What Dyslexia Isn’t…
As promised, I’ve asked reading specialist, Heather Vidal, to come back and shed more light on dyslexia, what it is, and more importantly, what it isn’t—despite the common misconceptions. If you are a new subscriber, or if you missed Heather’s previous guest post about how she uses Secret Stories® in conjunction with Orton-Gillingham to meet the needs of her dyslexic students, you can read it here.
I would like to preface Heather’s post by addressing the recent debate on use of the term “dyslexia” and its efficacy as a diagnosis for struggling readers, along with the International Dyslexic Association’s definition of dyslexia—
“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”
It’s important to note that while most educational researchers and reading practitioners believe that a diagnosis of dyslexia can help to shed light on a reader’s struggles and identify the best form of intervention, others in the field (including my colleague, Dr. Richard Allington, with whom I presented a series of keynotes at the Vulnerable Readers Summits) feel that use of this label could be a disservice to children with difficulties learning to read.
That said, something that all sides agree on—labels aside—is that there is a wide gap between what we know about the brain and how we teach kids to read, and that the most critical variable in effective K-2 literacy instruction is teacher expertise.
It is vital that teachers know about and understand the brain science so as to properly align instruction with the basic tenets of brain based learning, particularly in regard to what research shows is the weakest link in our reading and writing instruction—teaching phonics.
So with that said, here’s Heather…
Katie has graciously invited me to share more about what dyslexia is (and isn’t!) and why the Secret Stories® method works within a curriculumfor dyslexic students. You can read my other post here) As a reading specialist, private tutor and curriculum developer who works specifically with dyslexic students learning to read, I often get questions about what dyslexia is.
Often times, it is easier to explain what Dyslexia is not:
- Dyslexia does not mean that students read entire words or sentences backwards.
While some dyslexic students do flip letters and transverse words, this is not the only sign of dyslexia, and some dyslexic students don’t do this at all.
- Dyslexia is not a sign of low IQ.
In fact, many children diagnosed with dyslexia are found to have higher than average IQ’s. Dyslexia is not correlated with IQ, but a difference in the way a dyslexic person’s brain works.
- Dyslexia cannot be outgrown.
With the proper instructional approach, students can become excellent readers. However, this does not mean that they no longer have dyslexia.
- Dyslexia is not rare.
While numbers vary, the International Dyslexia Association has found that between 15-20% of people have some degree of Dyslexia.
So what does all of this mean, and what does it have to do with Secret Stories?
At one of the first trainings I took regarding the Orton-Gillingham approach, the trainer explained dyslexia like this—
“Imagine comparing a page of text to a brick wall. An efficient reader can see the mortar in between each brick (letter sound) and the different color variations that each brick possesses (the possibilities of letter sounds). If you were dyslexic, you would know you were looking at a wall, but segmenting each brick would be very difficult.”
Dyslexia can manifest in many ways, but all of these ways come back to students having difficulty reading and spelling (and most often, segmenting words into individual sounds.) Since dyslexia is classified as a neurobiological learning disability, the best way to help dyslexic learners is to utilize instructional methods that are compatible with the way the brains works.
Dyslexia is classified as a learning disability that causes students to struggle with fluency, word recognition, and poor decoding and encoding skills (Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003, p. 2). Seventy plus years of research has shown that the best way to help dyslexic kids learn to read is to employ a multi-sensory, phonics and linguistics based approach to reading instruction that offers continuous feedback.
How to Fast-Track Orton Gillingham Phonics Instruction with Secret Stories®
All of these tenets are compatible with Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories approach, but using the two together (in my opinion) is the best way to help students with dyslexia learn to read well. Secret Stories activates the brain’s earlier-developing social and emotional systems for learning (i.e. the brain’s “back-door”) and provides students with meaningful connections to all of the foundational phonics skills covered in an Orton-Gillingham based curriculum.
Are there differences between Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories®?
When speaking with Katie a few days ago, she shared some of the questions she receives from teachers asking about the differences between the Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories methods, so for those who are interested, I’ve made this handy chart of the two reading/phonics programs/tools.
By applying a brain based approach to reading instruction through the combined use of these two powerful teaching tools, teachers can reach not only dyslexic students, but all students who struggle with learning to read—providing more meaningful (and fun) ways to learn!
For more information about dyslexia, visit The International Dyslexia Association
Guest Post by: Heather MacLeod Vidal— Learning Specialist & Curriculum Writer for Treetops Educational Interventions, St. Petersburg, Florida
Lyon, G.R., Shaywitz, S.E., & Shaywitz, B.A. (2003). Defining dyslexia, comorbidity, teachers’ knowledge of language and reading. Annals of Dyslexia, 53, 1-14.
I am so grateful to Heather for taking the time to share her insight and expertise! If you have any questions or comments for Heather, you can leave them in the comments below and she or I would be happy to answer them.
Learn the “Secrets” About Orton-Gillingham Phonics Instruction
Yay! Look at me!! I’m actually setting a new record with TWO blogs in two weeks! Although I guess I’m kind of cheating with this one, as I didn’t write it myself! Instead, I found an expert in Secret Stories® and Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction to write it for me…. all except for this beginning part and the end! :-).
I had actually wanted to get this posted sooner, as I get so many questions about whether or not Secret Stories® can be used with Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction, and if so, how.
If you’re familiar with or already use Secret Stories®, then you know that it is not a phonics program, but the brain based “gas” that makes your existing reading/phonics instruction go! The Secrets are more like steroids that pump-up your existing reading curriculum and/or phonics program to make the learning go “warp-speed!” Secret Stories® isn’t more reading instruction, just better, as the Secrets are always there…. always teaching, and always ready for immediate use! (This was the focus of my previous email, which if you missed, you can read here.)
Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction, like Secret Stories®, is a multi-sensory approach to reading. I love seeing the two paired together, as they are a reading “dream-team!” They compliment each other beautifully, with Secret Stories® fast-tracking learner access to “high-leverage” phonics skills that can otherwise take years to acquire, and Orton-Gillingham providing an optimal reading and writing “playground” on which kids can use them!
But rather than me trying to explain, let me introduce you to Heather, a learning specialist and curriculum writer from St. Petersburg, Florida, who is an expert in Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction. She has been using OG in conjunction with Secret Stories® for years, and has some valuable insight and ideas to share!
Hey all, and greetings from sunny Florida!
I am so excited to write a guest post for Katie because I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Secret Stories. You see, I work as a reading specialist in a fabulous school in St. Petersburg Florida, and I actually write my own Orton-Gillingham phonics-based curriculum to help meet the needs of my kiddos.
For those of you that aren’t familiar, Orton-Gillingham is a multi-sensory approach proven to work with students struggling with reading, writing, and spelling. It is primarily suggested for students diagnosed with Dyslexia (which some numbers put at 17% of the population!). Here’s the thing though….sometimes, working with the same approach every day can get a little bit stale for students. This is where Secret Stories comes in!
As a reading specialist, I have the amazing luxury of seeing students in a one-on-one environment, so I scaffold all of my lessons for each student. The amazing thing that I have found about Secret Stories is that I can jump around and hit the Secrets as they align with my Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction lesson plans.
This means that when we cover open syllables, I don’t have to teach “vowel y” anymore. Now my students know the Secret Story about Sneaky Y®, the “sneaky cape stealer of e and i!”
We act it out with pillowcases that have Sneaky Y’s with /E/ and /I/ felt letters glued to them. My students can get into the role by simply clothes-pinning the correct cape to their shirt as they read a given word.
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® tells any vowel that’s one letter away, “You Say Your Name!”
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!”
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.”
Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction can (and in my opinion should) be used with Secret Stories brain based phonics stories in order to help build the neural pathways necessary for learning phonics skills. I am so glad I found the Secret!
If you are interested in more on how Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction works with Secret Stories, I will be doing another post on this topic for Katie soon, so stay tuned!
Guest Post by:
Heather MacLeod Vidal
Learning Specialist/ Curriculum Writer for Treetops Educational Interventions
St Petersburg, FL
I want to thank Heather for taking the time to share this, as I think it’s great information for all those wondering if and how Secret Stories® and Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction could be used together. And as Heather mentioned, I will be sharing two more posts on this topic that Heather has written for my blog, which should be posted there within the week.
And if you would like to read more about Secret Stories®, I would invite you to check out this recently published article published in the Arkansas Reading Journal, which you can download here. I am excited to say that I will be one of the keynote speakers at the Arkansas Stage Reading Conference this October! It’s an absolutely phenomenal conference and one that’s definitely worth traveling to, even if you live outside the state.
Until Next Time,
PS If you didn’t know about the two NEW products releases this summer (or if you haven’t checked your Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter accounts all summer!) you can check them out here! The “Decorative Squares” Posters are sold separately as well as in a Secret Stories Classroom Kit, and the new phonics Flash Cards have the Secret Stories® pictures on one side and the abridged story on the back!
|“We had fun learning the Secret Stories.
Can you write (more) stories? My favorite is TH!”
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!
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.)
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.
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!
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.
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!
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!
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.
|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!
-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..)
-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!
|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?”
-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® “I tries E on for Size”|
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® ER, IR, UR|
-stle (as in: wrestle, castle, jostle, listless, etc…)
Reading Hard Words Can Be Easy, If You Know the “Secrets”
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!)
|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!
|Until Next Time,
How To Teach Exceptions to Phonics Rules
Learn More About
Because doctors know that the plague is the least likely cause of your symptoms and that the flu is the most likely, they will probably go with the flu first, and then work their way through the alternative options, as needed.
As medicine is not an exact science, doctors must often work through a series of options to determine what treatment will be most effective with their patients. They make these decisions based on a hierarchy of likelihood to determine what is most likely, next most likely, and least likely to be successful.
Like medicine, the English language is not an exact science, and neither are the phonics rules, as there are many “so-called” exceptions. However, we can “treat” unknown “exception” words in much the same way that doctors treat their patients, and by doing so, a logical, thinking-construct begins to emerge— one that greatly empowers learners and their decision-making when working with unfamiliar text.
First, it’s important to realize that there are only so many different sounds that a letter or letter pattern can make, and their not random, even though they may sometimes appear so. Just like the saying, The apple won’t fall too far from the tree,” letters won’t stray too far from their sounds! For example, you will never see the letter q say “mmm,” or the letter k say “duh,” or the tion pattern say “ing!”
Contrary to popular belief, letters don’t just lose their little ‘letter-minds’ and run amok! All they do (and it’s usually the vowels that do it!) is make sounds that they are perfectly capable of making— but it just might be their next-most likely ones! Watch the video clip below to see what I mean!
When working with patients, doctors must ask themselves, “How many different ways can I look at this? How many different ways can I solve it?” Beginning and struggling readers must also employ this kind of diagnostic thinking when attempting to sound out unknown words, asking themselves, “What else can it be?…. What else could I try?” Engaging in this type of analytical, problem-solving is often referred to as “thinking outside the box,” and the key to doing it effectively is to first know what’s IN the box!
Thinking Outside the Box with “So-Called” Exception Words
This is why knowing the Secrets is so important for beginning and struggling readers, as the Secret Stories® equip them with everything that’s IN the box so that they are more easily able to think outside it— something that working with text demands!
The ou/ow Secret….
Ou & ow play really rough and someone always gets hurt and says— “Oooowww!”
(as in words like: our, round, how, now)
But, flying overhead is Superhero O, who happens to be o & w‘s all-time, favorite superhero, ever!
If ow ever spots Superhero O flying overhead, they stop dead in their tracks, and yell—
“O! O! O!”
…which is why ow can also say O! (It’s “default” sound)
(as in words like: blow, flow, glow, mow)
The Secret (and default sound for ow) makes sounding out most words with this common pattern easy, even for kinders, which means that words like: how, now, about, around, etc, commonly found on sight word need NOT be memorized! As with the Secret, kids can just READ them! Plus, kids can learn the ou/ow Secret in an instant, even if they haven’t mastered all of the individual letter sounds yet, as it still makes sense. Memorizing a sight word however, can take some students forever… especially those with little to no home support, as they are less likely to use it enough to make it stick. And even more importantly, knowing a sight word allows learners to read one word, whereas knowing a Secret empowers them to read and write thousands!
Now let’s consider a word like you.
The ou isn’t doing what it should, according to the Secret. Still, the sound it IS making in the word hasn’t really strayed too far away… at least not so far that a good word doctor couldn’t easily figure it out! And here’s how…
A “Hierarchy of Likelihood” Approach to Decoding (a.k.a. Thinking Outside the Box)
1. First, try the most likely Secret Stories sound for ou (as in house)….. NOPE, it didn’t work!
2. Next, try the individual sounds for the letters o and u ….. BINGO!!! We got the word!!
In this case, we got it on the second try.
Now, had we not struck gold on our first “out-of-the-box” attempt, we could have worked our way further down the list of possible sound options and turned this puzzle into a sort of problem-solving/critical thinking game….
|The OO Secret|
3. Try the sounds of other Secret Stories patterns with o or u, like the Secrets for oo, oi/oy or ous. For example, in the word could, the ou is making the default-sound for oo (as in book) and kids who know the oo Secret might try that sound as one more possible option. And of course, you can also pull out the handy “Head-Bop” Trick in a pinch to figure out those “un-figure-outable” words! (You can read more about this trick here.)
4. It’s the PLAGUE! It requires a specialist! When we’ve exhausted all options and have no more tricks up our sleeve, we must surrender to the word, which means we have to memorize it!
Why Not Just Memorize Tricky Sight Words?
Here’s why— because it is within this “figuring-out,” (a.k.a. analytical/diagnostic thinking) process that true learning lies! Not just learning how to read, but learning how to think! Our brain is a pattern-making machine, and this patterning process of thinking-through all available options is its natural way of doing things. “If not this, then that…” Our brain is continually patterning-out the best available options in everything that we do.
We think, “I’ll park in the front, but if I can’t find a space, I’ll try the back, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try the next lot over. If I can’t find anything there, then I’m giving up and going home, as I’m too tired to walk that far.” We don’t think— “I’ll park in the front, but if I can’t find a space, then I don’t know what I’ll do!” (This is similar to the way in which kids often handle words that are exceptions, which is to throw their hands up in surrender the minute that letters don’t do exactly what they should in a word.)
Seth Godwin, author of Looking for Patterns (Where they don’t Exist! writes,
“Human beings are pattern-making machines. That’s a key to our survival instinct— we seek out patterns and use them to predict the future. Which is great, except when the pattern isn’t there, then our pattern-making machinery is busy picking things out that truly don’t matter.”
The Brain is a Pattern-Making Machine
Our brains are hardwired to look for patterns, and the Secrets are patterns— not abstract letter patterns, but patterns of behavior that are designed to mimic learners’ own behavior. The ability to classify incoming information quickly into categories (based on the patterns we know) means the brain can use easier rules to deal with the new input, which is less stressful than always having to deal with things that haven’t been seen before. Knowing the Secrets equips inexperienced beginning and struggling learners to identify the best course of action when sounding out new words, and not knowing the Secrets means having to say, “It just is… It just does… You just have to remember….” when they can’t read or spell a word.
Another benefit to reading words rather than just memorizing them is that it sparks more optimal brain circuitry, as evidenced by numerous studies, including a recent one by Stanford University Professor, Bruce McCandliss, which you can read more about here.
|Stanford Brain Study on Sight Words Post|
Just to be clear, some words are just better to memorize, as mentioned when discussing the word could, up above. But most are not, especially if they now the Secrets and can easily read them! Consider that every sight word that a learner memorizes is one less opportunity to reinforce their “sounding-out” (decoding) skills that you work so hard to teach, and more importantly, one less opportunity to flex their “critical thinking/problem solving” muscles!
Now before you read any further, watch this video.
It’s easy for teachers to empathize with Ricky’s struggle to read words like: boughs, through, rough, cough and enough. Like many students in our guided reading groups, Ricky diligently attempts to decode what seem to him to be ‘un-decodable’ words and becomes understandably frustrated in the process. Ultimately, Ricky just closes the book and gives up, convinced that the sounds letters make just don’t make sense. Many of our students feel the same way.
How To Think Like a “Word Doctor” to Decode Text
In the same way that a doctor works through various options to heal a patient, we can do the same to “heal” the words that are stumping Ricky…. or at least to help make them more ‘figure-outable!’ ( I know it’s not a word, but I really like it!)
First, we need to know another Secret…
|Click Here to Learn the gh Secret|
The gh Secret
Gh will make different sounds, depending on where they are in line (i.e. in a word)
When they are at the FRONT, they’re glad!
There, they make the hard g sound, saying….
“Gosh, this is Great! We’re going to Get to Go first and Get in before anyone else Goes!”
(ghost, ghoul, ghastly, etc…)
When they are in the MIDDLE, and surrounded by lots of other letters,
they are silent and are too afraid to say anything and make NO SOUND at all
(sight, thought, straight, etc…)
When they are at the END, they’re not at all happy and they always complain.
Here, they make the fff sound, saying….
“This is no ffun! We’re so ffar away it’ll take fforever ffor us to get to the ffront!”
(rough, enough, cough, etc…)
Now let’s play “Word Doctor”….
No problem with the ou as it is doing just what it should (see ou/ow poster up above)
But gh is a different story, as it is not making the sound that it should, which is “fff.” So let’s try one of the only TWO other sounds that it can make, and voila! We got it! The gh is silent! The gh Secret is everything that’s IN the box when it comes to all of the possible sounds that gh can make, making it easy for learners to deduce the next most likely options when it doesn’t do exactly what it should!
Like in the word you (mentioned at the top of the post), ou is not making the sound that it should, but by simply trying the individual sounds for both o and u, we can easily get the word! In this case, ou is making the short u sound. And thankfully, gh is doing exactly what it should when it’s at the end of a word!
Just as with the word rough, ou is not making the sound that it should, but is making one of their individual sounds, instead. This time, it’s the short o sound. And again, the gh is doing exactly what it should.
Once more the ou is not making the sound that it should, but it IS doing the next most likely thing, based on our “hierarchy of likelihood” (way up above at top of post), just as it did in the words you, rough and cough. In this case, it’s making the short u sound. And once again, gh is doing what it should.
Now this one’s a little trickier— bordering between being “fun to figure out” and “just easier to memorize,” I would probably go with the latter, but it is gratifying to know that with a little “out of the box” thinking, we CAN crack this word, should we chose to!
The ou is not making the sound that it should, nor is it making the o or u sound, but just like the word you that was mentioned at the top of this post, it is making the most likely sound of its “cousin” oo … and by cousin, I mean another similar Secret that looks like it could be a possible relative, as it shares a common relative, which is o. (The sound for oo can be seen in the oo poster way up above.)
And then we have the same problem with gh that we had with a couple of the other words up above— nothing that a good word doctor can’t fix, as gh is just being difficult and refusing to talk, as is his prerogative. However, it does require an extra analytical step to crack the word, which may be one too many to make it worthwhile. Thus, it merits the time, energy and space in the brain that’s required memorize.
This video clip shows a group of first graders playing “Word Doctor” and applying some critical analysis and diagnostic thinking to the word light. While they can already read the word, they bothered by the fact that i is bothering to say his name when there Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® in sight!
Patterning IS Thinking
The following excerpt is taken from 12 Design Principles Based on Brain-based Learning Research by Jeffery Lackney, Ph. D.
Pattern making is pleasing to the brain. The brain takes great pleasure in taking random and chaotic information and ordering it. The implications for learning and instruction is that presenting a learner with random and unordered information provides the maximum opportunity for the brain to order this information and form meaningful patterns that will be remembered. Setting up a learning environment in this way mirrors real life that is often random and chaotic.
The brain, when allowed to express its pattern-making behavior, creates coherency and meaning. Learning is best accomplished when the learning activity is connected directly to physical experience. We remember best when facts and skills are embedded in natural, spatial memory, in real-life activity, in experiential learning. We learn by doing. facilitated in an environment of total immersion in a multitude of complex interactive experiences.
Hmmmm…. that sounds a lot like the class in the video!
The Vowels Are the “Heart” of Words
For a quick overview of the Superhero Vowels® and their “short & lazy” sound disguises, watch the video below.
And the last little doctor tool that I want to share before signing off is about the vowels, as they are the most likely culprits when words just won’t sound-out correctly! Vowels are the “eyes, ears, nose and throat” of a word, which is why good word doctors should always check them out first! They offer the best window into what’s most likely wrong. Sometimes it’s an issue with a Secret (as with the words we’ve seen in this post) but other times fixing the problem requires having a few “vowel-fixing” tricks up your sleeve— something that every good word should have!
Learn more word doctor strategies, including, the “Thinking Vowels/Head-Bop” and the “Hungry Thing” to crack tricky vowel sounds here!
|Secret Stories® Classroom Kit (book, posters & CD)|
And if you don’t have the Secret Stories® Classroom Set but would like to get started with the basic “meat and potatoes,” which are the vowels, I would suggest you start with Secrets of the Superhero Vowels Bundle® on TpT. It’s a great place to start! And if you are already using Secret Stories® in your classroom, this digital vowel pack is a super handy supplement, as it offers multiple sizes of the graphics for various uses within the classroom and at home!
|Secret Stories Superhero Vowels® Digital Bundle|
Until Next Time,
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