“Why hadn’t I thought of this before? Giving my kids the phonics “secrets” to take home for reading and writing was truly the BEST GIFT I have ever given!”

This was originally posted on Tara Settle’s popular (and totally FREE & AWESOME!) teacher blog, Settle on In, entitled, “The BEST GIFT I Have Ever Given. It’s about the holiday gift that she gave to her students this year, and I asked Tara if she would be willing to share it here, along with some background, and she agreed! (Note that I have added the links for convenience.)

Phonics for Guided Reading

Tara Settle – 1st Grade Title I Teacher 

Tara Settle, from Settle On In
If you have read my previous post, then you know that I am a passionate advocate for Secret Stories and the accelerated access to phonics skills they provide beginning grade learners for reading and writing. In fact, I am always telling teachers that I meet about the Secrets and the huge difference that they make.

Secret Stories is a brain-based approach to fast-track phonics skills for reading and writing, giving kids the logical explanations for letter sound “behaviors” that their brains crave! It’s not a program, and no additional time is needed to teach it. The Secrets are simply teacher tools that make phonics make sense to kids, so that they can have more of the code to read and write with. (And if you’re a K or 1st teacher, then you know how important this is!)

I love the spirit of teachers. We are all in this together—not for us, but for the kids. That is one of the things that I truly appreciate about being a teacher, as well as our need to share great ideas with one another! And so, now that the hustle, bustle, and chaos of the Christmas classroom season is over, I wanted to share something that helped me so much during the year, and was actually the inspiration behind this post.

As I work in a Title 1 school with many extremely low level students, we rely on our Secret Stories. It is simply the best tool I have ever used in my classroom to turn my students into readers! I will never teach without the Secrets again, period! I bought them with my own money one summer because I was so desperate to help my struggling students. As a teacher, I was so frustrated because I felt I was failing them year after year, no matter what I tried. Yes, they were learning to read, but I knew they needed to make more progress in first grade, especially given the new demands and standards.

Fast-forward “post-Secret Stories” and I no longer feel this way! I finally feel like I am providing the best approach to help all of my students master reading, and it doesn’t even matter which reading series we use! As long as the kids know the Secrets, they have access to ALL of the phonics tools they need to crack the code—regardless of which book our district adopts. I honestly feel this way, and that was how the BEST GIFT I have ever given came to be this year….and I am so excited to share this idea with all of you, my fellow teachers!

I had recently watched a Secret Stories Sunday YouTube LIVE with Katie and one of the Title 1 teachers mentioned having held a parent event at their school and giving out the Secret Stories to parents on something called Porta-Pics

We actually used these in our classroom, but we call them “Code Crackers,” or our “Code-Cracking Cards!”

Code-Crackers for Phonics - Porta-Pics for Phonics Games

I had been pondering what holiday gift to give my first graders, and it suddenly hit me….I could give them the entire “Secret Phonics Code” to take and keep at home! This would literally be the BEST GIFT I could ever give my kids!

Code-Cracker Cards - Porta-Pics for Phonics Games

Why hadn’t I thought of this before???
Oh yeah, money and cost, duh!
Porta-Pics would cost about $2.60 per kid (as the class set is $65), but I figured and schemed my way around this problem!

At our Title 1 school, each teacher receives $100 to purchase items for the classroom. I already had a set of Porta-Pics that I used in the classroom, so I could give those to my kids this year, and then use next year’s Title 1 money to replace them for next year’s group… and I’d still have $35 left over! :-)

So I did it! And truth be told, I really would have paid for them out of my own pocket, once I realized what a dunce I had been all these years, teaching Secret Stories, but never giving the Secrets to the kids to keep and use at home. What had I been thinking? This was another “a-ha” moment in my teaching life.

The last part of my gift was to try and make sure that the parents understood what a precious gift their child now owned. The children needed help from a trusted adult to protect this treasure! (No kidding, I really feel this way, too!) So I typed up a note to the “trusted adults” and taped it on the back of each Secret Stories Porta-Pic “treasure” code card.

How to Teach Phonics at Home
Honestly, I even teared-up a bit as I taped each note on each gift. I explained to the parents that this was the BEST GIFT I had ever given my students. I didn’t want to brag, but I wanted them to understand the power of this gift to help their child.

It sounds strange to say (although all teachers will understand) but I was actually saddened that I had never given these phonics code-crackers to my past students. I had taught them all of the the Secrets as we worked our way through our  Journeys Reading Program, but I never gave them this piece of additional support for home. This class, however, would have help “on-hand” and ready for use at home whenever they needed it, so that they can be the teacher and educate their parents about the “stories” that help them read. The parents, in turn, could learn along with their child, and have a “real” tangible tool to support their children as readers. Maybe the Secret Stories will help take away some of the frustrations that children and parents feel in trying to improve their reading levels, fluency, sight word knowledge, and so on, and so on…
Now can you now see why this is the BEST GIFT I have ever given my class?

And if you are saying to yourself, “Well, Mrs. Settle, Christmas is over, so I will try to remember this idea next year.”
I say to you, “Why wait?!!” 

I am seriously disappointed that I waited so long to think about giving this precious gift to my students. Don’t make the same mistake. You could give them as a New Year’s Gift or a Valentine Present. Better yet, hold a parent event in your classroom and let them know will be giving out a special treasure to all those who come! Make it pirate-themed event with Porta-Pics as the “gold” that’s given at the end of the party. Find ANY reason to get this tool into your students’ hands at home to support their reading adventure!

And if you don’t use Secret Stories, you should!
I NEVER (well, almost) have to say to a child trying to read an unknown word…. “It just is… it just does… you just have to remember,” or worse, “I just taught that last week!”

All I have to say is, “Is there a Secret in that word?” and they immediately look to the posters and find the sound (or spelling) they need. Even without the posters (in the hallway, library, lunch line, etc…) a simple “Secret” gesture is all it takes to prompt the sound! What more can you ask for?

Oh, and one more thing, my first graders can now READ all of their sight words, which means we skipped the whole “memorizing” thing! And not only that, but every time they learned a Secret to read a sight words, they could use it for a hundred more words, which meant no lost time, and no words lost! Can you imagine? (This is why teachers who use the Secrets always say they could never go back to teaching without them…. it’s just waaaayyyyyyy too much work and with so little to show for it!)

To help you understand why I am so passionate about Secret Stories, there are some free Secrets in the “Appetizer Pack” which you can download and start using RIGHT NOW with your kiddos, plus lots of strategies that you can watch and then do for FREE on Katie’s YouTube Channel.

Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories

So, visualize the “happy teacher dance” I did when I gave my kids BEST GIFT EVER this Christmas, and listened to them “ohhhh” and “ahhhh!”  To say they were surprised would be an understatement! They were overwhelmed at the idea of getting to take the “grown-up” reading and writing Secrets home with them! (I later learned that some students had hung them next to their bed so that they could practice tell themselves the stories at night, and some kept them magnetized to their fridge in the kitchen, so brother and sister could use them for homework too, as our whole school uses Secret Stories).

So, there you have it, the BEST GIFT I have ever given my students!

Happy New Year!
Mrs. Settle
www.settleonin.blogspot.com


A Post-Script….

Christmas Pajama Day
We played the “I Know My Secrets” phonics game before I told them they could take Porta-Pics home. This is one of our favorite activities for phonics and reading, and the kids love it! (Katie has since talked about how to play this game and lots of other “secret” phonics games and activities that you can play with your class in her Secret Sunday YouTube Live.  (Just be sure to click on “Show Chat Replay” in the upper right corner when you watch the video, as some of the best stuff is happening in the conversation between teachers as Katie is talking!)

Working with a partner, one student points to a Secret (picture) on the Porta-Pic, and then the other has to tell the Secret Story and make its sound. If they are able to recall the phonics story and sound correctly, they can put a colored chip on that Secret.
Students take turns and I usually set a timer for three minutes to keep the game going quickly.

The beauty of this phonics activity is that if one partner doesn’t know the Secret, the other has to “teach” it before they can move on. We play several rounds and whoever wins the most rounds from each partner group wins a prize!

We played lots of Christmas party games, but “I Know My Secrets” was still the most popular party game of the day!

Phonics Activities

phonics games

We play a lot of the Secret phonics games that Katie talked about in her LIVE talks, and I have made a concerted effort this year to get the Secrets “off the walls” and into the hands of the kids! As we wouldn’t ever want to really take our posters off the wall because we are constantly using them to read and write throughout the day, we use additional sets of placards, square posters and flashcards (as all are available without the book if you already have the kit). This has opened up a whole NEW level of learning fun!

Phonics Games with Secret Stories Posters

Phonics Flashcard Games

Secret Stories Phonics Instruction Program

Plus, it helps to “connect the dots” for students who know the Secret Story, but need to see a concrete connection to the words that it’s in. Now I can bring the words and the Secrets together, as needed, which I actually do for every story in our Journeys Reading Series. Having extra sets of visuals that I (and students) can easily manipulate while keeping our “real” Secret Stories posters on the wall where they “live” (i.e. where kids can easily find them) has been a game-changer this year!

These Seesaw videos (that I sent my home to parents) just before and after holiday break will give you an idea of the concrete connections that I’m talking about, as well as how pull my parents in on the Secrets!


Thanks so much to Tara Settle at Settle On In  for sharing more about the creative ways she uses the Secrets in her classroom!  

Wishing everyone a happy, healthy and slightly “late” New Year!
Katie Garner
https://www.KatieGarner.com

*PREVIEW*PREVIEW*PREVIEW*PREVIEW*PREVIEW*PREVIEW*PREVIEW**PREVIEW*

This is Jen Foster (@GoodMorningMsFoster on Instagram- https://www.instagram.com/goodmorningmsfoster) who teaches  first grade teacher in Malaysia, and she and I have a special surprise in store for you that will be announced this weekend, so stay tuned to Facebook or Instagram for a big “reveal!”

 

 

Join me LIVE on Youtube for “Secret Sundays” at 5pm EST for Brain Based Phonics for Accelerated Reading and Writing Instruction!

Secret Sundays - Episode 2

If you tuned in last Sunday for the very first Secret Sundays LIVE at 5 on YouTube, then you know it was a blast! (And if you didn’t, you can catch it by clicking on the video below.)

And if you tuned in for, what was supposed to be “Rewind Wednesday,” which was supposed to be a replay of Sunday’s episode on Facebook Live, but with me “chatting” live in the comments section throughout, then you know that was a complete debacle. Ugh!

Well, not a total debacle….at least, not once everyone from the THREE live groups (yes, I accidentally streamed three at the same time) all found their way into the one that I was actually in. But from that point on, it was smooth sailing! :-)

And finally, the UNPLANNED and totally IMPROVISED "Wednesday Rewind!”…..3rd time’s a charm! Lol 😊

Posted by Secret Stories- Cracking the Reading/Phonics Code with the Brain in Mind on Wednesday, December 12, 2018

So, if you’re up for a challenge, try and join me this weekend for the second episode of Secret Sunday LIVE at 5pm on YouTube for “Cheating the Brain for Easy & Early Access to Hard Phonics Skills!” You will discover the “secret” ingredients to cooking-up a powerful, brain-based phonics “stew” in your classroom! In this short 30 minute timeframe, you will learn how to align core tenets of brain based learning with your existing phonics instruction to accelerate access to the WHOLE code that kids need to read AND to write!

I will also be doing another giveaway for a FREE Secret Stories Classroom Kit OR (if you already have it) any other item of your choice from the Secret Stories® website—from the Flashcards, to the new Decorative Squares, the Manipulative Placards or a class set of Porta-Pics….it’s your choice! To win, just share this link to the live broadcast on your Facebook or Instagram page anytime between now and the 5pm broadcast, and then be sure to follow and tag! I will also be sharing a free download link to one of the most popular items in my TpT store— one that’s never been offered for free—to ALL who tune in to learn on your precious Sunday! :-)

Secret Stories Phonics Kit

Secret Stories® Phonics Flashcards

Secret Stories® Decorative Squares Phonics PostersSecret Stories® Phonics Manipulatives Placards

Secret Stories® Phonics Phonics for Homeschool

So I’ll see you all on Sunday….same time, same place!

Talk soon,
Katie
https://www.KatieGarner.com

PS And YAY! I actually did it!!!  I gave you a “heads-up” more than an hour in advance! Lol ;-)

Secret Stories® is the Brain-Based “Gas” that Makes Learning Go Warp-Speed!

If you’re frustrated with your reading program and the intractably slow-pace of phonics skill instruction, or if you are feeling overwhelmed by all of the sight words that kids are required to learn each week, then you are in for a real treat!

I want to introduce you to one of my favorite teacher-friends, who happens to teach in my home state of West Virginia—and who I met while doing a phonics workshop for the Wood County School District in Parkersburg, WV. If you follow my blogFacebook PageInstagram, or Twitter, her name is likely to sound familiar. Tara and her students came up with a nifty trick to help Secret Stories® Word Doctors when the vowels weren’t making the sounds that they should (as per their Superhero and “short & lazy” sounds). This add-on Secret is known as the“Head-Bop” (aka “Thinking Vowels”) strategy, which helps kids decode otherwise non-decodable sight words in our Journeys Reading Program, like: of, was, what, want, love, come, done, some, around, among, about nothing, etc…

Since our first meeting, we have remained in contact in one form or another, via Facebook posts, messenger, and even email—which is something that I LOVE to do with teachers that I meet IRL (and online!) so that I can see AND hear about all about the creative ways they use Secret Stories® in their classrooms! Then, during pre-school week at the beginning of this school year, I was asked to do a week-long “digging deeper” phonics workshop with each of the grade levels at Tara’s school. Since then, Tara has been kind enough to keep me in the learning loop by sending me pics from from daily lessons, student work, and even running commentary, which I love, as it really paints a picture of not only of what she does, but WHY she’s doing it! (If you know me, you know that this is the key to everything for us, as teachers!)

So, without further ado, here’s a quick intro from Tara, followed by some of the Secret “golden nuggets” from her classroom. And for those who teach first grade and are currently using Journeys Reading Series and Phonics Program, you are really in luck, as her lessons will be “in-synch” with the timing of yours. For everyone else, you will see that while the reading series or phonics program that you use may not “teach” all of the phonics patterns kids need when they need them, it does provide the perfect “playground” for students to exercise their reading and writing muscles!

And that’s where the Secret Stories® come in…


This is Tara, with not one, but TWO sets of Secret Stories® Flashcards…..which as you read on, you will see why!

Secret Stories Phonics Flashcards

My name is Tara Settle. I live in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and have taught for a total of 29 years. Having the privilege of being a stay-at-home mother for my four children, I chose to educate them through homeschooling. It was an wonderful adventure for all of us! This was an important time for me because my two sons had reading disabilities. I searched high and low for ways to help them become more proficient in this overwhelming process. We persisted, they overcame, and today they are successful readers. Fast forward to teaching first grade in a 90% low-socioeconomic status, Title 1 school. I encountered so many of the same struggling readers as my sons. And so I began my online search one summer, determined that there had to be something “out there” that could help my students.

Enter Secret Stories….

They have changed my teaching career and the reading lives of all my students. My students often come from homes with no previous help or reading “lap time.” The first year I used Secret Stories, I realized that it wasn’t your typical “phonics program,” and it worked like nothing I’d ever seen before. When my students understood that Sneaky Y® made 3 sounds, and thus could read those words that the class the year before had trouble with, I was convinced that this multi-sensory, neuroscience based way of “cracking the reading code” was exactly what I had been searching for my entire teaching career. Every year, Secret Stories continues to prove that this approach works for all readers!

One more thing…If you use Journey’s Reading Program and phonics program and have found the online interactive “Settle On In” Blog for your students, you have already met me and some of my work! Be sure to search for your weekly story + “Settle on In” to find free, safe resources for your class.

Following are the pics and commentary Tara sent, along with my comments in red.


Journeys Reading Series/Phonics Program— Week 1 Sight Words— play, the, with

I borrowed your ladies sunglasses idea that was posted on the Secret Stories Facebook Page yesterday when introducing “ey/ay” with our Journey’s Reading Series/Phonics Program week 1 sight word, play. I sent the pig picture out to all my parents in a platform called Seesaw so they could have a (fingers crossed) dinner time conversation about our new Secret. I wouldn’t normally include a picture of the Secret, as per copyright, but I thought this might be a good way to introduce Secret Stories to my parents, as usually I will say, “Ask your child to tell you the Secret about ay/ey that we learned today, and see if they can tell you some words that it’s in.” (I thought that this one should be okay since it has a cute pig in front of the picture— Lol!)

I love the way Tara includes her parents by letting them know to ask to hear a Secret! This is a great way to keep parents in the learning-loop while at the same time, establishing kids’ “ownership” of the Secrets. And while you can’t copy or reproduce any of the Secret graphics or text to send home, you can use the Porta-Pics to give kids access to the Secrets at-home, as well as for individual use in the classroom. They are a little over $2 a piece, and when laminated, they should last 2-3 years, so they can be checked out to each new class. You can also get more ideas on how to share Secrets with parents here.

Secret Stories Phonics AY/EY Secret Pig

This is the Facebook picture that Tara referenced. It was sent to me by Nicole Loftis from Ida Burns Elementary in Conway, Arkansas and taken during a professional development on Secret Stories®…..and really is too cute!

Secret Stories® Phonics Workshop— The EY/AY Reading Secret

I got out my apron so that I was ready to greet my class today. They have to tell me the Secrets and read the words to enter the classroom! Luckily, they all remember the Secrets!!

The small cards seen in Tara’s apron (which she had specially made) are the cut-apart cards from the back of the Secret Stories® Book, although she also uses flashcards in the top pocket, which you will see a bit further down.

Secret Stories Phonics Apron


Journeys Reading Series/Phonics Program— Week 2

Below is a pic of my sight word review/follow up for today. These are words from our first grade Journeys reading series.

It’s ironic that Journeys scope and sequence for first grade (like most all other reading series/phonics programs) doesn’t introduce the phonics patterns that are needed to actually read these words until the end of first and/or second grade! And yet, when using brain science as a road map to tap into the backdoor learning channels, kids can have them in preK! Don’t believe it? Click here!

Here is a picture of today’s sight word review. These are words from the our Journeys series. Knowing the Secrets means that we don’t have to waste time memorizing sight words, as we can just read them. Note that the words find and do require kids to think like word doctors, which you can read more about here.

Secret Stories® Phonics Means NO MORE SIGHT WORDS


Journeys Reading Series/Phonics Program— Week 3 Level B Reader “Curious George”

Curious George is the Journeys Lesson 3, Level B Reader, and it contained 17 words that my students couldn’t read without Secret Stories. Without these Secrets, they wouldn’t have even been able to decode the title! When you stop and think about it, it truly is mind-boggling, and it makes me so mad on behalf of these struggling students! I seriously wonder how other Journeys first grade teachers in Title 1 schools or with ELL learners use this series without Secret Stories.

It is ironic that the reading series requires that learners be able to read words that contain phonics skills not yet taught. Nor will they be for what is often another one or two more grade level years.

Secret Stories Phonics Secrets in Curious George

The kids also had to sing this Secret to me to enter the room, since you can’t read “George” without it! I used the bigger flash cards on my apron (instead of the smaller cards from the back of the book that I usually use) so that they could see the letters better.

Secret Stories Phonics— The ce, ci, cy/ ge, gi, gy Secret

The picture I am sending is of the words from the two leveled B and C readers that I will be reviewing today so that the students continue to see the connection between Secrets and the words in our stories. As an aside, I love having the extra set of space-saver posters, as they are just the right size to put up on my magnetic board next to the words they are in!

Teaching Sight Words

Below is a picture that I posted on FaceBook that combines the two pics above. I love how Tara is constantly modeling how to use the Secrets to unlock the words they are reading, not just in these stories, but in text experiences throughout the entire instructional day— from math to social studies. In the hallways, on bulletin boards, even on the lunch menu in the cafeteria, Secrets are always there….always teaching. (As one little first grader in Mrs. Mac’s Class said,”I can’t turn it off! The Secrets are EVERYWHERE…. and I just keep reading them!!!!!”)

Secret Stories Phonics Makes Teaching Sight Words Easy


Journeys Reading Program— Level C Reader “Lucia’s Neighborhood”

All of the following are from our Journeys level C reader, Lucia’s Neighborhood. They had to read the word fire on my apron when entering the room this morning. This will be my introduction to the word “firehouse” in my level C vocabulary reader for guided reading this morning. (Not to mention the word firefighter, which is also in this story, and yet without the Secrets, would be virtually impossible for most beginning first graders to read!)

A word like fire requires knowledge of the phonics rule about silent e….. or, in Secret Stories-terms, the Mommy E® Secret! (If you don’t know it, it’s super-easy, as is Babysitter Vowels® which explains what happens when “mommy just has to get out of the house!” to read/spell multi-syllabic words like making, motor, etc… You can them both here!)

Secret Stories Phonics and Journeys Reading Program

 

 

 

 

 

 

In order to read the word Lucia where /a/ is making the schwa (“uhhh”) sound, I remind the kids about the “Thinking Vowels” who can’t make up their minds whether to be long or short, and so they bop themselves on the head as they say, “Uhhhhhh?” You will see that I code “thinking vowels” with a dot for where they smacked their head. (I usually ask the kids to look for the Secrets they see in the words and then underline them.) Once again, just look at how many Secrets are in the title! I truly have no idea how I used to teach reading before Secret Stories!

When teachers say that Secret Stories® “changed the way they teach,” or that they “couldn’t go back to teaching without them,” it’s because things that used to be “so hard” are now so easy! Like, for example, helping beginning readers figure out the words in the title of this book—especially when the reading series or phonics program hasn’t yet introduced the skills they need to do it! Many of these patterns aren’t “supposed” to be taught until second grade, which is way too long to wait, especially if you need them to read and write beginning in kinder! Just think how many reading and writing opportunities are lost on kids who don’t know the Secrets, from kindergarten to second grade. And yet, they’re so easy, you can share them with pre-schoolers!

Secret Stories Phonics and Journeys Reading Program

Below are the Secrets they need to read the sight words in this lesson. Notice that like in the word Lucia, we can use the same “Thinking Vowels” trick that we used to read Lucia to read the sight word does.

Secret Stories Phonics Flashcards and Journeys Reading Curriculum


Teaching the Reading and Writing Connection with the Secret Stories

My team teacher, Mrs. Buckley, did a word work writing activity with our first grade enrichment group. We split our classes so as to better meet the needs of  each or our groups. You will see more from Mrs. Buckley further down, below.

I love the way Tara and Lisa model use of the Secrets by “twisting and turning” them for both reading AND writing. This is so important in helping beginning grade learners understand the inherent reading and writing connection. Many early grade learners don’t realize that the same letter sounds that help them read words are equally powerful in writing them. Adding Secrets to the mix accelerates this otherwise slow learning curve, as the Secrets give them something beyond just individual letter sounds to read and write with! 

First Grade Word Word with Secret Stories Phonics

First Grade Word Word with Secret Stories Phonics

First Grade Word Word with Secret Stories Phonics


Journeys Reading Series/Phonics Program— Beginning of Week 4

So far, these are all of the Secrets that I have introduced by the end of today, beginning of week 4 Journeys program. I teach the Secrets, as we need them, to read the words that we encounter, not only in our reading series, but throughout the instructional day.

I love this! Why make kids memorize words when they could just learn the Secrets they need to read them?  When you memorize a sight word, you get “one word” as your prize. When you learn a Secret, you get “thousands!”

Secret Stories Phonics Secrets that We Know


Journeys Reading Series/Phonics Program— Level 5 “Gus Takes the Train”

Here is what I have on the board for Monday next week, which is from Journeys Lesson 5, Gus Takes The Train. I will also be introducing /ation/ for station. We pretend to pull the train whistle while saying the /a/ and then do the /tion/ motions on the card.

Here is the Secret mentioned above, as shown in the new “Decorative Squares” poster set.

Secret Stories Phonics Poster for tion, sion, ation Secret

This will occur when someone uses the vocabulary word “station” during the week. Singing the song “Down by the Station” also reinforces this Secret Story. I also teach them the song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” After singing it throughout the week, they will be given a copy of the text to highlight the Secret Stories they find in it. Then we read it together and sing it together from their highlighted page. They love it!

As in previous lessons, we first look for the Secrets we need to read the title, which you can see in the first picture below.

Secret Stories Phonics and Journeys Reading Curriculum

It happened!
We used the train sound today and /ation/ because we had to say “train station” in our read-aloud! Woo-hoo!!!!
The class helped me make this track and we now enter and leave the room to the /ch/ sound, and then as we gain speed, it becomes the /tion/ sound. Of course, we have to pull the train whistle for /a-tion/ too!  (Notice the “partially pink” railroad track? That’s because we ran out of black tape— Lol!)

Secret Stories Phonics and Journeys Reading Program Lesson 5

Now we find the Secrets that help us read the sight words introduced in Journeys Reading Program, Lesson 5.

Secret Stories Phonics and Teaching Sight Words

 

It’s so much fun to go on Secret Stories “hunts,” which is where kids try and see who can find the most Secrets on a page or in a book! This is fun to do in whole or small group, and is also a great way to increase learners’ visual acuity for quicker pattern recognition in text. They kids love spotting Secrets! And every time we find one, I reinforce how knowing the Secret helps us to figure out the word.

Teaching Sight Words is Easy with Secret Stories Phonics Program

I really don’t “plan” which Secrets to teach beyond looking at the sight words and text in the main selection and leveled readers. There are so many opportunities to introduce almost all of the Secrets quickly. Since my first graders have been exposed to the Secret Stories in kindergarten, I have lost some of the element of surprising them with new ones. That is why, at this point, I feel comfortable putting up the cards to discuss with our new sight words, as it’s not the first time the kids have heard them…and it certainly won’t be the last!

Of course, we are always discovering new Secrets in words from our read-alouds, discussions, and writing blocks. One of the reasons that I put Secrets up with the text is to reinforce the connection between Secret Stories and reading. Students need to understand that the Secrets are the keys they need to unlock words. Secrets are power—the more they know, the more they can read and write! And they are everywhere, in all of the words that we come across each day.

I know this sounds like it should be an easy concept for my class to comprehend, but some can take longer to connect the dots than others. All of the kids know the Secrets, but it can take some longer than others to start applying them, which is why I take every opportunity to model using them whenever and wherever we are working with text.

I plan on introducing the /ch/ Secret this week with our story about trains.It seems appropriate, especially since its “default” sound is depicted as a “conductor” on the Secret Story poster! I’m not sure what word will trigger our “discovery” but am sure it will occur during this week.

And for those who don’t know the /ch/ Secret, check out the story as shown on the reverse side of the new Secret Stories® Flashcards, shown below. They have the Secret graphic on one side and the story text on the back.

The NEW “Decorative Squares” Phonics Posters

Secret Stories Phonics Poster with ch Secret Story

And for those who don’t know the /ch/ Secret, check out the story as shown on the reverse side of the new Secret Stories® Flashcards, shown below. They have the Secret graphic on one side and the story text on the back.

Secret Stories Phonics Flash Cards with Picture and Story

Secret Stories Phonics Flashcards 

Secret Stories Phonics Flash Cards with Picture and Story

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My teacher friends wanted you to see how excited they are to gets the flash cards! ❤️

Secret Stories Phonics Flash Cards with Picture and Story

No Longer Just on the Walls

I also wanted to point out that this is the first year I have been able to have the Secrets right beside our sight words on the whiteboard. The new phonics phonics flashcards put the Secrets right into our hands! They are no longer just on our walls in the big poster size, but have now “come down” to interact with us during our learning discussions.We have them in our hands at stations, during guided reading groups, intervention groups, on the board beside the text, in line playing games while waiting, and so much more. Between the new phonics flashcards and the Space-Savers/Placards (which I bought at the end of last year) the Secrets are now both on AND off the walls and interacting with our daily learning!

Tara Settle Guest Post— Journeys Reading Program and Secret Stories Phonics

I also wanted also share this quick parent video that made and send to parents using SeeSaw. It’s a great way to keep parents in the “Secret” learning loop!

And here is one that I sent home about our upcoming sight words.

Tara Settle, 1st Grade Teacher / “Settle on In” Blog


First Grade Reading Intervention Group for Struggling Readers with Lisa Buckley (Tara’s 1st Grade Teammate)

How can the “Secrets” help more capable readers?

Even capable readers get curious at times about why the letters do what they do. In my enrichment group we’ve pondered questions such as, “Why does /eigh/ say “ā” and why isn’t it spelled /ay/?”

We also discuss words like sleigh vs. slay, and how the Secrets help us attack these words in both spelling and reading. These kids know most, if not all of the Secrets, however, they are still curious about the connection to sounds that can represent different spellings. So, we have been using the Secrets intensively to study multi-syllabic words, while looking for multiple Secrets in the words. This helps with both fluency and comprehension when reading more difficult text.

In addition to the Curious George “word work” pictures from my enrichment group shown higher up above, you can see in the pics below how many words the kids found that had the Secrets about /ous/ and /i tries e on for size/.

You Can't Read Curious George in Journeys Lesson 3 without Secret Stories Phonics Secrets!

Secret Stories Phonics Posters— The ous Secret Story

Secret Stories Phonics Posters— "i tried e on for size!"

 

 

Here are the /ous/ and /i tries e on for size/ Secrets from the new “Decorative Squares” poster set.

 

 

 

 


My immense thanks to Tara, as well as her teammate, Lisa Buckley, for taking the time to share how Secret Stories® phonics instruction amplifies their reading/ phonics program and gives kids “warp-speed” access to the tools they need to read and write! I can tell you that when I last left their school, these two were in the process of creating a “green room” in which to film a Secret Stories® Yoga video (I kid you not!) that kids could do during literacy center rotations. I can’t even imagine what this would look like, but I promise to let you know as soon as I find out!

In the meantime, I want to share this picture of Tara in her famous apron, as it’s one of my favorites because in it, I describe how she literally turns herself into a “walking, talking, AND singing Secret Story every morning!

Secret Stories Phonics Instruction with Journeys Reading Program

In closing, I want to let you know that I will be spotlighting different teachers for different reasons in upcoming posts, and hopefully, adding some good stuff to your “Secret” teaching bag of tools and tricks! And on that note, I would love to hear (and see!) what you’re doing with the Secrets in your classroom, too! I hope that you will do what Tara and the rest of the teachers you will be meeting have done, which is connect with me through FacebookInstagramTwitterLinkedinYoutube, or even by just responding to this email! I’ve tried to make it super easy by even adding an upload link for sharing pics and vids to the Secret Stories® website here. (You can also find it all the way at the bottom of the home page of the Secret Stories® website.)

And on that note, the September Contest winner was Melissa Snyder, whose “creative cutting” of her Secret Stories® Original Posters won her a set of new Decorative ones! Congratulations, Melissa! She doesn’t know it yet, but she will be one of the teachers I’ll be tapping, as she’s sent me some great videos from her guided groups, along with some fun games that she plays!

Secret Stories Phonics for Warp-Speed Reading & Writing Skill Access!

Just check out Melissa’s “clever cutting” of the /i tries e on for size/ Secret, not to mention Sneaky Y®!  I especially love her Superhero Vowels®! (To view a great video clip that explains the Secrets of the Superhero Vowels®, Mommy E®, Babysitter Vowels® and Sneaky Y® reading strategies, click here.)

Secret Stories Phonics Posters— "i tries e on for size!"

Secret Stories Phonics Posters— The Sneaky Y® Secret Story

Secret Stories Phonics Posters— The Superhero Vowels®

Until Next Time,
Katie Garner
PS I have lots of upcoming conferences throughout this year and into next, starting with theIllinois Reading Conference later next week and the North Carolina Elementary Conference later this month. In early November, I will in Canada for the Early Childhood Education Conference in Edmonton, and later that month, at the Arkansas and Mississippi Reading Conferences. For more conference dates, as well as to learn about school and district workshops nearby that might be possible “sit in on,” visit the workshop page on the Secret Stories® website or on my speaker website. 

Orton Gillingham and Secret Stories Phonics Method

Learn the “Secrets” About Orton-Gillingham Phonics Instruction

Yay! Look at me!! I’m actually setting a new record with TWO blogs in two weeks! Although I guess I’m kind of cheating with this one, as I didn’t write it myself! Instead, I found an expert in Secret Stories® and Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction to write it for me…. all except for this beginning part and the end! :-).

I had actually wanted to get this posted sooner, as I get so many questions about whether or not Secret Stories® can be used with Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction, and if so, how.

If you’re familiar with or already use Secret Stories®, then you know that it is not a phonics program, but the brain based “gas” that makes your existing reading/phonics instruction go! The Secrets are more like steroids that pump-up your existing reading curriculum and/or phonics program to make the learning go “warp-speed!” Secret Stories® isn’t more reading instruction, just better, as the Secrets are always there…. always teaching, and always ready for immediate use! (This was the focus of my previous email, which if you missed, you can read here.)

Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction, like Secret Stories®, is a multi-sensory approach to reading. I love seeing the two paired together, as they are a reading “dream-team!” They compliment each other beautifully, with Secret Stories® fast-tracking learner access to “high-leverage” phonics skills that can otherwise take years to acquire, and Orton-Gillingham providing an optimal reading and writing “playground” on which kids can use them!

But rather than me trying to explain, let me introduce you to Heather, a learning specialist and curriculum writer from St. Petersburg, Florida, who is an expert in Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction. She has been using OG in conjunction with Secret Stories® for years, and has some valuable insight and ideas to share!


Hey all, and greetings from sunny Florida!

I am so excited to write a guest post for Katie because I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Secret Stories. You see, I work as a reading specialist in a fabulous school in St. Petersburg Florida, and I actually write my own Orton-Gillingham phonics-based curriculum to help meet the needs of my kiddos.

For those of you that aren’t familiar, Orton-Gillingham is a multi-sensory approach proven to work with students struggling with reading, writing, and spelling. It is primarily suggested for students diagnosed with Dyslexia (which some numbers put at 17% of the population!). Here’s the thing though….sometimes, working with the same approach every day can get a little bit stale for students. This is where Secret Stories comes in!

As a reading specialist, I have the amazing luxury of seeing students in a one-on-one environment, so I scaffold all of my lessons for each student. The amazing thing that I have found about Secret Stories is that I can jump around and hit the Secrets as they align with my Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction lesson plans.

This means that when we cover open syllables, I don’t have to teach “vowel y” anymore. Now my students know the Secret Story about Sneaky Y®, the “sneaky cape stealer of e and i!”

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Flash Card

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Flash Card

Click to view the above Secret Stories® Phonics Flash Cards
(w/the Secret sound picture on one side & the story on the other!)

We act it out with pillowcases that have Sneaky Y’s with /E/ and /I/ felt letters glued to them. My students can get into the role by simply clothes-pinning the correct cape to their shirt as they read a given word.

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Capes

Sneaky Y® Capes

(For another cute “teacher-made” idea for Sneaky Y® storytelling with and hands-on fun, check this out!)

When it’s time for Secret Stories Mommy E® to make her debut, my hair goes up in a bun and my glasses are placed promptly on my face. My students love how insistently I ask them to speak up and “say your name”, and I love that they remember the Mommy E® rule!

Secret Stories® Mommy E® Phonics Flash Card

Secret Stories Mommy E® tells any vowel that’s one letter away, “You Say Your Name!”
(And for multi-syllable words (when Mommy just has to get out of the house!)
check out the Secret Stories Babysitter Vowels® trick!

You see, this type of multi-sensory activity is precisely what Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction is all about. Without getting too technical, in order to build connections (known as “synapsis”) in the brain, we need to provide students with meaningful ways to remember a given skill.  The more meaningful, the more connections, and the more the learning will “stick!”

You can repeat yourself 50 times, but if it is not in a way that is meaningful to your student, they still might not remember it! I promise you, your dyslexic students are much more likely to remember a skill if they have something special to connect it to!

Here’s the thing though, Secret Stories and OG do not have to be paced side by side. This year at my school, something really special started happening. One classroom teacher started using Secret Stories, and I saw glimpses of understanding in those students before having the Orton-Gilligham phonics instruction.

One of my kindergarteners who is severely dyslexic came to me on the day that I was planning to teach the /th/ rule in with Orton-Gillingham, and something amazing happened. She noticed that I had written several /th/ words on the whiteboard. I kid you not, my student said, “T and h are so rude to each other! They are always sticking their tongues out at each other!”

The NEW Secret Stories® Decorative Phonics Posters

The “TH” Secret Phonics Poster /NEW “Decorative Squares” Set

I nearly fell out of my chair! This was a student who had just recently mastered her consonant sounds after months of intensive Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction tutoring. Yet, here she was, teaching me about a skill that she had already learned after hearing it just a couple of times in her class. This initial introduction in her class stuck with her so that by the time she was ready to work with me on the skill, she already had an idea of what the consonant digraph should look and sound like. And that is the magic of the Secret Stories!

This is her writing sample after just one day of explicit /th/ phonics instruction. Notice that while she still has many areas to work on, she correctly identified the /th/ in both its unvoiced (“with”) and voiced form (“the”). These connections continued throughout the year, and my students from that classroom were more prepared to tackle new skills since they had been introduced to the Secret in their classrooms.

Kindergarten writing sample: “I go with my dad to the playground near my house.”

(Click here to view more kindergarten writing, as well as first grade writing with Secret Stories®)

Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction can (and in my opinion should) be used with Secret Stories brain based phonics stories in order to help build the neural pathways necessary for learning phonics skills. I am so glad I found the Secret!

If you are interested in more on how Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction works with Secret Stories, I will be doing another post on this topic for Katie soon, so stay tuned!

Orton Gillingham Phonics Instruction

Orton Gillingham Phonics Instruction Curriculum

Guest Post by:
Heather MacLeod Vidal
Learning Specialist/ Curriculum Writer for Treetops Educational Interventions
St Petersburg, FL


I want to thank Heather for taking the time to share this, as I think it’s great information for all those wondering if and how Secret Stories® and Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction could be used together. And as Heather mentioned, I will be sharing two more posts on this topic that Heather has written for my blog, which should be posted there within the week.

And if you would like to read more about Secret Stories®, I would invite you to check out this recently published article published in the Arkansas Reading Journal, which you can download here. I am excited to say that I will be one of the keynote speakers at the Arkansas Stage Reading Conference this October! It’s an absolutely phenomenal conference and one that’s definitely worth traveling to, even if you live outside the state.Arkansas Reading Journal Article by Katie Garner

Until Next Time,
Katie Garner

PS If you didn’t know about the two NEW products releases this summer (or if you haven’t checked your Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter accounts all summer!) you can check them out here! The “Decorative Squares” Posters are sold separately as well as in a Secret Stories Classroom Kit, and the new phonics Flash Cards have the Secret Stories® pictures on one side and the abridged story on the back!

Secret Stories Decorative Phonics Posters

Secret Stories® Phonics Posters “Decorative Squares”

Secret Stories Phonics Flash Cards

Secret Stories® Phonics Flashcards

 

Kids don’t need MORE reading instruction, they need better reading instruction… and taught with the brain in mind!

Happy Summer to All of My Dear Teacher (and Principal) Friends!

I know it’s been a long time since you’ve heard from me, but like many of you, I haven’t stopped running, and feel like I am still waiting for my summer to start! That said, my mental “laundry list” of things I need to tell you has now grown SO BIG that my brain simply can’t hold any more! And on top of that, there is one that I have been bursting to tell you, but I wanted to make sure that we had all of the kinks worked out first. If you follow on FaceBook or Instagram, you have probably heard about it.

There is a new Secret Stories® website! And it is AWESOME!!! I am not just saying this because it’s my website, because it’s not…I actually made it for you! It spotlights real kids in real classrooms with real teachers, and it is my hope that it will help to shift the traditional mindsets about what kids can do and how easily they can do it when you follow the brain science!

I have heard from so many teachers and administrators (who consider themselves long-standing members of the Secret Stories “tribe”) who say how difficult it can be to explain to those who don’t know how Secret Stories takes half the time, but gets kids twice as far…. and how the Secrets “live” in between the reading and writing that you’re already doing each and every day. How its always there, always teaching.

This new website makes it easy by “showing,” rather than telling— juxtaposing traditional curriculum-based scope and sequences and sight words lists with video of actual kids, pics of their writing and real teacher commentary. This site was created by teachers, for teachers (and for their principals), and most importantly, for our kids… because they can’t wait.

To give you an idea, here is one of my favorite examples from the homepage, which is actually just a snippet from one of my favorite pages, that happens to have the same name as the title of this email— “Not More, Just Better“….


The above screen shot is actually from the homepage, so to watch the video clips, you need to access it directly, here. From there, you can dig into the scope and sequences for phonics skill introduction of the major reading series and phonics programs (incl. Wonders, Journeys, Fundations, Letterland, Zoo Phonics, etc..) through 3rd grade, and then watch preK, kinder and first graders not only using the so-called 2nd and 3rd grade skills (a.k.a. “Secrets”) to read and write, but actually teachingthem, begging the question….Why Wait?



Again, the videos above will only play from the page directly, here.

All around the site, you can explore brain science research, strategies and methods, student writing, videos, teacher and administrator perspectives, and even access free posters and other downloads, with lots more to come soon! You can also check out reasons #2 and #3 for this email, which are both new products that have been the most highly requested over the years…. flashcards with the stories printed on the back AND multi-colored posters!

So here’s a sneak peek at both, but you can see lots more on the site in the product section, which is now so well organized that it’s super easy to find exactly what you are looking for, and see lots more pics!

Secret Stories® Flashcards with Stories on the Back!

The 6×6 inch flash cards have the pictures on the front and the stories on the back, and are made from the heaviest card stock, but with a beautiful “magazine” coating finish that “little fingers” will love!

Secret Stories "Decorative Squares" Kit/ Posters

The 12×12 inch decorative square posters are printed in whimsical colors of blue, pink, green, lavender an yellow— which many of you actually helped to pick out on social media!

They have so many uses beyond just display, and are the perfect size for whole group Secret games and play (which you will soon be able to read more about on my blog, which is now on the new site as well, but in need of a little tweaking after the move from Blogger to WordPress.)

And for those who have older posters sets and are considering upgrading, all of the Secret Stories® poster sets can be ordered separately (as well as with the kit, which includes the book & CD). And so you know, your old posters make an awesome “big book” that kids will beg to take home and share with parents. When I was in the classroom, one of my best student incentives was my “Big Book of Secrets” (made from my old poster set) that my best “Secret-Spotter” got to take home as a reward each week. And my parents loved it too, as they got to learn all of our Secrets!


I also wanted to share my other favorite page, which I think is equally eye-opening, especially for those who don’t understand how Secret Stories® makes use of brain science to fast-track early (and struggling) learner access to the “whole” code that kids need to read and to write. It’s called “What About Sight Words?” and here’s just a bit…


The Brain on Sight Words

Stanford Brain Study on Sight Words

Dolch Words- Don't Memorize What You Can READ

 

Secret Stories® Phonics vs. Sight Words


I promise that there’s a whole lot more that I can’t even begin to share here, and so much more for you to explore! I hope that you will not only visit the site, but that you will kick your shoes off and stay a while, as there is so much inspiration there from so many amazing teachers and kids! And for those who’ve been a part of the Secret Stories Tribe for a while now and sent me pics or vids from their classrooms over the years, don’t be surprised if you find yourself there, as well! And if you don’t, I’m still posting, so you will soon- Lol!

And for those who are relatively new to Secret Stories, or just haven’t gotten around to sharing your Secret Stories “stories” (i.e. pics, vids, writing, etc…) now you can! I’ve made it super simple with automatic upload directly through the site, and you could win a prize! You can even use this feature to spotlight your very own Secret Stories Student STARS! I would love to share Secrets Stories moments from your classroom, so click here and join the tribe!

Finally, reason #4 for this email is to let everyone know (albeit totally last minute) that I will be speaking at the ILA (International Reading Conference) in Austin, Texas on Saturday ….as in the day after tomorrow! If anyone reading this is planning to attend (or is already there!) please shoot me an email and let me know, as I would love to meet up tomorrow night! You can check out my other speaking dates here, although many school PD and conference dates haven’t yet been posted. And if you can’t make a conference or school workshop, you can still access my interactive handout download, which you can find here. It’s the next best thing to being there! ,

Wow, that was a whole lot to share, but I feel much better now you’re all up to speed!

And hopefully, I got this out in time to actually catch some of you at ILA this weekend. If so, we will be sure to take pics and post them on Instagram, which you will be able to see (even if you’re not on Instagram) at the bottom of the homepage…. pretty cool, huh!

Secret Stories Instagram


With Warm Wishes for a Happy & Healthy Summer!Katie

PS For those who have emailed about using Secret Stories® with your existing reading curriculum, or even a supplemental phonics program, please know that this is the ideal, as Secret Stories® is not a program, but simply puts meaning where there otherwise wouldn’t be to speed up learner-access to the code and makes the learning go “warp-speed!”

And more specifically, for those who have asked about using Secret Stories® with the Orton-Gillingham Approach (as well as with Dyslexic Learners) there will be a three-part blog post/newsletter coming out soon (hopefully late next week) on these topics, as well as one on Secret Stories® classroom games, and even a Bingo download that I know you will love, so stay tuned! And to make sure that nothing gets lost in your spam/junk folder, be sure to add me to your contact list—  Katie@KatieGarner.com

No, you didn’t misread the title.

If you’re subscribed to my Secret Newsletter, you were probably expecting to receive the video link to my presentation at this year’s National Title I Conference in your email last weekend.

The reason I was unable to send out the Title I video link last weekend as promised, was due to an unexpected, four-hour long dumpster dive in Detroit last Sunday—the ONE day that I had time in-between flights and conference travel to edit and upload it.
Why was I dumpster diving in Detroit, you ask?  Was it for jewelry or cash….? Nope.
It was to rescue my favorite 1st-grade student writing sample below.
Secret Stories® Phonics for Writing — 1st Grade Writing Sample
For More on Writing, Click Here
If you’ve seen me speak at a conference, it’s likely that you tripped over this particular piece of writing when walking into my session, as it’s usually draped over the door and extending out several feet into the walkway.  It is a perfect example of early learner skill-automaticity, but at over 12 feet long and heavily laminated, it’s always a challenge to get into my suitcase! That said, I love it and always take it with me wherever I go (to speak, that is, not on regular vacations- lol) 
Even when I do keynotes, you’re likely to see it thrown over those fancy, giant ballroom doors, like a “Jed Clampett-style” welcome sign for teachers!
So you can imagine my horror when after finishing up my sessions at the Michigan Reading Conference,  I looked up and saw that it was GONE! 
I searched everywhere and questioned everyone.
Has anyone seen a 1st-grade writing sample that’s about 12 feet long?”  No one had.
I was especially suspicious of the “little-kid” cheerleaders (whose cheer competition was in the same part of the convention hall as the reading conference) as they seemed like the most likely suspects. Not only were they everywhere, tumbling up and down everything, but they were the only ones (aside from myself) who would have had any use for a 12-foot long piece of plastic (the makings of a perfect “cheer-banner!”)
But as it turned out, it wasn’t the cheerleaders. 
It was a custodian who had apparently spotted my giant, puddled-up, plastic mass of writing on the floor by the door (where it fell) and decided to throw it away…. or try to, as it wouldn’t fit in her garbage bag. 
The writing was so long, and the heavy-duty laminate so inflexible and unwieldy, that she’d apparently had to “hand-carry” that 12-foot long writing across the entire 3rd floor, down the escalator, and to the far side of the main lobby to the gondolas  (a fancy word for rolling garbage bins), where it would then be taken to the building’s main compacting dumpster on the outer deck.
I later found out that my precious writing sample had been put into that giant compacter, where it was squished and squashed by an iron plate that pushed it further and further into the back recesses to make room for more cheerleader garbage. 
By the time I had figured out what happened, that damn dumpster had literally “eaten and swallowed” my 12-foot long, 1st-grade writing sample! And to make matters worse, there was only one opening at the very front through which all of the garbage had to be pushed through. There was no top or side access door, which meant that there was no way to tell just how deep down that “rabbit hole” dumpster my writing had fallen!
But that didn’t stop me…. or my new (and VERY kind) friend, Kevin, an off-duty custodian who was willing to help me try and rescue my writing. So, with the circuit breakers turned off so that we wouldn’t be squished, (Can’t you just see those headlines? “Teacher and Custodian Squished to Death While Trying to Save Student Writing at the Michigan Reading Conference”) So Kevin and I donned matching garbage bags over our heads like ponchos and went in. (He went in because he knew what he was doing, and I went in because I was unable to accurately describe to Kevin what a 12 foot long, laminated 1st-grade writing sample actually looked like.)
We were in about three feet and randomly poking at walls of cheerleader garbage when I suddenly saw my writing pop out from behind some plastic cups. That super-heavy (and extremely expensive) Kinko’s lamination just would not be contained! Imagine a can of snakes trying to uncoil. It was like the tentacle of a giant, plastic octopus reaching out to me…as if it were running home to mommy (if mommy were standing in a dumpster). 
I was so happy to see it that I actually had tears in my eyes, as I just couldn’t imagine having to fly home and leave it behind— no more than I could have imagined leaving behind the sweet student who wrote it! At this point (as if there had been any previous doubt) I’m sure that Kevin thought I was certifiably nuts!
It’s something that only a teacher would understand. 
My husband certainly didn’t when I tried to explain why I’d missed my flight. Luckily though, Delta Airlines did understand (or else thought that I’d made up the most bizarre excuse EVER for missing a flight) as they were kind enough to book me on a later one that night.
Michigan Reading Conferences's Best Custodian EVER!
Kevin, the bravest custodian EVER (and my personal hero!)
It is thanks to Kevin (the kindest and most patient custodian EVER) and to Kinkos (whose overly-expensive, plastic lamination is virtually indestructible) that my favorite 1st grade writing sample is back where it belongs….safe and sound, and ready for its next trip to Montana on Monday (despite being “three times-compacted” and having a little less spring in its step!) 
And I got to experience two things that I never thought that I would: 
1. Go dumpster diving in Detroit 
2. Take a shower with a 12-foot long writing sample  (It was the only way to get us both cleaned-up in time for the flight! :-)
So now that I’ve provided you with what is probably WAY too much information, here it is as promised!
And if don’t have an hour and just want to watch some highlights, watch the video below.
I also want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who has taken the time to send me pics and vids (or post them on Instagram, FB or Twitter) from your classrooms, as I can’t tell you how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE seeing all of the awesome things your doing with the Secrets and your kiddos! It’s the reason that I dig through dumpsters— Lol!
And for any new subscribers whose kids don’t know any Secrets, you can download this free “appetizer” pack of phonics posters to try them out. It’s amazing how much kids can read and write when they have MORE of the code to read and write with!

Free Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
With Warm Regards and Happy Spring Wishes!
Katie
www.KatieGarner.com
PS  To all those in Montana, I’m looking forward to doing the morning keynote and several breakout sessions at your State Title I Conference later this month, and to hopefully seeing many of you there!  And Maryland-friends, I will be coming back again in May, so am looking forward to seeing many of you again soon, as well! (To view all upcoming conference and school/district PD dates, click here.)
And a note to all subscribers, be sure to add Katie@KatieGarner.com to your address book so that your spam folder doesn’t “eat” my emails like the dumpster “ate” my writing— Lol! :-)
PSS I am also including the download link (see below) to the Secret Stories® Phonics Instruction White Paper which provides a great overview of the research that supports the topics covered in my presentation at Title I.  Additionally, you can download the PDF handout packet from my featured presentation at Title I here.
Secret Stories® Phonics Instruction White Paper Research
SECRET STORIES® White Paper Research Support
by Dr. Jill Buchan (author of the white paper for the The 2 Sisters “Daily CAFE/Daily 5” )
Dive deeper into the brain research behind Secret Stories®!

Katie Garner Author, Educational Speaker and Literacy Consultant

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Secret Stories® Phonics Program

Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!

Secret Stories® Phonics Program
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 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 Program

Secret Stories Phonics Instruction

 

 

 

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Does it ever feel like every day is a new day in Johnny’s head?
What I mean is, have you ever spent an entire week teaching something, only to have some kids look at you like they have NEVER seen it before on the following Monday? With so many skills to cover in so little time, teachers have to ensure that what they teach actually sticks.
Imagine that you are a bus driver and that the skill you are teaching is a stop along your route. Some of your students make it to the stop in time to catch the bus; others do not and so they are left behind. So what happens to the kids who miss the bus? Will there be another bus coming up behind it that they can catch? And what happens if they’re still not ready? How many more chances will they have to get on board?

Now instead of a bus driver, imagine that you are a merry-go-round operator, and the skill you are teaching is one of those pretty horses on the merry-go-round that keeps on spinning round and round. Opportunities to jump on are constant and ongoing, as it’s literally impossible to “miss” the merry-go-round!

Secret Stories® Phonics "Merry-Go-Round" Memories for Phonics Skills that Stick
Consider this same merry-go-round analogy as a framework for what brain science tells us makes memories stick, which is to provide spaced repetition at designated intervals (see below) so that the newly learned information just “keeps coming back,” and can therefore be more easily transferred into learners’ long-term memory. Once there, the information is theirs forever—never to be forgotten or fall prey to the “summer-slide!”
Skills that are traditionally introduced in a linear fashion over multiple grade level years (like letter sounds and phonics patterns) can be the most challenging to “bake” using the above recipe. With so many skills to cover, so little time to teach them, and so many students who are not developmentally ready to learn them in kindergarten, teachers in first and second grade are often trying to reinforce skills that many learners don’t even have.

If teachers in preK or kindergarten introduce a letter of the week, what happens when a student misses “D” week because he’s out sick? Worse yet, what if he is out for two weeks and misses both “D” and “E” weeks?  What if a learner isn’t developmentally ready for kindergarten and hardly picks up any of letter sounds the letter sounds introduced that year?

Click on the video above for individual letter sound mastery 
in 2 weeks to 2 months via early learners’ muscle memory.
Will the first grade bus have time to circle back around through each of those individual letter sound “stops” that he missed in kindergarten? If it does, will it be at the expense of making all of the necessary first grade stops— th, sh, ch, ph, wh, gh, etc..? And as he gets further and further behind having missed so many stops, how will he compensate for the skills he doesn’t have? Will he have to memorize even more sight words in order to make up for all of the skills he didn’t get that are in all of the words he can’t read?

When it comes to reading and writing and the skills kids need to do it, this conversation becomes critical. Traditionally, the “code” that’s needed to read and write— from the individual letter soundsblends and long and short vowels,  to the silent e/Mommy e®), Sneaky Y®digraphs, vowel combinations and VCCV/VCV/Babysitter Vowels®— are all “chopped-up and divvied-out” for formal introduction across multiple grade level years (PreK-2nd), which means that kids simply cannot afford to miss even ONE bus along the way….not if they’re supposed to be done “learning to read” by the end of second grade and ready to “read to learn” by third.

Closing the distance on all of the “missed stops” (i.e. phonics skills) in such a short amount of time is extremely difficult and rarely happens with traditional methods of instruction. Instead, kids who missed buses along the way must learn to compensate for the “holes” in their skill ability by memorizing more sight words and becoming better guessers, as the instructional focus is no longer on teaching the reader, but on teaching the reading. Struggling readers will carry these gaping holes with them through subsequent grade levels, where they become stuck on the instructional hump between learning to read and reading to learn.

The critical skills that kids need to read and write must be banned from the bus. They belong on the merry-go-round! And if you are using Secret Stories® to underscore your existing reading curriculum and instruction, then the merry-go-round is already spinning around in your classroom, though you probably didn’t even notice it. 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "AU/AW"

Every time you tell or retell a Secret, you are giving students another opportunity to jump on! 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "ER, IR, UR"

Each time you ask if there is a Secret in a word they are trying to read, or if they hear a Secret sound in a word they can’t spell, the merry-go-round is spinning…. solidifying a “deep-in-the-gut” level of skill-ownership for those who have already jumped on, while continually circling back for those not quite ready.

Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "EU/EW"

Using Secret Stories® to underscore existing core reading instruction makes it impossible for anyone to miss the bus because the Secrets just keep coming back— shared and re-shared, told and re-told, used and re-used— as students read and write across all content areas and throughout the entire instructional day.

Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "TH"
The Secrets are the ‘life-blood of our classroom, always within reach and ready for use, whenever and wherever they are needed” 
(Thank you, Tara Settle, for that great description!)
Underscoring core reading curriculum and instruction with the Secrets naturally provides for the spaced repetition and staggered reinforcement that research shows “makes skills stick.”  It’s not intentional, but automatic, and it continues with each subsequent grade level at which the Secrets are needed. The code doesn’t change with each grade level year, nor do the phonics skills kids need to crack it! Kinders are expected to read and write words like the, she, now, girl, boy, play, etc… even though they contain phonics skills that sit on the scope and sequence for first and second grade. “Three to four grade level years is just too long to make learners wait for access to the whole code.” (Dr. Richard Allington).
Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "OUS"

By targeting phonics skills to the earlier developing, affective “feeling” domain, Secret Stories® empowers learners as young as kindergarten with high-leverage phonics skills, like  Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels®, providing the much-needed “trigger” for determining whether a vowel will be long or short. And the same Babysitter Vowel® Secret that beginning readers need in order to decode words like making or motor, upper-grade readers can use to crack words in higher level text hibernating or migration

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

And that merry-go-round just keeps on spinning— providing ongoing and never-ending opportunities for all kids to hop on when they’re ready!  And hop on, they will because Secret Stories® transform the code from skills they have to learn into “secrets” they WANT to know!

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack

Teaching phonics is not intuitive, but many things that great teachers naturally do are! Today’s educators can take advantage of the advancements in new technology and brain science to hone their teacher-instincts and streamline instructional practice.

An awareness and understanding of the brain science as it relates to best teaching and learning practices calls into question not only what we do, but also how, why, and even when we do it. It empowers us to go further— to be better, stronger and faster (think the Bionic Man!) and to hone our best teaching tools to perfection! “Neuroscience speaks loud and clear to educators, but it is up to us to heed its message!” (Dr. Kurt Fischer, Harvard University)

Secret Stories® Phonics— Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!
If you would like to dive deeper into the research behind Secret Stories® and the process of targeting phonics skill instruction to the affective domain for accelerated mastery, you can download the white paper by Dr. Jill Buchan, here.  (Dr. Buchan is also the author of the 2 Sisters Daily CAFE / Daily5 white paper.)

Finally, I want to let everyone know that I have dragged myself out of my comfort zone to learn about and become more active on Instagram. If you’re already on Instagram, you can find me @TheSecretStories, and if you’re not, you can get started with me! I’ve learned (and posted!) there every day over this past week, and have really enjoyed the more personal level of engagement and interaction that Instagram offers. I will continue to post there daily (cuz it’s a lot easier than composing a semi-well worded blog post— Lol!) sharing the latest research, live videos, YOURS and other teachers classroom pics and vids, as well as some behind-the-scenes conference and PD fun!

My hope is to create a special space where we can communicate, collaborate, grow and share as a Secret Stories® tribe, as well as continue discussions started in emails like this one. I really hope that you will join me! (And if you do, be sure to use the hashtag #SecretStoriesReading and #BrainRead in your post so that I see it.

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

PS I will be doing multiple featured sessions at the Michigan Reading Conference next weekend, and the North Carolina Reading Conference the weekend after that, followed by the Montana State Title I Conference, where I’ll be doing a morning keynote and multiple breakouts. And if you would like to check out my spring/summer speaking dates, or schedule a school or district PD/workshop, just click here.

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Secret Stories® Phonics
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 Education Keynote Speaker and Secret Stories® Phonics Author
For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here. 

 


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Teaching Sight Words— Never Make Kids MEMORIZE What They Can READ!!!

The Secret Stories are the life-blood of our classroom. They are always in view, always in our whole and small group conversations. We couldn’t read words without them. They are our best friends. They are always there, always teaching. They are the tools that students will take with them to the next grade!”       —Tara Settle/1st Grade Teacher 
Secret Stories Phonics Superhero Vowels®
Kids who know the Secrets understand WHY letters make the many different sounds that they do. For example, they know that the Superhero Vowels® have a power that no other letter in the alphabet has—they can “SAY THEIR NAMES!” (like /i/ in hike or /a/ in hate). However, like all superheroes, they don’t want to be recognized, and so they will use short and lazy” sound disguises to keep from being noticed (like /i/ in hit or /a/ in hat).  To learn the Superhero Vowel® Secrets, check out the video vlog below, and watch the rest in this sequence on the Secret Stories® Youtube Channel. 
Secret Stories Superhero Vowels
Knowing the Secrets of the vowels also means knowing what triggers them to be long (i.e. use their superpowers to say their name) or short (i.e. be short & lazy). These are the Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowel® Secrets, which are high-leverage phonics skills, and yet easy to teach to preK and kindergartners! You can learn both in the video, below. 

How to Be a Good Word Doctor

So what about words in which vowels don’t make the sounds that they should? 
Like those pesky, high-frequency, one syllable sight words: of, was, come, love, what, some, want, etc… Well thanks to Tara Settle and her brilliant “Head-Bop/Thinking Vowels” trick, we can become even better Word Doctors, while at the same time, clear out some of the most frequent offenders that would otherwise have to be sentenced to Word Jail! (Note that in the “Word Jail” video was made before Tara had shared her trick with me, and so you will see many of the above word-offenders serving out their time!)
How to Teach Sight Words with Secret Stories Phonics Tricks

So here is Tara’s “Head-Bop” Word Doctor Strategy that you can start sharing with your kiddos!
(Keep in mind that this strategy is of much more value to kids who know the Secrets, given that they can decode almost everything except these words; whereas those who don’t know the Secrets, especially those in kindergarten and first grade, are likely unable to decode so many words that these are just the tip of the iceberg. This is due to the incredibly slow pace of phonics skill introduction, as per the grade level “scope & sequence” in common reading series and/or phonics programs.)

The “Thinking” Vowels— 
Sometimes a vowel just can’t make up his mind which sound to make… “Should I be long?… Should I be short?…. I just can’t make up my mind— Uhhhhhhhhhhh?”  (And here is where you give yourself a big BOP ON THE HEAD while making the “uhhhhh” sound, while prompting the kids to do the same!)

This handy “action-based” cue easily prompts kids to try the schwa, or “uhhh,” which is the MOST LIKELY sound-alternative for vowels that “stray” from their original sounds, allowing them to now easily decode: of, was, some, come, done, want, from, love, nothing, brother, again, around, among,  another, something, etc…  (For more tricks like this, as well as how to know when words really do have to be sentenced to jail time, you can check out this post.)

What I love about Tara’s trick is that, like the Secrets, it gives beginning and struggling readers even more power over text, minimizing the need to memorize words that can actually be read! Plus, look at how many words can now be “paroled” from Word Jail!
How to Teach and READ Sight WordsThanks to Tara and her student word doctors who who identified this tricky vowel-shifting patternkids all across the country now have a lot less sight words to memorize! 

It is also important to keep in mind when working with your own student word doctors, that  thinking outside the box is much easier when you know what’s IN it!  And that’s what a Secret is—everything that’s “in the box” when it comes to a letter/phonics pattern and the sounds it can make. For more on how to get kids to think outside the box when working their way through unfamiliar text, watch the video clip below.

For more on “teaching the READER, not teaching the reading,” as well as insight into the brain on memorizing sight words vs. decoding text, click here or on the pictures below!

How to Decode Text with Best Betting Odds in Las Vegas!

Stanford University Brain Study on Sight Words and Secret Stories Phonics Program

You can also check out Tara’s most recent post for more on how she doesn’t teach sight words, here!

You Don't Have to Teach Sight Words with Secret Stories!

Secret Stories Phonics for Teaching Sight Words

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Join in the discussion on Facebook! Check out the original post by clicking the image on the left, below! And thank you so much to Tara, who actually has her own interactive blog with lots of oodles of resources for teachers! It’s called “Settle On In” and you can find it here.

NEW Secret Stories Phonics Flashcards

Here’s Tara with not one, but TWO sets of the new flashcards!

The Scoop on Summer Reading Conferences!
Did you know that the summer is jam-packed with some of the most awesome teacher conferences? It’s true! And one of the best one of all is the International Literacy Association Conference in Orlando on July 15-17!
For those who have never been, it’s an incredible experience.  And for those who have, well you know how hard it can sometimes be to squeeze into the sessions that you reeeeeeallllly want to see— even just to sit on the floor, which teachers are usually more than happy to do!
Unfortunately, those pesky fire marshals don’t like floor-sitters too much, and will often ask them to leave, which is why I personally prefer to take cover underneath a nearby tablecloth (and out of fire marshal view) if it’s a session that I really want to hear and it’s full.  Otherwise, I’ll just hang outside of the session room door and strain to listen, which is a lot less fun!
But for those planning to attend my session at ILA, I have great news! It’s going to be in a BIG session room!!!  So, unlike last year, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll have to resort to hiding under a tablecloth to get in!  If you would like session details or information on registering, click here.
Another great one is the National Charter School Conference on June 11-14 in  Washington, D.C., but don’t let the name fool you, as this conference is great for ALL educators, not just those who work with charter schools. It’s a big as ILA, but includes all subject areas, not just reading. And the best part (for me, anyway) is that my sessions are two and a half hours long instead of one…and there is a repeat for those unable to get into the first one, which means that once again, the chances of having your view obstructed by a tablecloth is minimal! For more information on this conference, you can click here.
And while this one isn’t a national conference, I want to mention it for all of my PK-2 teaching friends out there in South Dakota, as I’ll be in Beresford for the South Dakota Kindergarten Academy June 19-22 for two 2-day workshops! (The first 2-day session is already full and the other is almost capped, so register now if you want to go!) You can obtain more information here, including how to get college credit through the University of South Dakota for attending.

And for those who just can’t get away this summer, no worries! The National Title I Association brings the speakers to you with their Video On Demand series! There are so many amazing sessions, and now you can watch them all from home!

Katie Garner Education Keynote Speaker and Literacy Consultant National Title I Conference

You can watch highlights from my featured  Title I presented here, or by clicking directly on the video below. The full-length presentation is also available as part of Title I’s subscription series, but you can view it free in its entirety here, along with lots of other video clips from conferences, school and district PD Workshopsvideo blogs and more on the Secret Stories® YouTube Channel.

That’s all for now! 
So until next time… HAPPY “ALMOST” SUMMER!

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Secret Stories® Makes 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® “Appetizer” Phonics Poster Anchor Pack!

Free Secret Stories Phonics Posters Anchor Posters

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Secret Stories® Phonics— The Brain is a "Pattern-Making" Machine!
The brain is a pattern-making machine, constantly seeking out patterns to create new ones.

 

These first graders were transformed into analytical “word doctors” upon coming across the “ie” Se Secret during guided reading. Watch as they think-through (i.e. pattern-out) all of the Secrets they know about Superhero I to account for his sound behaviors, and while doing so, ultimately identify a brand NEW pattern. The diagnosis? Apparently, Superhero I has some sort of obsessive “cookie-eating and then exercising” disorder— Lol! (Kids who know the “ie” Secret will LOVE watching that 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 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 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. 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 learner-understanding. 
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 personal learner-connections to otherwise random letter sound 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 affective (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 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 who did what and why,  and it is this inherent “need to know” that 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. And the same “social-emotional” learning networks that store and retrieve this information can be used to help them keep track of behavior, making it easy 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! The 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— Sneaking Tricky Letter Sound Skills through the Brain's Backdoor!
Secret Stories® Phonics— Accessing the Affective “Feeling” Domain 

 

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!


Until Next Time,
Katie
Katie Garner— Author of Secret Stories: Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!

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Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
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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The following scenario is one that could only happen in an early grade classroom, so I know all of you reading this will relate! It’s perhaps the most perfect example of “out-of-the-box” learning and authentic writing I’ve ever come across, so I just had to share it! (It’s so entertaining that even your students would it!)

Greetings and Happy Holidays from Mrs. Mac and her Munchkins! 

 
Our adventure began with our sweet, beautiful, and loving class Elf, Sparkle. Sparkle is a foreign exchange elf from the North Pole, sent to us by Santa, himself!
 

As you can see, Sparkle really gets into all of our lessons, especially story time!
The kids love her and she became part of our class family.
 
As it happened, we were right in the heart of our Gingerbread unit when Sparkle started having flash backs from last year’s Gingerbread Fiasco!

It’s difficult to talk about, but Sparkle had gotten tied-up by some pesky gingerbread men. She was so traumatized by these cookies that she no longer enjoys listening to their stories, so she made a sign boycotting Gingerbread Week, and even went to the extreme of hiding all of our Gingerbread books!
 

The kids were worried about her, and they assured her that they would do everything they could to protect her this year, but just as Sparkle began to feel safe and sound…tragedy struck!

Despite our class efforts, the Gingerbread Kids ran away again, and Sparkle, being the kind friend that she is, tried to stop them, only to find herself tied-up AGAIN!

 
Once the kids calmed down, they were able to read the note that Sparkle left for us… 
 
……all by themselves!
 
It was a very exciting moment when we realized that our ability to read could actually save elves’ lives… and you’ll be happy to know that our Gingerbread friends were found, and Sparkle was safely cut free.  
Extricating Sparkle 

Now, I had to tell you this story to set the stage for the REAL story. So sit back, relax, and prepare to laugh as you step foot into our crazy little classroom again for a first-hand account of this magical and adorable holiday adventure….

So the real story begins one brisk morning when I discovered a referral on the floor of my classroom. It was accompanied by Sparkle’s “No Gingerbread” sign, some cookie crumbs, and an empty bag of gingerbread cookies.

As I leaned in to read the referral, I discovered that it was from our principal, Mr. Mauger.  He had apparently walked in on a horrific sight…. Sparkle EATING her gingerbread friends!!!!

Now, we are a very close school family at Cottonwood Elementary and we don’t require a ton of rules to remind us to do what’s right. In fact, we live by the magnificent 7 Guidelines and the Rachel’s Challenge program, and neither, in any way, shape, or form, allow for eating our friends! 

The unfortunate situation left Mr. Mauger little choice but to take Sparkle down to his office for an ‘in-house suspension’ until further notice.

 

 
“Sparkle needs to solve problems without hurting or devouring others…”
Now Sparkle’s referral may seem unfair in the real world, (as after all, gingerbread cookies are for eating!) but if you are open to the world of: magical elves living in your classroom for the month of December, cookies running away from your students, and Polar Express trains pulling up to your classroom door to drop off bells, cookies and hot chocolate…. then we must uphold the unwritten rule that we even if cookie friends get us mad and tie us up, we should not retaliate by eating them…right?…right!

 

Mr. Mauger, our principal, breaking the news about Sparkle
 
“I’m going to have to call Santa about Sparkle’s behavior”
The looks on their faces were priceless!
Because our principal is a very reasonable man, he told the kids that he would consider allowing Sparkle to come back if they could put “in writing” why Sparkle did what she did. 
 
Once he received something in writing and had a chance to speak with Santa about the situation, he would make a final decision.
 
For the kids, this was, without question, their most important assignment ever!
 
They would need to use all of the writing skills they’d acquired to persuade our principal to free Sparkle! If they failed, Sparkle would spend the only holiday they would have with him in Mr. Mauger’s office!  
 
The kiddos were confident, however, as they knew that their writing skills had developed greatly in the past few months, and so, without wasting a moment, they began the task of putting into writing all of the reasons why Sparkle should be freed.
 
The letters they wrote are absolutely ADORABLE! They were written from the heart…. and with the Secret Stories, they did so with ease! No “sticking-to-sight-words” for these guys! 
 
They were on a mission to save Sparkle and did not shy away from big scary words! Instead, they tackled them head-on using the Secrets to sound them out and say exactly what was in their heads that they wanted Mr. Mauger to know!  
 
“Sparkle can fix it, just like the Grinch”
“Sparkle was just mad because the gingerbread men ‘raped’ her up with some string…”
“What if you were Sparkle and got tied-up? Wouldn’t you eat them too?”
After the kids finished up their letters, I sent them directly to the office for Mr. Mauger to read. The kids eagerly awaited their appointment with Mr. Mauger at 11:00 that afternoon.
 
When our appointment time finally came and we entered the outer office, we could hear Mr. Mauger talking to Sparkle, which we captured on the following clip….
 
 
Oh the look on their faces!


So we all settled (i.e. squished) into Mr. Mauger’s office and prepared for our meeting. Now as probably know, Santa is crazy-busy and nearly impossible to get a hold of this time of year. However, as you may not know, school principals have a “special line” that they can use for emergencies… and this definitely qualified!

So Mr. Mauger was able to reach Mrs. Claus, who apparently was handling all of the “behavior business” that particular day. Mr Mauger had apparently been so impressed with our letters that he’d decided to read them to Mrs. Claus!

You can see bits of our principal’s conversation with Mrs. Claus regarding Sparkle’s inappropriate behavior, below.


Tensions run high as the conversation continues….

 
You could have heard a pin drop during the phone conversation with Mrs. Claus. 
 
The kids await Mr. Mauger’s decision, as Sparkle’s fate hangs in the balance
Finally, after a long conversation with Mrs. Claus, and careful review of the kids’ heart-felt documentation regarding the reasons for Sparkle’s poor choices,  Sparkle was given another chance and was able to come back to our classroom for the remainder of December!

The kids were so proud of themselves and so happy they could help a friend. Through their writing, they were able to give Sparkle the Elf a voice and save her holiday!

 

I hope you enjoyed hearing about our unusual holiday writing adventure, as it’s part of my attempt to incorporate Common Core-rich lessons, while still including a little holiday magic!

With a supportive principal, amazing kiddos, and the Secret Stories under our belts, anything is possible!

No challenge is too great for these kids! They are so confident in their ever-increasing abilities as readers and writers! And just in case you missed this clip from a previous post, my little one Lana sums it up nicely… (and this is a must-watch, as it’s the cutest clip of all!)


Wishing Everyone a Happy Holiday!

Thank you to Mrs. Mac and her brilliant munchkins for this wonderful holiday post!

Now if this doesn’t take the cake for the sneakiest persuasive writing lesson EVER, I don’t know what would! What a fun and engaging way to motivate young writers… using ‘real-world’ (well, kind of ;) experiences that are personally meaningful to learners!

This is the perfect recipe for both developing and reinforcing these beginning skills sound skills for reading and writing! Thank you to Mrs. Mac & her Munchkins for sharing your fantastic adventure with us!

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

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