Decoding Sight Words with Phonics Secrets is finally DONE!!
But before I share more about this, I wanted to explain why I created it in the first place….

decoding sight words with phonics skills

It’s always seems odd to me when I hear questions like…. “How do I know which Secrets to teach for each sight word?” or “Is there a list of sight words that has the Secrets I need to teach with them?” or my favorite, “I don’t have time to teach the Secrets because of all the sight words that I have to teach!” (Can you see the irony in that last one?)

​Phonics Keys to UNLOCK WORDS for Reading

Secrets are keys to unlock words. It’s really that simple. If kids don’t know the Secrets (a.k.a. phonics skills), then how can they read the words? Without the code, beginning and struggling readers have to rely solely on memorizing words while they wait for the slow pace of grade-level phonics instruction to catch-up.

That means if Howard wants to write about his pet mouse in kindergarten or first grade, he’s out of luck because the ou/ow phonics “skill” won’t formally introduced for another 1-2 years, about midway through second grade. Howard’s mouse will literally be DEAD by the time gets the sound for “owwww” that he needs to write about it his mouse, or to read about it…..let along to make make sense of his own name!

From a common sense perspective, it seems ridiculous to make kids wait 3-4 grade level years (from pk-2nd grade) for the “whole” code they need to read and write from the first day of kindergarten. But this is the nature of the beast when teaching “abstract” phonics skills to “concrete” level thinkers—who are often eating their shoes and licking the carpet during your reading instruction! ;-)

phonics sight word cards

Enter the BRAIN SCIENCE
Research on early brain development shows that the brain develops from back to front, with the social-emotional “feeling” based systems developing far earlier than the higher-level, executive processing centers (which are actually the latest area to fully develop).

While traditional phonics instruction targets “underdeveloped” higher-level processing centers for skill mastery, Secret Stories sneaks through the brain’s backdoor, using muscle memory to fast-track individual letter sound mastery (in 2 weeks to 2 months) and aligning phonics skill concepts with “universally familiar” frameworks of learner-understanding.

Secrets aren’t skills, they’re just stories that kids already know, based on behaviors they already understand, like: having a crush, not getting along, getting hurt, being left out, being a good line leader, being sneaky, doing what your mom or babysitter tells you when they’re nearby, and of course, everything “superheroes!”

These connections exist in the earlier-developing emotional systems, or “feeling” based centers of the brain…..or what I like to refer to as the “tattling centers!” This is the part of kids’ brains that can easily keep track of all the social and emotional “goings-on,” like the behaviors of their classmates. By aligning letter behavior with kid behavior, they can easily keep track of, and even predict the most and next most likely sounds of letters, just as easily as they keep track of the behavior of their classmates and with just as much FUN!

So WHY WAIT?
Research shows that explicit, systematic and sequential phonics instruction is key, so it’s important to follow a scope and sequence. However, your scope and sequence should never tie your hands and prevent you from giving kids MORE of what they need to do what they’re ALREADY doing! Think of your scope and sequence as your “playground,” and the Secrets as the “muscles” kids need to maximize their time playing on it. The best way to ensure that kids take away maximum instructional value from your existing reading or phonics program is to give them the tools they need to actually READ it!

phonics sound wall posters

“S0-Called” SIGHT WORDS
Did you know that for experienced readers, virtually EVERY word is a sight word? That’s because the definition of a sight word is ANY word that’s recognized by sight, meaning that it has already been “orthographically mapped” in the brain. For beginning and struggling readers, the transfer of unfamiliar words into sight memory is the ultimate goal, but NOT through rote memorization of word lists.

Kids must be able to actively “decode” words by connecting letter patterns (graphemes) to sounds (phonemes), and to do this they need to know more than just the sounds of individual letters. They need to know the sounds that letters make when they get together, which commonly referred to as phonics skills. But they can’t wait 3 to 4 grade level years to learn them.

Waiting that long means that kids still have to memorize all of the words with phonics skills in them that they haven’t learned yet, which research shows is detrimental. Even teaching them as “heart words” (which are words that must be memorized “by heart” until such time as the phonics skills needed to read them are taught) kids are still having to memorize words that could be instantly read with the Secrets.

Decoding Sight Words with Phonics Secrets

So let’s get back to WHY I created this pack by addressing the three comments shared at the top about sight words.
1. “How do I know which Secrets to teach for each sight word?”
While it’s usually pretty straight forward to know which Secret or Secrets to teach for which words, sometimes it can be tricky. For example, Howard needed the “ou/ow” for the word mouse, not to mention for his own name. And there’s another Secret in is name too, which is “ar.” Just knowing these two Secrets empowers Howard (no “ow” pun intended!) to unlock hundreds of other words too, like: how, now, about, around, flower, are, hard, far, and so many more. Now imagine the alternative, which is making poor Howard wait until 2nd grade when this phonics skill is “supposed” to be introduced. Think how many MORE words poor Howard (not to mention the rest of the kids) would have to just memorize. So again, why should we wait?!

While words like mouse and Howard may be obvious, sometimes you do have to think outside of the box when it comes to certain words. Take, for example, common high-frequency words like: of, was, want, some, come, love, what, etc. By traditional phonics standards, these words are considered to be non-decodable, and thus relegated to becoming “heart words” to be memorized “by heart.”

But the beauty of the Secrets is that they aren’t binary phonics “rules” that either work or don’t. They are behaviors, which means that kids can “think-through” the most and next most likely sounds of letters and ultimately figure out the word. (You can learn more about this here.)

To make it easy, I’ve embedded the first 100 Dolch and Fry words (as well as several other common high-frequency words) with Secret sound graphics so that both teachers and students can easily see the Secrets and the sounds they make in the words.

decoding sight word flashcards

2. “Is there a list of sight words that have the Secrets I need to teach with them?”
Not only are there lists of words alongside the Secrets that are needed to crack them, but the words are organized in ways that provide variations for structured literacy practice (i.e. to see, read, write, spell and even make new words with the same Secrets) to solidify the connection between phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (Secrets phonics patterns) and help support orthographic mapping in the brain. This process of cementing sound-symbol (i.e. “speech to print”) connections in the brain is the foundation of Secret Stories® instruction, and key to a Science of Reading-based approach to effective phonics instruction.

Editable templates are also included for each part so that you can use your own words for your specific grade level, with those “pre-embedded” with the Secret sound images servings as a guide. As with everything-Secret Stories®, through use, you become the expert by internalizing the concepts and making them your own. (This is the ultimate my goal for each Secret Stories® supplement that’s created, to understand how to use the Secrets even better!)

3. “I don’t have time to teach the Secrets because of all the sight words that I have to teach!”
I hope that after reading all of the above, this one is obvious. If kids DON’T know the phonics Secrets, how can they read the words?!! What exactly are you teaching if not the code kids need to actually read the words they’re seeing every day?

As teachers, our goal can’t be to have our kids just “look at words” all day but not actually read them. That’s just going through the motions and checking the box, not teaching them to read.

We don’t have the luxury of time to just “look” at words all day long and NOT take advantage of these opportunities to give kids the Secrets they need to actually READ them! Especially not now, given the loss of learning that’s occurred over the last two years. We need to take advantage of what we know about the brain’s systems, not just for learning to read, but for learning, in general, so as to work WITH the brain, not against it. The first step to doing this is to teach in a way that actually makes SENSE!

Secret Stories Science of Reading-Based Instruction 

So on that note, this email was a lot longer than I intended it to be, but I really hope it’s helpful as we gear up for another school year. Every day, I see so many great conversations about this and other topics in the Secret Group. It’s wonderful to read the in-depth conversations about Secret Stories and the Science of Reading now that so many states have provided training over the summer. I love seeing Secret Stories mentioned in different state trainings for LETRS, Reading 360, Phonics First, etc, as a way to help streamline and fast-track learner-access to the code.

Everyone’s ultimate goal is to make phonics make sense so that it’s easy for teachers to teach and for kids to learn—even if they’re sucking on their shoe while they’re doing it! ;-) Kindergarten teachers know exactly what I’m talking about!

science of reading aligned phonics instruction

You can watch a short video about the Decoding Sight Words with Phonics Secrets pack made by Sheryl Nicholson, whose tireless efforts in working with me over the past several months to create this pack are the reason that it’s ready in time for school to start!💗 And to read a post by Sheryl explaining more about how she uses Secret Stories® in her classroom, click here.

You can also find Sheryl in the Secret Group, which I’m thrilled to say now has over 40K members! If you’re not already a part of it, we would love for you to join us….as in there, the conversation never stops!

And you can find Decoding Sight Words here or by clicking on the picture up above.

Until Next Time,
Katie

Secret Stories Phonics Blocks

Teaching is not a profession for the weak.  It is a profession that you have to feel in your bones and your soul.  You have to wake up in the morning and know that you are going to make a difference in a child’s life by getting up and going to work.

The dedication and commitment it takes to be a teacher in today’s school system is not like it was when I graduated 32 years ago.  School systems are asking more than we can give, yet teachers find ways to keep giving.  That is because we know that the best has yet to come.  This is why I get up each day and I show up for my students.  I know that MY best day of teaching has yet to come. MY best year of teaching has yet to come!  I will continue to grow and learn and get better because that is what I do as a teacher.  I do what it takes for my students to succeed.  I want my retirement year of teaching to be MY best year of teaching!

The Best is Yet to Come
by Sheryl Nicholson, Kindergarten Teacher

Post-Covid Kindergarten in May
In the spring of 2021, after a crazy year of COVID shut-downs, I was preparing my lesson plans for the week and looking for a good YouTube video on blending CVC words because my students were really struggling with this skill, Somehow I clicked on a video of Katie Garner talking about the Secret Stories.

SIX HOURS LATER, I’d binge-watched everything I could get my hands on about the Secret Stories on Katie’s Youtube Channel. In a nutshell, the Secrets are short brain-based stories that explain the sounds letters make when they get together, with posters to help kids remember for independent reading and writing. They make phonics accessible by connecting skills to what kids already know (i.e. having a crush, not getting along, playing rough and getting hurt, being sneaky, listening to your mom or babysitter, etc.).

Everything made so much more sense, including why my students were still struggling with blending simple CVC words. If the only sounds they knew were the ones letters make individually, then CVC words were all they could read, and these words were the least likely to be encountered throughout the day.

That’s because most words we came across contained phonics patterns that we hadn’t learned yet and wouldn’t for at least one or two more grade level years in first and second grade. I was starting to understand why Katie said in the video that it’s actually  especially when we don’t have to. 
So with only six weeks left in the school year, I began frantically texting my teammate, and after a little arm-twisting, convinced her to jump in with me and start telling Secrets!

Sound Walls for Independent Reading & Writing

The more I learned about Secret Stories, the more excited I was to get them, and after waiting for what seemed like FOREVER, they came! We immediately laminated the posters and put them all up to make a sound wall that kids could use to help remember the new “secret” sounds they would be learning

phonics sound wall

I joined the Secret Facebook Group and found so many great ideas from other teachers on how to get started! I even found a cute idea posted in the free group files to create a “secret” cover for the section of my Secret Stories book that contained the Secrets!

secret phonics code book

Now we were ready to go!
Granted, we only had about six weeks of school left in the year, but I wanted to see if there was truly “magic” in these Secrets.

Having no clue where to start at the almost END of this school year, I just jumped in. The first “secret” I saw was in our school name, Lovejoy. So, Sneaky Y was the one that we started with, and I made a big deal about it being a grown-up reading “secret” that kids weren’t supposed to know. I even made them go and check the hallway to make sure that no one would hear! Then they all gathered around  on the carpet and I told the secret about WHY /y/ was so sneaky, as well as the sounds he could make. THEY ATE IT UP!!!!  After that one, we literally blew through the rest of the Secrets! They spotted them everywhere—in books, on the walls, in read alouds, at home…there was no escaping them!

The biggest change I saw was in their writing. They went from almost completely “inventive” spelling to using the secret phonics patterns.

Their confidence just soared with these new phonics tools under their belt.  The only downside was the short time we had remaining to use them since our first grade teachers didn’t have them. So before school ended, I made each student a Secret Stories key chain (with the Secret “Take-Home” Tags on Tpt) to review during the summer.

Phonics Brag Tags

Needless to say, word got around about these things called the “Secrets” and soon the other kindergarten teachers in our district wanted in on the action.  At the end of the school year, we found a foundation that awards grants to teachers through a rigorous proposal process. It’s highly competitive, so in order to stand out, your proposal must be creative. So we decided to incorporate the Secrets into our grant proposal with a mock Zoom call. It was a huge success and we were able to get Secret Stories for all nine kindergarten classrooms at our school!

Instant Speech to Print Connections for Beginning Reading & Writing

By the end of that school year, my mind was already racing with ideas for the next school year, and how I could make teaching the Secrets even better for my kindergartners.  I found the Secret Sound Stickers and these were the seeds for a million ideas!

phonics stickers

I knew that I wanted to start introducing the Secrets in August, but wasn’t sure how to do that since most of my students wouldn’t even know the names of the letters yet. We could sing the Better Alphabet Song to fast-track mastery of the individual letters and sounds, but in order for kids to actually USE them to read or write anything, they would also need to know the phonics Secrets.

I am a firm believer in teaching smarter, not harder. I thought about the things that I already do and how I could incorporate Secret Stories into them.

Secret Stories Phonics Stickers

Phonics Secrets in My Name
At the beginning of each school year, I make All About Me posters for each one of my students.  I send a form home at “Meet The Teacher” before school starts that parents and students fill out and return to me.  Then I make a personalized poster for each student and every day we highlight one.

Spotlighting the phonics Secrets in student names is a perfect way to introduce them. Why teach kids how to just “recognize” their names when they can use the Secrets to actually READ them? Not only did knowing the Secrets in their names  help to make sense of the sounds that the letters were making, it was also a personal way for kids to take ownership of the phonics skills.  As different phonics Secrets were introduced, we would add the small red cards (from the back of the Secret Stories book) to our pocket chart to keep track of them.

phonics cards

I even grouped students with the same phonics Secrets in their names together as I shared their posters.  For instance, I introduced everyone whose name had just one Secret, then I introduced those with a Mommy E in their name, and then I introduced those whose names started with the same blend, etc… This took about 4-5 weeks, but it was a perfect pace to introduce about 30 Secrets in 25 days or so.

 phonics patterns in names   phonics sounds in names

Here’s one of my little ones explaining the phonics Secrets in her friend Crew’s name. (The only thing they loved more than learning how to read and write their own name was learning how to read and write the names of their friends!)

I also made cards for all of the high-frequency “sight” words and used the digital stickers to make the phonics sounds in them more accessible by showing the  connection in a concrete way.

decoding sight words

First we would read the words with the Secret phonics sound EMBEDDED; then we read them with the Secrets phonics sound up ABOVE; and finally we read them just the LETTERS for gradual release from the Secrets.

Sight Wordsdecoding sight word cardslearning sight words

The sound stickers were such a game-changer for my students that I began sharing what I was doing with other teachers in the Secret Facebook Group.  It was there that I discovered that the Decoding Sight Words with Phonics Secrets project was well underway! So at Katie’s request along with Shelley Mahn, we created a teaching tool to help show the connections between the so-called “sight words” kids need to know and the phonics Secrets they need to actually READ them! (I made the video to show exactly how we use it.)

One Secret is Worth a Hundred Words
In past years, I would have introduced just 1-2 sight words a week, and by the end of the year, I would have introduced all the required words for kindergarten.

NOT THIS YEAR! I was able to give my students ALL 35 of the first semester words at once.  They immediately noticed that they had the same phonics Secrets in them that were in their names and loved seeing which words they “shared” Secrets with!

I literally spread the pile of words all over our floor and let the kids just walk around and talk about what they saw. The first thing they noticed was which ones had similar Secrets. For example, words like: at, an, and, can, etc… all shared the short /a/ Secret and so they wanted to group them together, just as they’d done with their names.

sorting sight words with phonics secrets

After laying out all of the Secret Stories Flashcards and sorting all the words, we discovered that only 3 of the 35 words actually had to be memorized as “heart words,” as the rest were all easily decodable!

It was so powerful to see these beginning kindergarten readers realize that this giant stack of unknown words wasn’t so scary, as they could already read them!

We continued doing the same sorting activities with these words that we had done with our names before adding them alongside on our Secret Sound Wall. (Note: The names and words were only displayed on our Secret Story sound posters temporarily to illustrate the connection between the Secret phonics patterns and the sounds they make in words. Once these concrete connections between sound and print were made clear, the Secret Stories posters were all they needed to read and spell throughout the day.)

By the end of kindergarten, we’d not only gone through all of our kindergarten words, but first grade’s list too! When kids own the code, kids can read ANY word, regardless of which grade level list they’re on….and that’s why Secret Stories make all the difference!

Look for part 2 of  Sheryl’s post to come soon….
THE BEST IS YET TO COME!

sheryl teacher of the year

Sheryl Nicholson is a kindergarten teacher in Allen, Texas and is an active member of the Science of Reading Meets the Science of Learning Secret Stories® Facebook Group. She will be sharing more in “part 2” of her blog soon, so stay tuned!

FREE Block Templates for More “Speech to Print” Phonics Fun

Download this free Secret Stores® Block template from the “Files” section of the Secret Facebook Group, Science of Reading Meets Science of Learning (Just look for the “Files” tab at the top of the group page.)

Secret Stories Phonics Blocks

And for “ready-made” Secret Stories® SoR-based phonics fun,  check out the Secret Stories® Phonics Centers for Phoneme Grapheme FUN.

A guest post by Elizabeth George, a mother and “unexpected homeschool teacher” to a neurodiverse first grader with Autism.  

Phonics Flip Book

 

Teaching Neurodiverse Learners

Dyslexia, Autism, ADHD and More

I am the parent of a neurodiverse child, which means that my child’s brain is wired differently. This causes him to think, learn and sometimes behave differently. This catchall phrase, “wired differently,” includes everything from ADHD or learning disabilities (like dyslexia), to children who are gifted or autistic. It’s a term used to describe kids who move through the world in a less typical way.

If you’re like me and have a child whose brain is differently wired, you may have found yourself unexpectedly homeschooling during the pandemic. No sooner had we learned how to navigate special education advocacy, than our focus had to shift to the actual educating. Neither I, my husband, or our children knew for how this was going to go on. I’m not going to lie, it was a steep learning curve for all of us, but it was one we had to climb for my amazingly resilient, curious, anxious and autistic first grade son.

In kindergarten, it became apparent that dyslexia was mixed into our son’s learning profile. An education that began with a team of seven special education teachers, support professionals and trained therapists, was now down to just his father and me, along with my parents, who also live with us. Now, upon finding myself unexpectedly and solely responsible for the monumental task of teaching my struggling reader, I went to the experts. I read, watched, and listened to everything I could for several hours each night. What I found was that several years ago, there had been a “reading war” that no one had won. However, proponents of both sides (Whole Language and Phonics) did appear to have come to a truce, and that truce was known as Balanced Literacy.

Both sides, those advocating “phonics” (decoding letter sounds) and those advocating “whole language” (learning whole words by sight) seemed to make good points, and so in my confusion, I contacted the Education Department at the University of Texas. (Note to Special Needs Parents: Universities offer tons of free resources and training courses as part of their research. I’ve taken the Behavioral Tech certificate training for applied behavioral analysis (ABA), communication training for Speech therapists, and much more all for free. Google search your local university’s Education, Special Education, Child Development, Neuroscience, and Psychology Departmental Studies, which are usually listed on each Department page website.)

The Science of Reading

As it turned out, the University of Texas was doing a study on reading for kids with learning differences. Unfortunately, my son was too young to be eligible. I asked for an exception, but the professor in charge gave me access to his doctoral students to ask questions and find out about the most effective resources, instead. Lost and worried, I scheduled a call and received excellent direction from an amazingly sweet doctoral student in the UT’s Special Education Program. I was advised to evaluate of the effectiveness of any program based on whether it was aligned with the “Science of Reading,” a term I had never heard. So deep into the rabbit hole I went, researching everything I could find…and I’ll save you the weeks and/or months of research by giving you the following terms to speed your search:

Science of Reading
Scarborough’s Reading Rope
Simple View of Reading
Florida Center for Reading Research
National Reading Panel
Multisensory Instruction
Orton-Gillingham Curriculum
Phonemic Awareness
Orthographic Mapping

If your child’s brain is wired differently (ASD, ADHD, SPD, dyslexic, etc.) or if they are disabled, then you know that what works for most neurotypical children may not work for yours. The other sad fact is that there are many so-called “cures” and “quick-fixes” being advertised to parents of special needs learners. Most of us have fallen for one or more of these ads for apps, programs, books, diets, supplements etc.., promising speech gains, reading improvement, better focus, reduced meltdowns, and the like. For special needs parents, finding truly effective resources for your child is like finding the proverbial “needle in the haystack.”

After purchasing a few different programs and curriculum, I was running out of patience and money….AND MY KID STILL COULDN’T READ. What’s worse, practicing all of these different programs with him had become a nightmare, and if I’m honest, our relationship was suffering. There is nothing worse for a parent than watching your child struggle and not knowing how to make it better.

In an attempt to find out why nothing I did was working, I started reading what teachers were posting in Facebook groups, like The Science of Reading – What I Should Have Learned in College. Surely, if anyone knows about reading, it’s teachers, right? Time and time again, they suggested the Secret Stories to jump-start reading, especially for beginning and struggling readers. They were very clear that while Secret Stories was only one piece of the reading puzzle, it was an extremely important one—which was giving kids easier access to more of the phonics code, faster.

Secret Stories Phonics on Facebook
In fact, the Secret Stories came up so often that I had to find out what it was, and see whether it might be the piece that my child was missing… or, if yet again, it was something that worked only for neurotypical kids. So I found the Secret Stories Facebook Group and  watched some of Katie Garner’s conference presentations on YouTube and within 30 minutes, I was hooked. No, not hooked…I was INSPIRED! (Katie is the creator of Secret Stories and she presents at conferences around the world, many of which are posted on YouTube.)

So, I proceeded to watch every YouTube video associated with her name to learn everything that I could, but it still had to pass the “taste” test by the boss—my very intelligent and anxious autistic son. By this point, he’d been through three different reading programs….and lots of tears. After so much failure and anxiety (his and mine), I gave him just a taste of one Secret Story. I told him the “secret” about the letters that were “in love,” which are au/aw. This one that I’d heard Katie tell so many times in the videos I’d watched and the image was also free to download on the website. I presented it just as Katie had explained, telling my son that I had a “big, grown-up Secret about reading,” and I really played it up, copying all of Katie’s acting gold!

HE….WAS…HOOKED!!

au aw phonics vowel pair

“Mom, are there more?”

Now if you’re a parent of a differently wired kiddo, then you know how extremely amazing it is to get your kid’s full attention with anything on the first try…we’re talking out the gate, pure interest! He actually said, “Mom, are there more?” I almost cried, but that wasn’t part of the script, so I held it together. Then cool as a cucumber, I told him that I’d check, but because these were “grown-up” reading Secrets, he may not be big enough yet to learn more, and so I would have to ask the Secret Stories teacher first. ;-)

The rest of the day, we circled the aw/au in every word that we found it, even food labels! Everywhere we saw those letters, we would use the secret to sound-out (decode) the words. The biggest win wasn’t just that my son remembered the phonics sound through the story, but that he was actually able to apply it…. AND enjoy doing it!!!

Excited about this turn of events, I staged my next test, which was to sing The Better Alphabet Song. I had heard Katie explain in the videos that the Better Alphabet isn’t really a song, but a muscle memory exercise that fast-tracks mastery of the individual letters and sounds in 2 weeks to 2 months. Rather than relying on under-developed “higher-level” cognitive processing for skill mastery (which typically takes a year in kinder), the Better Alphabet targets earlier-developing (and more easily accessible) muscle memory pathways (in the lips, tongue and teeth) to connect the letter names to their sounds and take them in fast. My son had already been working on learning the individual letters sounds for years now, so what’s two more months?

So, I set my plan up, telling my son that if we learned the letter sounds with the Better Alphabet, that would surely prove to the “Secret Teacher” that she could trust us with the rest of the Secrets. Honestly, as I’m typing this, I can’t believe it happened, but he BEGGED me to watch/sing it—over and over and over again. One week later, he had all of the individual letters and sounds down pat! And then he immediately started asking me if the teacher had sent the Secrets yet. That was it, I was sold. I ordered the Decorative Squares Kit and I was ready to live, eat and breathe these Secrets! This was what success looked like, and we could both taste it!

Homeschool Struggling Reader Autistic

(Note: The Decorative Square posters are actually part of the classroom kit, but if you don’t have the wall space to put up all of the big posters, you can get the Parent/Home Bundle instead, as it’s made specifically for home use.)

For perspective, I should share that I actually have two sons, and that my “neurotypical” four year old is just along for the ride, singing and watching the Better Alphabet on video along with his brother. That said, after two weeks, my four year old didn’t just know the letter sounds, he was using them to sound out three letter CVC words (i.e. cat, bit, dog, mom, dad, etc..). My mind was blown! I hadn’t even tried to start teaching him yet, aside from just reading to him. I was ecstatic about BOTH their progress, and now all of us were stalking the mailbox, waiting for our “Top Secret” Secret Stories book!

A “Backdoor” for Learning

Up to this point, I’d accumulated all of the ingredients that I needed to teach my son to read except the Secret Stories. I had Orton-Gillingham SPIRE Curriculum (since Secret Stories is not a “program”), Heggerty (for phonemic awareness, since isolating sounds in words was a particular weakness for my son), Usborne Books (for background knowledge, since kids can’t comprehend what they have no knowledge about), and even some extra “sprinkles” on top in the form of the Magic School Bus Science Club and Usborne Coding for Beginners with SCRATCH. But without the Secret Stories, these ingredients just wouldn’t “bake,” and my kids didn’t want to eat it. Knowing the Secrets gave them access to phonics skills in a way that their brains were ready to hear and understand.

The Secrets bypass the struggle. They are not magic, and Katie is not an actual unicorn (although it feels like she is!) She just uses neuroscience to carve a path for learning to read that goes straight through the brain’s backdoor, bypassing obstacles that many learners face when forced through the traditional “front”—especially those like my son.

social emotional learning

As Katie explains in this video clip, the brain develops from back to front—with higher-level, executive functioning/ processing centers taking far longer to develop than the early-developing “feeling” based networks. Like so many kids who are wired differently, my son’s executive functioning (which is what Katie calls the “front door”) is impaired. He struggles with the order of things, multi-step instructions, short term and working memory, auditory processing deficits, knowing left from right, and more. But the Secrets don’t rely on the front door like traditional phonics programs do.

 

phonics for dyslexics

 

Instead, they bypass executive functioning and attach to already existing frameworks of understanding—the part of his brain that knows how it feels to get hurt,
“Owwww!”….

ou ow vowel teams phonics

…..that understands why to stick his tongue out at his little brother when he’s being annoying, “Thhhh!”

….and that knows all about Superheroes, and that they are often in-disguise!

superhero vowels

The Secrets align letter behavior with kid behavior to make their sounds easily predictable. But here’s the interesting part, my son has a hard time predicting the behaviors of his neurotypical classmates and peers, so how could he predict these complex letter behaviors if they acted the same? The answer is, they don’t. In the Secret Stories, the behaviors are fixed, and this is comforting for him…. au/aw are always in love and say “ahhhhh”…. ou/ow always play rough and get hurt, “owwww!”…. and /th/ never gets along and always stick out their tongues and say, “thhhhhh!”

And for the rare times that the letters don’t behave as expected, there is always a “next most likely” sound option to try, based on the story. It gives him comfort to know that when letters don’t make the sounds they’re supposed to, it’s because there’s a secret in the word, and that it’s the letters that are misbehaving—it’s not because he is wrong or failing. That’s a huge shift for him, and it goes a long way in reducing his anxiety. Now he has a stress-free way to figure out the words.

Just two months into our Secret Stories journey, and my son went from struggling to sound out the word C-A-T, to reading the entire Usborne early reader series. He’s gone from tears and meltdowns at just the sight of a book, to reading an entire early reader to our whole family at the dinner table—WITH PRIDE! Now he’s noticing Secrets in words that are everywhere, and he’s even making up his own, like this one…. “E and X are wonderful friends, and when they are at the front of the line, E loans X his superpower so X can say his name, in words like: exit, exceptional & excellent!”

With each new Secret, his reading and spelling power continues to grow. The Secrets have given him access to the reading code in a way that systematic phonics drills could not. They reframe the structured literacy lessons in our OG program in a fun, multisensory way that he can easily remember. They make words understandable and “figure-out-able,” and he delights in the idea that he’s privy to the “grown-up” reading secrets! And at this point, our whole family is in on the act, with grandma deserving an Oscar for her portrayal of the “Excited Secret Stories Receiver!” ;-)

At the time of this writing, we are now a full FIVE months in, and he continues to amaze me with his progress. After reading the Writing Revolution, I started using stem sentences to reinforce learning other subject areas. For example,  Butterflies are amazing because…. Butterflies are amazing so….. Butterflies are amazing but…. and because of all the Secrets he knows, not only can he read the stems, but he can sound out all of the words that he wants to write on his own. He can use the Secret Stories posters independently to find the sounds (for reading) or the phonics spelling patterns (for writing) that he needs.

 

The ability to work independently is huge. When he was in school, he needed direct supervision and assistance to complete everything: coloring, art, workshops, etc…  An adult had to sit with him and help him write every word, as he owned none of the code. Now he owns all of it, and the Secrets are his to play with and use as HE chooses to express his thoughts and ideas. No longer is he just copying random words from a word wall, or waiting for someone else to tell him what to write. That ownership is critical to his academic self-esteem, and it constantly reinforces for him what I knew all along, that HE IS CAPABLE!

His Tools for Reading and Writing

Knowing the Secrets has done so much for him. He uses them to decode new vocabulary words in all of our subject area lessons, including one the life cycle of butterflies.
butterfly lifecycle

kindergarten writing butterflies autistic

 

He uses his them to write birthday cards, and to read his own birthday message written on the sidewalk (He even underlined the Secrets he used to read it!)

kindergarten writing autism
sidewalk phonics writing kindergarten

 

He used the them to write about the plan he made for our new garden.Phonics Writing about Gardening

Kindergarten Writing Autism

He uses them to advocate for what he wants.
kindergarten writing

He even uses them to write a love letters to friends that he misses.phonics for writing in kindergarten

 

And while he loves to use the Secrets to write what he wants, he enjoys building words and practicing spelling with the Secret Stories Digital Stickers.  While they can be used digitally, we printed ours out, cut them apart, and then put magnet stickers on the back. BAM! A low-pressure spelling game that he can use to build words without the added pressure of writing. We use these instead of letter tiles for all our spelling activities!

Secret Stories Phonics StickersPhonics Homeschool Reading

Phonics for Homeschool Reading

We even used them to make little flip books to reinforce the Secrets and practice decoding words.

Phonics Flip Book

Equal Access to ALL of the Phonics Code

Just like a ramp provides access to buildings for those who need it, Secret Stories provides access to reading for kids who need it, making them the most impactful accommodation on any 504 or IEP learning plan. The Secrets gave my son access equal access to the whole phonics code he needed to read and write.

Perhaps I’m a just pessimist, but I used to believe that there was a limit to the gains my son could make, and that even the Secrets would only get him so far. But now, honestly, I know that the sky’s the limit.

If I could go back in time and tell myself just one thing to do on that terrifying day that our school shut down and I became an unexpected homeschooler, it would be to find Katie Garner and the Secret Stories. These were the missing ingredients that my son needed to learn how to read.

Elizabeth George

For more on how to teach your child to read at home, watch Secret Stories® author, Katie Garner’s one hour parent video, below.  

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.

Helping Older Readers Who Struggle

A Guest Post by Anna Hardway, M. Ed.

older struggling readers

I know if you are reading this, you are probably a teacher of older students, or a parent of a struggling reader who has been told that their child “can’t read.”

If that’s the case, you are probably reading this late at night, having wrung your hands, scratched your head, and said your prayers….while continuing to search for answers. I know this because I have been you. 

I never thought about becoming a Reading Specialist at any point in my college career. I started reading when I was three, so OBVIOUSLY I knew everything about reading, right? Nope, not even close.

My second year of teaching, I was plunked into a Title I Intervention position in a K-8 school. I had cruised through “intervention” with my K-2 students, as at that age, they absorb pretty much everything. My work with struggling readers at the upper grade levels, many of whom were struggling with dyslexia, was an entirely different story.

As soon as I began working with 3rd-8th grade struggling readers, I realized there was SO MUCH that I didn’t understand. I wanted to help them, but had no idea where to start, as many were just too far behind. It was at this time that I began working on my Master’s Degree in Special Education, as solving this problem would require more knowledge and tools than I currently possessed, and I was determined to help these kids!

When I had initially started working with struggling readers at the upper grade levels, my first reaction was to blame every teacher that they had ever encountered in earlier grades. How could a sixth grader in a regular education classroom be reading at SECOND grade level?

Being in a small school at the time, I got to know each of those teachers. Every one of them had been frustrated with the same children—not knowing how to help them, but trying to do their best. They simply didn’t know how to get there.

It was then that I started down the path of blaming parents, society, and culture in general. That’s a bleak place to be. This disposition didn’t last long, as soon I had my own son—who in first grade had decided that he would rather cut holes in his shirt rather than learn how to read. He was interested only in things that had wheels or made noise—neither of which applied to the average book. And so, his “go-to” reading material was anything with “schematics” (think assembly instructions for a bookshelf with diagrams for pictures!)…at six years old!

While my son may have been perfectly fine with the “Encyclopedia of Cars” and “Build Your Own Bookshelf” directions, I had to have something to “read” with him that was at least a little more enjoyable. Thank God for the “Look Inside/See Inside” books, as they were our regular bedtime “stories.”

Accelerated Reading Intervention

After finishing my master’s degree and becoming a Reading Specialist, I understood the importance of beginning grade level screeners and various other forms of assessments used to identify vulnerable learners so as to catch them before they fall. Research shows that the ability to identify all of the letters and sounds by Halloween in kindergarten is a primary predictor of later student reading success. Yet, for many at-risk, or vulnerable learners, achieving letter sound skill mastery often extends well beyond the kindergarten year and into first gradedelaying instruction of critical first grade phonics skills.

While spending the entire kindergarten year mastering individual letters and sounds is not an uncommon practice in today’s classrooms, it is unnecessary, as brain science offers preferred pathways for learning that fast-track individual letter sound instruction. The Better Alphabet Song is a perfect example of how easy it can be to put science into practice, as it targets earlier-developing, muscle memory pathways for faster skill acquisition, rather than relying on under-developed, executive processing centers.

And this is only the beginning, as we can use brain science like a road map to “cheat the brain” into learning more complex, phonics skills as well! For example, the Secret about the Babysitter Vowels® makes sounding-out longer, multi-syllabic words easy, as it provides an instant “compass” to know whether vowels will be long or short. Watch the clip below to see how the Mommy E® strategy extends into higher-level Babysitter Vowels®.

I became obsessed with Secret Stories in my instructional practice because it got my kids exactly where they need to go quickly and efficiently, and it also confirmed what every good reading specialist already knows, which is that “time is of the essence!” The Secrets aren’t program for teaching the “reading,” but tools for teaching the READER! 

The Science of Reading and the Brain

Current and traditional methods of reading and phonics instruction and intervention do not adequately make use of the brain science and are ineffective at successfully engaging the whole brain for enhanced memory and learning. Secret Stories drastically differs from traditional core reading and phonics programs in that it aligns instruction to work naturally with the brain, rather than in opposition to it. Secret Stories moves phonics instruction from brain-antagonistic to brain-compatible so that it makes sense to older students, who have long felt confused and left behind. It engages more neural pathways for deeper learning connections by introducing information to the brain from as many angles as possible. Secret Stories’ multi-sensory approach to learning is holistic and multidimensional, with more systems and modalities utilized that strengthen struggling learners’ ability to both receive and retrieve the information. 

How the Brain Learns to Read

Weaving abstract letter sounds into stories makes them interesting, activating the brain’s positive emotional state and hooking the information into a strong memory template. In this way, learning is non-conscious and effortless, as high-leverage phonics skills are acquired through “backdoor” (social-emotional) learning channels that are more easily accessible. Additionally, cloaking phonics skills as “secrets” makes them important—something that all learners are curious about and want to know—making them meaningful and relevant, and therefore, easy to teach and learn.

phonics stories for reading

The Secrets naturally “plug the holes” in struggling learners’ skill ability, as they can be given whenever and wherever they are needed to read and write unknown words—across all subject areas and throughout the entire instructional day, including at home. The more Secrets learners know, the more they can read and write independently, using the visual pictures to recall sounds and spelling patterns, as needed.
When working with remedial readers, the ultimate goal is for them to be able to apply information, ideas, content, skills, and strategies to various situations, and not to be dependent on others for information and ideas. The organization of Secret Stories provides the continued support that’s needed, while increasing students’ personal responsibility for their own learning. By the time students are in fourth grade, the window of time for learning to read has begun to close, as instructional momentum shifts away from “learning to read” land focuses squarely on “reading to learn.” For some students, my own son included, the traditional “front” door approach to reading instruction is not enough—they need more. They need to gain accelerated access through the “backdoor!”

Secret Stories accelerates access to ALL of the code-based, phonics skills that struggling learners need to read and write—regardless age or grade level. With its “backdoor-to-the-brain” approach, complex phonics patterns are made simple, as is the brain based process for teaching them. This makes Secret Stories one of the most highly effective, instructional tools available to educators and parents, alike.

For older, struggling learners who have tried so hard for so long, Secret Stories is the missing “piece” of the elusive reading-puzzle. Its “backdoor” approach re-ignites their interest, curiosity, and most importantly, their desire to unlock the mysteries of text!

teaching older struggling readers


Guest Blogger, Anna Hardway, M. Ed., is a 20-year educator and currently a consultant on various education topics such as Reading, Curriculum, Assessments and Development Strategy. She has worked inside public education, and has worked for Save the Children, as a Director of Programs for Early Literacy and Rural Education.  She has also developed education recovery programs in the aftermath of disasters such as the Oklahoma Tornadoes of 2013, South Carolina Floods of 2015, West Virginia Floods of 2016 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017.  If you would like to reach her, please email edconsulting.ahardway@gmail.com

Dyslexia, Reading, Phonics & the Brain

Decoding in Reading - The Dyslexic Brain

Dyslexia

So what is dyslexia? Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is often genetic, and that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language. Dyslexic learners find it difficult to recognize and process letters and sounds accurately and automatically, and can also struggle with paired associate memory and/or orthographic memory. (For more on dyslexia, what it is, and what it isn’t, click here.)  It’s a neurological, often genetic disorder that makes

Some researchers in the field, however, believe that dyslexia is not always organic, but the result of ineffective reading instruction and a lack of phonics skill acquisition at the earliest grade levels. Regardless, the specific learning challenges, deficits and observed behaviors are very similar, as is the need for instruction to circumvent the inherent areas of learner-weakness and tap into alternative areas of strength. And these learners have many areas of strength! Dyslexia does not affect intelligence, as most students with dyslexia are of average or even above-average intelligence.

Dyslexic children, as well as dyslexic adults, are often the quintessential “backdoor” learners—looking for effective “work-arounds” to solve problems, and often exhibiting high levels of creativity in doing so. For dyslexics, the “front” door might be closed, but the backdoor is WIDE open!

They may not move from “A” to “B” to “C” as per the traditional learning path, but they somehow find a way….even if it means having to skip “B” entirely, circle “F” twice, and then work they way back around to “C!”  Traveling these unconventional paths allows them to observe more, think differently, be creative and build tenacity.

The key to helping dyslexic learners struggling to read is to provide them with an easily accessible, backdoor approach, so as to accelerate access to the phonics skills needed to read and write, and from the earliest possible grade levels.

The answers lie in the brain science.
(Before reading on, learn more about “backdoor” skill-access for struggling readers, here.)

Phonics for Dyslexia

Reading Intervention for Dyslexic Learners

Beth Guadagni M.A., a Learning Specialist at The Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education, explains how dyslexic children can make great progress with reading when they’re given appropriate, intensive, and high quality intervention early. The following is an excerpt from her original post, which can be found here.


There are lots of good interventions that can be very effective in improving reading decoding. Remember that early intervention is critical, so if you suspect your child may have real reading problems, it’s best to consult an expert without delay.
  • Multi-sensory instruction and teaching techniques that recruit a child’s sense of touch, as well as their eyes and ears, is one of the most effective methods for teaching letter-sound pairings to children with weak phonemic awareness or paired associate memory. Similarly, kids with weak orthographic memory may respond better to multi-sensory methods, like tracing sight words on a textured surface, rather than simply drilling with flashcards. Multi-sensory teaching allows students to absorb information through different channels and can be extremely effective. For very intensive multi-sensory instruction, look for specialists or centers that teach using Orton-Gillingham or Linda Mood-Bell’s curricula. 
  • For teachers and parents, one of our favorite interventions for students who struggle with weak paired associate memories (i.e. difficulty connecting the phonics patterns to their sounds) is Secret Stories by Katie Garner.  It pairs pictures of letters and letter combinations with stories that explain “why” the letters make the sounds they do. Our favorite is the explanation of the au/aw sound (They have crushes on each other, so whenever they’re together, they say, “Awww!”). This clever technique helps kids understand the “logic” behind letter sounds, instead of simply having to memorize information. Context, especially when it’s fun and already familiar, really help kids with poor paired associate memory learn quickly.

phonics for dyslexia paired associate memory

  • Many children with decoding difficulties, regardless of the cause, can comprehend more sophisticated material than they are able to read independently. It is important to give these students access to reading material that is at their intellectual level. Reading aloud while the child follows along is one way to do this. It also provides the added benefit of repeated exposures to words paired with correct pronunciation. Over time, this will help strengthen their weak paired associate or orthographic memories and improve their skills. For busy parents or kids who want a bit more independence, audiobooks are fantastic for kids to practice this on their own, as long as they can follow along with the text as they are listening.

 

  • Finally, practice, practice, practice! Accurate, fluent reading is the result of hundreds of hours spent with written words, so as to become automatic with letter patterns. We encourage lots of practice reading at home, but with a few cautionary notes. First, be aware that continued drilling without results can be very frustrating for your child, and may even be futile if the method he’s using isn’t one that’s best for his kind of mind. If he’s reading as often as his classmates, but falling further and further behind, ask his teacher or a reading specialist what other techniques he should try. Secondly, remember that reading, particularly for younger kids, should be a fun! Try to strike a balance: kids should not forgo reading because it’s hard, but reading shouldn’t feel like a grueling obligation either.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Elisheva Schwartz on the Dyslexia Quest Podcast (links to broadcasts, below). I first became aware of this popular podcast on Dyslexia after listening to an interview with Harvard-trained neuroscientist and researcher, Dr. Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang, whose research on learning and the brain is incorporated into the Secret Stories “backdoor” approach to accelerate phonics for reading and writing.

In the two-part podcast interview with Elisheva shared below, we discuss learning issues that are associated with dyslexia, and why the Secret Stories® are often referred to as “Phonics for Dyslexics”.  To play, click the arrow under each of the descriptions, and for additional podcasts on the topic, visit www.elishevaschwartz.com. You can also access Secret Stories® free video library by subscribing on YouTube.


The Dyslexic Brain: A Backdoor Approach to Phonics for Reading – Pt. 1

Phonics for Dyslexics

      CLICK THE ARROW (ON LEFT) TO PLAY PT. 1

The Dyslexic Brain: A Backdoor Approach to Phonics for Reading – Pt. 2

Phonics for Dyslexia

      CLICK THE ARROW (ON LEFT) TO PLAY PT. 2

Finally, I wanted to share this review that I stumbled upon online. I am always so grateful when parents take the time to reach out and share their child’s struggles and successes, and while this one wasn’t sent to me directly, it was filled with some good information and helpful insight that I thought I would share.

How I Helped My Dyslexic Child Learn to Read

This book changed our life. I’ve taught my dyslexic daughter to read using the Secret Stories®.

After trying the regular phonics “programs,” Secret Stories was recommended by our homeschool support group. With the Secrets, we didn’t have to give up learning phonetically, despite my daughter having auditory processing problems.

We sat down with a print out copy of the first McGuffey Reader, and when we came to a Secret Story (i.e. letters not making the sound that they should) we looked it up its “secret” the book. The pictures that went with each Secret made them so easy for her to remember, not just the phonics pattern, but the sound/sounds. The Secrets helped her brain easily retain the phonics patterns and sounds that before she could never get, no matter what we tried or how many times we practiced them.

I’ve also begun using Secret Stories with my severely language-compromised son, and he giggles as we “make” the Secrets he knows out of his Theraputty (another great product) and make the words come alive! I’ve also used the Secret Stories in a fun way at our homeschool group—I made little capes with the Superhero Vowels® sewn onto the back to wear when the vowels “say their names!”

Seeing my daughter now want to read and write ALL the time is such a blessing, as it’s been a long road to get here! If she hadn’t learned the Secrets, I don’t think we would have ever made it to where we are now.

I wish every school would use Secret Stories along with their reading curriculum, as it’s so easy, and it covers all of the learning bases: kinesthetic, visual, auditory, and even emotion. It can help everyone, but especially those who don’t learn the “normal” way.

phonics for dyslexia


Learn more about how Secret Stories® can help struggling readers access critical phonics skills for reading and writing.

Phonics Stories - TH

 

phonics stories

phonics stories for reading

 

Phonics Stories

Learn the “secret” phonics stories that go with the pictures here!
…..and never miss a Secret (or a Secret-freebie surprise!) by subscribing to the Secret email blast here!


 

Phonics “Secrets” to Support Reading and Writing at Home

“The Best Gift I Have Ever Given” was originally posted on Tara Settle’s popular teacher blog, Settle on In. With permission from Tara, it’s re-posted below, along with some background.

Update Note: An “unlisted” parent-share page has been created to help teachers share information about how Secret Stories® are used to read and spell in the classroom, and how they can best support reading and writing with them at home. Here is the direct link, which you are welcome to share with parents in your classroom. https://www.thesecretstories.com/learn-more/free-phonics-resources-for-parents/

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!” 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!)

So, visualize the “happy teacher dance” that 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

PS I sent this Seesaw video home to parents just before and after holiday break. It 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!


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!


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

PS If you don’t have Porta-Pics to send home, the Secret Story “Take-Home” Tags are an easy way to  keep parents in the “learning-loop” and let them know which phonics Secrets their kids are learning OR have already mastered! With the Secret Sound Image/ Digital Sticker on the front and word examples on the back, they are perfect to send home and spark conversation and questions about the Secrets. (They also make a great “mini-book of Secrets” for fun home/summer review!)

Brag Tag Hunts

Phonics Reward Tags

Science of Reading Phonics Skill Sound Wall Award

And for those with access to an iPhone or iPad at home, there’s also a new Secret Stories App!

Secret Stories Phonics App

Secret Stories® Phonics App

secret stories phonics app

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 ;-)

What Dyslexia Isn’t…

As promised, I’ve asked reading specialist, Heather Vidal, to come back and shed more light on dyslexia, what it is, and more importantly, what it isn’t—despite the common misconceptions. If you are a new subscriber, or if you missed Heather’s previous guest post about how she uses Secret Stories® in conjunction with Orton-Gillingham to meet the needs of her dyslexic students, you can read it here.

I would like to preface Heather’s post by addressing the recent debate on use of the term “dyslexia” and its efficacy as a diagnosis for struggling readers, along with the International Dyslexic Association’s definition of dyslexia—

“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Dyslexia and the Brain

A diagnosis of dyslexia can help to shed light on a reader’s struggles and identify the best form of intervention. There is a wide gap between what we know about the brain and how we teach kids to read, and that the most critical variable in effective K-2 literacy instruction is early intervention by way of teacher knowledge and expertise.

Dyslexic Brain

It is vital that teachers know about and understand the brain science so as to properly align instruction with the basic tenets of brain based learning, particularly in regard to what research shows is the weakest link in our reading and writing instruction—teaching phonics.


A Guest Post by Heather Vidal, Orton-Gillingham Reading Specialist

Katie has graciously invited me to share more about what dyslexia is (and isn’t!) and why the Secret Stories® method works within a curriculum for dyslexic students. You can read my other post here) As a reading specialist, private tutor and curriculum developer who works specifically with dyslexic students learning to read, I often get questions about what dyslexia is, but it’s actually easier to explain what Dyslexia is not.

What Dyslexia Is NOT

  • Dyslexia does not mean that students read entire words or sentences backwards.
    While some dyslexic students do flip letters and transverse words, this is not the only sign of dyslexia, and some dyslexic students don’t do this at all.
  • Dyslexia cannot be outgrown.
    With the proper instructional approach, students can become excellent readers. However, this does not mean that they no longer have dyslexia.

Diagnosing Dyslexia

Using Secret Stories® to Fast-Track Orton Gillingham Instruction

So what does all this have to do with Secret Stories®?
At one of the first trainings I took regarding the Orton-Gillingham approach, the trainer explained dyslexia like this—

“Imagine comparing a page of text to a brick wall. An efficient reader can see the mortar in between each brick (letter sound) and the different color variations that each brick possesses (the possibilities of letter sounds). If you were dyslexic, you would know you were looking at a wall, but segmenting each brick would be very difficult.”

Dyslexia can manifest in many ways, but all of these ways come back to students having difficulty reading and spelling (and most often, segmenting words into individual sounds.) Since dyslexia is classified as a neurobiological learning disability, the best way to help dyslexic learners is to utilize instructional methods that are compatible with the way the brains works.

Dyslexia is classified as a learning disability that causes students to struggle with fluency, word recognition, and poor decoding and encoding skills (Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003, p. 2). Seventy plus years of research has shown that the best way to help dyslexic kids learn to read is to employ a multi-sensory, phonics and linguistics based approach to reading instruction that offers continuous feedback.

All of these tenets are compatible with Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories approach, but using the two together (in my opinion) is the best way to help students with dyslexia learn to read well. Secret Stories activates the brain’s earlier-developing social and emotional systems for learning (i.e. the brain’s “back-door”) and provides students with meaningful connections to all of the foundational phonics skills covered in an Orton-Gillingham based curriculum.

teaching digraphs - th

Differences Between Secret Stories® and OG

When speaking with Katie a few days ago, she shared some of the questions she receives from teachers asking about the differences between the Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories methods, so for those who are interested, I’ve made this handy chart of the two reading/phonics programs/tools.

Orton-Gillingham PhonicsHopefully this helps clear up some of the differences, but if you have any questions, please send them my way— TreetopsEducation@gmail.com. You can also check out my Teachers Pay Teachers Store here.

By applying a brain based approach to reading instruction through the combined use of these two powerful teaching tools, teachers can reach not only dyslexic students, but all students who struggle with learning to read—providing more meaningful (and fun) ways to learn!

For more information about dyslexia, visit The International Dyslexia Association.

Heather MacLeod Vidal is a Orton-Gillingham certified reading specialist and curriculum writer for Treetops Educational Interventions in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories Phonics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

References
Lyon, G.R., Shaywitz, S.E., & Shaywitz, B.A. (2003). Defining dyslexia, comorbidity, teachers’ knowledge of language and reading. Annals of Dyslexia, 53, 1-14.


I am so grateful to Heather for taking the time to share her insight and expertise! If you have any questions or comments for Heather, you can leave them in the comments below and she or I would be happy to answer them.