Phonics Fun

A guest post by first grade teacher, Karrie Kehrig.

Teacher Overwhelm

It was the first week of October, and even though school hadn’t started until the end of August, I was already feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

As a hybrid classroom for distance learning, I have 22 students in person and 7 online, and teaching both groups well is anything but easy. We were only a few weeks into this school year when I experienced one of those special “teacher-moments” when you know that you’re doing something that is perfectly right and you can’t help but to smile! I’ll come back to this in just a bit, but first, a little background…..

This year is my 21st year teaching, though I took ten years off in the middle of my career to raise my three children. I began teaching in the late 1980s when whole language was all the rage, though I had grown up in Catholic schools where phonics was the focus. I have seen and lived through both sides of the teaching debate and the resulting “Reading Wars” over what works best when it comes to teaching reading.

Fast forward to the 2012 State Reading Conference….
If you’ve never been to a reading conference before, then you should know that you’re usually just hoping for a few nights away to clear your mind, and maybe one or two good ideas that you can bring back to use in your classroom. However that year, the Michigan Reading Conference changed my life forever.

If They Don’t Know the Phonics Secrets, How Can They Read the Words?

I will never forget that day. I was walking around trying to decide what speaker to go see, when I noticed a room jam-packed with people. I told my friend that we needed to go and see what all the excitement was about.

I walked in and Katie Garner was on the stage, talking about how au & aw were “in love,” and how they got so embarrassed when they had to stand together in words, they always put their heads down and said, “Awwwwww….” (as in:  saw, paw, cause, August, etc…) Katie further explained that this was a “grown-up reading secret,” and then she said something that really struck me, which was “If kids don’t know the phonics secrets, how can they read the words?”

phonics stories dyslexic

The more Katie talked, the more everything made sense to me. I just kept listening as she shared information about early brain development, and how the earlier-developing, emotional part of the brain could be easily accessed and “tricked” into remembering phonics skills through social-emotional (feeling-based) stories, especially “secret” stories!  This was really intriguing to me, as was the idea of being able to make sense of letter sounds and phonics for my students.

Everyone in Katie’s session was given a free download pack with the anchor posters and activities used in the session. That was great, but I wanted all of it, so as soon as I got home, I immediately bought the Secret Stories Kit so that I could start using it in my classroom.

Looking at Words vs. Reading Them

When I first started using Secret Stories, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t listen to Katie and only put up a few posters, as I just didn’t think that I would have time to teach them all. We have a reading series AND a phonics program, as well as writing, math, science and social studies curriculums that we have to follow, so my initial plan was to just use the Secret Stories as yet another curriculum. Oh boy, was I ever wrong!!

Secret Stories Phonics Posters

I quickly realized that the more Secrets I shared, the more words my kids could read and write on their own, and that the more they knew, the more they wanted to know! This was eye-opening for me, as I now understood why Katie was so adamant in the book about putting up ALL of the posters up on Day 1. We are working with words all day long across all areas of the curriculum, and the Secrets are IN those words! If kids don’t know the Secrets, how can they read the words?!

Typically in kindergarten and first grade, we just look at the words and say them, as we don’t actually expecting the kids to read them.

For example, we look at and say the words on our daily calendar every day, but kids aren’t actually reading them. How could they when in words like August, the letter /A/ is making the short /o/ sound, or in words like: January, May, July and Monday, the letter /y/ is making every sound other than the one that kids actually know? And so, we just point to the words and say them.

But where’s the instructional value in just looking at words day in and day out, or even worse, in all of the time we spend memorizing words because kids don’t know how to read them? When you can’t read the words, looking and memorizing are the only options, especially for beginning grade learners who don’t even know all of the letter sounds.

Phonics Instruction that Makes Sense

But with the Secrets, I can just tell a story about au/aw being in love in the word August, or about Sneaky Y® and the sounds he makes when he’s at the end of a word (as in: July, May & January) and thinks no one will see him!

All I have to do is tell a Secret and my five and six year olds instantly understand WHY the letter /y/ makes the many different sounds that it does, and not just on our calendar, but in every other word that they see….all day long!

Why wouldn’t I tell them the Secrets?
Especially since our daily calendar provides a perfect “built-in” opportunity to practice using them in a familiar context, so it’s a win-win! And likewise in math, social studies, and even at lunch! Text is everywhere….and so are the Secrets!

Once you start seeing them, you can’t stop….and your students can’t either! They will start finding them everywhere in every subject area across the entire instructional day and even at home! My kids point them out all the time– in math problems, science and social studies lessons, and even religious studies (as I teach at a Catholic School). We find Secrets in everything we do ALL day long.

Check out some of the Sneaky Y® words that one student found in his story with (which can be with any text).

Don’t Wait for the Reading Series or Phonics Program to Teach It

By putting up ALL of the posters, I was able to explain the sounds of letters in words that we see everyday, long before our reading series formally introduced them. This was a huge timesaver, especially since words like play and they were on our Week #1 sight word list, but the ey/ay phonics skill needed to read them wasn’t supposed to be introduced (by our reading series) until mid-January. That meant countless hours, weeks, and months of instructional time that would have typically been spent memorizing these words was now spent reading them….plus many more!

This realization that I didn’t have to “wait” until mid-January to teach the ey/ay Secret that my kids needed now was huge! By not waiting on the reading series to teach the Secret, my students were actually able to make better use of it—as now they could actually read it! They were finding the Secrets in every story, and they were so excited!

I really enjoy using Secret Stories with our reading series, not only because kids could actually read the stories that were in it, but because it provided endless opportunities to introduce more Secrets while reinforcing the ones they already knew. It also allowed me to shift instructional focus to comprehension strategies, as students were no longer overwhelmed with memorizing and decoding.

More than anything, I began to realize what a huge disservice I’d done to my students that first year by holding back so many Secrets and waiting for my reading series to introduce them. But we live and learn, and when we know better, we do better….which brings me back to October.

long a phonics sound

This is Cecilia’s writing from October, which was only about one month into the school year. It not only made me smile, but it showed me that despite all of the overwhelming stress I was feeling, there was at least ONE thing I was doing perfectly right!

The Phonics Code Kids Need to Read and Write

We were working on the short /e/ sound, and Cecilia needed to write a sentence with a short /e/ word in it. She did that, and so much more!

Not only did she spell the word wet correctly (Thank you Better Alphabet™ Song!), she was able to use the ey/ay Secret (these letters are just too cool, like Fonzie, and always stick up their thumbs and say, “Ayyyyyyyeeeee!“) to build the word rayn, too!

Even though the spelling isn’t technically correct (as she didn’t know the Secret for /ai/ yet), Cecilia “owned” enough of the phonics code to write the word that she wanted….and this was so much more exciting to me than the fact that she spelled the word wet correctly!

You see, my class learned about the ey/ay Secret in the first week of school when the word “play” came up in a story. Unlike my first year, I didn’t wait to tell it until mid-January when our reading series introduced it. Instead, I took advantage of the first opportunity I had, and I used that teachable moment to give my students a valuable piece of the code they would need to read and write every day. And use it they did.

Cecilia’s writing shows that she is starting to “play” with the critical sound-symbol (“speech to print”) connections that are the foundation for all reading and writing. She hears the long /a/ sound in the word rain, and she knows a Secret that she can use to convert that sound to print. With each new Secret she learns, her power as a reader and writer grows. She is able to make sense of the sounds letter make in words all around her, in books and on billboards. Text is everywhere, and she’s reading it!

This is such a tremendous accomplishment for a first grader at the beginning of October, and there is no doubt in my mind that as Cecilia learns more Secrets and gains more text experience, she will spell rain with /ai/ and not /ay/…… but for now though, I am smiling!  When kids know the phonics Secrets, they CAN read the words!

Karrie Kehrig is a first grade teacher at St. Lawrence Catholic School in Utica, Michigan. She has an MA in Early Childhood Education from Oakland University and a BS in Science from Siena Heights College. (Connect with Karrie in NEW Secret Stories® Support Group on Facebook here.)


I am so grateful to Karrie for taking the time to share this post and provide a glimpse into what hybrid learning looks like in her classroom this year!

And to “run” with Karrie’s point about just how powerful early ownership of the phonics code can be for beginning grade learners, I wanted to share some “end of year” kindergarten writing samples, along with some first grade writing samples further down, below. The Secrets are everywhere throughout their writing, as they are the tools they use to write about dolphins, kings and queens! For more on how to fast-track phonics for beginning writing, check out the video below, and subscribe on Youtube for more.

You can also download the FREE Secret Stories® Fairy Tale Writing Pack (used in some of the writing samples below) here or by clicking on the pic below.

Kindergarten Writing Phonics

kindergarten writingKindergarten Fairy Tale Writingkindergarten writing
Kindergarten Writing spring

Kindergarten Writingkindergarten writingkindergarten writing


To see more kindergarten writing samples click here, and to see the compounded skill progression of the Secrets in first grade, click here.

first grade writing

First Grade Writing

If kids don’t know the Secrets, how can they write the words?


NEW Secret Stories® Digital Phonics Tools for Online Reading Lessons

I apologize for the looooong delay between blog posts, but like all of you, my time away wasn’t due to a wonderful summer vacation. Nope! On the contrary, I feel like there was NO summer this year, just a crazy-long Spring that somehow turned into Fall.  And now, here we are.

However, I was fortunate enough to see many of you “virtually” in your school and district professional developments over the summer, which was awesome! I loved getting to spend a full day together, even if it isn’t in person.

I also got to see over 30,000+ of you at the Get Your Teach On Virtual K/1 Conference, which was a whole new level of virtual FUN! If you weren’t one of the 30,000+ that attended, you can watch my two hour session free on my YouTube Channel! (And if you like, it, please click “like” and subscribe, as apparently, this is important, Lol! And you’ll see how I know this a bit further down, below!)


And while all that virtual learning was going on, I was on an obsessive mission (literally!) to create the digital resources that teachers needed to fully implement the Secret Stories® remotely, as well as model their use to read and spell words across the virtual learning day and beyond.

As many of you who’ve been using Secret Stories® for a while now already know, teaching kids the Secrets (i.e. phonics “skills”) is one thing, but teaching them how to apply them as “strategies” to read and write is another. Both are equally important!

It’s the latter—modeling strategy application—that was virtually impossible (no pun intended!) for teachers last year in distance learning lessons. That’s not to say that there weren’t some incredible ideas and lessons created by teachers to make it happen (you can find them here), but just that it wasn’t ready-made, easy and concrete. Now it is.

It’s not enough for kids to just “know” the Secrets. They need to be using them like keys to unlock the words that are all around them ALL DAY LONG, and especially when they are reading and writing at home!

To this end, I’m happy to say, I’ve got you covered! And everything that’s been created for virtual learning will be equally valuable in the “physical” classroom, as well!

Note: The only item not created this summer (but the MOST USEFUL) is the Porta-Pics. They were a lifeline for those who had them last year, as they are the equivalent of your classroom Secret Stories® wall of posters. Porta-Pics were #1 on “take-home” student supplies this year, just in case everything goes fully virtual—again!

Secret Stories® Porta Pics / $2.60 per student (25 set)
*Non-Consumable for use over multiple years, when laminated


​Here’s a quick run-down of all the NEW Secret Stories® digital resources….

 

The Secret Stories® Phonics iOS App in Apple Store 

This digital teaching tools puts all of the Secret Stories® sound graphics AND stories at your fingertips, as well as the Better Alphabet™ Song! Whether you’re a teacher, student or parent, this app is the #1 digital resource we’ve created. It is for use only on iPads or iPhones, and will not work on any other devices, or allow for screen-sharing or mirroring on other devices/platforms, due to the built-in technology.

If you’re a teacher, this app is not designed to “broadcast” the Secrets, but simply to put them all at your fingertips so that you have them all “on the ready” for instant access and use in your online reading lessons, and you don’t have to go rifling through a stack of posters on your desk, or re-adjust your camera to show the a particular poster on the wall. Plus, it will also tell the stories for you, just in case you’re not quite sure what they are, and can’t easily recall them by glancing at the poster (as you normally would in the physical classroom).

The app is equally valuable for parents and students to practice the Secrets, as well as the Better Alphabet® Song for individual letter sound mastery, if needed. Kids can select a Secret phonics image and listen to the story that explains its sound, or, they can test their Secret Story knowledge by listening to stories OR sounds and trying to identify the Secret phonics pattern before time runs out! They can sing along to the Better Alphabet® Song with individual letters highlighted as they are sung, helping to build the critical “sound-symbol” connections in the brain! Kids can also test themselves on the letter names and sounds with timed play. The static grid can also be used as a digital Porta-Pic for reference during independent reading and writing at home. (The app is especially helpful to remediate and reinforce phonics skills for struggling readers, as well as to allow advanced learners to learn more Secrets at a faster rate.)

Aside from the teacher video above, I also made an overview video below with more detailed information, explaining how it works, what it’s designed for, and how your parents and students can also use it at home.

All of this has also been added to the unlisted teacher page, as well as a short synopsis to the unlisted parent page. Both pages will continue to be added to over the course of this year, with more remote teaching ideas, distance learning lessons, and parent/student videos.  (You can read more about these way down below.)


The Secret Stories Better Alphabet™ Song Videos

These are for easy use during online learning lessons, as well as for student use and practice of the individual letters and sounds at home. The song videos include both the “original” version of the Better Alphabet™ Song, which uses muscle memory for fast mastery of the individual letters and sounds in as little as two weeks, as well as a second version by Jack Hartmann for a fun twist! (Think of the original version as what “builds” the reading & writing muscles, and Jack’s version as a way to “exercise” them!)

I’ve also added a third “hybrid” video of the original Better Alphabet™ Song with a split screen showing mouth positions alongside the letters, so as to maintain focus on the symbols that make the sounds, but also provide some additional insight into what to do and how to do it. You will be able to use this version interchangeably with the other original one, as both are designed specifically to strengthen the critical “sound-symbol” connections in the brain for reading and writing. You can find the videos here on TpT.  (All of the letter anchors displayed on the screen in the video match those on the Better Alphabet® Anchor posters and Digital Student Mini-Mats, shown down, below.)

I’m also excited to share this fun video that Jack and I did together, which is great for kids who know the original Better Alphabet™ Song to sing along with!  This video is great fun, but should not be used for actually  “teaching” the letters and sounds, as the focus is on Jack and I, more so than on the letters—which are what kids’ eyes should be GLUED to when singing the sounds in order to cement those “sound-symbol” connections in the brain! That said, as mentioned up above, it’s a great way to “exercise” those newly developing reading and writing muscles that the original Better Alphabet™ Song is building!

And just in case you’re wondering….
The Original Better Alphabet™ Song IS included in the Secret Stories® Kit music download (or CD in older versions), but it’s an audio file, rather than in video format. This is because, ideally (in the traditional classroom), kids should always “visit the letters where they live” on the on the classroom wall—whether it’s the alphabet anchors above your board, or the Secret Stories® posters hanging on your wall. This is critical, not just to solidify the skills, but to reinforce where to go to find them for independent reading and writing!

It’s also why, for years, I’ve recommended NOT using a PowerPoint to flash the letters (or the Secrets) on a screen when practicing them, as they disappear—and this effectively eliminates HALF the value of the time spent practicing them. Think of it this way, when you practice singing the letters and sounds, you’re teaching the “skills,” and when you reference them where they live on the wall, you’re teaching the “strategy” that kids need to know to USE them! :-)

That’s not to say that you can’t have fun singing along with the videos (the “original” version and Jack’s!) in the traditional classroom, but the core “twice a day” practice when learning the letters and sounds should be done with reference to the actual alphabet anchors in your classroom that kids will need to refer back to when reading and writing.

The Better Alphabet™ Song Video options were created for the sole purpose of helping teachers use the Better Alphabet™ Song most effectively in the current online learning envirnment, so as to focus learner-attention (i.e. “eye glue”) on each individual letter symbol as the sound is sung (“mouth muscles”). This visual-auditory connection is critical to cementing the “sound-symbol” relationship in the brain for reading and writing. Additionally, if kids have the at home, they contain the same seen in the video, so they kids can refer back to them for independent reading and writing at home.

And for everything you EVER wanted to know about the Better Alphabet™ Song, itself, check out the video below! 


The Better Alphabet™ Digital Mini Mats for Student Reference ​

These “mini-size” versions of the Better Alphabet™ classroom anchors posters are for individual student use and online distance learning. Both the mini-mats and the classroom anchor posters were recently updated to include an additional a “made-to-match” pastel version to go with the Decorative Square Poster colors. If you previously purchased either, you will be able to re-download and get the additional new set for free!

 

 


The Secret Stories® Interactive Phonics Instruction with “Copyright-Safe” Sound Graphics 
This Interactive Grid is the perfect teaching tool for modeling how to use the Secrets to read and write words in remote learning lessons. Offered in PowerPoint format and easily transferred to Keynote and Google Slides, it provides an easily accessible and concrete way to show students how to “make and break” words with the Secrets. It also includes digital Secret Stories® stickers with embedded sound graphic “hints” to help students forge concrete connections to the phonics patterns and their sounds. While still copy written, these digital stickers are “copyright-safe,” which means you can use them to create your own lessons for your students.


The Secret Stories® Digital Phonics Task Cards for Use with ANY Text
This was actually the first distance learning tools that was created last spring, and it’s recently been updated for easy use across all platforms, including PowerPoint. These digital task cards can be used with ANY text—from stories, to spelling and vocabulary lists. Like the Interactive Grid (above), these help students forge concrete connections between the Secrets they know and daily text—from simply spotting Secrets, to actually using them to read and spell words. These task cards are universal and evergreen for use over and over again. (video below)

 


Sharing and Support Pages for Secret Stories® Teachers and Parents

  • The “Unlisted” Teacher Page
    This page is not publicly available, but housed on the “back end” of the Secret Stories® website. It was created last year to provide teachers who are already using the Secret Stories® with “copyright-safe” ways to support instruction in distance learning lessons. It will continue being added to throughout this year as well.
  • The “Unlisted” Parent Page
    This page is designed just for parents to help them understand what the Secret Stories® are, how they work, and how they can best support their child’s use of the Secrets at home for independent reading and writing. Teachers are welcome to share this link with their parents. (There is a special parent video at the top that really helped with student progression last year!) Here is the direct link that you can copy and paste, as needed-
    https://www.thesecretstories.com/learn-more/free-phonics-resources-for-parents/.

What’s Coming Up

  • In February I’ll be doing a full-day PD (1/2 day each) with the wonderful Jen Jones of Hello Literacy on Brain Based Phonics Instruction and Word Work in Guided Reading. There will be both recorded and live components, and if you follow either of us on Instagram or Facebook, you will be hearing a lot about this very soon. (If not, I promise to send an email all about it once the details are complete!
    ​​
  • I’ve been running weekly contests on Instagram and Facebook to highlight “Class Pics/Vids of the Week” and would love to see yours! Any pics or vids sent carry over to the following week, and you can keep sending more thoughout the year! Whether sharing a pic of your Secret Stories® poster display, or a video snippet from your online lesson, I would love to see your “Secret Story-happenings” and share them, so send them my way! You can email them to me at Katie@KatieGarner.com, or post and share them on social media. Just be sure to tag me and use the hashtag #TheSecretStories. (If sharing on social media, you can message it to me as well, just to make sure I don’t miss it!)
melissa snyder

Follow on Instagram and Facebook for daily “Secret” tips, tools & tricks!

Before closing, I just want to remind you that the best way to “never miss a Secret” is to subscribe to the Secret Email Blast! While I try to post content from previous blasts to this blog, I tend to run several weeks behind. (For example, the unlisted teacher and parent page links were created in April, and I’m just now sharing them here- Lol!)

And stay “never miss a Secret” by joining the NEW Secret Stories® Support Group on Facebook!

Website

Secret Stories Guided Reading

A guest post by second grade teacher, Kelli Gunkle.

Struggling Readers + Failing School = No Time for “Cute”

My name is Kelli Gunkle and I am a second grade teacher in Daytona Beach, Florida. I have been teaching for 5 years in a low-income, DDD, turn-around school with many struggling readers. If you are not familiar with a school climate like the one I teach in, you may have some questions about what all of that means.

In a nutshell, 90% of our students are on free and reduced lunch. We have been a D status for 3 years which placed us in “turn-around” status. This simply means that if we do not earn a C or better we will be taken over, closed down, or turned into a charter school. I tell you this to paint a tiny picture of the environment that I truly have the pleasure of working in.

read to self secret stories

People often look at statistics and status’ and use those as reasons not to be somewhere. I look at statistics a little differently. All of what I told you above is why I teach at my school. It’s why I get up everyday and teach my heart out. It’s why I don’t have time for the cute stuff.

In my first year teaching, I was like most teachers, and very aware of the “perfect” classrooms. Don’t get me wrong, I love anything that is aesthetically pleasing….who doesn’t?! More and more though, I was seeing too many “cute” activities and too little rigor. Activities that would get people to “pin, pin, pin” or “like, like, like,” but none that had much substance to move our struggling readers.

I am lucky enough to work for one of the best principals in our county, and under her training, I have learned a lot about choosing rigor over looks. The experience of working for this amazing woman taught me how to properly vet materials for quality before giving them over to my students. I don’t choose the craftivity; I rarely, if ever, even do them. Instead, I choose what I know is going to give my students the maximum instructional value, because our school just doesn’t have the time to “fluff” anything up.

Filling the Phonics Gaps for Reading

This past fall, I was looking for something — anything that could help fill the gaps in phonics with my struggling readers, who were at least a grade level behind in reading. I was given the opportunity to loop to third grade with my class, and so I was well aware of the gaps that they had. I went into this year knowing the holes that would need to be filled, but not knowing HOW I was going to fill them.

Enter Secret Stories
Through countless search attempts, I stumbled upon the Secret Stories website and started reading all of the reviews. I was hooked. The minute I read that students were ASKING to learn about letter sounds and phonics patterns, I knew it was what I needed for my kids. And while the Secrets may be cute, they are all “meat” and no fluff! And so, unbeknownst to anyone at my school, I ordered the kit, put up the posters, and let the magic unfold! I call it magic because that’s the only way to describe what happens once you let the “genie” out of the bottle and start telling the Secrets.

With the current status of our school, we are a revolving door of district, state, and management company personnel going in and out of our rooms on a weekly to monthly basis. We have extra trainings, new strategies, brand-new curriculum, and countless other responsibilities that all teachers have. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to learn one more routine, strategy, or program to implement in my classroom. My kids don’t have the ability to take anything else in. THAT is why I love Secret Stories so much. It runs itself!

The minute I told my students the first Secret, and that NO ONE could know what I was about to tell them— especially all of those people in suits that kept coming in and out of our classroom—they were hooked! They have been begging for more phonics Secrets ever since!

If you were to come into my classroom, you would be welcomed by one of my favorite sights—our Secret Stories phonics posters! My classroom is all pastel colors, so this set was perfect. My kids use these posters ALL DAY LONG to reference how to both sound-out AND spell words words. (Ignore the feet in the first pic, as it was a long day! ;-)

Weaving Phonics Skill Instruction into Reading & Writing Across the Instructional Day

I wanted my kids to be thinking about the Secret phonics patterns outside of reading block as well, so we started “catching” the Secret sounds wherever and whenever we came across them throughout the day! This could be during a math lesson, during I-Ready lessons, or during our read-to-self time. Whenever they find a Secret, they can “catch” it and add it to our collection.

Phonics Games Word Work

phonics for reading

I bought a shoe rack, added the Secret Stories cards from the back of the book to each pocket, and on the side, placed a container for half-sized index cards and markers. This gives them everything they need to catch Secret phonics patterns and sounds during centers, small group, etc.

Word Work Word Study Secret Stories

Word Study Word Work

Watch the video below to see how we use this to “catch” Secrets!

Secret Stories Sneaky Y

Small Group Reading Instruction and Assessment Prep

I also use the Secrets heavily during small group time. As I mentioned above, our school is in “turn-around” status, so it is incredibly important to fill as many gaps as possible in the primary grades before students move on to 3rd-5th. In small group, we have learning targets and success criteria for the skills we are working on. The success criteria helps my struggling readers to see what steps they need to take in order to master their “I can” targets.

guided reading group

They know that they must achieve these smaller goals in order to obtain their greater goal. To that end, they rely on the Secrets when reading their word lists, as well as whatever they are reading for their weekly text.

Teaching Vowels Sounds

When practicing test-taking strategies, we use the Secrets to help identify the phonics patterns and figure out new words in the text. This helps them to become more familiar with the text before they read it.

secret stories reading test assessment

That way, when they are taking tests, they know to look for phonics patterns in unfamiliar words to help them. This makes them feel more comfortable when they working with more complex text, especially my struggling readers.

Secret Stories Sneaky Y®

To see how we use Thinking Maps with Secret Stories, watch the video below.

Secret Stories Mommy E / Silent E

The Secrets have changed the way I teach phonics and, if I’m being honest, I will never go back to phonics-based routines in order to teach my students how to read. They do not need to memorize; they need to WANT to READ!

Love of Reading with Secret Stories

The Secrets have given my students a “need to know” the sounds, rather than me having to force them to learn them. Now, they are ASKING me to teach them….they want to know ALL of the Secrets!!

In a profession where we have no time for the cute stuff, the Secrets have found a way to be adorable AND rigorous. What an amazing accomplishment!

If you have any questions, or would like to reach out, you can find me in the Secret Stories® Support Group on Facebook, as well as on  and

Happy New Year!
Kelli

From Learning to Read, to Reading to Learn: A Third Grade Update

HELLO SECRET STORIES ……AND HELLO THIRD GRADE!  🙌🏻😍🙌🏻

Teachers Phonics Posters

I had been going into my classroom with my teammate to get things set up. While we didn’t know what this year will look like, setting up our classrooms has brought a much needed peace.  Just getting my Secret Stories Sound Wall up felt 👏🏻 so 👏🏻 good 👏🏻!

The Secret Stories are the keys to our reading, and they mean everything to me as a teacher. After using them for the first time last year, I will never go back! It is the best investment I’ve ever made for my classroom and my students’ learning💗 ….. not to mention my own learning as a teacher of reading.

Since last year’s blog post, I have looped on to third grade with my class. I am happy to say that, due to my students’ success in reading last year, there are now other teachers at my school who have caught “Secret Stories-fever” and are now using the Secrets with their students, as well.

The older kids get, the more they want you to just tell them how to spell words. Having not been with my class for six months, given our early release last spring due to Covid and summer vacation, I’ve had to to remind them to use the Secrets they know to spell words. For reading, this is a non-issue, as they just look at the Secret sound wall to decode the words, but for spelling, they often have to choose between two or three different ways to spell the sound.

In late September, I asked my students to take notes on a story, focusing on the main character, their feelings, their motivations, and their actions. Each student wrote what they thought the character was feeling, and what they believed had motivated their actions.

When I looked at this particular student’s paper, I was absolutely ELATED!

She had written the words “geelous,” and I knew immediately which Secrets she’d used to figure out that spelling! She clearly had command of the ge/gi/gy and /ous/ Secrets. And while she didn’t spell the word jealous exactly right, her ability to “build” that word demonstrated her ownership of the phonics skills that were in it — skills that could be easily used to read ANY words with these Secrets in them!

After telling me the word that she’d written, I commended her for using the Secrets she knew to spell it. Then we made a comparison of “geelous” and “jealous” on the board. Seeing her use the /ge/ Secret for the /j/ sound, and then correctly spell the ending with the /ous/ Secret just made my teacher-heart explode!❤️

And it’s still September….phonics for writing

Before I close, I want to share something that Katie and I worked on together to help students notice and use the Secrets to read and spell in remote learning lessons (as well as in literacy centers, whole group, and small group classroom instruction in the physical classroom next school year). They are “universal” task cards that work with any text and any grade level and can be used over and over again, making it easy to target specific skills/ Secrets on an individual, whole, or small group level. They are also helpful for differentiation, given that they can be paired with any text – from guided readers, to poems on the board, to math directions — they will get your kids  searching for Secrets, no matter what they are reading!

Here is little sample batch that you can download and try, so you can see how they work. There is also a video down below that shows the complete set, which are available here. 

Secret Stories Phonics Task Cards

digital phonics task cards

For the complete set of Secret Stories® “Universal” Task Cards, click here.

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 Code 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 ;-)

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

Subscribe to the Secret News
and Never Miss a Secret! 


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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. 

 


Katie Garner Secret Stories Linkedin pageSecret Stories BlogSecret Stories Facebook PageSecret Stories Youtube PageSecret Stories TwitterSecret Stories PinterestSecret Stories Instagram
Secret Stories® Phonics Program

Secret Stories Phonics Instruction

 

 

 

Teaching Sight Words— Never Make Kids MEMORIZE Words 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 behave the way they do when they get together. 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). But like all superheroes who don’t want to be recognized, 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 more about the Superhero Vowel® Secrets, check out this vlog post on the  Secret Stories® Youtube Channel. 
Secret Stories Superhero Vowels

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

Once kids know the Secrets about the Superhero Vowels®, they’ll need to know what “triggers” them to be long or short. That means letting them in on a couple of other “Secrets” about   Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowel® which are so easy you can teach them to kindergartners! You can learn about both in the video below. 

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

How to Decode “Undecodable” Words (So Kids Don’t Have to Memorize Them!)

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.)

So here’s the trick for helping kids easily decode those seemingly “undecodable” words!

 

 

What I love about this trick is the power that it gives learners over text, minimizing the need to memorize words that can now be read! Plus, look at how many words can now be “paroled” from Word Jail!

How to Teach and READ Sight Words

Thanks 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! 

Thinking Outside the Box is Easy Once Kids Know What’s In It

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 in the new Facebook Group, and check out Tara’s original post, or her awesome blog with lots of oodles of ALL FREE 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!


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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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Why Wait to Teach the Sounds of  Y?

y as a vowel

There’s an elephant in your classroom.
And it’s huge.

You sweep by it every day in your classroom, several times in fact, and probably without ever even noticing. It’s most conspicuous during morning calendar time, as that’s its favorite time of day.

If you can’t see, watch this.

So now that you’ve spotted the elephant, it’s time to get rid of it!

Think of Secret Stories® as your “elephant-exterminator!” The Secrets are the logical explanations for letter sound behavior that learners’ brains crave! They are the reasons WHY letters “do what they do” when they don’t do what they should!

Secret Stories Phonics Program

Giving Beginning Readers Easy Access to “High-Leverage” Phonics Skills 

There is perhaps nowhere that elephant exterminator is needed more than on our morning calendar, especially when it comes to the letter Y!

It’s literally everywhere, and not once can it be found making the ONE sound that beginning grade learners are told to expect it to, which is “yuh!” as in: yellow, yes, you and yak.

Instead, it makes different sounds, one that seem belong to other letters, like in the words: January, February, May, July, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday,
Sunday…
Sneaky Y sounds on the calendar

Y
is literally everywhere, yet not one time does it ever say, “yuh!”And the classroom calendar isn’t the only place these elephants like to roam.
We can see their tracks on the “boy’s” bathroom and in the books that we read “by” so and so author. They are even hiding in many of our favorite words, like: mommy, daddy, candy, etc…

It seems we have elephants running around everywhere!

Making Phonics Make Sense

When you don’t make sense, it’s time to tell a “Secret!”

sounds of y
Time to load-up on that “secret” elephant-spray so that we can make the sounds of Y make sense, and in doing so, give kids a much-needed reading and writing tool! (If you want to read more on this “elephant-extermination” process,  read this article.)
Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Poster

Sneaky Y® Digital Pack on TpT

Secret Stories Sneaky Y Phonics Story

Sneaky Y® Secret Story digital “cheat-sheet” is included in the Superhero Vowel® cheat-sheets in Secrets of the Superhero Vowels digital pack on TPT

Now that you know about the other sneaky sound that Y makes when he’s at the end of words, like  in Monday or May?”  
Secret Stories® Phonics Calendar
Secret Stories Calendar Secrets
That’s not Sneaky Y®! That’s ey/ay and they are just “too cool”…..like Fonzie!  (And for those who are too young to remember who Fonzie is, this video clip should help!)

And now, there is a “new and improved” elephant spray in the form of a power-packed guided reader that’s all about Sneaky Y® and his sneaky shenanigans! It’s called Sneaky Y’s Secret and it explains how Sneaky Y® got to be so sneaky! (Special thanks to Susan Eklove for the adorable text and Poco & Pop for the beautiful illustrations!)

Here’s a sneak-peek!

Secret Stories Sneaky Y Guided Reader
sneaky y sounds of y
Secret Stories Sneaky Y Phonics Story
sounds of y sneaky y
Secret Stories Sneaky Y Phonics Story
If you are subscribed to the Secret News Blast, you should have already received a free download link for the Sneaky Y® Guided Reader in your email. If not ,subscribe now and never miss a Secret!

In closing, remember this “cool dude” from the video up above?

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— ey and ay are just too cool!
He’s not really Fonzie, but a kindergarten teacher from Washington State, and I he’d sent me the following email, along with that adorable video clip….

My name is Daniel and I teach kindergarten in Washington State. Last year my school district adopted a new reading curriculum and when my team examined the leveled readers before the start of the school year, we were initially in shock.  We had no idea how our students were expected to read the new complex text introduced so early in the curriculum. After our initial reaction started to subside we got very motivated to create and find innovating and engaging methods for teaching more advanced phonics skills. 
 
Around November I stumbled across a pin on Pinterest with the Secret Story posters for the R-controlled vowels, etc… I had seen it before and I thought it was a neat idea, but I had never clicked on the link. When I clicked on it and found your website and realized the scope of how many secret stories there were, I got really excited and shared it with my teaching partners who shared in my enthusiasm. They were the perfect solution to our problem! We made up a few secret stories on our own before convincing our school to purchase them for our grade level, but by January we had them and made the full commitment to implement them. 
 
By the end of the year, we had by far the most students reading the Beyond Leveled Readers in the district, and many students needed even more challenging text.  By the summer I started presenting about the Secret Stories to other teachers in my district and adjacent ones, and ever since I have been trying to share this amazing resource with as many teachers as I can.
 
After last year’s success, we wanted to step it up a notch this year, so we decided to create a video where we acted out every Secret Story.  It took us 2 months to complete, but we are proud of the result. We’ve had our students watch it many times and they are making even more connections to the stories.  Sometimes it is a gesture that one of us did that resonates with them, or remembering who acted out the story that helps the students remember the sound.  It has proven to have been a very useful project and new resource. 
 
We had a lot of fun doing it, and we would be honored if you had some time in your schedule to watch it. Thank you so much for this amazing resource and inspiring us to want to be the best reading teachers for our students as possible!
 
Daniel M. 
Kindergarten Teacher

AU AW PHONICS rule


Until Next Time,
Secret Stories® Phonics Read-Aloud
Katie 
PS The registration deadline for the week-long South Dakota Kindergarten Academy this summer is fast approaching, and the preK/Kinder days have sold out. For all those who were unable to get into the PK/K workshop, you are encouraged to sign up for the 1st/2nd grade workshop, as the strategies and content covered in both sessions are applicable across the primary grade levels!
Katie Garner Education Keynote Speaker and Literacy Consultant —Professional Development Workshop
Katie Garner Education Keynote Speaker— Kindergarten Conference
For information on bringing Katie to your school or district for workshops, click here.
For more information on how to register, visit the Kindergarten Academy Facebook Page or email sac.kindergartenacademy@k12.sd.us.

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Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!
Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories

Click to download this free sample poster pack!

 

 

“Why do I have to write two T’s in the word butter when I only hear one sound? 
And how do I know whether to make the long or short sound for the letter u?” 
As teachers, we know that the trick to figuring this out is based on the syllabic division of a word.
VCV (vowel—consonant—vowel) = “open” syllable = long sound (as in bite)
VCCV (vowel—consonant—consonant—vowel) = “closed” syllable = short sound (as in bitter)

But for early and struggling, upper grade learners,  this “trick” can actually be more confusing than the problem it solves, thus making an already difficult task seem even more complicated, especially for the average “concrete-thinker” (which early learners are).

If you’ve been following my blog (or are using the SECRET STORIES®) then you know how quickly and easily the Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels® secrets are an easy-fix for this pervasive problem. This is because kids already know that when their Mommy (or Babysitter) is nearby, they have to behave and do what they’re told! And when they are not, all behavior-bets are off!

Secret Stories® Phonics Book— Mommy E®
Click here to learn the “Chin-It” Trick that these kids are using in the picture above!

Framing the abstract VCV/VCCV concepts in this way activates the affective thinking (“feeling”) domain— an earlier developing area of the brain that is far more accessible to very young and/or struggling learners, making it a perfect “backdoor-route” for critical skill acquisition!

For more on Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels®, watch this short video clip below.

Now let’s take a peek at a kindergarten guided reading lesson to see just how easy it is…

These “social-emotional” (affective) learning connections to Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels® are already deeply entrenched within the learner, and it is this inherent understanding that easily and effortlessly drives their decision-making when working with unfamiliar text. 

Secret Stories® Phonics Book— Mommy E®
Secret Stories® Phonics Book by Katie Garner
Excerpt from Fall 2016 Secret Stories® Book Edition—”Version 2.0!

 

Simplified alternatives, like Sparkly E or Magic E are less effective for a couple of reasons:
—Listening to mommy or a babysitter is already rooted in what kids already know and understand , as they are part of their social emotional framework of understanding. However, Sparkly E and Magic E are random and arbitrary, and therefore require an additional step in the learning process before they can be applied.
Sparkly E and Magic E only apply to one syllable words ending in silent e (bike, rake, use, etc…) and does not help kids to decode all VCV/ VCCV words, like: going, making, rider, motor, etc…  They don’t provide much bang for the instructional-buck, as they only work when there is an e at the end, and otherwise leaving learners “high and dry!”

Kids who know the Secrets can easily crack even more advanced, multi-syllabic words, like hibernate! All they need to know is that much like their own mommy, sometimes Mommy E® just has to get out of the house! When she does, she’ll put another vowel in charge to babysit, and he does exactly what Mommy would do if she were there, which is tell any vowel that’s one letter away, “You say your name!” Works like a charm every time!

So let’s see just how easy this is, even for kindergartners!

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Mommy E® Pack
Mommy E®

Knowing the Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels® Secrets instantly equip even the youngest four or five year old learners with the “best-betting odds for Las Vegas” when it comes to the most likely sound a vowel will make—even in words they’ve never seen before!

That’s the benefit of targeting phonics instruction to the earlier-developing, affective “feeling” domain, rather than the later developing, executive functioning centers. It’s also why these brain-based tricks for critical phonemic skill mastery are a ‘must-have’ for every reading teacher (and their students!)

So back to the original question about how to know how many /t/’s to use when spelling the word butter. Watch this short video clip from a professional development workshop to find out!

Start sharing “secrets” with your class tomorrow! 
Download the FREE Secret Stories® “Appetizer” Anchor Poster Pack

Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories

 


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For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here.

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“Beware of the stories you’ll read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”   

                                                                                                                                       —Ben Okra     
                                  

Can you breathe underwater?

Obviously, the answer is no.

But what if you lived in a world where breathing underwater was possible?
Then the correct answer would be yes.
In other words, the answer depends on the context.

Traditionally, the idea of teaching complex phonics skills to beginning grade level learners would be considered developmentally inappropriate—a position with which I would agree. But “giving” them these skills is a completely different “story!”

Using brain science as a road map, we can access earlier-developing, social-emotional learning pathways by wrapping phonics skills into stories, so as to “give” what we can’t yet “teach!” Stories are easy for kids to remember because stories are HOW kids remember. They act as a sort of “memory-enhancer” by providing a strong memory-holding template in the brain, and a much-needed framework for memory construction.

Secret Stories Phonics — "Stories act as memory-enhancers in the brain!"


Stories pose no developmental harm, nor are they age or grade-specific. Learners simply take away that which is personally meaningful and relevant to them, without expectation. In this way, the reading and writing (phonics) code is transformed into “skill-drenched” golden nuggets, buried within already familiar, learner-frameworks of social and emotional experience and understanding.

Secret Stories® provides an easily accessible “backdoor” delivery method for the totality of skills that are needed to read and write from the earliest possible grade level. Unlike phonics “skills,” the Secrets aren’t grade specific, and can be easily shared with any age learner, so as to be ready for use, when needed!

So hold your breath and prepare to dive into a new way of thinking about what we do and when we do it….and in no time, you AND your students will be breathing underwater!

Secret Stories Phonics — Targeting Phonics Instruction to the Affective Learning Domain!
For more, subscribe free to the Secret Stories® YouTube Chanel.

For more on accessing “backdoor” learning channels to fast-track phonics skills for earlier reading and writing, check out these previous posts here and here. You can also check out the video below.

Before I close, I wanted to kick-off the new school year with this fun and FREE 36 page Secret Stories® Reward/Incentive Bucks Pack! It even includes a student purse and wallet for safekeeping of students “secret” earnings! Inside, you will find information on how to use it with the Secret Stories® in the classroom. You can grab it by clicking here or by using the link, below.

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Reading Bucks
Free Secret Stories® Reward/Incentive Bucks

On a side note, I always love getting to meet so many incredible teachers at conferences around the US! And over the next couple of years, in addition to my current speaking schedule, I will be doing a series of keynotes in cities throughout the US and Canada as part of the Vulnerable Learners Summits with Dr. Richard Allington, Dr. Anne Cunningham and Debbie Diller. I would love to see you there!

Katie Garner International Keynote Education Speaker with RIchard Allington Debbie Diller and Anne Cunningham
For more upcoming dates, check out my speaking schedule, here!
Until Next Time,
Katie 
Katie Garner — Literacy Professional Development and Education Speaker

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Secret Stories Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind
Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!
Secret Stories Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind By Katie Garner #BrainRead
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 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 #BrainRead

Secret Stories Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind

 

Too Many Phonics Rules, Too Little Time

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

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

Secret Stories Phonics — Accelerated Access to the Phonics Code

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Activating Social-Emotional Learning Channels for Higher Level Thinking

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

exceptions to phonics rules

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

decoding exception words

-old (as in: bold, cold, mold, etc…)

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

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

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

Same as above.  

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Read Words that are Exceptions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

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