they  over text grows by the day,

This is easy to see when watching these first graders at work, trying to account for why the i is long in words like light, right and fight, when there is no Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® there to make it say its name!  (This clip of Mrs. Mac’s class is one of my favorites!)

Former early grade teacher turned Harvard University Neuroscientist, Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang sums up what is evident in the short video clip above, which is that, “It is neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care about.”  These kids really care! Not about long and short vowels, but about mommies, babysitters, vacations, the behavior of other kids, etc… all of which are woven into the Secret that they are passionately debating in the word light.  
Secret Stories® Phonics— Apathy to Engagement
Now for the final part of Laura’s question regarding what books are best to use with Secret Stories®. That one’s easy— anything and everything! Books, magazines, posters, road signs, cafeteria menus, logos, etc…. literally everything with text is fair game!
The daily course of your instruction will dictate much of what kids are reading and writing each day, as Secrets are introduced in context of daily instruction across the course of the entire instructional day— whenever and wherever they are needed! From hallway signs to cafeteria menus to math books, Secrets are everywhere, just waiting to be discovered!
Secrets are easily introduced and reinforced with any text, and are especially helpful during guided reading. I have created a limited set of Secret Stories® Guided Readers to help teachers when working with guided groups and helping learners use the Secrets to decode text. These are especially helpful as they include an additional version with the Secrets in the text to help build learners’ visual acuity for easier pattern recognition, as well as teacher notes for added insights (similar to those made in this post) to help guide teachers through the process of helping learners when decoding trickier words.  It’s as if I were sitting right beside you and your students at the guided reading table! :-)
Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Readers
Access the Complete Set in the Guided Reader Description 
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® “Appetizer” Anchor Phonics Posters!

Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

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Everything You Need to Know

I love watching the kids use our Secret posters on the wall to read and write whatever they want. It’s amazing what our youngest learners can do and how easily they can do it when we just give them the tools they need and let them ‘play!’

Which Posters/ Kit Should I Get?

FOR USE IN PRIMARY CLASSROOMS (K-2)
If you teach at the primary grade levels, it’s important that students have easy visual access to the posters from anywhere and everywhere they read and write in the classroom. This means that they need to be large enough for them to easily see, as they will be their lifeline for reading and writing ALL. DAY. LONG. That’s why I don’t recommend the Space-Saver Kit for use at the early grade levels. They are just too small for whole-class reference, and if kids can’t see them, they won’t use them. For primary grades, the Original, Fun & Funky and Decorative Squares Kits all work perfectly….as do the Porta-Pics for individual student reference in school and at home (if kids don’t eat them!)



INTERMEDIATE GRADE & RESOURCE CLASSROOMS:
While the Space Saver Posters are too small to provide easy visual access for reading and writing in the primary classroom, they are ideal small group reference in upper/intermediate classrooms, as well as smaller resource rooms.
Porta-Pics are also ideal for use at these grade levels, and especially with students who move between the regular and resource classroom (SpEd, ESL, Speech, etc…) as well as for home use. (Note: If the majority of your students struggle with reading and writing, you should always default to the larger size posters, regardless of grade level.)
So now that you have you’ve got your posters, it’s time to laminate them and get them up on the wall!
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters

But which wall, and in what order? What is the best way to display my Secret Stories® posters?

The most frequently asked question I hear with regard to the posters,  especially when visiting schools for “back-to-school” in-service when teachers are setting up their classrooms, is “What’s the best way to hang the posters?”
The short answer is that there really isn’t a “best” way to hang them, but there are some tips and tricks to ensure that students get the most out of them.

phonics posters for reading

Do I really need to hang ALL of the posters on Day 1? 

This is critical and I can’t say it loud enough….Put up EVERY SINGLE POSTER on Day 1! Never wait until you introduce a Secret to hang it on the wall. Waiting to hang them until you teach them slows everything down, as you “can’t control the code” and shouldn’t try to. It will only slow things down and prevent students from driving their own learning.

Imagine going to a buffet and being told that dishes would be served one at a time, when they were ready. This would defeat the entire purpose of going to a buffet, where is you can have instant access to EVERYTHING….and with no designated waiting time! Otherwise, you might as well just go to a restaurant where you’re at the mercy of the waiter or waitress, who gets to decide “what” you can have and “when” you can have it. (Not to mention, the things you might not even know you want/need until you see them—like the cake you didn’t know you wanted until you saw it!)

3 Reasons Why You Need ALL of the Posters Up! 

  • You don’t know what you need until you need it!
    You never know what’s looming around the corner of your instructional day, as opportunities for sharing Secrets are everywhere, and you don’t want to miss them! Unlike phonics rules that you have to “teach,” Secrets are just stories that you share. And stories are harmless, with no expectations, so you don’t have to worry about whether kids are “ready” to hear them. Share them like keys to help kids unlock the words they’re already reading and writing across the day! And because the Secrets are embedded into social and emotional story-frameworks that kids already understand, they love hearing them and talking about them…. even before they begin using them to read and write. Whereas traditional phonics skill introduction takes 3-4 grade level years, you can share a Secret in an instant, years before it’s formal introduction on a grade level scope and sequence.
  • Empowering students to “drive” their own learning!
    Learner-driven instruction is a key tenet of brain based learning. When we WANT to know something, that information is marked for memory and prioritized learning in the brain. All you have to do to start the ball rolling is set the stage by letting kids know that anytime they can’t read or spell a word, it’s probably because there’s a “grown-up” reading secret in it that they don’t know! This not only helps them to understand and account for letters not making the sounds they’d expect, but also triggers a need to know the Secret! And most importantly, with all of the posters up, kids are able to verify that there IS a secret in the word they can’t read, as they can see the letters in the word are the same as the ones on the poster…and then ask you for it! Literally every time they see a letter not making the sound that it should, they know that’s one more Secret that you haven’t told them yet, and they demand to know what it is!
Phonics Connections
  • Increasing visual acuity for easy pattern recognition in text!
    Having all of the posters up requires students to visually scan all of the Secrets they don’t know in order to find the ones that they do every time they read and write. This continual scanning process serves to increase learners’ visual acuity so as to more easily recognize all of the patterns in text—even the ones they don’t know yet. That means that long before you actually share the Secret, the phonics pattern is incubating….like a classmate whose face you recognize, even though you don’t yet know his name!

Is there a special way to group the posters on the wall?

I recommend hanging all of the posters together on one wall (which will be your sound wall, or your “Wall of Secrets!”) That is, with the exception of the Superhero Vowel®, Sneaky Y® and QU posters, which should be hung above or in place of their “like-letters” in your existing classroom alphabet.
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— Superhero Vowels®
Superhero Vowels in Better AlphabetSecret Stories Phonics with Letterland
The purpose of this is to draw learners’ attention to their alternative sounds, as unlike most Secrets, which explain what letters do when they get together, these letters have their own individual Secrets! This allows for easier sound reference when singing The Better Alphabet Song, which is what’s used to fast-track individual letters sound mastery using muscle memory in just two weeks to two months. (Note: For the letter /Q/, I suggest using a permanent marker to write in the letter /u/ after the /q/ and referring to it as /qu/, as  /q/ never goes anywhere without /u/, and together they make ONE sound-  “kwa.” Even though the /qu/ poster will be hanging just above, it still helps to visually cement the two letters together into one for reading and spelling.)

Can I use my existing alphabet anchors?

The answer is yes, IF you they are “elephant-free” (Be sure to watch the video below to see what this means!)

Check over your existing alphabet anchors to make sure that the picture cues used for each letter accurately depict its most likely sound/sounds, as most do not. You might be surprised to discover lots “elephants” in your alphabet. If the letter /o/ in your alphabet has a picture of an orange or an oyster, that’s bad, as the letter /o/ (by itself) can only make two sounds— long (as in oak) and short (as in octopus). Equally concerning is if only ONE sound depiction for the vowels is shown, as kids need both to read and write!

Superhero Vowel A

Similarly, kids need to know both the hard and soft sounds of the letters /c/ and /g/ (as in cat/circus and goat/giraffe). Another letter to check is /x/, as often this letter is depicted with a xylophone or an x-ray—neither of which are sounds that /x/ is most likely to make. It’s most likely sound is “ks,” like in the words box and ox.

Better Alphabet Song Posters
better alphabet song poster g

For obvious reasons, instructional focus should always be on the most likely sound/sounds that letters make, not the least likely. 
All too often, a publisher (or TpT creator’s) priority is “pretty pictures” rather than accurate sound depictions.

Is there a Secret Stories® Alphabet?

Yes! I actually created the Secret Stories® Better Alphabet™ Anchors and individual student Mini-Mats for all of the reasons listed above. You don’t have to use them if your alphabet is “elephant-free,” as you have the Secret Stories® posters you need to use with your existing one. However, if elephants are everywhere, the Better Alphabet Anchors might just be the better option.

Due to the remote learning needs this year, I created a video version of the original Better Alphabet™ Song (which is song #1 on the CD or music download that came with your Secret Stories® kit). It’s been extremely helpful for online learning and student home practice, as the graphics are identical to the ones on the Better Alphabet™ anchors (and mini-mats) providing for consistent student reference. Like the Better Alphabet Anchors, you don’t need the video to sing the Better Alphabet Song that’s in your kit, but it is helpful, especially in remote learning. Below is a video about the Better Alphabet, as well as the video.


Click to view the Better Alphabet™ Video on TpT

Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Mini-Mat
Both the classroom anchors and individual student mini-mats are available in digital format, with the Superhero Vowels®, Sneaky Y® and /qu/ graphics already embedded so you don’t need to use the ones in your kit.
The digital Better Alphabet™ Anchors includes both the “red” and “decorative” versions (to match the Secret Stories® phonics posters) in multiple size options to create a horizontal and vertical alphabet (for easy singing of the lightning-fast Letter Runs!)
Multiple Size Options for Horizontal & Vertical DisplayBetter Alphabet Song Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet
Better Alphabet Veritcal

Where’s the best place to hang the posters in my classroom?

I can tell you from personal experience that finding a place where kids can easily see ALL of the posters from everywhere they read and write in the classroom is easier said than done! They will be referencing them constantly— in whole group, small group, circle time, centers, and of course reading and writing at their desks. The posters will be their “lifeline” for reading and writing across the entire instructional day!
If kids can’t see them easily, they will be constantly out of their seats to locate the the Secrets they need to read and spell words….and it will drive you crazy! It’s especially difficult in kindergarten and first grade classrooms, given how much “stuff” we have at the early grade levels, which makes easy visual access virtually impossible….aside from posting on the ceiling, which one teacher actually did!
Secret Stories Decorative Squares Phonics Posters
Don’t be afraid to try different spots if the current one isn’t ideal. My poor assistant moved ours several times before we finally found the perfect spot. (So be sure to bring your assistant a big, frothy Starbucks coffee when making these moves!) Also, keep in mind that if there is no perfect spot in your classroom where all of the kids can see all of the posters, the Porta-Pics are a great alternative, as kids can keep them in their reading/writing folders for individual access and use.

phonics cards

Phonics Games for Reading
Secret Stories® Phonics Porta-Pics for Portable Reference and Home Use

If my posters are all on the wall, what can I use for “hands-on” lessons and activities with the Secrets?

It’s always handy to have an extra set of Secret visuals on hand, not just for lessons, but also for games and activities. The best “hands-on” options are the Dual-Use Placards and Flashcards, as they are sturdy, small and convenient for student use. The small “cut-apart” cards in the back of the Secret Stories® book are also helpful for very small group work and one-on-one practice. You can view all of these below.

The “Dual-Use” Placards 

SIGHT WORDS AND PHONICS]

 

 

phonics rules in reading series

 

 

The Flashcardsphonics flashcards

 

phonics flashcards with kids

 

The “Cut-Apart” Cards 

In the back of the book are “cut-apart” cards for use very small groups and one-on-one work.

 

cut apart phonics cards

The “Cut-Apart” Cards in Back of Book

Phonics Cards

I have the “Original” posters, so do I need to cut them down?

Secret Stories Phonics Posters

Unlike the Fun & Funky  and  Space-Saver Phonics Posters, which both have a yellow border that separates them visually when hung together on the wall, the Original Posters were designed to be “cut-down” and clustered together, so as to take up less space on the wall, while still being large enough to see from anywhere in the primary classroom. 

Phonics Posters

“Creative-Cutting” Fun!

Without a definitive border, the phonics patterns on the Original posters can appear to run together when posted “as is” close together on the wall, which is why they should be cut and mounted on colored paper. When cutting the posters, you can make them as simple or as creative as you like!

If I upgrade my Kit, what can I do with my old Secret Stories® posters?

If you decide to upgrade your old Secret Stories® Kit, you can always use your old posters to make a “Big Book of Secrets” that students will LOVE! It can be taken home and shared with parents on a rotating basis, or even as a special reward! It’s also an ideal way to connect parents with the learning…and the Secrets!
Take-Home “Big Book” of Secrets
All you need to do is back your old posters on large sheets on construction paper, re-laminate the pages, and “bind” them together using ring hooks. (If you really want to get creative, you can cover the front and back page in foil and glue plastic gems and feathers to make your book look super “secret!”) And Voile! Your very own class “Book of Secrets!” (And on a side note, you can also use your old Secret Stories® book as a parent “check-out” resource that parents can take home to remediate or accelerate, as needed.)
Additional Uses for Old Poster Sets
Some schools and districts intentionally order extra posters sets to display in common areas where kids tend to congregate—in the hallways, the cafeteria line, the media center, the front office wall, etc… This is a great way to spur conversation between students about “who knows what Secrets,” as well as to educate parents on what the Secrets are and how they’re used. It also helps to build learners’ visual acuity for increased pattern-recognition when working with text. (Schools will sometimes also purchase extra copies of the book to house in a parent resource room for parent check-out. These copies are often paid for with School Improvement Funds for Home/Parent Involvement.)

I wish I could see how other teachers display the Secret Stories® posters in their classrooms!

Your wish is granted! Below are more pictures that show all of the creative ways that teachers display the Secret Stories® phonics posters in their classrooms. And for many more ideas, as well free Secret resources and real teacher-talk, join the new Secret Stories® Support Group on Facebook!
Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!"
Secret Stories Sound Wall
Phonics Posters
Secret Stories Phonics Sound Wall
secret stories phonics posters
Secret stories phonics fun
happy teacher phonics
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters with Student Names
Remote Phonics Lesson
Classroom Set Up
Phonics Fun with Secret Stories
Secret Stories Phonics Reading Classroom
phonics posters
Secret Stories Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
sound wall for reading and writing - secret stories
Secret Stories Sound Wall for Reading
And finally, check out these miniature Secret Stories® phonics posters in this adorable “Peep” Classroom, created by Mrs. Mac’s Munchkins!
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters — The "Peep" Version!
And to bring this very long “poster-post” to a close, I just had to share an awesome Secret Stories® Superhero door transformation! (You can read more here!
Secret Stories® Phonics Door

And here are some close-up pics….

Secret Stories® Phonics Door

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Door
Secret Stories® Phonics Door

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Door
Secret Stories® Phonics Door
Secret Stories® Phonics Door
And if you aren’t using the Secret Stories® yet, but you’re thinking about trying them, you can download a free poster “appetizer” pack and just watch how fast kids start using them to read and write!
Free Secret Stories® Phonics Posters

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Secret Stories® Phonics — Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!

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Dear Katie,
I love reading your blog! I’ve used your free Zoo Keeper Writing Strategies with my kinder class and the children really related, always showing me “how many animals (i.e. sounds) they caught” in their words!

I’ve taught both 1st and 2nd grades for years, and now am in my seventh year of teaching kindergarten. As many of your letter pattern stories are, of course, geared toward 1st and 2nd, I was wondering if you had some that were more geared more toward kinder?

Also, at what point would you begin introducing the Secret Stories in kinder… after the majority know most of their letters?

Gratefully,
Marian M.
Kindergarten Teacher

(Download the Free Zoo Keeper Strategy Pack and watch this video clip to see how it works!)
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Writing Strategy Pack— "Zoo Keepers and M&M Quizzes"
“Zoo Keeper and M&M Quizzes” for Early Grade Writing!

I love Marian’s question, as it goes right to the heart of why I created the Secret Stories® in the first place, which was to break down the grade level walls of phonics instruction that limit early learner-access to the code!

Before I answer it specifically, I want to prepare you for the paradigm shift we’re about to take when it comes to what kindergarten can do and when they can do it, and I think these links will help! So here are a couple of guest posts by kindergarten teacher, Kjersti Johnson (post 1 and post 2) along with a couple of eye-opening, kindergarten-related video clips here and here.

So let’s get started by opening up a can of worms about WHY we do WHAT we do WHEN we do it when it comes to the “code” that kids need for reading and writing! 

If you really think about it, what are kids supposed to do with just bits and pieces of the reading and writing code? How can you read OR write about your pet mouse with only a third, or even  two-thirds of the code? And that’s all most early grade level learners have to work with, given that it takes multiple grade level years to teach it all…. and that’s if they’re on grade level!

The individual letter sounds (which kindergartners spend an entire year learning) provide very little bang for the buck when it comes to using them to reading and writing, as they are actually the least likely sounds that the letters will make when they get together in real words! This makes the brain’s job as a “pattern-making” machine extremely difficult, as it seems that letters are never actually doing what they’re supposed to!

And simply adding the blends and a few digraphs to the mix in first grade doesn’t help all that much,  which is why kindergartners and first graders can barely read or write anything! At least not anything that hasn’t been “memorized” (ENTER SIGHT WORDS, STAGE RIGHT!)

sight word don't work

And the sight word “parade” begins…

Sight words help compensate for the gross lack of phonics skills at the beginning grade levels, and are often taught in order to meet the required text-level assessments. For early grade teachers, rote memorization of high-frequency sight words can feel like a necessity when considering that the phonics skills kids need to read them aren’t even on their grade level scope and sequence. This is because traditionally, phonics skills are “divvied-out” in bits and pieces across multiple grade level years—from PreK to 2nd.

While teaching kids in kindergarten and first grade to memorize words instead of reading them might feel like a necessity for beginning grade teachers, this rote memorization is far from the ideal—from either a developmentally or from a brain-based perspective. (You can read more about this here or by clicking the link under the picture below.)
Secret Stories® Phonics— Stanford University Brain Study on Sight Words
Why Kids Shouldn’t Memorize What They Could READ!

Moreover, the less skills kids bring to the table, the less value they take away from daily reading and writing experiences in the classroom.

Imagine that you’re a Morse Code operator, just assigned to a naval ship. 

But there’s a problem.

You are only in the first year of a three year Morse Code training program, which means that you barely know even one-third of the code. Yet you are expected to send and receive messages on day one.

You think to yourself……
“How can I possibly be expected to accurately send and receive messages with not even one-third of the code? What about all of the sounds I haven’t learned yet? How will I be able to figure out what the incoming messages say? And worse still, how can I send messages if I don’t know the code for all of the words? Should I just leave those parts blank, or just fill up the page with the parts of the code that I do know? Or maybe I could just forgo what the captain wants me to send and just write what I can spell instead?”

     Dear Captain, 
     I like the sub.  It is big.  It is fun.  It is really fun.
     I like it so so much. I really really like the big fun sub a lot!

These are common strategies that beginning (and struggling) learners will also use in order to get around all of the parts of the code that they don’t know or haven’t yet been taught— of which there are many!

A scope and sequence cannot accurately predict which parts of the code learners will need to read their favorite book or to write the stories they want to tell. The /th/ digraph is considered a 1st grade skill by grade level scope and sequence standards, even though /th/ can be found on every line of every page in every book! In fact, kindergartners will encounter the /th/ pattern literally hundreds of times on their very first day! (And don’t even get me started on the letter /y/!) The bottom line is that just like with Morse Code, you need ALL of it to do ANYTHING with it!

Secret Stories® Phonics Brain Research
Click here to learn more

So the burning question is how to provide our earliest grade level learners with access to the “whole” code when it takes an entire for many kids to just learn the alphabet? The answer lies in the brain science. Brain science lights a path straight through the brain’s backdoor via the earlier developing, social and emotional “feeling” networks. By targeting phonics instruction to the affective learning domain, we can bypass areas of inherent early (and struggling) learner weakness (i.e. the higher level, executive processing centers) and tap into alternative areas of strength.

Secret Stories® does this in a variety of ways, beginning with channeling the individual letters and sounds through muscle memory (i.e. body intelligence) for accelerated mastery in just two weeks to two months— and that’s for kinder and PK! (And we’re not just talking the “basic” letter sounds, we’re talking every possible sound that a letter can make by itself, from hard and soft /c/ and /g/, to the long and short vowel sounds, to the positional sounds of /y/, and even /qu/…. and all while they eat their shoes and lick the carpet. (And if you actually teach preK or kinder, then you understand exactly what I mean— Lol!)

Individual Letter Sound Mastery in 2 weeks to 2 months!

During the two week-two month time frame while the individual letter sounds are seeping in via muscle memory, they are also learning about the letters’ “secrets”, (i.e. Secret Stories) which are what they do when they don’t do what they should! The Secrets explain all of the crazy sounds that letters make when they get together, and even some of the strange things they can do when they are by themselves!

Shared as short little stories that are easy to remember and understand, they are ready for immediate use in both reading and writing! And because Secret Stories® aligns letter behavior to learners’ own behavior (by way of already familiar “social and emotional” frameworks) they can easily predict their most and next most likely sound behaviors, just as they could predict the behavior of their own classmates.

Download the Free Secret Stories® Mini-Poster Sample Pack!

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack
Our brains thrive on patterns and making things make sense, and the Secrets make letters make sense!And the earlier the grade level, the MORE they are needed, as they have virtually nothing else to read or write with! Kinder will naturally pick up and remember the Secrets BEFORE all of the individual letter sounds have taken hold, as the time frame for muscle memory to kick in is between two weeks to two months, whereas the Secrets are instant! Stories are easy for kids to remember because stories are HOW kids remember! And stories are developmentally harmless, so when they are ready to plug it in and use it, they can… but until that time, it’s simply a story!

Shifting early grade reading/ phonics instruction from brain-antagonistic to brain-compatible requires that we FEED the brain, not FIGHT it, and Secret Stories Stories® are its favorite treat! They can (and should!) be given all day long, throughout the entire instructional day—anytime and anywhere they are needed to help read or spell a word. Every Secret you give them is one more “tool” in their tool belt that they can bring to the reading and writing table, so as to bring more value away!

So to answer Marian’s questions…

The Secrets are not bound by the traditional “grade level walls” for phonics instruction that limits learner-access to the code. To share only certain Secrets at certain grade levels would presume that learners at lower grade levels don’t need them, and how could that be true if they are reading and writing across the instructional day beginning in kindergarten? Nor can we possibly say WHICH Secrets a learner will need to read the book he picks from the library or to write a word in a story he wants to tell.

Like the Morse Code operators, kids need ALL of the code, so NEVER wait to share a Secret!

Share them simultaneously with the individual letter sounds, whenever and wherever they are needed, whether it’s on the morning calendar or on the lunch menu! Remember that to a Morse Code operator (or to a beginning reader/writer) a /th/ is going to come in a LOT more handy than a /t/, so never hold back the tools that you know kids need to read and write every day!
Why Wait If We Don’t Have To?!!
Why hold back what kids so desperately need every hour of every day in our classrooms when they are working with text? If the brain science provides a “secret” backdoor passage through which we can so easily sneak phonics skills, why wouldn’t we use it?
Secret Stories® Phonics — Sneaking Skills through the Brain's Backdoor!
A “Backdoor Delivery System” for Accelerated Skill Access
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-) 
Katie Garner— Professional Development Literacy Consultant and Keynote Education Speaker
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Secret Stories® Makes PhonicsMake SENSE!
Secret Stories Phonics— Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Sample Poster Pack!

 

Katie Garner Featured Education and Keynote Speaker/ Literacy Cosultant
For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here. 

 


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Secret Stories® Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!

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Comments:

  1. I can’t wait to play The Better Alphabet song with my students tomorrow. Thanks for sharing!

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    Katie GarnerApril 1, 2014 at 2:34 PM

      At this point in the year, you might want to ‘go all the way’ and try the “Letter Runs” with them! Here’s the link to that- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHUwuuXsh-0 ……….and don’t forget to try it BACKWARDS!!

     

  2. (you can also switch from ‘long’ to ‘short’ vowel sounds throughout to keep the challenge high :) as well as change the tune to: Happy Birthday, The Star Spangled Banner, etc…
    Looking forward to hearing how they do!

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  4. So many great ideas and a great song!!!! Definitely going to try this with my kids! Thanks!!!
    Julie

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  5. The Morse Code Operator is a great analogy! Thank you for this post. :)
    lorepuckett at gmail dot com

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  6. I subscribed!! I will be trying this with my kiddos as well!

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  7. I attended the Illinois Reading Conference last month and couldn’t get into either of your sessions! I couldn’t even get close to the doorway :(
    Folks were setting chairs out on both ends of the corridor to hear you, but unfortunately my ears are too old to hear from that far away so I gave up! I’m hoping to have better luck seeing you at the Natl Elementary Principals Conference this summer.

    You should know that your ‘Secrets’ are an ongoing topic of conversation at our school and have had an incredible impact on our student achievement this year. As a school administrator, it’s been truly amazing to witness the progress made at each grade level, especially by our most at-risk. I’m just in awe, as are our parents (which is always a good thing!)

    My teachers were so disappointed that I couldn’t get into your session, as they promised the kids that I would take a picture with you to show them. Apparently the teachers that came to your sessions last year tried, but it was too crowded and you had too many people around you afterwards. I told them that this year was even worse, given that I couldn’t even get through the door!

    Hopefully I’ll have better luck seeing you in July!

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  8.  

    I know… it was CRAZY! The committee tried to avoid the overcrowding problem that happened last year by putting both sessions in the ballroom but I think their overall attendance this year was just too high, which ultimately is a good thing (but understandably frustrating when you can’t get into what you want to see).

    I will most definitely be at the Principal’s Conference in July and I’ll even save a seat for you, just in case ;)

    Thanks for your kind email, and please let your teachers (and students) know how happy I am to hear of their progress (and we’ll definitely take that picture, as well!)

    Looking forward to meeting you in July,
    Katie

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  10. This is incredible. I appreciate the work that has been put into programs like this and the accessibility of them to other educators and parents. Thank you and well done.

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  11. Thank YOU and I’m so glad you found the post here on Mrs. Jump’s Blog!!

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  13. This was an amazing find. Thank you Deanna Jump for sharing this! I am purchasing the alphabet vertically as I write this. I am so inspired by this motor memory approach. Thank you!

     

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    So glad you found the post, and be sure to use the vertical alphabet for the “Letter Runs” too… they’re so much fun!! I put the link in the answer to the first comment at the top :)

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  16. I am so glad I am subscribed to your blog so that I can find and appreciate programs like this. As a first year teacher, this information makes me see things in a new perspective. I would love the opportunity to use this program in my classroom for my students. I would love the opportunity to share this approach with others given the scientific research that has gone into this. Thanks so much to the developer(s) of this program and the difference it is going to make in teaching.

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  18. You’re so welcome, and as a new teacher, you would probably get a better perspective/ context if you watch the VLOGS, starting with #1 here….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziT4bautiGk ……

    I am gearing up to make the next set before I have to leave town again for conference, with the focus being on “What to do when a “Secret” doesn’t work?!!” as that’s actually where the fun begins for learners with regard to their daily interactions with text becoming a virtual “playground” for critical thinking!!

    In the meantime, don’t hesitate to ask, should you have any questions, and thanks again for your comment!

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  19. I’m excited to have a song to share with my kiddos. I would love to win your kit as I am always looking for ways to reach my struggling readers.

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  21. I just discovered Secret Stories and the Better Alphabet Song today and I’m in love! I love how engaging it is and how it can meet so many different learning styles! I really like how you put so much thought into the position of the mouth when you did the action for short a on the you tube video. I’m always looking for new ways to make learning meaningful and fun for my kids (why I was on this blog) and feel like I have hit the jackpot with this find! I wish I could go back in time and could have done this with my class since day one. We review letter sounds and phonograms daily- and I’m embarrassed to admit but it b-o-r-i-n-g the way I’m doing it now and definitely something I want to improve on. This is just what I needed and will totally transform how I teach phonics. So excited to make something that was not so fun into something I know my kids will not only love doing but truly benefit from.

     

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    LoL…. I remember feeling the same way when I’d stumble upon something that would completely change the way I teach! I’d always feel SOOO badly for my previous classes, who I sometimes felt, learned ‘in spite’ of me….especially my very first year – ugh :(

    I remember wanting to buy my whole class t-shirts with- “I survived Mrs. Garner’s 1st Year Teaching!!” written across the front!! ;)

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  24. I think this sounds fabulous and I will be trying this out with my title students. I notice that my title students DO NOT know their alphabet-ever, nor their sounds. This should be the answer!

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  25.  

    It’s funny you mention this, as often readiness issues are more pervasive with Title I learners, for a variety of reasons.

    These ‘work-around’ strategies (i.e. motor/ muscle memory for individual letters and sounds; social/ emotive connections/ cues for complex pattern sound retrieval) are crucial for learners struggling with cognitive readiness.

    For these learners, in particular, the ability to GIVE these core reading and writing skills, rather than having to wait on ‘developmental readiness’ in order to TEACH them, truly makes all the difference!!

    So many of the problems that Title I learners face stem from the fact that in the first few years of school, they are ‘slaves’ to their own developmental readiness, resulting in their having to continually play on an uneven playing field!

    By using brain research findings to circumvent these pitfalls, we can actually avoid these deficit areas in the brain entirely, targeting the stronger, more capable areas instead!

    (Hope this makes sense…. have had glass of wine!!! :)

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  27. I think this sounds fabulous and I will be trying this out with my title students. I notice that my title students DO NOT know their alphabet-ever, nor their sounds. This should be the answer!

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  28. I am a HUGE Secret Stories fan….I use your very first Secret Stories set! Every year, my students amaze me with their writing and reading and they looove their “stories”.
    I am so glad to view your videos and your updates here. I learn something new everytime. Thanks so much !
    Denise

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    Oh my! You HAVE been using them for a while then!!

    I’m so glad you found the videos and updated info on the Secret Stories website, as I’ve really been working hard to ‘flesh-out’ the basic strategy-base.

    I’m curious if you’ve been in the same grade level since you started using them or if you’ve moved around a bit?

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  31. I have only taught Kindergarten…30 years total. I can’t remember exactly how long I have had my set of Secret Stories…maybe since 2000/2001?? .they are just part of my routine. Like I said….my kids constantly amaze me with their progress.
    My best teacher friend went to your workshop …she was so impressed, she came back and told me all about this great new program. I was so excited I purchased the set with my own money and have been using it ever since.

     

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  33. I will be sharing this with my new teammates of next year’s Kindergarten. Soooo excited!

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  34. Hello. I have a question. Why don’t you do all three A sounds– A as in apple, A as in gate, and A as in about? I have a chant that I made up years ago with the sounds, but it has all three common A sounds that beginning readers come across in their reading. Just wondered why three Y sounds, but not three As. Thanks for letting me know. Kathleen
  35.  

    Great question! And the answer actually lies in the ‘rule-of-thumb’ I used when creating the “Secrets” in the first place, which was to “avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen” when it came to identifying the most useful phonics rules!!
    (and by useful, I mean ‘only what’s necessary to be able to read and write,’ given that the goal is to give learners at the earliest grade level EVERYTHING they need to jump into working with text…. both reading and writing!!

    Because the brain will require an explanation for anything encountered on a fairly frequent basis in text- there could be ‘no stone left unturned’ when it comes to accounting for the various letter patter sound possibilities. This, however, is different from teaching “rules for rules’ sake” (i.e. the less useful and/ or less frequently occurring phonics rules/ sound patterns).

    My rule of thumb was to account for only those patterns/ sounds that occurred ‘5 times or more’ in text, given their likelihood to be encountered often enough by learners to require an explanation.

    Patterns/ sounds occurring LESS than five times would are either put in “Word Jail” OR ‘rehabilitated’ …. so as to avoid having an ‘overcrowded prison system’ / overcrowded word wall, both of which are equally ineffective ;)

    As for your specific question regarding the letter a and providing the ‘uh’ or ‘schwa sound’ being taught/ included in the “Better Alphabet Song” as an additional sound option…. this would be an example having ‘too many cooks in the kitchen,’ in that there is too little value/ purpose in teaching it.

    What I mean by this is, if a beginning learner knows the SECRETS, he will attack a word like ‘about’ or ‘around’ with a ‘short a’ sound, as he knows that Mommy e isn’t ‘one letter away’ and thus can’t make a ‘say its name.’ Attacking these words with the short a sound will STILL result in learners (even lower level Kindergartners!!) still being able to ‘get the word.’ In other words, they will still recognize that the word is ‘about’ or ‘around,’ regardless of the fact that they attacked it with the short a sound …… The presumption is that learners can and will apply at least a “grain of common sense” in recognizing the word, and my experience with the ‘lowest of the low’ kindergartners proves this out!!

    By taking into account the differences between how words can sound, depending upon how they are sounded out, I was able to determine which required SECRETS and which were, for lack of a better term….”figure-out-able!!” LoL!

    With the Sneaky Y, all THREE sounds had to be accounted for, as they are all vastly different (y as in yellow, y as in July, and y as in mommy) ….. Each are entirely different sounds and thus, each must be accounted for with logical explanations as to what / why causes each to occur.

    Again, with the ultimate goal being to GIVE learners EVERYTHING they need to read and write at the EARLIEST grade level, so as to allow EXPERIENCE to be the best teacher….. it was necessary to think in terms of training “ER Doctors” ….. preparing them for what’s ‘most likely’ to roll through the door, while spending less time preparing them to handle the “plague” ;)

    I hope this helps to clarify the basis for the SECRETS, and I promise to get into more detail about exactly this in upcoming posts…. you’re just one step ahead with your great question!!!!

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  37. Thanks for this. I get the frequency point. We could never teach beginning readers all the sounds that letters CAN make in this isolated way– look at the VERY many sounds that ‘o’ can make when paired with ‘h’ when ‘ho’ comes at the beginning of a word! :) The only reason I added the ‘a’ sound heard at the beginning of words like around and about as a third sound in my chant, was because my guys weren’t getting that kind of word by knowing just the first two possible ‘a’ sounds… but maybe it was not the isolated sound that ‘a’ makes in that case that was the issue, but the fact that they were saying “ar…” as the beginning ‘sound’, instead of the necessary two syllable “a-r…” When they kept saying ‘ar, ar, ar” instead of ‘a’ when starting words like around, they got stuck. They seemed to get it better when they had that third ‘a’ sound to try. Thanks for sharing why you do it this way– always more food for thought– I can teach 100 years and I’ll still be growing my own brain :)

     

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  39. This sounds awesome! I’ve been looking for a way to help my kinder. Can’t wait to try it!
    Jada
    jadawtolbert@gmail.com

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  40. What a great idea! LOVE this and can’t wait to use it with my kinders! Thanks for sharing!

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  41. This article really intrigued me! As I was reading the “why” of certain discrepancies, I was picturing specific students I’ve had along the way. thanks for sharing

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    Getting learners to ask “why” is actually our goal,
    as the “WHY” equals “CRITICAL-THINKING!”
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  44. I LOVE secret Stories! My students Love hearing the stories behind each letter or letter pair.

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The brain is a pattern-making machine—seeking-out patterns and creating new ones. This is its natural system for learning. And yet, when it comes to teaching abstract letter sound and phonics skills for reading, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to feed the brain the logical explanations for letter sound behavior that it craves!

Secret Stories® Phonics— The Brain is a "Pattern-Making" Machine!

The Best Thinkers are the Best “Pattern-Makers”

Watch as these first graders are transformed into analytical “word doctors” upon coming across the /ie/ phonics Secret during guided reading. Watch as they think-through (i.e. pattern-out) all of the Secrets they know about Superhero I in order to account for his (sound) behavior, and while doing so, also create a brand NEW pattern! Their diagnosis? Apparently, Superhero I has some sort of obsessive “cookie-eating” and then “excessive exercising” disorder— Lol! (If your kids  know the /ie/ phonics Secret, they will LOVE watching this clip!)
Secret Stories® Phonics—  The Superhero Vowels® I Poster
Secret Stories® Superhero I
Secret Stories® Phonics Poster—The  IE "Secret!"
Secret Stories® Phonics “ie” Secret
And now for some teacher-fun!
These very talented teachers from Bremerton, Washington are bringing the “ie Secret” to life in their own way, which you can watch below. You can find this video and more on the free Secret Stories® Youtube Channel!
Underscoring existing reading and writing (phonics) curriculum and instruction with Secret Stories® makes kids privy to all of the letters’ “Secrets,” creating a “learner-driven” instructional environment that transforms daily reading and writing into a virtual playground for critical thinking and deeper literacy learning!
Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
“The measure of intelligence lies in the ability to see patterns where others see randomness.”
Now let’s watch the same first graders (from Mrs. Mac’s 1st Grade Class) in a whole group mini-lesson, during which the kids have noticed that in the word light, the /i/ is making its long sound, despite the fact that there is no Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® in sight! This conundrum sparks a creative (and highly imaginative) conversation about letter-sound behavior that is purely driven by  learners’ “need-to-know!”  (This is actually one of my ALL-TIME-FAVORITE clips!)
It’s difficult to imagine, given the high level of interest and student engagement seen in this video, that these first graders are actually discussing the impact of the /gh/phonics pattern on the sound of the letter /i/ when reading and writing words like sight and night.  Their enthusiasm for debating letter behavior is similar to that which is shown when discussing the behavior (or misbehavior!) of their classmates. This is because both concepts are anchored in the same familiar framework of social and emotional experience and understanding, making it easily accessible and ready for use!
Secret Stories® Phonics— From Apathy to Engagement!
“It’s neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care about.”
— Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang (Harvard Neuroscientist)
By aligning letter-behavior to kid-behavior, Secret Stories® forges learners’ own personal connections to letter sound and phonics skills, which allows inexperienced, beginning and struggling upper grade learners to easily hypothesize and deduce letters’ “most” and “next most” likely sounds.  Targeting phonics instruction to the social-emotional “feeling” domain transforms letters and sounds from skills they have to learn into “secrets” they want to know! And the fact that they are grown-up reading and writing “secrets” makes them even more important and helps mark them for memory and prioritized learning in the brain!
Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
Secrets make information important to learners, 
marking it for memory and prioritized learning in the brain.

And if you were wondering how these first graders so easily identified the different sounds for /gh/, you can learn the phonics Secret in the video, below. (Note the little girl standing next to the lady who is re-telling the Secret, as she is watching her closely to make sure that she doesn’t screw it up— Lol!)

Moving Phonics Instruction from Apathy to Engagement

All kids are naturally fascinated by the behaviors of other kids (i.e. “who did what to who, and why”)  and this inherent “need to know” is what naturally drives their desire to learn more Secrets! Even kindergartners can easily remember who the line leader is, who can’t sit together, and who always gets in trouble. The same “social-emotional” learning networks that store and retrieve this information can be used to help them keep track of letter sound behavior, making it easy for them to predict their “most” and “next most” likely sounds.  Secret Stories® provides the logical explanations that our brains crave about why the letters do what they do, so as to make phonics make sense! Secrets make phonics make SENSE because they are based on social and emotional frameworks that are already deeply entrenched within the learner. Knowing the letters’ “secrets” spark their natural curiosity. motivating them to engage more with text.

 

Secret Stories® Phonics— "Giving" Skills, Not "Teaching" Them for Accelerated Access to the Code
“Giving” Phonics Skills, Not “Teaching” Them for Accelerated Access to the Code

 

To wrap things up, I just had to share this wonderful email and picture that was sent to me by Aimee Meyer and her first grade class from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Receiving letters like this one mean EVERYTHING to me, and I cannot thank her enough for taking the time to send it!
Secret Stories® Phonics Poster by First Grade Class
For More “Kid-Made’ Versions of the Secrets, Check Out This Post!

 


Dear Katie,
I just wanted to share our latest first grade classwork at St. Thomas More in Baton Rouge. My student made up their own Secret Story posters…..”Drop the “y” to add “ed” and “es! We adore our Secret Stories! I’d feel so lost without it! My school sent me to New Orleans a couple of years ago where I got to meet you and listen to you speak. Afterward, I went home and purchased the Secret Stories Classroom Kit as soon as could!

Thank you so much.
You don’t know how many little lives you’ve changed.

Aimee Meyer
PS Every K-4 classroom in America needs to implement Secret Stories!

Yes! It IS possible to teach those tricky long and short vowel sounds in just 5 minutes, if you know how to cheat the brain!

Secret Stories Superhero Vowels® and their Short & Lazy Sound Disguises!

Learn all about the “BETTER Alphabet Song” for fast-tracking individual letter sounds, plus the Superhero Vowels® (and their short & lazy sounds!) for easy retrieval of those hard short vowel sounds!

When memories are supported by greater coordination between different parts of the brain, it’s a sign that they are going to last longer. The greater the distribution of signaling, the stronger the memory takes hold in our brain. Secret Stories® triggers multiple areas of the brain to engage simultaneously, sparking what is referred to as “multi-layered” memories for deeper learning and easier skill retrieval.

Brain Based Reading Tricks!

What’s “Used Together Becomes Fused Together” in the Brain!

 

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— Loopholes for Learning!

This week, I am excited to welcome back Renee McAnulty (a.k.a. “Mrs. Mac”) who’s been kind enough to take time out of her busy “beginning of the year” schedule to do a guest blog post with her new crop of first graders as she starts with the Secrets!  (And in-conjunction with her post, I want to also dive more deeply into some “loopholes for learning” that brain science provides, so keep an eye out for brain-icon (shown on the left) with these red text-blurbs!

“But Mrs. Mac, we don’t have TIME to go home!”

A Guest Post By Renee McAnulty

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— Loopholes for Learning!
Mrs. Mac’s First Graders Discovering the Secrets!

Happy “New School Year” Folks! 
I hope this post finds you well and enjoying a great start to a brand new year with your own new munchkins! The title of this post is actually a quote from one of my adorable kiddos at the end of the first school day, following my announcement that it was time to go home. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all there was to do in this brand new first grade classroom, one of my sweet little boys said, “….but Mrs. Mac, we don’t have time to go home!” Now while I might feel this way on a regular basis, hearing one of my little guys actually say it out loud just made my whole week… so of course, I wanted to share it here with you!

After a long summer, I was actually excited to come back and to meet my new class! And I was even more excited to start telling them the Secrets that would transform them into successful readers and writers! I was literally having “Secret Stories-withdraw!” I was actually thinking over the summer about what my next guest blog post should be, based on the feedback and questions I’d received from my last one,  and then it hit me! What is the one question I am constantly asked, “Where do I start?!?!” (And if you want to watch Katie talking about this, you can check out her official “How-To” for Starting with the Secrets here, or by clicking on the video, below.)

So with this in mind, I thought I would invite you to take a peek into our humble little classroom and meet my amazing new bunch of munchkins! They really are ADORABLE, and of my thirty new first graders, I currently have just two that have been identified as “readers.”
That said, my goal for this school year is to take you deeper into the process of using Secret Stories® from the very beginning of the year to the very end, as I share with you my students’ progress. I know that Katie has said this many times (and you will also see it said many times in my posts) that there is no “wrong way” to share the Secrets! They are simply the “tools” kids need to read and to write and are easily tailored to meet the needs of you and your students. Secrets are shared whenever and wherever they are needed—which at the primary grade levels will literally be ALL day long!
You will see what the Secrets look like, as well as how we use them in whole group and small group instruction, during Daily 5 and Cafe, and of course, during guided reading. Throughout our year together, we will be applying the Secrets to crack text in almost everything that we do! We will leave “no stone unturned” when it comes to all of the crazy sounds that letters can make, especially when they get together, as now we know the Secrets that explain their “misbehaviors!”

So sit back, relax…. and we will show you how we get started…..

The “Better Alphabet Song” for Individual Letter Sound Mastery

First up is the Better Alphabet Song, which you learn all about here, as well as in the short video clip, below. One quick note though, IGNORE (read “Don’t do!) the Zoo Phonics hand motions, as these were a carry-over from earlier in the year before we started Secret Stories. Allowing the kids to do the motions with the Better Alphabet Song actually ended up hurting more than helping, as the key to fast-tracking the letter sounds with the Better Alphabet Song is for kids to have their eyes “glued” to the letters AS they are singing their sounds. It is this visual connection, in addition to the muscle memory retrieval of the sounds that cements skill transfer for reading and writing. The random animal motions/gestures from Zoo Phonics actually distracted their visual focus on the letters as I was pointing to them, which disrupted the “sound to symbol/ symbol to sound” connection that they needed to use the letters to read and write words. Plus, they didn’t need them anyway, as they were no longer having to think about the sounds the letters made, as they were already in their muscle memory! The only exception is with the Superhero Vowels and their short & lazy sound-cues/gestures, as those ARE actually important, as they immediately prompt the otherwise “vague” sounds of the short vowels and make them super easy for kids to get!
With our  Zoo Phonics Song, it could take up to one year for some kids to acquire all of the individual letter sounds, whereas with the Better Alphabet Song, it took LESS THAN ONE MONTH! But, the secret is in the “eye glue” and “muscle mouth!” Kids have to always “SEE what you SING, and SING what they SEE” so that they are ready for use in reading and writing! Katie talks about the importance of this “See It/Say It” connection in the video below, as she describes how the Better Alphabet uses muscle memory to fast-track individual letter sound mastery to 2-weeks to 2-months. 
What’s great about Secret Stories® is that you can use it with literally anything that’s already in place. It just makes whatever you’re already using that much MORE effective….  like times TEN!! (Secret Stories® ultimately eliminated a lot of the “stuff” that was no longer needed, as my kids didn’t have to “practice” what they could already read… which leaves more time for the FUN stuff, like actually using the Secrets to read and to write!) 

Click here for more Superhero Vowels® “Door-Decor!”

Secret Stories Superhero Vowels


 The Superhero Vowels® and their ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguises 

Stories Act as Strong “Memory-Holding” Templates in the Brain


Superhero A and His ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguise

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— The Superhero Vowels®
 Superhero Vowels® “a”
(and his “short & lazy” sound!)
Secret Stories® Guided Reader— My Classmates

Superhero E and His ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguise


Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— The Superhero Vowels®

Superhero E 
(and her “short & lazy” sound!)
Secret Stories “Fun & Funky” Posters

Superhero I and His ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguise

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— The BETTER Alphabet Anchors
Superhero I
(and his “short & lazy” sound!)

Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Anchor

Superhero U and His ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguise

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— The Superhero Vowels®
Superhero U
(and his “short & lazy” sound!)
Secret Stories Superhero Vowels® & More! 

Superhero O and His ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguise

Secret Stories Superhero Vowels® Headbands
Superhero O
(and her “short & lazy” sound!)
Secret Stories Superhero Vowels® Headbands

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— Loopholes for Learning

Secret Stories® targets the earlier-developing and more readily accessible affective (feeling) networks for short vowel sound mastery by engaging learners in dramatic actions/feelings-based cues/gestures that literally “land” them in the sounds! In this way, it becomes possible to bypass areas of inherent early (and struggling, upper-grade/ELL) learner weakness (i.e. auditory processing, articulation, language delays etc…) and tap into alternative areas of strength. 

This “backdoor-to-the-brain” approach to skill mastery is a hallmark of Secret Stories® and is just one of the ways that it accelerates early learner-access to the code, starting in PreK!



One of the great things about encouraging the kids to tell and retell the Secrets is that doing so provides continuous opportunities for everyone—high, medium and low-level learners— to pick them up and start using them at their own pace. While my more experienced students immediately
“get” the short vowel sounds by simply retelling the story (some of which are literal 
dissertations!) my slower (and non-native English speakers) are actually accessing the short vowel sounds from a different place, relying more strongly on the visuals (posters) and dramatic action cues/gestures to retrieve the sounds.

The bottom line?  
ALL of my babies get the sounds!
The Secrets are like little “bridges” that all of my little ones can easily and effortlessly find their way across— regardless of developmental readiness issues, academic level, language background or past experience… and that’s why they’re so AMAZING!!! The kids never tire of telling the Secrets and literally talk about them all day long…. which is actually one of the reasons I love Secret Stories® so much, as like most first grade classes at the beginning of the school year, my kids are academically “all over the map!” I am also in a very transient area where students are moving in and out throughout the school year, making it extremely difficult to catch them up on all of the reading/phonics skills they don’t have/missed. Using the Secrets have made this a non-issue, as any skills (i.e. Secrets)they missed will continue to be shared and re-shared throughout the year, as we use them to crack text every day!

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— Loopholes for Learning
“What’s used together is fused together in the brain!” Secret Stories® multi-sensory approach to phonics skill instruction activates auditory (story), visual (graphics),  physical/kinesthetic (cues/gestures) and affective (feeling-based) learning channels to forge deeper connections between otherwise meaningless skill concepts. 
 
Secret Stories® activates multiple areas of the brain simultaneously,  triggering the formation of multi-layered memories, which are supported in different parts of the brains and naturally easier to retrieve. Research shows the “greater the distribution of signaling between different parts of the brain, the stronger the memory takes hold,” which is why each time they tell a Secret,  it becomes more deeply embedded within them!
Prompting Formation of Multi-Layered Memories with Multi-Sensory Instruction 

Mommy E® (a.k.a. Silent E)

For me, the Mommy E® Secret has been gift from God, as my biggest challenge as a first grade teacher has always been trying to teach the kids to differentiate between long and short vowels in their writing—  a challenge that I am sure many of you can relate to, as well!
After teaching them the long vowel sounds with silent e, my kids would add a silent e to everything, ALL THE TIME, which drove me absolutely crazy! But now that they know the Mommy E® Secret, this is no longer a problem, as now it just makes SENSE!
Secret Stories® Mommy E® Secret— Loopholes for Learning!
Secret Stories Mommy E® Digital Pack on TpT

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Book Version 2.0!
Secret Stories® Book Version 2.0!
Kids can relate to the idea that “When the cats away, the mice will play”….. or in Secret Stories terms, “when Mommy E® is away, the vowels will play,” which means that they will be “short and lazy,” rather than stand up tall and say their name! (You can watch Katie explain the Mommy E® Secret here, and then watch my little ones share their version, just below!)

FREE Secret Stories® Common Core Literacy Posters for PreK-3rd!
Secret Stories Mommy E®-support in the FREE Common Core Literacy 
Poster Sets for Grades PreK-3rd 

Phonics Transfer to Writing

Using Writing as a “Window” into the Mind of a Reader

One trick that we use all the time that I want to share is how we transfer the Secrets into our writingApplying the Secrets in writing from the very beginning really helps the kids grasp the inherent connection between reading and writing— one that beginning readers don’t naturally perceive.

My little trick is called “Chin-In” and the kids love it! The process is simple…
I ask students to draw three lines (on individual white boards, paper, etc…) and then I give them a three-letter word, like cut.  I then ask them to segment-out and write each of the letter sounds they hear on a different line, reminding“there are three letters in the word and that is why we made three lines.” After the kids have finished writing the sounds they hear on the lines, they cover their word so no one else sees it. Then, when I say “Chin it!” they all hold up their words so that I can see them. This allows me to see right away who understands how to apply the Secret and who doesn’t.

Quick, easy, and to the point! All I have to do is make some quick notes, and BAM!  I know with whom and on what I can work in small groups!

Secret Stories Phonics Mommy E® "Secret!"
“Chinning-It!”

When I teach the Mommy E® Secret, I have the kids draw FOUR lines, telling them, “The last line is for Mommy!” They know when Mommy E® is at the end of a word (or one letter away from another vowel, where she can easily reach it!) she will always make the vowel do what it should and say its name!

Secret Stories Phonics Mommy E® "Secret!"

The four lines for Mommy E® words serve as a visual reminder that there can be letters in words that you don’t hear. This is a tremendous help, especially with  ELL and non-readers, as they all LOVE to draw the arrow from the Mommy E® to the vowel that she’s telling to say its name!

As a super bonus, Katie includes a list of words in the back of the Secret Stories book for each Secret sound/letter pattern. These lists are great! Not only for measuring student proficiency with specific Secrets in guided group, but also as a sort of Secret Word Bank from which you can quickly pull words for targeted activities or instruction, like the Mommy E one with my class, above.

Secret Stories Phonics Book Version 2.0— Mommy E® Secret Words!
Secret Stories® Book Version 2.0! 
Although I always try to use examples from the words around our classroom and in text that we read, the lists in the back of Secret Stories® book do come in super-handy when my mind draws a blank and I’m unable to think of words to reinforce a specific Secret!  

Secret Stories Phonics Mommy E® "Secret!"

Babysitter Vowels® (a.k.a. “Open Syllable vs. Closed Syllable”)

The most beautiful thing about this logical learning process is that I get to see these babies grow so quickly from writing and spelling simple three and four-letter words, to writing multi-syllabic words with “10 letters-plus” in a matter of only a few months!

And I waste no time in extending the Secret they know about Mommy E® with the one about the Babysitter Vowels®, which catapults their reading and writing to a whole new level! Kids in kindergarten understand the Babysitter Vowels® just as easily as they do Mommy E® because they are both based on the same “Do what mommy (or the babysitter) says!” …..even if they aren’t yet ready to understand it in “V-C-V / V-C-C-V” terms!

The Superhero Vowels®, Mommy E®, Babysitter Vowels® (and Sneaky Y®, which I didn’t talk about, but you can read about here!) are what Katie refers to in her sessions as “high-leverage” Secrets, as they provide beginning readers and writers with SO much bang for the instructional-buck! You can watch her speak about these in the video clip below and then start playing around with these in your classroom, too!

And thanks to Katie’s ongoing invitation to post here throughout this school year, I’ll have the chance  to share our amazing transformation into “grown-up” readers, writers and spellers with all of you!

Thanks so much for reading, and I look forward to answering your questions, so please post them!!!
Sincerely,
Mrs. Mac

The Secret Stories® "BETTER" Alphabet Mini-Mats
This is me with my “BETTER Alphabet” Mini-Mat! LoL!
 
I want to thank Mrs. Mac SO MUCH for sharing so many of the wonderful things that she does in her classroom, and I can’t wait to watch how her class grows as readers and writers over the course of the year! 
 
And for all those who don’t have the Secret Stories® but would like to try them, you can download the mini-poster sample pack free by clicking on the picture below.
Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories
FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Poster Sample Pack
You can also check out the Secrets of the Superhero Vowels® & MORE! Bundle on TpT, which includes all of the Superhero Vowels® graphics in multiple size options, as well as Mommy E®,  Sneaky Y® and the Babysitter Vowels®—all of which impact the sounds that the vowels make in words.
Secret Stories® "SECRETS of the Superhero Vowels® & More!" Bundle
The Secret Stories “Superhero Vowels® & MORE!” Digital Bundle
The “bundled-pack” even includes all of the anchors that are contained in the Beethoven Blends “Blender Pack” so as to provide additional practice by incorporating the blends with the changing vowel sounds. 
The Superhero Vowels® & MORE Bundle is the best way to get started with the Secrets, and it’s also a great way to supplement the Secret Stories® Classroom Kit for those already using them! Like all of the digital Secret Stories® pieces on TpT, the graphics can be reproduced in various size options for use as needed, both in and outside of the classroom—from centers to home use/practice!
Secret Stories® Phonics "Fun & Funky" Classroom Kit
Secret Stories Phonics Classroom Kit (“Funk & Funky” style)

Once you start telling Secrets, there will be no turning back— for you OR your students! They will start questioning EVERYTHING about letters and the sounds that they make…. because they know that you have  ALL their Secrets! Whenever and wherever your students spot letters not doing what they should, they will demand to know its “secret”..so be prepared!

Just after finishing this post, I received the following from Mrs. Mac….

A “Post-Script” from Mrs. Mac

Katie,

I had to share!
Today was the first day that the Secret Stories showed up in their writing INDEPENDENTLY!!!! 
I had three different students raise their hand as if it were an emergency— one had discovered a Sneaky Y while writing the word tricky, and the other two heard and identified the “er” and “ir” Secrets when writing the words dirty and number ……. And sooooo it begins….(insert evil laugh here) ;) 

And this is exactly why I love Mrs. Mac…. she gets AS excited as her kiddos! She is truly their biggest cheerleader and her enthusiasm for reading and writing is contagious!!!!
Until Next Time,
Katie :-)
Katie Garner — Education Speaker and Literacy Consultant

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Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets

 

Katie Garner Education Author and Keynote Speaker/ Literacy Consultant
For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here. 

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Secret Stories® Phonics — The Brain Loves Novelty!

Using Music to Cement “Sound-to-Symbol” Connections in the Brain

I’m often asked why the Secret Stories® musical brainteaser exercises (on the musical download that’s included in the kits) aren’t exactly songs, as there is no instrumental accompaniment, no fun lyrics….just simple and instantly recognizable tunes with constantly changing “sound-symbol” manipulations! They are the fastest way to “glue” the sound-to-symbol (“speech to print”) connections together and build the automaticity needed for easy and effortless reading and writing!

If you use the Secrets in your daily reading and writing (phonics) instruction, you may have wondered why the Secret Stories® musical brain teaser “songs” sound so differently from other educational songs sung in early grade classrooms? Like everything else that is Secret Stories®, it’s about getting the maximum brain-BANG” for the instructional buck! 

phonics songs

Note that the previously included CD is now a music DOWNLOAD!

As teachers, we’ve all seen how easily and effortlessly students can sing through skills when they’re set in a song. Like, for example, the old “ABC Song,” assuming that you don’t mind the inclusion of that imaginary letter, “elemeno!” Kids sing daily songs as if on “autopilot,” which they are. The words literally roll off their tongue, and with no thinking required!

And this is good, right?
Not necessarily, as it depends what the skill is and how kids are going to need to use it.

Familiar and repetitive songs are perfect for fast mastery of “set” skills that are finite and sequential—in other words, skills that need only to be parroted back, “as is,” like the days of the week, months of the year, names of the planets, fifty nifty states, etc…  Such skills are easily acquired through song and stored in learners’ muscle memory, which works much like a  ‘read-only’ disc. This means that while the information is easily regurgitated, it cannot be altered or manipulated….which is fine for naming the days of the week, but not so helpful for manipulating letter sounds and phonics patterns to read and spell.

Letters and sounds exist for one reason—using them to read and spell words. The ability to sing through the letter names in order serves no practical purpose for reading and writing. Beginning learners must be able to actively manipulate these sounds and symbols in a “free-form” and flexible manner in order to use them as “tools” to read and write.
Unlike the “traditional” Alphabet Song, the Secret Stories Better Alphabet™ Song does empower beginning learners with this ability, taking approximately 2 weeks to 2 months for simultaneous mastery of BOTH letter names AND sounds—which are cemented together through muscle memory.  (For more on the Better Alphabet™, see links at bottom.)

The “Unfamiliar and Unexpected” are the Brain’s BEST Friends!  

Singing through the virtually endless letter sound combinations in a variety of constantly changing, musical exercises is the best way to ensure that learning not only remains novel, but that the stress-level is kept low, while the challenge remains high! It’s also the best way to forge critical “sound-symbol” connections in the brain and increase automaticity for using them in both reading and writing! 
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Following is an excerpt from an article written by Belle Beth Cooper on Novelty and the Brain.
Why Getting New Things Makes Us Feel So Good: Novelty and the Brain

We all like novelty! In fact, our brains are made to be attracted to novelty. And it turns out that it could actually improve our memory and learning capacity!

The Brain Loves Novelty for Phonics Instruction

It’s actually hardwired into my brain—and yours—to appreciate and seek out novelty. Anything that’s new, different or unusual… we can even be drawn to novelty without being conscious of it. Of course, this makes a lot of sense—we wouldn’t get much done if ordinary things captivated us constantly!

The cool thing about this is how intricately novelty seems to be associated with learning, which means we can use this knowledge to our advantage for learning new things and improving our memory.
It’s been thought before that novelty was a reward in itself, but, like dopamine, it seems to be more related to motivation. Our Dopamine pathways become activated whenever we are exposed to novelty, and only completely new things will activate our midbrain area. Studies show that the plasticity of the hippocampus (the ability to create new connections between neurons) was increased by the influence of novelty—both during the process of exploring a novel environment or stimuli and for 15–30 minutes afterward.
As well as increasing our brain’s plasticity—and therefore the potential for learning new concepts and facts—novelty has been shown to improve the memory of test subjects. Studies suggest that dopamine (a “reward” chemical in the brain) levels increase in the context of novelty. Each new stimuli gives you a little rush of motivation to go further, to find more new stimuli that will generate more dopamine rewards.

Here is a graph that shows activity in your brain on this:

Secret Stories® Phonics —"The Brain Loves Novelty"

According to a study conducted by Dr. Emrah Duzel from University College in London:
Subjects performed best when new information (i.e. constantly changing musical manipulations) was combined with familiar information  (i.e. letters/sounds) during learning. After a 20 minute delay, subjects’ memory for slightly familiar information (i.e. letters/sounds) was boosted by 19 per cent if it had been mixed with something new during learning sessions.

This research suggests that we use the brain’s increased plasticity wisely by setting aside time to learn right after novel stimuli, as learners’ brains are more open to making new connections during and right after this time. So why not take advantage!

Dr Düzel pointed out additional benefits that could come from his research:

“We hope that these findings will have an impact on those with poor memory. Current practice aims to improve memory through repeatedly exposing a person to information. This study shows that it’s more effective if you mix something new with the old. You actually learn better, even though your brain is also tied up with new information.
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So what does this mean for teachers? And how can it benefit our phonics instruction?
It means that you can significantly improve knowledge retention and make new ideas and concepts (like letter sounds and phonics skills) stick by introducing novelty into the learning process. And doing this is easier than you think!

Above is just one example of MANY research studies showing the significant impact that novelty has on the brain, and for purposes of teaching and learning, novelty can take many forms! Incorporating novel experiences into daily learning doesn’t mean having to continually add on new skills and information to what you’re already teaching!

Novelty can be easily achieved by simply framing “slightly-familiar” content in new and unique ways. This causes our brains to notice and recognize it more easily because it’s been offset by the new way in which it’s being presented. (In other words, it not only keeps it fresh, but makes it more exciting!)

A Novel Approach to Decoding and Encoding with Musical Practice and Play

If this sounds confusing, but I promise, it’s not once you see it in action.
And it’s not just the musical brain teaser exercises in the Secret Stories® that make use of this “novelty-effect,” but the Secrets, themselves! Transforming phonics skills kids have to learn into secrets they want to know makes them important to kids—marking them for memory and prioritized learning in the brain (Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, 2018). This is especially true when framing them as “Grown-up Reading and Writing Secrets” that kids must be “big enough” to hear!
phonics stories dyslexic
Every Secret is a new story about the “secret” behavior (or misbehavior!) of letters….and the higher the grade level, the more significant this “novelty-effect!” Older, struggling learners have had their share of disconnected and often confusing phonics instruction. Feeling as if they’ve already “been there and done that,” most have spent countless hours across multiple grade level  years trying and failing to acquire the phonics skills they need to read and write. For these struggling, upper grade learners, framing these seemingly boring and meaningless letter sound skills as novel “secrets” that explain all of the sounds letters make when they get together, sparks their natural curiosity and reignites their interest—motivating them to want to know and learn more as things finally start to make sense!
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Following are some short video clips showing the Secret Stories® Musical Brain Teasers in action for fun and novel phonics play and practice! These little brain-based ditties are best done in bits of downtime throughout the day (think “instantaneous singing!”) while waiting for the bus, or for the music teacher to come, or for the lunch line to move. (To access the musical download, find the code on the inside back cover of your Secret Stories® book.)
The Beethoven Blends AND Beethoven Blends ‘In-Reverse!’

Beethoven Blends Musical Phonics Practice

Click Here for the Digital Version of the Secret Stories® Beethoven Blends on Teachers Pay Teachers

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Apples & Bananas to the EXTREME!

The “Letter Runs” – Forward, Backward, Long & Short!

This song is almost never sung the same way twice, as you can do it backward AND forward, and even sing it to different tunes— from the Star-Spangled Banner to Happy Birthday—all while continually switching the vowel sounds back and forth, from long to short! (So many ways, so little time! ;-)


This class can even sing it “Jedi-Style!”
(Note: You can’t see from the way that the teacher is facing in the video, but she is pointing to each letter as it’s sung, so as to  ensure that kids always “SEE what SING and SING what they SEE!” This is key to forging the the letter-sound connections in the brain. However, when doing the rapid-paced Letter Runs forward and backward, it’s much easier when using a vertical alphabet. (The one pictured beneath the video is included is included in the Better Alphabet Anchor Pack, shown further down below.)
Secret Stories Letter Runs

Vertical Alphabet (in the Better Alphabet™ Anchor Pack below)

And then there’s the Better Alphabet™ Song for fast mastery of individual letter sounds in just 2 weeks to 2 months! (Video version below.) During this time, kids are also learning Secrets that explain WHY the letters aren’t always making the sounds they should!
Better Alphabet Song

Click Here for the “Video-Version” of the Better Alphabet® Song

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Better Alphabet Song Posters

Click Here for the Better Alphabet™ Classroom Anchors

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Better Alphabet Song Mini Mat Anchors

Click Here for the Better Alphabet™ Digital Mini-Mats for Individual Student Reference & Home Use

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And if you don’t already have the Secrets, but would like to try sharing them with your students to fast-track your phonics instruction, you can download this mini-sampler poster pack FREE! 
Free Secret Stories® Phonics Posters

Click Here to Download the FREE “Appetizer-Pack” of Secret Stories® Phonics Posters

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The Brain is the Ultimate Pattern-Making Machine!  

In a previous post, I explained how to get the most brain-BANG for the buck when using Secret Stories® to sound-out unknown words and help learners to “think through” or pattern-out the most likely sound options. While that post focused on how to think like a doctor, this post will focus on why!

Engaging with unknown text in this way transforms daily reading and writing into a virtual playground for critical thinking and deeper learning, and is far more beneficial from a brain-based perspective than rote memorization of sight words, as evidenced by recent Stanford University Brain Study on Sight Words, referenced in this post. 
 

Patterning IS Thinking

When it comes to learning, our brain’s core belief system is comprised of everything that’s already known to be true. Our brain is the ultimate pattern-making machine.  It is continually engaged in two primary functions— seeking-out patterns and creating new ones. Whether deciding what to eat for lunch or solving complex mathematical equations, our brains remain on a perpetual hunt to both find and make new patterns! 
 
Once identified, our brain will attempt to connect the new information its perceived to that which it already owns, so as to create a new pattern. And this pretty much sums up the brain’s core learning process! With each new pattern connection that is made, our thinking network continues to grow… and the more connections madethe easier it will be to identify new ones. Acquiring knowledge in this way is both easy and effortless, with no memorization or repetitious practice required! 
 
The following excerpt is taken from 12 Design Principles Based on Brain-based Learning Research by Dr. Jeffery Lackney
Pattern making is pleasing to the brain. The brain takes great pleasure in taking random and chaotic information and ordering it. The implications for learning and instruction is that presenting a learner with random and unordered information provides the maximum opportunity for the brain to order this information and form meaningful patterns that will be remembered. The brain, when allowed to express its pattern-making behavior, creates coherency and meaning. 
 
Research shows those considered to be the most intelligent among us, based on IQ testing, are actually the best pattern makers, as they are able to see patterns where others see only randomness. 
 
Author Michael Michalko (author of Thinkertoys, Cracking Creativity, and Think-Pak) wrote in a recent blog post, How Geniuses Think, that “When confronted with a problem, a genius will ask,  “How many different ways can I look at it? How many different ways can I solve it?” 
 
Beginning and struggling readers must employ this same diagnostic thinking when using the Secrets to sound out unknown words in text, asking, “What else can it be?….  What else could I try?”  Engaging in this type of analytical, problem-solving is often referred to as “thinking outside the box,” but to do it effectively, you have to know what’s in it! And this is why knowing the Secrets is so important for beginning and struggling readers, as they equip learners with everything that’s in the box so that they are empowered to think outside it!
According to Michalko, it is the ability to “connect the unconnected” that makes one some capable of “seeing things to which others are blind.” Einstein, Mozart, Edison, Pasteur, Picasso….some of history’s most prolific thinkers who were also great pattern-makers! Research shows that it’s about teaching students how to think, not what to think.So what does this mean for teachers? It means that we can teach thinking by teaching patterning!  

It means that regardless of students’ personal strengths or weaknesses, inclinations or academic interests, teaching them how to pattern-out new information makes them better thinkers … and more intelligent!  That’s right!  The research shows that by helping learners to foster new connections, we have the power to increase physical brain mass, maximizing learner-potential and better preparing them for future learning!

It also means that kindergarten teachers can’t just say that the letter T will say “tuh” and then pretend to ignore the fact that it almost never actually does when kids see it in real words (i.e. this, they, them, those, them, that, there, those, etc… outnumber words like turtle and Toronto 10 to 1!) versus ignore all of the times that it doesn’t (i.e. the, this, they, those, them, then, than, these, etc…)


The Brain is a “Pattern-Making” Machine!
When the odds are 10 to 1 against a letter actually making the sound that learners expect it to, trying to read words can feel like a wild goose chase! But for learners who know the letters’ Secrets!

Download the Secret Stories® Mini-Poster “Appetizer” Anchor Pack FREE!

 

 

Effective instruction should align with the brain’s natural learning process, not against it, and this can be extremely difficult when teaching letter sounds and phonics. Teaching phonics is not intuitive, and most teachers in early classrooms today have received little to no training on how to do it effectively. So how does one teach something that doesn’t seem to make sense in a way that actually makes sense? They know the Secrets, of course!

 

Secret Stories® is not like traditional phonics, nor is it like any phonics program. The Secrets simply put meaning where there would otherwise be none, and thereby shifting instruction from brain antagonistic to brain compatible. Secrets empower teachers to break down the grade level walls of traditional phonics skill introduction that limit early learner-access to the code (and what are often letters’ most likely sounds!)

Breaking Down the Grade Level Walls that Limit Early Learner Access to the Code

The ability to classify incoming information quickly into categories (based on patterns that we know) means that the brain can use easier rules to deal with the new input, which is less stressful than always having to deal with things that haven’t been seen before. 

In other words, our brains are hardwired to look for patterns, and the Secrets are patterns— not abstract letter patterns, but patterns of behavior that are designed to mimic learners’ own behavior. Knowing these patterns (i.e. Secrets) equips learners to more easily deal with new information (i.e. unfamiliar words) and better identify the best course of action (most and next most likely sound options to try). In contrast, inexperienced early grade and struggling upper grade readers who don’t know the Secrets must constantly deal with things (i.e. words, phonics patterns) they have never seen before, and are usually told, “It just is… It just does… You just have to remember….” when they can’t read or spell a word.

Seth Godwin, author of Looking for Patterns (Where they don’t Exist!) writes, “Human beings are pattern-making machines. That’s a key to our survival instinct— we seek out patterns and use them to predict the future. Which is great, except when the pattern isn’t there, then our pattern-making machinery is busy picking things out that truly don’t matter.” 
The brain science cuts a clear path for teachers today, and understanding how we might better align our instruction with the brain science is critical information for those in early grade classrooms, as well as those working with struggling readers at the upper grade levels. For more, click here to subscribe free to my YouTube Channel and check out the video clip below to find out why “Cheating the Brain is Like Robbing a Bank!”
 
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-)

 


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Breaking down the grade level walls of phonics introduction— one “Secret” at a time!
Secret Stories® accelerates learner access to the code by fast-tracking individual letter sound skill mastery to just 2 weeks to 2 months (via muscle memory) while simultaneously targeting learners’ earlier-developing, affective (social-emotional) “feeling” networks with Secrets for accelerated phonics skill mastery. 
 
Secrets account for WHY letters don’t always “do what they should” when they get together in words in a way that kids easily understand, making them easy to remember with no memorization or skill-based practice required! By working with the brain rather than against, Secret Stories® breaks down the traditional grade level walls of phonics skill introduction that limit learner-access to the code and increases momentum in both reading AND writing! (Note: Secret Stories® is not a program, but intended to underscore any existing reading curriculum/instruction, serving as a teacher “took-kit” to make phonics make sense!
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Sample Poster Pack!

 

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How To Teach Those “So-Called” Exceptions
to the Phonics Rules (and Easily Decode “Non-Decodable” Words!)

Did you know that if you had a fever and cough, it could be the plague,
or pneumonia…
or maybe just the flu?
Actually, it could be a lot of things.

Because doctors know that the plague is the least likely cause of your symptoms and that the flu is the most likely, they will probably go with the flu first, and then work their way through the alternative options, as needed.

As medicine is not an exact science, doctors must often work through a series of options to determine what treatment will be most effective with their patients. They make these decisions based on a hierarchy of likelihood to determine what is most likely, next most likely, and least likely to be successful.

Like medicine, the English language and is not an exact science, and while phonics is the key to learning how to read, it’s often takes a binary form, with words either falling under the “rule” or the “exception.” However, by targeting instruction to earlier-developing, “feeling” based centers in the brain and aligning letter behavior with kid behavior, their most and next-most likely sounds become easily predictable, even for kinders….and even in those “so-called” exceptions!

A good word doctor who is armed with the Secrets can “treat” these so-called exceptions in much the same way that doctors treat their patients. And in doing so, a critical-thinking playground begins to emerge as beginning and struggling readers gain power over text.

First, it’s important to realize that there are only so many different sounds that a letter or letter pattern can make, and their not random, even though they may sometimes appear so. Just like the saying, The apple won’t fall too far from the tree,” letters won’t stray too far from their sounds! For example, you will never see the letter q say “mmm,” or the letter k say “duh,” or the tion pattern say “ing!”

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

 

Contrary to popular belief, letters don’t just lose their little ‘letter-minds’ and run amok! All they do (and it’s usually the vowels that do it!) is make sounds that they are perfectly capable of making— but it just might be their next-most likely ones! Watch the video clip below to see what I mean!

 

When working with patients, doctors must ask themselves, “How many different ways can I look at this? How many different ways can I solve it?” Beginning and struggling readers must also employ this kind of diagnostic thinking when attempting to sound out unknown words, asking themselves, “What else can it be?….  What else could I try?” Engaging in this type of analytical, problem-solving is often referred to as “thinking outside the box,” and the key to doing it effectively is to first know what’s IN the box!

Thinking Outside the Box to Decode Words and So-Called “Exceptions!”

phonics exceptions

This is why knowing the Secrets is so important for beginning and struggling readers, as the Secret Stories® equip them with everything that’s IN the box so that they are more easily able to think outside it— something that working with text demands!

The ou/ow Secret….

Ou ow play really rough and someone always gets hurt and says— “Oooowww!” 

(as in words like: our, round, how, now)

But, flying overhead is Superhero O, who happens to be o & w‘s all-time, favorite superhero, ever!

If ow ever spots Superhero O flying overhead, they stop dead in their tracks, and yell—

“O! O! O!” 

…which is why ow can also say O! (It’s “default” sound)

(as in words like: blow, flow, glow, mow)

 

 

The Secret (and default sound for ow) makes sounding out most words with this common pattern easy, even for kinders, which means that words like: how, now, about, around, etc, commonly found on sight word need NOT be memorized! As with the Secret, kids can just READ them! Plus, kids can learn the ou/ow Secret in an instant, even if they haven’t mastered all of the individual letter sounds yet, as it still makes sense. Memorizing a sight word however, can take some students forever… especially those with little to no home support, as they are less likely to use it enough to make it stick. And even more importantly, knowing a sight word allows learners to read one word, whereas knowing a Secret empowers them to read and write thousands!

Now let’s consider a word like you

The ou isn’t doing what it should, according to the Secret. Still, the sound it IS making in the word hasn’t really strayed too far away… at least not so far that a good word doctor couldn’t easily figure it out! And here’s how…

A “Hierarchy of Likelihood” Approach to Decoding (a.k.a. Thinking Outside the Box)

1.  First, try the most likely Secret Stories sound for ou (as in house)….. NOPE, it didn’t work!

2.  Next, try the individual sounds for the letters and ….. BINGO!!! We got the word!!

In this case, we got it on the second try.

Now, had we not struck gold on our first “out-of-the-box” attempt, we could have worked our way further down the list of possible sound options and turned this puzzle into a sort of problem-solving/critical thinking game….

3.  Try the sounds of other Secret Stories patterns with o or  u, like the Secrets for oo, oi/oy or ous. For example, in the word could, the ou is making the default-sound for oo (as in book) and kids who know the oo Secret might try that sound as one more possible option.

oo phonics story

And of course, you can also pull out the handy “Head-Bop” Trick in a pinch to help kids easily figure out those otherwise non-decodable words, like: of, come, love, some, what, was, etc.. (You can read more about this trick here.)

sight word activities

thinking vowels head bop

 

4.  It’s the PLAGUE!  It requires a specialist! When we’ve exhausted all options and have no more tricks up our sleeve, we must surrender to the word, which means we have to memorize it!

Why Not Just Memorize Tricky Sight Words?

Here’s why— because it is within this “figuring-out” (a.k.a. analytical/critical-thinking) process that deep learning lies! Not just learning how to read, but learning how to think! Our brain is a pattern-making machine, and this patterning process of thinking-through all available options is its natural way of doing things. “If not this, then that…” Our brain is continually patterning-out the best  available options in everything that we do.

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
 

We think, “I’ll park in the front, but if I can’t find a space, I’ll try the back, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try the next lot over. If I can’t find anything there, then I’m giving up and going home, as I’m too tired to walk that far.” We don’t think— “I’ll park in the front, but if I can’t find a space, then I don’t know what I’ll do!” (This is similar to the way in which kids often handle words that are exceptions, which is to throw their hands up in surrender the minute that letters don’t do exactly what they should in a word.)

Seth Godwin, author of Looking for Patterns (Where they don’t Exist! writes,

“Human beings are pattern-making machines. That’s a key to our survival instinct— we seek out patterns and use them to predict the future. Which is great, except when the pattern isn’t there, then our pattern-making machinery is busy picking things out that truly don’t matter.” 

The Brain is a Pattern-Making Machine

Our brains are hardwired to look for patterns, and the Secrets are patterns— not abstract letter patterns, but patterns of behavior that are designed to mimic learners’ own behavior.  The ability to classify incoming information quickly into categories (based on the patterns we know) means the brain can use easier rules to deal with the new input, which is less stressful than always having to deal with things that haven’t been seen before. Knowing the Secrets equips inexperienced beginning and struggling learners to identify the best course of action when sounding out new words, and not knowing the Secrets means having to say, “It just is… It just does… You just have to remember….” when they can’t read or spell a word.

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

Another benefit to reading words rather than just memorizing them is that it sparks more optimal brain circuitry, as evidenced by numerous studies, including a recent one by Stanford University Professor, Bruce McCandliss, which you can read more about here. 

 

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics— Stanford University Sight Word Brain Study
Stanford Brain Study on Sight Words Post

Just to be clear, some words are just better to memorize, as mentioned when discussing the word could, up above. But most are not, especially if they now the Secrets and can easily read them! Consider that every sight word that a learner memorizes is one less opportunity to reinforce their “sounding-out” (decoding) skills that you work so hard to teach, and more importantly, one less opportunity to flex their “critical thinking/problem solving” muscles!

Now before you read any further, watch this video.


It’s easy for teachers to empathize with Ricky’s struggle to read words like: boughs, through, rough, cough and enough. Like many students in our guided reading groups, Ricky diligently attempts to decode what seem to him to be ‘un-decodable’ words and becomes understandably frustrated in the process. Ultimately, Ricky just closes the book and gives up, convinced that the sounds letters make just don’t make sense. Many of our students feel the same way.

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

 

How To Think Like a “Word Doctor” to Decode Text

In the same way that a doctor works through various options to heal a patient, we can do the same to “heal” the words that are stumping Ricky…. or at least to help make them more “figureoutable!” ( I know it’s not a word, but I really like it!)

First, we need to know another Secret…

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
Click Here to Learn the gh Secret

The gh Secret

Gh will make different sounds, depending on where they are in line (i.e. in a word)

When they are at the FRONT, they’re glad!

There, they make the hard g sound, saying….

 “Gosh, this is Great!  We’re going to Get to Go first and Get in before anyone else Goes!” 

(ghost, ghoul, ghastly, etc…)

When they are in the MIDDLE, and surrounded by lots of other letters,

they are silent and are too afraid to say anything and make NO SOUND at all

(sight, thought, straight, etc…)

When they are at the END, they’re not at all happy and they always complain.

Here, they make the fff sound, saying….

“This is no ffun! We’re so ffar away it’ll take fforever ffor us to get to the ffront!”

(rough, enough, cough, etc…) 

Now let’s play “Word Doctor”….

A Reading/ Phonics Word Doctor

bough

No problem with the ou as it is doing just what it should (see ou/ow poster up above)

But gh is a different story, as it is not making the sound that it should, which is “fff.”  So let’s try one of the only TWO other sounds that it can make, and voila! We got it! The gh is silent! The gh Secret is everything that’s IN the box when it comes to all of the possible sounds that gh can make, making it easy for learners to deduce the next most likely options when it doesn’t do exactly what it should!

 

rough

Like in the word you (mentioned at the top of the post), ou is not making the sound that it should, but by simply trying the individual sounds for both and u, we can easily get the word! In this case, ou is making the short u sound. And thankfully, gh is doing exactly what it should when it’s at the end of a word!

cough

Just as with the word rough,  ou is not making the sound that it should, but is making one of their individual sounds, instead. This time, it’s the short o sound. And again, the gh is doing exactly what it should.

enough

Once more the ou is not making the sound that it should, but it IS doing the next most likely thing, based on our “hierarchy of likelihood” (way up above at top of post), just as it did in the words you, rough and cough.  In this case, it’s making the short u sound. And once again,  gh is doing what it should.

through

Now this one’s a little trickier— bordering between being “fun to figure out” and “just easier to memorize,”  I would probably go with the latter, but it is gratifying to know that with a little “out of the box” thinking, we CAN crack this word, should we chose to!

The ou is not making the sound that it should, nor is it making the o or u sound, but just like the word you that was mentioned at the top of this post, it is making the most likely sound of its “cousin” oo … and by cousin, I mean another similar Secret that looks like it could be a possible relative, as it shares a common relative, which is o.  (The sound for oo can be seen in the oo poster way up above.)

And then we have the same problem with gh that we had with a couple of the other words up above— nothing that a good word doctor can’t fix, as gh is just being difficult and refusing to talk, as is his prerogative. However, it does require an extra analytical step to crack the word, which may be one too many to make it worthwhile. Thus, it merits the time, energy and space in the brain that’s required memorize.

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

This video clip shows a group of first graders playing “Word Doctor” and applying some critical analysis and diagnostic thinking to the word light. While they can already read the word, they bothered by the fact that i is bothering to say his name when there Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® in sight!


Patterning IS Thinking

Brain Based Reading

The following excerpt is taken from 12 Design Principles Based on Brain-based Learning Research by Jeffery Lackney, Ph. D.

Pattern making is pleasing to the brain. The brain takes great pleasure in taking random and chaotic information and ordering it. The implications for learning and instruction is that presenting a learner with random and unordered information provides the maximum opportunity for the brain to order this information and form meaningful patterns that will be remembered. Setting up a learning environment in this way mirrors real life that is often random and chaotic.

The brain, when allowed to express its pattern-making behavior, creates coherency and meaning. Learning is best accomplished when the learning activity is connected directly to physical experience. We remember best when facts and skills are embedded in natural, spatial memory, in real-life activity, in experiential learning. We learn by doing. facilitated in an environment of total immersion in a multitude of complex interactive experiences.


Hmmmm…. that sounds a lot like the class in the video!

The Superhero Vowels® and their “Short & Lazy” Sound Disguises

Secret Stories Phonics Posters

For a quick overview of the Superhero Vowels® and their “short & lazy” sound disguises, watch the video below.

And the last little doctor tool that I want to share before signing off is about the vowels, as they are the most likely culprits when words just won’t sound-out correctly! Vowels are the “eyes, ears, nose and throat” of a word, which is why good word doctors should always check them out first! They offer the best window into what’s most likely wrong. Sometimes it’s an issue with a Secret (as with the words we’ve seen in this post) but other times fixing the problem requires having a few “vowel-fixing” tricks up your sleeve— something that every good word should have!

decoding exception words
Learn more word doctor strategies, including, the “Thinking Vowels/Head-Bop” and the “Hungry Thing” to crack tricky vowel sounds here and watch the video down below!

How to Read Words that are Exceptions

How to Decode “Undecodable” Words So Kids Don’t Have to MEMORIZE Them

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Secret Stories® Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!

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Shhhhhh! The "Grown-Up" Reading & Writing Phonics Secrets!
What letters DO when they DON’T do what they should!

Have you ever wondered WHY letters make all of the crazy sounds that they do? Or how you could possibly make them make sense to a five-year-old who just wants to play with their shoe and lick the carpet?

 

Letters are like kids. 

They behave beautifully and do just what they should (i.e. make their proper sounds) when they are separated and can’t get a hold of each other…. like, for example, when they’re up on the wall.
Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!'— Individual Letter Sound Mastery in 2 weeks- 2 months!

But when they get together, all bets are off and the bad behavior begins!

phonics poster
Secret Stories® Phonics— Brain Based Reading
You Can’t Think Outside the Box Unless You Know What’s IN It!

But like us, letters also have “Secrets!” And knowing their Secrets makes it easy to understand their behavior. These are the “grown-up” reading and writing Secrets!

Phonics Posters
CLICK FOR FREE SAMPLER PACK

Teachers who know the Secrets never have to say to their students, “It just is….It just does…You just have to remember” when telling them how to sound out or spell a word. They just tell them its Secret! 

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!" — Making Phonics Make SENSE!

However, these ‘grown-up’ reading and writing Secrets are SO big that students have to earn the right to hear them! (with creative/critical thinking, awesome answers, beautiful behavior, perfect patience, caring kindness, automatic attention, dynamic discussions, ready responsibility, keeping clean, collecting compliments, etc…)

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!" — Brain Based Tools that Make Phonics Make SENSE!
Starting with the Secrets— An Introduction

Secret Stories®— An Introduction

When I used to teach kindergarten and first grade, I would often tell my kids that they were “too little” to hear the “BIG grown-up Secret” that they’d spotted in a word, and that if they ate lots of vegetables every night that week, then their brains might be big enough by Friday for me to tell them! Needless to say, the parents of my picky eaters (half my class) thought I was magic, as their kids never could explain clearly enough for them to understand why exactly they were gorging on vegetables every night! 

Secret Stories® Phonics — The "Grown-Up" Reading & Writing Secrets!
“What letters do when they don’t do what they should!”
By transforming letters and sounds from “skills they have to learn” into Secrets they want to know, we can align phonics instruction with learners “need-to-know” which marks the information for memory and prioritized learning in the brain. Doing so forges deeper learning connections for easier skill retrieval.
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Prompting "Need-to-Know" for Prioritized Learning in the Brain!
Sparking a ‘Need-to-Know’ for Prioritized Learning!
Within this learner-driven context, the instructional-tables are turned, as students beg their teachers for more and more pieces of the reading and writing code!
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Do YOUR kids know the "ph" Secret?
   Do YOUR kids know the “ph” Secret?

Shifting Phonics Instruction from Brain-Antagonistic to Brain-Compatible

And here begins the shift from “Brain Antagonistic” to “Brain-Compatible” instruction, allowing for twice the learning gain in half the time and with half the effort.

The result is an ongoing,  student-driven cycle of learning that is natural and seamless. Learners’ desire to know more Secrets catapults phonics skill introduction beyond traditional, grade level walls, empowering early learners with accelerated access to the “whole” reading and writing code.

Secret Stories® Phonics — Shifting Phonics Instruction from "Brain Antagonistic" to "Brain Compatible"

Breaking Down Grade Level Walls that Limit Learner Access to the Code





When I was teaching Kindergarten, I would always tell the Secret about au and aw on the very first day of school, during our first morning calendar time (and shortly after I’d finished calming my criers, yellers, screamers, and runners, etc..)

Phonics Posters
Click here to learn the au/aw Secret!
Au & aw have HUGE crushes on each other!
Whenever they have to stand right up against each, side-by-side in a word, 
they get so embarrassed that they always put their heads down and say—
 “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh” 

 

After telling them the Secret, I would say— 

“Just look at all of the words that have this grown-up reading and writing Secret:Autumn, awful, awesome, Austin….  If you didn’t know the Secret, you wouldn’t be able to read these words, but now you know the grown-up reading & writing Secret!” 

 

Phonics Instruction
Admittedly, I taught this Secret knowing full well that virtually no one in my class knew the difference between a letter and a number and a squirrel, and most certainly wouldn’t have been able to recognize the letter A if it fell from the sky and landed on their head. (Fun Fact— I’ve actually had this happen before, as one day the letter A (from my wooden Pottery Barn Kids Alphabet Set) fell off the wall and hit a little guy on the top of his head, prompting him to yell, “Hey! That ‘number’ just hit me!” ;-)
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets

So what was my reasoning for teaching the au/aw “second-grade skill” on the very first day of Kindergarten?  That’s easy.  Because it came up! And because it would keep coming up every single day, throughout the entire month of August (not to mention in a bunch of other words, too!)

The word August was written in big, bold letters at the top of our morning calendar, which we would be reading and talking about on a daily basis. Moreover, had any of my little guys actually known the letter A sound,  not explaining it would have been like tossing a giant monkey wrench into their existing pattern (i.e. what they thought they knew about the letter a).

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— "Teaching the READER, not the Reading!"
Not accounting for this obvious discrepancy would not only make me look like the world’s biggest liar every time we sing our BETTER Alphabet Song, but it defy the brain’s system for learning as a pattern-making machine.
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— The Brain is a "Pattern-Making" Machine
Patterning is the brain’s way of doing things. It is the essence of how we learn.

The brain is always seeking-put patterns and creating new ones. This is the learning process.  It is critical thinking at its most basic level. Patterning is, in a nutshell, the brain’s way of doing things!

And this is yet another example of how we can use the brain science to inform and enhance our teaching practices as we shift phonics instruction from brain-antagonistic to brain-compatible!

And so, having told them that they were “big enough” to hear this very important and very grown-up Secret on the very first day of school….

Then two things that happened on our way to lunch….

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Gifted Gus

1. A little boy named Gus (who had come to school with a note pinned to his shirt, by mom, telling me he was gifted) pointed to a sign above the fire doors and yelled, “Look! The letters that are in love are in that word! Aaahhh-to-maaa-tik…… aah-to-maa-tik…… AUTOMATIC!  Hey, I can read that word!!!!”

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Lu-Lu
2. A little girl (who thought her name was Lulu when it was actually Leslie) and had been playing with her shoes most of the morning) also yelled out, “Look teacher, look!” (pointing to the same sign above the fire doors) “Ahhhhhh…. ahhhhhhh…..We LOVE letters….ahhhhhh!” while simultaneously making the “in-love” gestures—arms to the side, head tilted, batting eyes—the whole works!

These two very different, yet equally awesome outbursts demonstrate why telling that particular Secret on that particular day was ABSOLUTELY the ideal, not to mention perfectly developmentally appropriate for both students— regardless upon which grade level scope and sequence the au/aw phonics skill officially falls.

High, medium or low…. the Secrets can be readily shared with ALL learners, with no harm and no fowl, as we’re not “teaching” skill, we’re giving them. It’s like food that’s been laid out on a buffet, ready for the taking, but without any expectations….just lots of modeling and use.

Both learners were “given” the same key to unlock text at the same time. One understands that it can be used to unlock words and one does not, but they both have the key, and that’s what counts! 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Accelerated Access to the WHOLE Reading & Writing Code!
Knowing the Secret gives Lu-Lu the same skill base that Gus has. She just doesn’t know quite what to do with it yet, which is why modeling of its use is key! Lower-level learners cannot afford to miss the bus and be left behind grade level skill for skill introduction,  as they need more time to incubate them, not less.

By giving Lu-Lu the same “keys” (i.e. Secrets) to unlock words that “Gifted Gus” has, we eliminate the learning curve and waiting time. That way, once her little light bulb pops on, she is ready to “hit the ground running” and start using the Secrets she already knows to read and to write.

Otherwise, learners like Lu-Lu often don’t acquire these critical pieces of the code to successfully cross over the instructional-hump that is learning to read in K-2, so as to be prepared to read to learn in 3rd and beyond.

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Note the “instructional-hump” so clearly depicted (mid-page, left) in these awesome sketch notes!

 

“Back Door” vs. “Front Door” Instruction

The brain develops back to front, with the earlier-developing, affective “feeling” networks more primed for learning than the slower developing, higher level, processing centers. It’s through these backdoor learning channels that the au/aw Secret is so easily acquired by both Lu-Lu and Johnny.  And whereas Johnny is ready to take the next step and use it for a purpose (i.e. reading and writing), Lu-Lu is not… but she owns the Secret!
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Do YOUR kids know the "au/aw" Secret?
“Awwwww, it’s Valentine’s Day!”

 

“It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care about. Deep understanding depends on making emotional connections between concepts. Emotion guides our learning. If something is emotionally stimulating, it is marked for memory and prioritized for learning in the brain.”

—Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang 
Mary Helen Immordino Yang
And if you really want really want to see what engagement can look like in an “impromptu” phonics discussion,  check out these first graders from  Mrs. Mac’s First Grade Class.  It’s one of my all-time favorites!

Channeling phonics skills through the brain’s backdoor via social-emotional “feeling” domain makes learning easy and effortless. By embedding high-leverage, phonics skill concepts (like Superhero Vowels®, Sneaky Y®, Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels®) into familiar, social and emotional “story-based” frameworks, inexperienced (and upper-grade, struggling learners) are easily able to predict the “most” and “next most” likely sound behaviors of letters in text— even in words they have never seen before.

Secret Stories Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels® for EASY decoding of BIG words!
Yep, it’s really THAT easy!!!
The Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Secret!
“The LIE About  Y”
Watch this quick clip to learn the Secretsof the Superhero Vowels®, Sneaky Y®, Mommy E® & the Babysitter Vowels® and start sharing them with YOUR class tomorrow!

Stories Put the Whole Brain to Work, and Act as “Memory-Enhancers” in the Brain

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Stories act as "memory enhancers" in the brain
Stories put the whole brain to work and are the most effective way to activate multiple areas of the brain simultaneously for enhanced, multi-sensory learning.
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Taking Advantage of "Learning Loopholes" in the Brain
That’s is not to say that all learners will immediately apply the Secrets they know to reading and writing, as doing so requires a certain level of developmental and cognitive readiness be attained, but like Lulu, learners can build the visual acuity needed to easily recognize the pattern (i.e. Secret) in text and the ability to instantly recall its sound. And these are the “keys” she will need to unlock text when she’s ready.
So don’t wait! The more tools that learners bring to the table each day, the more value they will be able to take away!

If you’re a kindergarten teacher, I bet I know what you’re thinking…
“Great! My kids will know the au/aw sound, but they still won’t be able to recognize the letter D!”  

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Fast-Track Individual Letter Sound Mastery to 2 Weeks to 2 Months!
No worries, as that part is just as easy! We don’t even need any Secrets for the individual letter sounds, as when letters make the sounds that they’re supposed to, all is right with the world! That’s not to say that teaching the individual letters and sounds is easy—which is why we don’t teach them, we give them! Just like with the Secrets, we can follow the brain science to access a more easily-accessible “backdoor” route for skill mastery by way of muscle memory!

“How to Be More Interesting than a Shoe When Teaching Letters & Sounds”
The individual letters and sounds are easily acquired simultaneously with Secrets by tapping into muscle/motor memory via the BETTER Alphabet Song! For early (and ELL) learners, muscle memory is a far more reliable pathway for letter sound mastery than the traditional path of cognitive processing. Acquisition time is just two weeks to two months, and that’s for both preK AND kindergarten! And during this timeframe, you’re also tossing out Secrets (as they come up) throughout the instructional day—continually adding to learners’ ever-expanding reading and writing tool-boxes! Just watch the video below to see how it’s done!
“The BETTER Alphabet Song”
which is also used in the Letter Run video
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— The BETTER Alphabet "Vertical" Anchor
BETTER Alphabet “Vertical” Anchor 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— The BETTER Alphabet "Vertical" Anchor

And when you’re ready to take it up a notch, you can try your hand at the Letter Runs! They can be sung backward and forward, and to ANY tune to keep that bar high! Click on the link under the picture below to hear the Letter Runs sung, “Jedi-style!”
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets—  Mimicking Decoding and Encoding with Music!
For more free musical brainteasers, click here!

And don’t forget to grab the FREE Secret Stories® Sampling and start sharing the Secrets in your classroom!  You can also grab the FREE Common Core Literacy Posters with Secret Stories® phonics graphics-supports, as well as the FREE “made-to-match” Science Posters… all of which are pictured, below.

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets Mini-Anchor Posters
FREE SECRET STORIES® MINI-POSTER SAMPLE ANCHORS

 

FREE Common Core Literacy Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
CLICK FOR FREE COMMON CORE LITERACY POSTERS
(“made-to-match” Math & Essential Questions sets also available)
FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE PRE/KINDER COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS

 

FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE FIRST GRADE COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS

 

FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE SECOND GRADE COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS
FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE THIRD GRADE COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS

 

22 comments:

  1. My students refer to the Secret Stories posters constantly! They are BY FAR the most- used resource in my entire first grade classroom!! You and Deanna are both just so amazing!
    Thank you both so much…. what an inspiration this is!!!!!!
  2. Wow, thank you, that’s so wonderful to hear! And your students’ frequent and ongoing use of the SECRETS is actually a testament to YOUR teaching and the abundance of opportunities you obviously provide to engage with text!

    And the fact that your students DO take the time to reference the SECRETS when they read and write only further indicates that the literacy opportunities you provide are personally meaningful to them….. so congrats to you again!!!

  3.  

    Your stories are fabulous. I teach a group of 26 first graders with very diverse needs. Your program is both visual and auditory and the children “hook on” to the stories easily. They can imagine the t and the h that sticks out their tongues when they stand together because they have learned the story behind the sounds. My ESOL students love to retell the stories and feel excited to apply what they know when they are reading. Last year, I bought your program. I don’t have your new posters but they look great. Thank you for finding a method that reaches so many students.

     

     

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  5. And thank YOU for taking the time to post and let me know!!
    Building that excitement is more than half the battle so keep up the great work and definitely keep me posted here and/ or on the Secret Stories blog….. You might just be a monthly winner of a new Secret Stories kit!!! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!
    :)

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  7. I am so excited I just read your Secret Stories posting on Deanna Jump’s Blog! I can’t wait to get your program so I can use it in my Kindergarten classroom!! I’m always thrilled when I find one more piece to use in my room to add to the foundation of “bricks” they need while keeping them engaged and excited! Thank you to both of you!

     

     

  8.  

    I love the “foundation of bricks” analogy and you are so right!
    The SECRETS simply provide a way for learners to ‘own EVERYTHING yesterday’ when it comes to ALL that is necessary to read and write, thereby shifting focus to the REAL goal of the game….reading for meaning & writing for a purpose!

    Requiring learners to wait until the 3rd grade for comprehensive sound-skill ownership (especially when we’re requiring students to begin reading and writing in Kindergarten) just makes NO sense….. not if there’s a developmentally appropriate/ ‘backdoor-way’ for learners to own them all from the get-go!

    Prolonging introduction/ acquisition of these critical skills over a period of multiple YEARS is what causes learner-focus to remain on the ‘bricks’ rather than on getting ‘up and over the wall’ where the REAL fun begins!!!!!

    Okay, I’m jumping down from my soapbox now ;)

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  11. I teach preK (4 and 5 year old class) and my little guys just eat the Secrets up! I also used your Better Alphabet Song (from your CD) and honestly I was was blown away that the little ones were actually able to pick up the individual letter sounds so quickly! It’s just unbelievable what they can do with these and how much it changes everything you do in the way that you teach!

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  12. Sounds like you could write my next ‘Secret Session’ post!!
    That’s awesome to hear and I’m thrilled to hear that you’re using the SECRETS in preK, as so many times I will see preK teachers shy away everything but the music pieces on the CD and it just kills me!

    Telling SECRETS in preK & K is like taking your class to a buffet- those who are are hungry for them will eat them and those that aren’t will still enjoy going along for the ride, establishing a sort of “catcher’s mit in the brain” in preparation for future recognition & instruction!!

    Thanks so much again for posting and I hope you will share more about your experiences so as to inspire other preK teachers to take the leap in rethinking what’s possible at that level!

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  13. I have not seen your secrets before, but it looks like a wonderful way to teach how and why these blends make the sounds they do! I’ll certainly be using much of your intel! Thanks so much for sharing ~ I think my kids are really going to latch onto these tips and be much better readers for it!

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  14. I have not seen your secrets before, but it looks like a wonderful way to teach how and why these blends make the sounds they do! I’ll certainly be using much of your intel! Thanks so much for sharing ~ I think my kids are really going to latch onto these tips and be much better readers for it!

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  15. I have not seen your secrets before, but it looks like a wonderful way to teach how and why these blends make the sounds they do! I’ll certainly be using much of your intel! Thanks so much for sharing ~ I think my kids are really going to latch onto these tips and be much better readers for it!

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  16.  

    Thanks for the wonderful comment, and I hope you will keep in touch regarding use of what’s shared, as I would love feedback on your experience at your specific grade level in the classroom!! :)

     

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  18. I love this! What a great way to introduce/teach those pesky digraphs!

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      …. and vowel combos, and blends, etc..!! As we move forward with Secret Sessions I’ll be sharing the ‘secrets’ for EVERYTHING that happens in language at least ‘5 times or more’ so as to ensure learners have logical explanations for why letters do (or don’t!) make the sounds that they do… so stay tuned!

       

     

     

     

  19. So cute! All kids love secrets. Wonderful way for kids to remember this sound.

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  20.  

    Thanks for posting! Would love to know what grade level you teach and for how long you’ve been using them?

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  22. I found you through Deanna jump and I am very intrigued by this!

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  23. That’s great, I’m so glad to hear it!! Things will only get ‘more intriguing’ from here… I promise ;)
    LoL…. so many new things to see when you take learners through the brain’s ‘backdoor’ rather of the traditional front ;)

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