A Guest Post By Melissa Gregory
—Kindergarten Teacher at Title I School in Ohio

Kindergarten- End of October

Who says kindergartners can’t have access to ALL of the code needed to read and write in a short amount of time????
By the end of the FIRST NINE WEEKS, these cuties are taking off in reading AND writing, and are so excited to be word detectives finding ‘secrets’ in every word they see!!!

I shared the above video and comment with Katie back in October. It was my first year teaching kindergarten, and having taught first grade for the past ten years, I was just floored by what the kids were able to do. They loved for me to take the ‘Secret’ book and go through all of the grown-up reading and writing sounds that they know. They begged to do it every morning, and were the first ones to get mad and remind me if I got busy and forgot. They loved to pretend to be the Super Hero Vowels when they were playing in the drama center (so cute!) On the 100th day of school, I asked them to write about their favorite part of  kindergarten, and almost all of my kids said it was learning the Secret Stories! They had such ownership of their learning and were so proud!

My Journey from First Grade to Kindergarten

My name is Melissa Gregory, and I am a kindergarten teacher at a Title I School near Cincinnati, Ohio. This year was my first year teaching kindergarten, though I’d taught first grade for many years. I sent Katie the video of my class in late October, as I wanted her to see how fast my kindergartners were soaking-up all of the Secrets! These little kindergartners knew ALL of the them by the end of October, even though they were still learning their individual letter sounds with the Better Alphabet Song.

Having only taught first grade before, I had no preconceived notions about what kindergartners were “supposed” to do, and so we just “played” with the Secrets all the time. The Secrets were not only their favorite stories, but also their favorite “toys.” They didn’t just “know” them, they were actively using them to read and spell words! With every day came new growth and discovery, and being new to kindergarten, I felt like I was learning right along with them. I was just so excited that I had to share it, and from the moment that Katie posted our little video back in October on Facebook, we both began receiving so many comments and questions. Most wanted to know if the Secrets they knew in the video actually transferred to their reading and writing, and if so, how?  So, Katie asked me to track of all of this year’s data and write this post.

This comment, in particular, sums up what many who saw the video back in October were curious to learn—

Hi Melissa,

I am not understanding how this transfers into their reading & writing since it is done in isolation.  Is there any assessment data showing how well kids can actually read? I show my students many videos and we sing many songs too, but I don’t see all kids accessing the information later in their reading and writing.

Thanks for any insight you can provide!

My background in first grade….
Having taught first grade in a large school district for the past ten years, this past year was to be my first ever teaching kindergarten. Our district had expanded from four Early Childhood Schools to six, and I was moved to a new building and placed in kindergarten. My new school was a Title 1 and Title 3 school, with both ESL and free and reduced lunch population.

I had been using Secret Stories in first grade for the past seven years, alongside the Lucy Caulkins Reading and Writing Workshop Model, which our district had adopted several years back. Secret Stories was a game-changer for me, as it gave my first graders more of the phonics “code” they needed to actually do reading and writing workshop! As a result, my students had always shown unbelievable growth—not just in their reading, but in their writing, as well. Knowing the Secrets gave them confidence to tackle new words in reading, write more complicated words in their stories, and even figure-out unknown words in their story problems for math.

As early grade teachers, our students are just learning how to “do” school, and so testing is not what is most important, nor should it define them. However, data is extremely important to principals, as well as to district and state-level administrators, as it provides a “snap-shot” of current student performance. If you were to look at my data from seven years ago and compare it to my data now, you would see a huge difference. Yes, I am sure that I have become a better teacher over time, but the truth is, I didn’t have my secret weapon, and so I couldn’t give it to my students. That’s what the Secret Stories are to me and my students. They are our secret reading weapon, and they continue to be the BEST gift I could ever give my kids!

Before I discovered Secret Stories, I had to do weekly word practice and a phonics focus, and so my calendar looked like this…

Sight Words, Word Families, and Phonics Rules (a.k.a. “Before Secrets”)

gregory- weekly words and phonics focus

Everything was taught in isolation and nothing was authentic….or fun. Students would learn the sight words, word families and phonics rules for the week, and then we would move on with hope that they could retain those words and rules. There was no spiral-teaching, except for the weeks we reviewed, and those were only for the sight words, not the word families or phonics rules. I look back now and wonder how my class ever reached the levels required by the end of each school year? During the week, I would use rainbow word worksheets, word sorts, letter tiles and magnetic letters to practice the sight words, and I had a block of time set aside for word study each day.

Becoming Secret Word Detectives

The first thing that you notice when you start telling Secrets is how they naturally integrate with everything that you are already doing. They are literally everywhere! I no longer needed to set aside time for word practice or phonics “kill and drill,” as the kids were naturally using them ALL DAY LONG—in reading, in math, at lunch, in art…..anywhere and everywhere there were words, they found Secrets! Skill-reinforcement was “baked-in” to everything that we were already doing—across all subject areas, as the kids were constantly using them to read and write words. They loved being word detectives and spotting Secrets wherever they were hiding! My teaching became more authentic, which made learning easier and more natural for my students.

From day one, I had all of the Secret Stories posters hung in my room, and I started showing my kids how to use them. I explained that the Secrets were the “keys” they needed to “unlock” words, and I modeled using them for this purpose constantly. Whenever we came to a word that they couldn’t read or spell, I told them the Secret, and then showed them the poster and reminded them how they could use it to read and spell other words on their own. And off they went! During free choice time, they pretended to be the teacher, using the pointers to show and tell the Secret Stories, and then calling on their friends to make the sounds and show the motions. They referred to the posters constantly, sometimes to actually read or spell a word, and sometimes, just to “play” with telling their story and making their sound. I actually have the posters hung on both sides of my classroom so they can easily see them from anywhere, which just goes to show how much the kids use them!

Phonics Posters for Reading

Digraph Posters - Phonics

Letters Behave Like Kids

The day I told them the first Secret Story, my teaching changed forever. Having a way to make phonics make sense just made everything we were already doing so much easier! Five and six-year-olds may not understand (or care about) letter sounds, but they do understand that letters behave differently when they are together with different friends, just like they behaved differently with different friends. In the Secret Stories, kids saw their own feelings and behaviors reflected back, which is why they loved hearing and telling them so much. The Secrets come from a place that kids can easily identify with and understand, like, for example: how a line leader is supposed to behave, when to (and when not to) be sneaky, not getting along with your classmate, being left out of a group, having to listen to your mom (or your babysitter!), and even what it would be like to have super powers! The Secrets make kids wonder. They made them curious. They make them think. But most of all, the Secrets make them want to know more Secrets!

Teaching Kindergarten…

My first graders had always learned the Secrets quickly, which is what made our Reading and Writing Workshop take off, but when I moved to kindergarten, I wasn’t sure how this would go. At curriculum night, I shared with parents that I was unsure about how kindergartners would do with Secret Stories, since I’d only used them in first grade. But I also told them that if their kids were going to be reading and writing in kindergarten, then they were going to need them!

Our end-of-year standard for kindergarten was mastery of: individual letter sounds, 25 sight words, and three digraphs- /sh/, /th/ and /wh/….and that was it. My first grade teacher-brain couldn’t help but wonder what in the world kids were actually supposed to be able to do with that?! However, I knew that, as a kindergarten teacher, I would be spending a lot of time on individual letters and sounds, and would need to focus on those first. I was even concerned that giving them the Secrets might be too much…..oh boy was I wrong!

Word Work Playground

The Daily Calendar

At the early grade levels, the entire day is a playground of word exploration and play! I actually shared the first Secret before I’d even introduced any of the individual letters and sounds. It was the Secret about au/aw, which I told them on the first day of school during calendar time. (I remembered seeing Katie doing this in a kindergarten YouTube video and so I thought I would do the same.) I asked the kids how many of them knew what a “secret” was. I told them that there were special secrets that could only be told to very special kindergartners, and that these secrets would help them to become better readers and writers. I also made sure to let them know that they could tell their parents (or loved ones), and that when they go home, they could pretend to be the teacher and teach the Secret Story to them.

School starts in early August, and we do Calendar Time every day, so since we would be “reading” the word August on a daily basis, it made sense to explain why the /A/ wasn’t making the sound it was supposed to (based on the sounds it makes in the Better Alphabet Song, which we also sang every morning and afternoon). To understand why, the kids would need to know the Secret about au/aw.

The picture below is not of me or my class, but I found it on one of Katie’s blogs, and it gives you the idea.

Secret Stories® Phonics au/aw

Whenever I told them a Secret, I would make a huge deal about how they were ‘grown-up’ reading and writing secrets, and that no other kids were allowed to know them! Then throughout the rest of the day, I would introduce other Secrets, as we needed them to read and spell words that we would frequently use or encounter (i.e. student names, high-frequency sight words, color words, math words, etc…). Then we could use these Secrets to crack even more words that we came across. Once you begin telling Secrets, there is a sort of  “snowball-effect,” which quickly takes on a life of its own, as the kids start to drive their own learning!

Over the next two weeks, I had introduced them all authentically. I purposefully searched for ways to introduce them to the class that would be meaningful.

Student Names

I introduced Secrets to help us read and write the names of students in our class. Kids love to talk about, explore and “play” with their own names, as well as their friends’ names. They especially loved keeping track of whose names had which Secrets in them, often alerting visitors to our class that they had a Secret in their name, but then refusing to tell them what it was….because of course, it’s a “secret!”

Phonics in Kindergarten

Read-Alouds 

I introduced Secrets that we found in our read-aloud mini-lessons. And while I don’t have a picture of this from my own classroom, I did find this video of Katie doing the same.

Word Study in Math 

When talking about Math Workshop, I introduced the Secrets that we needed to read those words (/th/ and /sh/). I really wanted the kids to see the Secrets as their own, personal keys to unlock any word—not something that was confined to our reading lesson. The video below demonstrates this point.

Environmental Print 

As we practiced walking around our building, trying to learn where places were located, I would point out the Secrets in words that we saw on the walls. I asked parents to send in environmental print, and we would use the words they brought in each day to teach more Secrets. For example, to read the store name, Target, we learned the Secret about /ar/. Kindergarten Writing

When we saw the word Walmart, we needed the /al/ Secret to crack it, along with the previously learned Secret about /ar/. Learning was authentic and continually spiraling. Secrets were shared and re-shared, with the kids never tiring of re-telling old Secrets and learning new ones. And all this was happing simultaneously to picking up the individual letters and sounds with muscle memory, via our Better Alphabet Song (sung twice a day, every day!) I actually caught one of my little guys, who was obsessed with this song, singing it to himself at recess, and I recorded it, as he was just so cute! It’s the video below.

Now I’ll admit that teaching all of the Secrets in the first two weeks of kindergarten isn’t what Katie says to do in her book, but my kids were so hungry to hear more Secrets, that I thought, why not? After all, they’re just stories….and who worries about telling kids too many stories??

Phonics Flashcards

I know what you’re thinking (especially if you teach kindergarten), but before you judge, just remember that I wasn’t “teaching” skills, I was telling stories! Stories that they loved and would beg to hear! Also, having never taught kindergarten before, I had no preconceived notions about what kindergartners could and couldn’t do. All I knew was that they kept begging me to tell them just “one more Secret”….and so I did! And every one that I told came back to me like a boomerang in our daily reading and writing—which would only motivate me to tell more! (I literally could not keep a secret- Lol!)

The more Secrets I told them, the more they wanted. The more Secrets they had, the more words they could read and write. Secret skill transfer to reading and writing was easy and natural, as it is only for these purposes that Secrets were shared, so kids automatically made this connection, unlike with an isolated phonics skill lesson. And unlike a phonics “program,” Secrets aren’t grade-specific, and there are no scripted lessons to follow, making it easy to work them into everything you do—any time, any where, and for any purpose….without any prep!

Non-Conscious Learning 

One of the first things that I discovered in kindergarten was that five-year-olds were just as excited to hear the Secrets as I was to tell them! The more excitement I showed, the more they showed, and the more they were learning without even knowing! Without any prompting, they were finding Secrets everywhere, and then telling each other their “secret” sounds. I was constantly amazed at how their little eyes lit up every time they spotted Secrets that they knew in words—from reading passages, to the cafeteria menu, to signs in the hallway. I was even told by parents that “Secret-spottings” were happening at home on newspapers, magazine covers, and even on signs! These little kindergartners were quickly realizing that everywhere there were words, there were Secrets, and that they had the keys to unlock them.

phonics program kids love

My “original” Secret Stories book….well-loved and well-used! Kids loved to play with it at centers.

On the 100th day of school, I asked my kids to write about their favorite part of kindergarten, and almost all them said it was learning Secret Stories! These kids were on fire, absorbing and learning everything they could about this ‘grown-up’ world of reading and writing! All day long, they were pointing them out, and I would tell them that we were “stamping our brains” with new Secrets each time we found them in text.

If my kindergarten journey this year has taught me anything, it’s that the most powerful learning occurs when we don’t even realize it’s happening—when learning and fun become one! From the moment that I told the first Secret, my kindergartners were hooked, just like my first graders were.

If we were reading poems, they wanted to circle the Secrets. In read-aloud, they wanted to come up and put highlighter tape on the Secrets. Even in math, science and social studies, they were always “on the hunt” for Secrets. They were obsessed, and it was wonderful! It was so much fun watching their excited conversations about what the Superhero Vowels® were doing, and whether they would “say their name” or be “short and lazy” (if Mommy E® or the Babysitter Vowels® weren’t around). Both their reading AND writing just soared!

To see just how obsessed they were with the Secrets, check out this video that was sent to me by one of my parents of their child’s birthday party. In the caption, the father wrote, “The secrets really ARE everywhere!”

Secret Stories to Sound Out Words for Reading

When my students are reading and come upon an unknown word, I don’t tell them what it is. Instead, I tell them to look for the Secrets.

Several years ago, when I started teaching first grade and hadn’t yet discovered Secret Stories, my kids were usually unsuccessful when attempting to sound out most words, unless they were simple C-V-C words, like cat, bed, cut, etc… Now that my kids know the Secrets, they wouldn’t even start sounding out a word without first noticing the Secrets that are in it. For example, before they knew the Secrets, my first graders might try to sound out the word first like this, “ff-ih-ruh-ss-tuh,” making each letter sound individually. With the Secrets, even my kindergartners will automatically say, “f-ir-st,” because they immediately notice the Secrets and blends.

This is another reason why it is so important that all of the Secret Stories posters are up on your wall where kids can easily see them, as it’s the first place they’ll look when they can’t read or spell a word. It’s also important to encourage them to use the motions or action that naturally goes along with each story sound. Unlike a “program” (i.e. Zoo Phonics, Letterland, Jolly Phonics, etc…) the Secret Stories motions aren’t arbitrary actions that you have to know and remember, but just the natural physical response of engaging in the action/making the sound, like holding the steering wheel and slamming on the pretend brakes when saying, “Errrrrrrrrr” (for er/ir/ur) or sticking your tongue out and making a mean face when saying “thhhhhhhhhh”  (for /th/).

We don’t just “stamp our brains” with the pictures, but with the sounds and actions as well! All children learn differently, and the more modalities we can incorporate in our learning, the more connections we make in our brains! Secret Stories’ multi-sensory instruction activates all of the senses—see it, say it, do it and even FEEL it— for deep learning, which is why the Secrets “stick” so easily, even for kindergartners. The visual below is actually from Katie’s session handout, but I wanted to add it here to show how a multi-sensory approach to instruction (especially for phonics) helps to forge deeper learning connections in the brain.

Multisensory Phonics Instruction

Kindergarten in December

The following videos are of students in my class, who you will see looking up at the wall behind them to find the Secrets they need to decode the words they’re trying to read. I always give them a little time before asking what Secret (or Secrets) they see. These clips are from early December, back when they were still learning how to actively decode new words. As their decoding ability improved, we were able to focus more on fluency, which you will see in later videos further down below.

*Note that these are “cold” readings of instructional-level text, which means that it offers some challenges, based on their current reading level, which of course, is different for each child. Most often, in guided reading, I intentionally select more challenging text (rather than easier books) so as to give them words that they might struggle with a bit, so as to help them stretch and grow as readers.

“alarm”

“fire”

“wait”

“made”

Teaching the Reader, Not the Reading

The Secret Stories reach every child. My ESL students and little ones on IEPs were able to pick them up just as easily as the rest of my kids. No matter how a child learns, the Secrets just make sense. Kids who aren’t yet developmentally ready to read still love to hear and tell the stories—talking about them like they would their favorite TV or video game characters. But for kids who are ready, these simple stories open up a whole new world of reading and writing for them to explore! Because the Secrets apply to everything we do in kindergarten, reinforcing them is easy and can be done with high, medium and low-level learners, simultaneously. While higher-level learners are able to transfer knowledge of the story to the sounds and letter patterns they need for reading and writing, lower-level learners are simply enjoying knowing and telling the story, not yet realizing the power that it holds.

The first time that I did a Running Record on a child in kindergarten after having introduced all the Secret Stories, I was in shock! Our reading was off the charts, and so were our scores. Once my kindergartners had successfully gotten me to spill all of the Secrets (yes, I blame them!) they were unstoppable. The best part of teaching kindergarten was watching the extreme progression from kids knowing little-to-no letter sounds to becoming full-fledged readers! The transformation was incredible.  The second best part was seeing their excitement as they evolved as readers and writers. I only wish that I would have recorded this child at the beginning of the year when he still didn’t know all of his letters or sounds!

*Note that the following were “cold” reads during F&P running records.

Kindergarten Reading Level – Late Fall

Kindergarten Reading Level – Winter

Kindergarten Reading Level – Spring

It was around this time in mid-December, just before the holiday break, that I sent Katie the following update….

I just completed our F&P (Fountas & Pinnell) assessments yesterday and today on my kindergarten class! Our kids have to be at a level D by the END of the year, and more than half of my kids are already there, with 10 reading between levels F-I! And most didn’t even know their letters and sounds at the beginning of the year!

Not having ever taught kindergarten before, I am just floored by their progress! I was in first grade for the past 11 years, so I was not sure how quickly kindergartners would learn the sounds and put it together in order to read fluently. Well, by December, they were reading and comprehending!!!!♥️If anyone ever wonders if the Secrets work in Kindergarten, they should hear these angels read and comprehend. I myself am amazed! Sorry, but had to brag about Secret Stories! I know all of the teachers out there who use it will get it! 🙂

PS We also do Maps Testing, and I can’t wait to see the difference in overall growth from September to December! I will share that when I get it.
—Melissa

Below is my kindergarten F&P data showing where we were in December, as well as their overall growth by the end of the school year.

“Fountas & Pinnell” Reading Level Assessments

Note that by the end of the school year, 50% were reading at “end of first grade” level, having passed level J (the highest level-assessment allowed for kindergarten by the district). This is compared to 6% of kindergartners, district-wide (including students from non-Title I schools).

Fountas & Pinnell Kindergarten Reading Level

Our district also uses MAP Testing with a projected RIT score to show where kids should be by the end of the year. Those who use NWEA MAP will better understand the data below. For those who don’t, the projected RIT score is for Spring. As you can imagine, several students had already surpassed the projected RIT score by Winter testing. Our administration looks at the percent of projected growth met, which should be around 100% by the end of the year. Anything above that indicates how much more a student grew than was expected from their RIT score.

On average, there should be about a 10-point growth from Fall to Spring. The assessment data below shows growth from both winter and spring. Keep in mind that these assessments are just a snapshot of the entire child, and do not inform what is good overall growth. They are most useful to ensure that all students are continuing to move—from the lowest to the highest. Average student growth on this assessment is traditionally between 80%-120% percent. My average student this year in kindergarten was over 200%.

Kindergarten “Map” Testing – Reading

Kindergarten Map Testing

As I stated above, while data is important, it provides only a snapshot of the whole child, especially in kindergarten. Secret Stories have improved my scores immensely over the years, so I no longer worry about testing, as we are always way ahead of where we need to be, midway through the year. Not having to worry about teaching the “reading” means that I can focus more on teaching the reader. That’s where I can invest my time and energy, not on sight word lists and reading “practice!”

Word Work Activities and Phonics Play

Midway through kindergarten, my class had become highly-skilled word detectives, and our “word work” was never limited to our reading block! We circled and highlighted Secrets in the stories and poems we read, put highlighting tape on our big books, and were always on the look-out for Secrets hiding both in and outside of our classroom! Reading and writing was never limited to an isolated “phonics” or “word work” time; it was immersed into every part of our day! Whenever Secret phonics patterns were spotted, we would circle or highlight them. Then we tap out the word, chunking each Secret Story sound together (instead of saying the letters sounds individually). For example, if we came across the word thirds in Math, we would highlight the letters /th/ and /ir/, and then tap and sound it out as, it out as “th-ir-d-s” (as opposed to “t-h-i-r-d-s”). We would even use a large magnifying glass to show how the Secret letter patterns should jump out at you before you start reading them!

word detective word work

Using a document camera, we would look at poems, like the one about leprechauns, below. We would then circle all of the Secrets we could find and read it aloud, together. If you walked into my room, you would see that no matter what paper I put in front of them, they would all find and circle the Secrets before I even mentioned looking for them.kindergarten writing

Secret Stories Hunts

Another fun opportunity for phonics play is going on Secret Story “Hunts,” as this is a great way to strengthen beginning learners’ visual acuity to quickly recognize letter patterns in text. While we often do this at guided reading with our little books, we also like to “hunt” for Secrets in words all around our classroom. We can hunt for words that contain a specific Secret Story pattern,  or for words with any Secret Stories patterns! We can also use a timer to make it into a contest to see who can find the most—although to win, they have to be able to READ all of the words that they “captured!” Another fun twist is to extend the hunt to the hallway, the cafeteria, the principal’s office, or even the entire school! The picture below shows the kids going on a Secret Stories Hunt around our classroom.

Phonics Patterns in Text

“Sentence of the Day” and Focus Words 

We also have a “Sentence of the Day” book, which we make and do together every day. The students start at the carpet with me, and I introduce the sentence and our focus word.

For example, in the video below, the sentence was, “She is not in school today?” with the focus word, not. At the beginning of the year, I would have to read the sentence to them a few times, but at this point, they are doing a cold read of the sentences to me. We literally take apart the sentence. The students look for Secret Stories, punctuation, capitalization, plus anything else they happen to notice, and then we pull out one word, and think of more words that rhyme with it.

This is a great way to reinforce awareness that if they know how to read and spell the word not, then they can also read and spell the words lot, hot, rot, shot, etc… or, as in the next clip below, if they know how to read and spell the word will, they can also read and spell words like: hill, pill, fill, chill, etc… This activity is a powerful one, as it reinforces everything they know about reading and writing, and  provides an easy to way to informally assess their ability to apply the Secrets. It’s also a great way to increase phonemic awareness, as well as recognition of word families for both reading and spelling, but without causing confusion between simple word letter patterns (like -op, -at, -it, etc…) with Secrets (which are the sounds letters make when they don’t do what they should!)

Once we have finished, we then read the sentences three or four times (or more at the beginning of the year). Then the kids go back to their seats, write the word four times, and then write the sentence in their very best handwriting. When finished, students will raise their hands and read it to me. When first starting to read, I have them point to each word as they are reading it so that they can practice one-to-one correspondence, which some students continue doing through the year.

kindergarten writing

Merry-Go-Round Phonics Instruction

I can’t stress enough the importance of activating all of the modalities in learning practice—the visual, the auditory and the kinesthetic. Whenever we would spot Secrets, we would always reference the poster (visual) while making the sound (auditory) and doing the motion (kinesthetic). By presenting information to the brain from as many angles as possible, Secret Stories fosters deep connections that learners can’t forget. Katie talks about how Secret Stories offers kids a “merry-go-round” for learning that just keeps spinning, giving kids who need it more time “jump on,” and giving them never-ending opportunities to do so. We keep our merry-go-round spinning by always taking the time to re-tell the story, reference to the poster, and engage in the action with the sound. This constant reinforcement of what the Secret is, where it lives (on the wall), and the sound (or sounds) it makes helps to ensure that our merry-go-round never leaves anyone behind—regardless of where they are in the learning process.

Reading “Hop-Scotch” 

Whenever we stand in line before leaving the classroom, one student gets to take my pointer and be the teacher, pointing to the different Secret Stories posters (or words on other posters) hanging in the room. Whatever words were pointed to, the kids would have to read as quickly as they could. This simple game actually had a big impact on their learning, and was well worth the extra five minutes it took to line up. It was during these short, little 3-5 minute windows that I first began to see them evolving into readers before my eyes! Their writing was also improving with each passing day, as they got better and better at using the the posters to transcribe the sounds they heard into readable words.

Using Secret Stories with the Reading and Writing Workshop Model

Our district has used Lucy Caulkins’ Reading and Writing Workshop Model for the past 15 years. Before the Secrets, I would follow the Readers/Writers Workshop books like they were my Bible!

I was teaching first grade when I first heard about the Secret Stories from my sister, who was also a first grade teacher, as her school had just purchased them. She would rave and rave about them, telling me all about her school’s success. I was intrigued, but as with any new “program,” I was a little apprehensive. The last thing I needed was something else to teach, and I didn’t really want another book with more lessons that I would have to squeeze into my already overstuffed day. But once she explained how easy it was, and that it really wasn’t a “program” at all, I was all in!

I decided to purchase it with my own money and immediately begin introducing it to my first grade class. Some of my first graders at the time were already reading, while others were still working on letter sounds and sight words, though all of them were captivated by these little “secret” stories. A wave of learning began to rise across the different levels in my classroom, with everyone taking something away from each Secret that I told.

I could write a big word on the board, like for example, vacation or assumption, and while my stronger readers would use the Secrets to silently sound out the word, my lower-level readers would be equally excited to just look for the Secrets and tell their stories while acting out their sounds. Despite the different levels, we could all go back and blend the letter sounds and Secrets together to read the word aloud. To me, this is the epitome of what Katie refers to as, “Buffet-Style” Instruction, with all level learners able to come to the table and “eat” what they’re ready for! The result was a no-prep “multi-tiered” word work activity that not only reinforced the Secrets, but also that no matter our age or grade level, if we knew the Secrets, we could figure out 99% of the words we encounter! (And if you’re wondering how this would work with words that don’t follow phonics rules, that’s actually the most fun part….getting to be “Word Doctors,” which you can read more about here.)

Phonics Units of Study /Phonics Workshop Model

This school year, our district adopted the new Lucy Calkins Phonics Units of Study/Phonics Workshop for kindergarten and first grade. This was another thing that I was concerned about when moving to Kindergarten, as I was unsure how to incorporate Secret Stories with a phonics program.

We didn’t receive our Phonics Units Teacher Kits until October, so during a professional development on how to use them, we were told to begin on book 2. given that book 1 was geared toward the very first few weeks of kindergarten and we were now two months in. Once I got started, I quickly realized that my students already knew all the concepts—not only book 2, but in book 3, as well. So I had to jump ahead to book 4, and even then, I was able to skip several more lessons that my kids were already able to do.

The reason I was able to skip so many books was not just because we’d already learned all of the skills presented, but because we had been using them daily in everything we do. And while this might seem as though it would present a conflict, it’s actually quite the opposite! Because we didn’t need to engage in any of the phonics skill introduction or practice work in the program, we were able to take full advantage of the open-ended, extension activities for authentic reading and writing that the program offered. The Phonics Units turned out to be a perfect “playground” on which we could flex our Secret Stories “muscles” in a variety of ways for reading and writing!

In the Phonics Units of Study, Lucy Caulkins stresses that in order for beginning learners to be able to transfer phonics skills to reading and writing, they need faster access to them. But unlike the Phonics Units, which deliver phonics skills by grade level across kindergarten, first and second, Secret Stories fast-tracks the WHOLE code in kindergarten by giving kids a way to understand letter sound behavior—so they don’t need to memorize everything, or learn through rote practice. So then, why wait?  The more tools we bring to the table, the more value we can take away….and that goes for any reading series or program!

Sight Words

Prior to adopting the Phonics Units of Study, our district required kindergarten students to know 25 sight words by the end of the school year, while first graders had to know 115 before moving on to second grade. In December, I decided to go ahead and test those students who were ready on all of the first grade words, even though our district only requires the 25.  Suffice it to say that I actually had to contact our central office and complain (in a nice way) that the online entry system would not allow me to enter anything above a “99” in the field for kindergarten because it only registered two-digit numbers. (They changed it for me! :-)

So here we were, barely half way through kindergarten, and most of the kids could already read all of the 115 first grade words or more! (You can imagine how cocky they were, especially the ones with first grade siblings!)

Kindergarten Sight Word Mastery (Baseline & Mid-Year Assessment)

Kindergarten Sight Word Mastery

Writers Workshop 

I’ve always loved using Secret Stories with Writers Workshop, as the two really do go hand-in-hand!  Each day I do a mini-lesson and I model, model, model! Then, before students go back to their seats to begin their own writing, we spend a few minutes discussing what they notice in my writing—highlighting, circling, or using highlighting tape to mark all of the Secret Stories that they see. When they are doing their own writing, they are using the Secret Stories posters constantly.

Phonics Cards

As they tap their arm to segment the sounds that they hear in each word, they know which Secrets make each sound, and can refer to the posters to see how to write it, or just to self-check. Each student also has a Porta-Pic in in their desk folders for easy access that they can refer to anytime they are reading or writing. Kids can take them home for reading and writing there (since they won’t have access to the posters) as well as to their resource/pull-out classrooms (for those who go).

The following video clips show our Writers Workshop time at the beginning of the school, as well as midway through the year. You will notice that at the beginning of the year, students focus more on drawing the pictures and just trying to get some letters down on the page, whereas by the end of the year, they are writing books.

Kindergarten Writing Workshop – Fall

Kindergarten Writing Workshop – Winter

Play-Based Learning & Phonics Fun

During center choice time, my students love to use the puppets and pretend to be the teacher teaching the Secrets. Recently, one student asked if we could make Superhero Vowel puppets. This led to an entire STEAM lesson, and ended with our making puppets for all of the Secrets, and even putting on our own puppet shows!

phonics posters - vowels

I divided students into groups of four, and each group had to design and create their own puppets using supplies from our classroom, and then create a skit. Once they made their puppets, they worked with their partners to rehearse their skits. Then each group presented their puppet show to the class. Once all of the skits were finished, students sat and shared their puppets and the sounds that they made.

kindergarten writing

Play-based, cooperative learning is so much more valuable than any scripted lesson, not to mention a lot more fun! With the Secrets, kids already own the skills, so the real learning lies in their discovery of how to use them.  In early grade classrooms, there are endless opportunities to “play” as readers and writers! And I believe that this is why the kids love learning the Secrets so much—because they give them more to play with! They associate the Secrets with fun, play, and stories!

Here are some short clips from our Secret Stories puppet-play—

/th/

/ch/ and /ed/

Digraphs

Short and Long Vowel Sounds (a.k.a. Superhero Vowels & their ‘Short & Lazy’ Sounds)

The 3 Sounds for Y (a.k.a. Sneaky Y®)

Reading Fluency

Reading fluency is key as phonics skills become second nature, and one way to encourage it is through song! We love to read, write and SING our way to fluency! First, we read a book about our favorite animal, then we write about it, and then we sing about it! Check out this talented little one sharing her “All About Animals” writing about raccoons, to the tune of “Party in the USA!” It’s adorable!!

As a teacher in a Primary K-1 building for over 13 years, when students would leave, I wouldn’t get to see them again unless they come back to visit. When they did, I would always ask them to read to us, and then I would let my little ones ask them questions. Once question that they always ask is, “What did you learn that helped you the most?” and the response is almost always, “Secret Stories.” I love knowing that I have given them a gift that continues to help them grow as readers and writers, long after they leave my classroom.

Teacher Expertise in Phonics Secret Stories

The best way to start Secret Stories is to jump right in and don’t overthink it!

Secret Stories give beginning grade learners easy access to all of the code they need to read and write long-before they will be formally introduced by your reading series or phonics program (as per traditional grade level scope and sequences). THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM—it’s a gift!

All you have to do is tell the story and then plug in its sound (for reading) or the letter patterns (for spelling/writing). Telling a Secret to explain strange letter behavior will never (I repeat, NEVER!) conflict with anything else you are doing—no matter what reading series or even phonics “program” you are using! It’s simply giving meaning to letters and sounds that would otherwise have none—and thus, would need to be repeatedly practiced as “skills” (instead of stories).

While Secret Stories is systematic and explicit with introduction of “most-needed” (highest-frequency) first, you can also share and use Secrets as you need them throughout the instructional day! Never limit them to just language arts time, because remember, they’re not a “program,” they’re tools for both you and your students! Secrets should never be taught in isolation, but immersed into everything that you do, and talked about everywhere you go (which kids will naturally do anyway whenever they see words!)

Remember to take advantage of every opportunity to make your students’ learning authentic, but don’t wait too long to introduce all the Secrets. And to all my fellow kindergarten teachers out there, DO NOT WAIT for kids to know the individual letter sounds before you start telling them Secrets! That’s like waiting for kids to learn Bob’s name before introducing them to Tabitha, just because her name has a /th/ in it!

With the Secrets, you can teach them together by singing the Better Alphabet Song (twice a day, every day, with “eye glue” and “muscle mouth!”) while simultaneously sharing Secrets! My class actually knew all of the Secret Stories before they’d mastered all of the individual letter sounds! This is because there is no learning curve for the Secrets, as kids get the stories (and their sounds) instantly, whereas the individual sounds are acquired through muscle memory, which can take anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 months with the Better Alphabet Song,

And most important of all, GET EXCITED! If you’re excited, then your kids will be excited! (This is actually the easiest part, as you won’t be able to help yourself!)

Children are like sponges, soaking up everything around them to grow. And my little sponges grew beyond my wildest expectations! All I had to do was feed them the Secrets, and then watch them grow into real-life readers and writers!

Melissa Gregory
Kindergarten Teacher
Melissajg24@gmail.com

PS  Please leave any comments or questions below! :-)

secret stories phonics song

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

phonics program

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

Secret Sundays - Episode 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Stories Phonics Kit

Secret Stories® Phonics Flashcards

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

Secret Stories® Phonics Phonics for Homeschool

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

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

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

Orton Gillingham and Secret Stories Phonics Method

Learn the “Secrets” About Orton-Gillingham Phonics Instruction

I receive so many questions about whether or not Secret Stories® can be used with Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction, and if so, how.

If you’re familiar with or already use Secret Stories®, then you know that it is not a phonics program, but an “accelerant ” used to fast-track access to the whole code that kids need to read and write—and from the earliest possible grade levels! The Secrets are like “steroids” that pump-up your existing reading curriculum and/or phonics program to make the learning go “warp-speed!” Not more reading instruction, just better and more efficient, as the Secrets are always there….always teaching, and always ready for use to read and spell words! (This was the focus of my previous post, which you can read here.)

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

Heather MacLeod Vidal, a learning specialist and curriculum writer from St. Petersburg, Florida, is an expert in Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction, and has been incorporating Secret Stories® into her OG lessons for years. I’ve asked her to share her insight and ideas here.

Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories®


Greetings from sunny Florida!

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

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

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

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

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Flash Card

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Flash Card

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

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

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Capes

Sneaky Y® Capes

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

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

Secret Stories® Mommy E® Phonics Flash Card

Secret Stories Mommy E® tells any vowel that’s one letter away, “You Say Your Name!”
(And to crack those tricky, multi-syllabic words, watch this video to learn the Secret Stories Babysitter Vowels® trick!)

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

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

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

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

The NEW Secret Stories® Decorative Phonics Posters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orton Gillingham Phonics Instruction

Orton-Gillingham Phonics Instruction Curriculum

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


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

And if you would like to read more about Secret Stories®, I would invite you to check out this recently published article published in the Arkansas Reading Journal, which you can download here. I am excited to be one of the keynote speakers at the Arkansas Reading Conference this October.Arkansas Reading Journal Article by Katie Garner

Until Next Time,
Katie Garner
https://www.KatieGarner.com

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



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

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

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

Secret Stories® Flashcards with Stories on the Back!

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

Secret Stories "Decorative Squares" Kit/ Posters

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

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

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


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


The Brain on Sight Words

Stanford Brain Study on Sight Words

Dolch Words- Don't Memorize What You Can READ

 

Secret Stories® Phonics vs. Sight Words


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

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

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

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

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

Secret Stories Instagram


With Warm Wishes for a Happy & Healthy Summer!Katie

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

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

Katie Garner Secret Stories Linkedin pageSecret Stories Facebook PageSecret Stories Youtube PageSecret Stories TwitterSecret Stories PinterestSecret Stories Instagram

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "AU/AW"

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

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

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

Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "EU/EW"

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

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

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

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

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

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack

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

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

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

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

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

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

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

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Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!
Secret Stories® Phonics
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Sample Poster Pack!

 

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

 


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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 no where 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!) 
“Who’s Fonzie?” you ask.
For those who are under 40, this 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 phonic concepts and strategies to beginning, early grade learners would be considered developmentally inappropriate—a position with which I would have to agree.

Giving them however, is a completely different story!
By wrapping skills up into stories, we can give them what can’t be taught. Stories are easy for kids to remember because stories are HOW kids remember. Stories act as a sort of “memory-enhancer.” They serve as strong memory-holding templates in the brain and provide 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, as learners naturally take away only what is personally meaningful and relevant to them, without any expectations. In this way, the reading and writing code is transformed into ‘skill-drenched’ golden nuggets, buried within familiar and easy-to-remember stories, allowing learners to become their own “gate-keeper” of skills.

And herein lies the power of the Secret Stories® backdoor delivery method for the totality of skills that all readers and writers need, but traditionally cannot have—not until they are “ready.”

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

For more on the Secret Stories® use of the affective learning networks as a backdoor delivery system for high-leverage concepts and strategies, check out these previous posts here and here.

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

You can also check out this video below on the brain’s development, back to front, and how to activate the earlier-developing, social and emotional “feeling” networks for use as a backdoor for accelerated skill mastery.

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 on 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 some of my personal mentors, Dr. Richard Allington, Dr. Anne Cunningham and Debbie Diller (see promo below.) If you have the chance to attend one of the Summits, do go! They are amazing and each of us gets to spend some quality time with attendees, with alternating keynotes and lots of  follow-up extended length break out sessions. I hope to one day have the chance to meet YOU! :-)

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 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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Everything You’ve Ever Wanted to Know About The Secret Stories® Phonics Posters!

phonics posters for reading

Secret Stories® "Original" Phonics Posters
The Creatively-Cut “Original” Secret Stories® Posters!

(Note: This post was written before the NEW Decorative Square Phonics Posters were created, but you can view them here, as well as in the video and pictures, below.)
Secret Stories Decorative Squares Phonics Posters
Pretty Phonics Posters

Which Secret Stories® phonics poster-style is the MOST popular? 

The winner for K-2 teachers is…...“The “Fun & Funky” Phonics Posters Kit! These are especially popular with early grade level, primary teachers, as their size allows for easy visual access from anywhere in the classroom where kids are reading and writing. These are often paired with a set of  “Dual-Use Placards” for manipulative, hands-on use in circle time, guided reading, centers, etc….  (The Porta-Pics are also popular for individual use, both at school and at home, assuming that the little ones don’t try and “eat” them! ;-)
 
The winner for 3-5 (and up, as needed) is….. The “Space-Savers” Phonics Posters Kit! These are most popular with resource room teachers (due to the smaller sized rooms) and with upper-grade level teachers who may have fewer students needing to reference them. Additionally, the Porta-Pics are equally popular for these groups for their portability (departmentalization, pull-out, home-reference, etc…)
You can find more info (as well as pictures) on both the Space-Saver Placards and the Porta-Pics (pictured further below).
SPACE SAVER Phonics Posters
So, you’ve laminated all of your Secret Stories® posters and are finally ready to hang them on your classroom wall…
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Posters Ready to Hang!

But on which wall?…. In what groupings??….. And in what order???

Is there a “right” way to hang the Secret Stories® Phonics Posters?

This is the most frequently asked question that I receive during preschool weeks, especially when I visit schools for ‘back-to-school’ in-service and professional development and teachers are setting up their classrooms.
The short answer is NO… not really. But there are tips and tricks to ensure that you (and your students) get the most “bang-for-the-buck” with regard to easy visual access, both for reading and writing, across the entire instructional day!

So here are some Must-Do’s….

1.  Hang ALL of them up! (Do NOT wait to “teach” them first!) 
Never wait to display a Secret until you have “taught” it first, as doing so defeats the whole purpose of using Secret Stories®, which is to accelerate access to the code, not limit it! Besides, the Secrets are not taught, they are “given,” and without any expectations, much like food that’s laid out on a buffet. Because Secrets are embedded into already social and emotional story-frameworks, kids will remember them, talk about them, and then suddenly begin using them to read and write words. This will happen years before their formal introduction as “phonics skills” on a traditional core reading scope and sequence…. IF they are all up and ready to share with learners, as needed! Secrets unlock the sounds in words that kids can’t read, and equip them with the letters they need to write words in the stories they want to tell. It is learners’ encounters with text throughout the course of the instructional day (and across all subject areas) that most often dictate which Secrets they need. For this reason, all of the Secrets must be up and ready to go, as you never know what’s looming just around the corner of your instructional day! Additionally, having all of the posters up requires learners to visually scan through all the Secrets they don’t know in order to find the ones that they do. This continual scanning process serves to increase learners’ visual acuity so as to recognize patterns in text— even those in Secrets that haven’t yet been told!
Kindergartners Stalking the Secret Stories® "Wall of Phonics Secrets!"
Students “Stalking” the Secret Stories® Wall!
And finally (and most importantly) hanging all of the posters up on Day 1 allows learners to begin driving their own instruction, as the letters in words they cannot read are the same letters that are in the Secret posters on the wall, thereby prompting them to ask for the Secret! By taking advantage of these teachable moments as they occur throughout the instructional day, we can foster learners’  “need-to-know” as the driving force behind their instruction and teach reading with the brain-in-mind!  

 

2.  Hang the Superhero Vowels®Sneaky Y® and “qu” posters above (or in place of) their “counterparts” in your regular alphabet display. 
I recommend hanging all of the posters together on one wall (which I like to call the “Wall of Secrets!”) with the exception of the Superhero Vowels®Sneaky Y® posters, which should be hung just above (or even in place of) their “like-letters” over your existing alphabet train (or whatever alphabet display is mounted above the main front board in your classroom.)
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— Superhero Vowels®
The purpose of this is to draw learners’ attention to their alternative sounds, as unlike most Secrets, which explain what letters do when they get together, these letters have their own individual Secrets! This allows for easier sound reference when singing The Better Alphabet Songwhich is the means through which learners acquire the individual letters and sounds using muscle memory in just two weeks to two months. (Note that the qu is somewhat of an exception to this, as it’s actually two letters, but it’s important for learners to see and understand that q won’t make any sound unless it’s with u, and that together they make ONE sound which is “kwa.” I actually used a permanent marker to write in the letter u after the q on my alphabet train, and referred to it only as “qu”…..it was like the imaginary letter “elemeno,” but IT was REAL—Lol!)
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Vertical Anchor
QU from Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Vertical Anchor (full size shown, below)

 

Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Vertical Anchor
Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Vertical Anchor (full-size)
for use with the BETTER Alphabet Song for Individual Letter Sound Mastery in 2 weeks – 2 months!
And on a side note, be sure that the picture cues on your existing alphabet train are accurate!  This means that the picture cue for the sound of the letter o is NOT an orange or an oyster, as o by itself can only make its long or short sound, as in oak or ox. Likewise, the letter should not be depicted with a picture of a xylophone or an x-ray (as is actually shown in the classroom alphabet picture, above) as those are its least likely sounds, with “ks” (as in box and ox) being the most likely. All too often, the publisher’s priority is finding a “pretty picture,” rather than one that actually depicts the most likely sound of the letter.  a letter’s most likely sound! Additionally, it’s also important to depict sound cues for both the hard and soft sounds of both c and g (cat/circus and goat/giraffe) with picture cues for both. For all of these reasons, I created the Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Alphabet Mini-Mats (in digital format only.) Not only are the Superhero Vowels®, Sneaky Y® and qu graphics already built-in, but its vertical display option makes singing those “lightening-fast” Letter Runs a whole lot easier! 
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet
Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet 
 with Vertical AND Horizontal Posting Options!
Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Song—
Individual Letter Sound Mastery in 2 weeks to 2 months
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet
(Vertical or Horizontal Format Options)
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet
Secret Stories® Better Alphabet (hard and soft C) 

 

Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet
Secret Stories® Better Alphabet (hard and soft G)
 
The Secret Stories® Letter Run Song
(w/the BETTER Vertical & Horizontal Alphabet Train) 
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet

Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Mini-Mat

Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Mini-Mats for Individual Student Use 
Secret Stories® Phonics BETTER Alphabet Mini-Mat

3. When hanging the “Original” phonics posters, be sure to create a visual barrier between the Secrets!
Unlike the “Fun & Funky” Phonics Posters and the Space-Saver Phonics Posters which both have a yellow border that separates them visually when hung together on the wall, the “Original” Phonics Posters were designed to be “cut-down” clustered together to take up less space and still be large enough to see from anywhere in the primary classroom.
 
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— "Fun & Funky"
Secret Stories® “Fun & Funky” Phonics Posters

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— "Space Savers"
Secret Stories® “Space-Saver” Phonics Posters

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— "Original"
Secret Stories “Original” Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters— "Original"
“Original” Phonics Posters “Cut-Down”

 

With no definitive border, the letter patterns on the original posters (when cut down) can appear to “run together” on the wall, which is why I recommend mounting them on a bright yellow or black backing (as explained in the Secret Stories® book) so as to provide a visual border between each one. I prefer bright yellow, although you can view several options in classroom pictures further down, below.

4. Ensure easy visual access from everywhere in the classroom they will need them!
I can tell you from personal experience that this is much easier said than done (as most of my classroom assistants who were tasked with moving all of the posters around to various locations in our classroom can attest!) Finding the perfect place in the classroom where students can easily access the posters, as needed during guided group, circle time, calendar time, whole group activities, independent writing at their seats, etc….was quite the challenge. My students were constantly jumping to find the Secret sound they needed (when reading) or the Secret pattern they needed (when writing) and it drove me crazy! I think it can be especially difficult in kindergarten and first grade classrooms where there are so many learning nooks & crannies, as this makes easy visual access to ANYTHING virtually impossible (aside from possibly, the ceiling!) I finally did settle on a good spot where they remained indefinitely, but each new classroom and grade level posed a new challenge, so don’t settle…. be creative! And don’t be afraid to try a different spot if the current one isn’t ideal….just be sure to bring your assistant a big, frothy Starbucks coffee when making the move! Also, keep in mind that the Dual-Use Placards and Porta-Pics as both offer easy solutions to this problem, as well providing the Secrets in a hands-on “manipulative” format for use by teachers and students around the classroom, as needed.
Phonics Games for Reading
Secret Stories® Phonics Porta-Pics for Portable Reference and Home Use

Secret Stories® Dual-Use Phonics Placards (aka “Space Savers”)

Secret Stories® Phonics — "Dual-Use Placards"
Secret Stories® Dual-Use Phonics Placards for Hands-On “Manipulative” Use
Secret Stories Phonics for Struggling Readers
Reading Sight Words with Phonics
Phonics for Sight Words
There are also “cut-apart” cards in the back section of the Secret Stories® book that can be used when students are working in very small groups or outside of the classroom, one-on-one with a volunteer.

Cut-Apart Phonics Cards in Back of Secret Stories® Book

Phonics Cards
Plus, check out these NEW Secret Stories® Phonics Flashcards that have the stories on the front and picture on the back!

Secret Stories Phonics Flashcards

phonics flashcards
Phonics Flashcard Games
Teaching Phonics in Guided Reading
Phonics Flashcards for Sight Words
Phonics Flashcards
And should you happen to have an extra set of Secret Stories® phonics posters lying around (after upgrading to Secret Stories® Version 2.0 or “inheriting” an extra set from another teacher) you can use them to make something that your kids will absolutely LOVE LOVED LOVE…. a class “big book” of Secret Stories® that kids can take home and share with their parents on a rotating basis, or even as a special reward!
Just re-mount them (if cut-down) on large construction paper and re-laminate the pages, and then bind them together into a book. Voile! A Secret Stories® Class Phonics Big Book— the perfect way to help educate your parents on what the Secrets are and how they work! 
Extra posters sets are sometimes also ordered by schools to post in common areas where kids tend to congregate…. in the hallways, on the wall by the cafeteria line, behind the check-out desk in the media center, the front office wall, etc…, as it’s a great way to spur conversation between students about “who knows which Secrets,” as well as help to educate the parents on what they are, as kids love to share all of the Secrets they know when walking with them around the school. It also helps to further enhance learners’ visual acuity for pattern-recognition in text.
Secret Stories® Phonics Parent Night
Below are some classroom pictures of the Secret Stories® phonics posters that show different ways to display each version. And I want to give special thanks to all of the awesome teachers who have offered us this sneak-peek into their classrooms by sending in pics!
 
Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!"
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Poster— AR
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters with Student Names
Love this idea of putting students’ names on their “Secret Story!”
And finally, check out these miniature Secret Stories® phonics posters in this adorable “Peep” Classroom, created by Mrs. Mac’s Munchkins!
Secret Stories® Phonics Posters — The "Peep" Version!
And to bring this “Posting Phonics Posters” post to a close, I just had to share an AMAZING “Secret Stories® door transformation that added a whole new level of excitement to the first day of school for some very lucky first graders! It was created by Brandon McAnulty, the husband of Renee McAnulty. You can read more about Mrs. Mac and her famous first-grade munchkins, here!
Secret Stories® Phonics Door

And here are some close-up pics….

Secret Stories® Phonics Door

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Door
Secret Stories® Phonics Door

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Door
Secret Stories® Phonics Door
Secret Stories® Phonics Door

HOW AWESOME IS THAT?!!

And if you’re just getting started with the Secrets, here’s a quick vlog 
for some good tips, tricks and how-to’s!
 
 
Download a FREE Sampling of Secret Stories® phonics posters and watch how fast YOUR kids start using the Secrets to read and write!
Free Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-)