Helping Older Readers Who Struggle

A Guest Post by Anna Hardway, M. Ed.

older struggling readers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accelerated Reading Intervention

After finishing my master’s degree and becoming a Reading Specialist, I understood the importance of beginning grade level screeners and various other forms of assessments used to identify vulnerable learners so as to catch them before they fall. Research shows that the ability to identify all of the letters and sounds by Halloween in kindergarten is a primary predictor of later student reading success (Allington, 2016). Yet, for many at-risk, or vulnerable learners, achieving letter sound skill mastery often extends well beyond the kindergarten year and into first gradedelaying instruction of critical first grade phonics skills.

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

And this is only the beginning, as we can use brain science like a road map to “cheat the brain” into learning more complex, phonics skills as well!

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

The Science of Reading and the Brain

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

How the Brain Learns to Read

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

phonics stories for reading

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

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

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

teaching older struggling readers


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

Dyslexia, Reading, Phonics & the Brain

Decoding in Reading - The Dyslexic Brain

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin, 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. (For more on dyslexia, what it is, and what it isn’t, click here.)

Some researchers in the field, however, believe that dyslexia is not always organic, but can also result from ineffective reading instruction and lack of phonics skill acquisition at the earliest grade levels. Regardless, the specific learning challenges, deficits and observed behaviors are the same, as is the need to circumvent areas of inherent weakness and tap into alternative areas of strength. And there are many areas of strength.

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

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

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

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

Phonics for Dyslexia

Below is my interview with Elisheva Schwartz, of the Dyslexia Quest Podcast. I became aware of Dyslexia Quest after listening to a podcast interview with Harvard-trained neuroscientist and researcher, Dr. Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang, whose research on learning and the brain is incorporated into Secret Stories® backdoor approach to fast-tracking phonics for reading and writing.

The two-part podcast interview with Elisheva is below. In them, we discuss learning issues that are associated with dyslexia, and why the Secret Stories® are often referred to as “Phonics for Dyslexics”.  To play, click the arrow under each of the descriptions, and for additional podcasts on the topic, visit www.elishevaschwartz.com.


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

Phonics for Dyslexics

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

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

Phonics for Dyslexia

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

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

How I Helped My Dyslexic Child Learn to Read

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

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

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

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

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

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

phonics for dyslexia


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

Phonics Stories - TH

Phonics Stories for Reading

 

phonics stories

phonics stories for reading

 

Phonics Stories

Learn the “secret” phonics stories that go with the pictures here!


 

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

Secret Sundays - Episode 2

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

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

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

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

Posted by Secret Stories- Cracking the Reading/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 ;-)

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.

Dyslexic Brain

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

So with that said, here’s Heather…


Hey All!
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:

Dyslexic Brain

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

Diagnosing Dyslexia

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.”

Signs of DyslexiaDyslexia 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.

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

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

For more information about dyslexia, visit The International Dyslexia Association

Guest Post by:  Heather MacLeod Vidal— Learning Specialist & Curriculum Writer for Treetops Educational Interventions, St. Petersburg, Florida

Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories Phonics

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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


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

Orton Gillingham and Secret Stories Phonics Method

Learn the “Secrets” About Orton-Gillingham Phonics Instruction

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

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

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

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

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


Hey all, and greetings from sunny Florida!

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

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

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

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

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Flash Card

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Flash Card

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

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

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Capes

Sneaky Y® Capes

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

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

Secret Stories® Mommy E® Phonics Flash Card

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

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

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

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

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

The NEW Secret Stories® Decorative Phonics Posters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Orton Gillingham Phonics Instruction

Orton Gillingham Phonics Instruction Curriculum

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


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

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

Until Next Time,
Katie Garner

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

Secret Stories Decorative Phonics Posters

Secret Stories® Phonics Posters “Decorative Squares”

Secret Stories Phonics Flash Cards

Secret Stories® Phonics Flashcards

 

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

 

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

 


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

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

How to Be a Good Word Doctor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Stories Phonics for Teaching Sight Words

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

NEW Secret Stories Phonics Flashcards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Secret Stories Phonics Posters Anchor Posters

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“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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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 :-)