Note: To make these mats, you must first purchase the Science of Reading Secret Stories® Centers on Teachers Pay Teachers here. (Active Amazon links mentioned in the tutorial below are included in the product.)
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/SOR-BUNDLE.002.jpeg10241024Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2021-08-03 13:19:222021-08-03 17:36:30Orthographic Mapping with Secret Stories® Science of Reading Center Mats
I am the parent of a neurodiverse child, which means that my child’s brain is wired differently. This causes him to think, learn and sometimes behave differently. This catchall phrase, “wired differently,” includes everything from ADHD or learning disabilities (like dyslexia), to children who are gifted or autistic. It’s a term used to describe kids who move through the world in a less typical way.
If you’re like me and have a child whose brain is differently wired, you may have found yourself unexpectedly homeschooling during the pandemic. No sooner had we learned how to navigate special education advocacy, than our focus had to shift to the actual educating. Neither I, my husband, or our children knew for how this was going to go on. I’m not going to lie, it was a steep learning curve for all of us, but it was one we had to climb for my amazingly resilient, curious, anxious and autistic first grade son.
In kindergarten, it became apparent that dyslexia was mixed into our son’s learning profile. An education that began with a team of seven special education teachers, support professionals and trained therapists, was now down to just his father and me, along with my parents, who also live with us. Now, upon finding myself unexpectedly and solely responsible for the monumental task of teaching my struggling reader, I went to the experts. I read, watched, and listened to everything I could for several hours each night. What I found was that several years ago, there had been a “reading war” that no one had won. However, proponents of both sides (Whole Language and Phonics) did appear to have come to a truce, and that truce was known as Balanced Literacy.
Both sides, those advocating “phonics” (decoding letter sounds) and those advocating “whole language” (learning whole words by sight) seemed to make good points, and so in my confusion, I contacted the Education Department at the University of Texas. (Note to Special Needs Parents: Universities offer tons of free resources and training courses as part of their research. I’ve taken the Behavioral Tech certificate training for applied behavioral analysis (ABA), communication training for Speech therapists, and much more all for free. Google search your local university’s Education, Special Education, Child Development, Neuroscience, and Psychology Departmental Studies, which are usually listed on each Department page website.)
The Science of Reading
As it turned out, the University of Texas was doing a study on reading for kids with learning differences. Unfortunately, my son was too young to be eligible. I asked for an exception, but the professor in charge gave me access to his doctoral students to ask questions and find out about the most effective resources, instead. Lost and worried, I scheduled a call and received excellent direction from an amazingly sweet doctoral student in the UT’s Special Education Program. I was advised to evaluate of the effectiveness of any program based on whether it was aligned with the “Science of Reading,” a term I had never heard. So deep into the rabbit hole I went, researching everything I could find…and I’ll save you the weeks and/or months of research by giving you the following terms to speed your search:
Science of Reading
Scarborough’s Reading Rope Simple View of Reading Florida Center for Reading Research National Reading Panel Multisensory Instruction Orton-Gillingham Curriculum Phonemic Awareness Orthographic Mapping
If your child’s brain is wired differently (ASD, ADHD, SPD, dyslexic, etc.) or if they are disabled, then you know that what works for most neurotypical children may not work for yours. The other sad fact is that there are many so-called “cures” and “quick-fixes” being advertised to parents of special needs learners. Most of us have fallen for one or more of these ads for apps, programs, books, diets, supplements etc.., promising speech gains, reading improvement, better focus, reduced meltdowns, and the like. For special needs parents, finding truly effective resources for your child is like finding the proverbial “needle in the haystack.”
After purchasing a few different programs and curriculum, I was running out of patience and money….AND MY KID STILL COULDN’T READ. What’s worse, practicing all of these different programs with him had become a nightmare, and if I’m honest, our relationship was suffering. There is nothing worse for a parent than watching your child struggle and not knowing how to make it better.
In an attempt to find out why nothing I did was working, I started reading what teachers were posting in Facebook groups, like The Science of Reading – What I Should Have Learned in College. Surely, if anyone knows about reading, it’s teachers, right? Time and time again, they suggested the Secret Stories to jump-start reading, especially for beginning and struggling readers. They were very clear that while Secret Stories was only one piece of the reading puzzle, it was an extremely important one—which was giving kids easier access to more of the phonics code, faster.
In fact, the Secret Stories came up so often that I had to find out what it was, and see whether it might be the piece that my child was missing… or, if yet again, it was something that worked only for neurotypical kids. So I found the Secret Stories Facebook Group and watched some of Katie Garner’s conference presentations on YouTube and within 30 minutes, I was hooked. No, not hooked…I was INSPIRED! (Katie is the creator of Secret Stories and she presents at conferences around the world, many of which are posted on YouTube.)
So, I proceeded to watch every YouTube video associated with her name to learn everything that I could, but it still had to pass the “taste” test by the boss—my very intelligent and anxious autistic son. By this point, he’d been through three different reading programs….and lots of tears. After so much failure and anxiety (his and mine), I gave him just a taste of one Secret Story. I told him the “secret” about the letters that were “in love,” which are au/aw. This one that I’d heard Katie tell so many times in the videos I’d watched and the image was also free to download on the website. I presented it just as Katie had explained, telling my son that I had a “big, grown-up Secret about reading,” and I really played it up, copying all of Katie’s acting gold!
“Mom, are there more?”
Now if you’re a parent of a differently wired kiddo, then you know how extremely amazing it is to get your kid’s full attention with anything on the first try…we’re talking out the gate, pure interest! He actually said, “Mom, are there more?” I almost cried, but that wasn’t part of the script, so I held it together. Then cool as a cucumber, I told him that I’d check, but because these were “grown-up” reading Secrets, he may not be big enough yet to learn more, and so I would have to ask the Secret Stories teacher first. ;-)
The rest of the day, we circled the aw/au in every word that we found it, even food labels! Everywhere we saw those letters, we would use the secret to sound-out (decode) the words. The biggest win wasn’t just that my son remembered the phonics sound through the story, but that he was actually able to apply it…. AND enjoy doing it!!!
Excited about this turn of events, I staged my next test, which was to sing The Better Alphabet Song. I had heard Katie explain in the videos that the Better Alphabet isn’t really a song, but a muscle memory exercise that fast-tracks mastery of the individual letters and sounds in 2 weeks to 2 months. Rather than relying on under-developed “higher-level” cognitive processing for skill mastery (which typically takes a year in kinder), the Better Alphabet targets earlier-developing (and more easily accessible) muscle memory pathways (in the lips, tongue and teeth) to connect the letter names to their sounds and take them in fast. My son had already been working on learning the individual letters sounds for years now, so what’s two more months?
So, I set my plan up, telling my son that if we learned the letter sounds with the Better Alphabet, that would surely prove to the “Secret Teacher” that she could trust us with the rest of the Secrets. Honestly, as I’m typing this, I can’t believe it happened, but he BEGGED me to watch/sing it—over and over and over again. One week later, he had all of the individual letters and sounds down pat! And then he immediately started asking me if the teacher had sent the Secrets yet. That was it, I was sold. I ordered the Decorative Squares Kit and I was ready to live, eat and breathe these Secrets! This was what success looked like, and we could both taste it!
(Note: The Decorative Square posters are actually part of the classroom kit, but if you don’t have the wall space to put up all of the big posters, you can get the Parent/Home Bundle instead, as it’s made specifically for home use.)
For perspective, I should share that I actually have two sons, and that my “neurotypical” four year old is just along for the ride, singing and watching the Better Alphabet on video along with his brother. That said, after two weeks, my four year old didn’t just know the letter sounds, he was using them to sound out three letter CVC words (i.e. cat, bit, dog, mom, dad, etc..). My mind was blown! I hadn’t even tried to start teaching him yet, aside from just reading to him. I was ecstatic about BOTH their progress, and now all of us were stalking the mailbox, waiting for our “Top Secret” Secret Stories book!
A “Backdoor” for Learning
Up to this point, I’d accumulated all of the ingredients that I needed to teach my son to read except the Secret Stories. I had Orton-Gillingham SPIRE Curriculum (since Secret Stories is not a “program”), Heggerty (for phonemic awareness, since isolating sounds in words was a particular weakness for my son), Usborne Books (for background knowledge, since kids can’t comprehend what they have no knowledge about), and even some extra “sprinkles” on top in the form of the Magic School Bus Science Club and Usborne Coding for Beginners with SCRATCH. But without the Secret Stories, these ingredients just wouldn’t “bake,” and my kids didn’t want to eat it. Knowing the Secrets gave them access to phonics skills in a way that their brains were ready to hear and understand.
The Secrets bypass the struggle. They are not magic, and Katie is not an actual unicorn (although it feels like she is!) She just uses neuroscience to carve a path for learning to read that goes straight through the brain’s backdoor, bypassing obstacles that many learners face when forced through the traditional “front”—especially those like my son.
As Katie explains in this video clip, the brain develops from back to front—with higher-level, executive functioning/ processing centers taking far longer to develop than the early-developing “feeling” based networks. Like so many kids who are wired differently, my son’s executive functioning (which is what Katie calls the “front door”) is impaired. He struggles with the order of things, multi-step instructions, short term and working memory, auditory processing deficits, knowing left from right, and more. But the Secrets don’t rely on the front door like traditional phonics programs do.
Instead, they bypass executive functioning and attach to already existing frameworks of understanding—the part of his brain that knows how it feels to get hurt, “Owwww!”….
…..that understands why to stick his tongue out at his little brother when he’s being annoying, “Thhhh!”
….and that knows all about Superheroes, and that they are often in-disguise!
The Secrets align letter behavior with kid behavior to make their sounds easily predictable. But here’s the interesting part, my son has a hard time predicting the behaviors of his neurotypical classmates and peers, so how could he predict these complex letter behaviors if they acted the same? The answer is, they don’t. In the Secret Stories, the behaviors are fixed, and this is comforting for him…. au/aw are always in love and say “ahhhhh”…. ou/ow always play rough and get hurt, “owwww!”…. and /th/ never gets along and always stick out their tongues and say, “thhhhhh!”
And for the rare times that the letters don’t behave as expected, there is always a “next most likely” sound option to try, based on the story. It gives him comfort to know that when letters don’t make the sounds they’re supposed to, it’s because there’s a secret in the word,and that it’s the letters that are misbehaving—it’s not because he is wrong or failing. That’s a huge shift for him, and it goes a long way in reducing his anxiety. Now he has a stress-free way to figure out the words.
Just two months into our Secret Stories journey, and my son went from struggling to sound out the word C-A-T, to reading the entire Usborne early reader series. He’s gone from tears and meltdowns at just the sight of a book, to reading an entire early reader to our whole family at the dinner table—WITH PRIDE! Now he’s noticing Secrets in words that are everywhere, and he’s even making up his own, like this one…. “E and X are wonderful friends, and when they are at the front of the line, E loans X his superpower so X can say his name, in words like: exit, exceptional & excellent!”
With each new Secret, his reading and spelling power continues to grow. The Secrets have given him access to the reading code in a way that systematic phonics drills could not. They reframe the structured literacy lessons in our OG program in a fun, multisensory way that he can easily remember. They make words understandable and “figure-out-able,” and he delights in the idea that he’s privy to the “grown-up” reading secrets! And at this point, our whole family is in on the act, with grandma deserving an Oscar for her portrayal of the “Excited Secret Stories Receiver!” ;-)
At the time of this writing, we are now a full FIVE months in, and he continues to amaze me with his progress. After reading the Writing Revolution, I started using stem sentences to reinforce learning other subject areas. For example, Butterflies are amazing because…. Butterflies are amazing so….. Butterflies are amazing but…. and because of all the Secrets he knows, not only can he read the stems, but he can sound out all of the words that he wants to write on his own. He can use the Secret Stories posters independently to find the sounds (for reading) or the phonics spelling patterns (for writing) that he needs.
The ability to work independently is huge. When he was in school, he needed direct supervision and assistance to complete everything: coloring, art, workshops, etc… An adult had to sit with him and help him write every word, as he owned none of the code. Now he owns all of it, and the Secrets are his to play with and use as HE chooses to express his thoughts and ideas. No longer is he just copying random words from a word wall, or waiting for someone else to tell him what to write. That ownership is critical to his academic self-esteem, and it constantly reinforces for him what I knew all along, that HE IS CAPABLE!
His Tools for Reading and Writing
Knowing the Secrets has done so much for him. He uses them to decode new vocabulary words in all of our subject area lessons, including one the life cycle of butterflies.
He uses his them to write birthday cards, and to read his own birthday message written on the sidewalk (He even underlined the Secrets he used to read it!)
He used the them to write about the plan he made for our new garden.
He uses them to advocate for what he wants.
He even uses them to write a love letters to friends that he misses.
And while he loves to use the Secrets to write what he wants, he enjoys building words and practicing spelling with the Secret Stories Digital Stickers. While they can be used digitally, we printed ours out, cut them apart, and then put magnet stickers on the back. BAM! A low-pressure spelling game that he can use to build words without the added pressure of writing. We use these instead of letter tiles for all our spelling activities!
We even used them to make little flip books to reinforce the Secrets and practice decoding words.
Equal Access to ALL of the Phonics Code
Just like a ramp provides access to buildings for those who need it, Secret Stories provides access to reading for kids who need it, making them the most impactful accommodation on any 504 or IEP learning plan. The Secrets gave my son access equal access to the whole phonics code he needed to read and write.
Perhaps I’m a just pessimist, but I used to believe that there was a limit to the gains my son could make, and that even the Secrets would only get him so far. But now, honestly, I know that the sky’s the limit.
If I could go back in time and tell myself just one thing to do on that terrifying day that our school shut down and I became an unexpected homeschooler, it would be to find Katie Garner and the Secret Stories. These were the missing ingredients that my son needed to learn how to read.
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/04/phonics-stickers.jpg20481536Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2021-05-16 18:06:452021-05-17 19:19:35Teaching My “Differently-Wired” Child How to Read
Crystalizing “speech to print” connections for independent reading and writing in a way that even kindergartners can easily understand.
I love watching the kids use our Secret posters on the wall to read and write whatever they want. It’s amazing what our youngest learners can do and how easily they can do it when we just give them the tools they need and let them ‘play!’
Sound Walls, Word Walls and the Science of Reading
The purpose of a sound wall is to clearly represent the connections between speech and print in a way that students can easily understand and use as a source of reference to read and spell words. It is a way to organize and display the different sounds (phonemes) heard in speech and the spelling/phonics patterns (graphemes) that represent them in print.
With advancement of new research on the science of reading, there is a clearer understanding of the roles that phonetics and phonology (i.e. “symbol to sound” relationships) play in beginning reading and spelling. Because learning to speak happens long before learning to read, teaching the connections between the letters on the page and the sounds they represent in speech is critical.
Unlike a word wall, which organizes words in alphabetical order so that students can find and copy them, sound walls are organized by sounds alongside the letter patterns that represent them.
The biggest difference between the two is that word walls give learners access to only a limited number of words, whereas sounds walls empower them with ALL of the phonics “building blocks” needed to read and spell ANY word. However, in order for students to actually USE a sound wall to independently read and spell, the “sound-to-print” connections represented must be obvious and easy to understand—even for a five-year old!
This is exactly what a Secret Stories® sound wall is, as while the Secrets explain the sounds letters make when they get together, the sound posters are what help them remember for independent reading and spelling.
In just one glance, students as young as kindergarten can instantly identify the sounds that the phonics patterns represent, and then use them to read and spell words. Rooted in brain science, Secret Stories® target “universal” social-emotional understanding by connecting letter behavior to kid behavior, making sounds easily predictable — even for kindergartners. The Secret posters are a ready-made sound wall that even that earliest grade learners can independently reference to read, write and spell.
How to Work Smarter, Not Harder
“The Secrets are so versatile and work great with our district-required sound wall. The kids reference the Secret Stories posters constantly to figure out words. The Secrets are the ‘backdoor’ in for sure!”
Secret Stories® Sound Wall Integration with Articulation Mouth Pics, as shared in the Secret Stories® Facebook Group.
“The (mouth picture/articulation) sound walls are proposed as memory supports, reminders to kids about how to articulate the proper phonemes (language sounds) for the proper graphemes (letters and letter combinations). …… as a practical memory aid, they’re weak (more useful for the teacher as a guide to presentation than to the kids as a guide to reading words).
I guess the idea would be that when a student comes to a challenging word, he/she could go to the word wall, find the right combination of graphemes and examine the pictures of the articulatory apparatus in the hopes that replicating that shape would lead to proper sounding out of that word.”
“My take? That’s far too cumbersome as a memory aid — about as practically useful as the lists of 3-cueing clues that some teachers provide: If you come to a word you don’t know, look at the picture. If that doesn’t work, read to the end of the sentence….. The problem is that these steps are neither much like real reading nor practical as efficient scaffolds. Memory aids need to be easy to access or people just don’t use them.” —Dr. Tim Shanahan
“Across various studies (Ehri, 2014; Ehri, Deffner, & Wilce, 1984; McNamara, 2012; Schmidman & Ehri, 2010) it has been found that such embedded mnemonic pictures can reduce the amount of repetition needed for kids to learn the letters and sounds, with less confusion, better long-term memory, and greater ability to transfer or apply this knowledge in reading and spelling.
If one relies on data – rather than reasoning – the answer is kind of a no-brainer — it is a good idea to use embedded mnemonics. It looks like, at least with regard to this feature, your previous program was better than the new one.”
“When it comes to teaching letters and sounds, no question about it, use embedded mnemonics. They work.” —Dr. Tim Shanahan
Targeting “Backdoor” Routes for Accelerated Learning
Aligning Phonics Skills with “Universal” Frameworks of Experience and Understanding
While the Secret Stories® posters on their own are an ideal sound wall, they can also be used in-tandem with any existing sound wall or reading/phonics anchor charts, helping to simplify and streamline the sound-symbol connections. This is because the Secrets align with what kids already know, providing a faster and more efficient route for learners.
…..rather than relying on “underdeveloped” auditory and cognitive processing centers for skill mastery.
This is especially true for teaching vowel sounds. They can be easily prompted with emotion-based cues that literally “land” learners in the correct sound — as opposed to relying on inherently weak areas for early (and struggling) learners, which include: developmental/cognitive readiness, language processing, auditory discrimination and articulation capability. It’s so much easier and faster to just sneak these skills through the brain’s social-emotional “backdoor” and avoid these learning “landmines” entirely. (The same goes for accelerating mastery of the individual letter-sounds with the Better Alphabet® Song — which uses earlier-developing, muscle memory to fast-track mastery in 2 weeks to 2 months, while at the same time, telling Secrets!)
Likewise, incorporating the Secrets with sound wall displays that use picture cues for words (rather than sounds) is also extremely helpful. For example, the picture of a saw on the card below depicts the sound of the au/aw spelling pattern. The picture of a girl on the card further down below depicts the sound for the er/ir/ur spelling patterns. These “word-based” picture cues are commonly found on most phonics posters and sound wall displays, yet they add extra and unnecessary steps that can be difficult for some learners — especially very young learners and non-native English-speaking (ELL/ESL) learners.
This is because using them requires students to first recognize what the object in the picture is, and second, have the vocabulary to name it. Third, they must understand the alphabetic principle of letters coming together to represent sounds in words. Only then will they be able to properly segment the sounds that they hear (step 4) so as to successfully identify which sound actually corresponds with the letters/ phonics patterns on the card (step 5).
Similar to vowel sound acquisition (above), each of these additional steps rely on inherently weak areas for early (and struggling) readers: developmental readiness, cognitive processing, auditory discrimination, articulation capability, etc..
Additionally, there is the added spelling confusion that can arise for learners when seeing all three sounds — er,ir and ur — alongside the picture of a girl, as only one actually represents the correct spelling of the word girl. Likewise, the same visual confusion would arise with learners seeing both au and aw to represent the sound heard in the word saw.
And then there’s the problem of learners knowing which sound the picture actually represents — the initial, medial or ending sound. This can be especially difficult for beginning readers and ESL students who are often still learning individual letters and sounds and focusing more attention on initial and ending sounds. All of these reasons help to explain why, with traditional reading instruction, it takes 3-4 grade level years before learners acquire the “whole” phonics code needed to read and write.
Fast-Tracking Phonics Pieces of the Reading Puzzle
The pieces of the phonics code are like the pieces of a puzzle. Every piece is important. The more pieces you have, the easier it is to see how those pieces fit together and make sense. The fewer pieces you have, the harder it is to see how they are connected, and the less it makes sense. Not to mention that it’s no fun to play with a puzzle that’s missing half the pieces! Seriously, what would be the point?
Like the pieces of a puzzle, each piece of the phonics code is important. The more pieces kids have, the easier they can put them together and actually use them to read and write — and the more motivated they will be to do it! That’s why it’s actually harder to go slow when teaching phonics for real reading and writing! And with the Secrets, you don’t have to.
Kids need as much of the phonics code as possible, as soon as possible to “power-up” skill-transfer to daily reading and writing — the ideal place to hone them! Only then can learners begin to make sense of text that’s all around them across the instructional day. That’s why it’s critical to hang up ALL of the Secret Stories® posters on Day 1, as this ensures a comprehensive sound wall with access to ALL the code kids need to read and write!
The Secrets work with any existing reading curriculum or phonics program to fast-track more of the code kids NEED to read and write. Taking advantage of early developing, social-emotional centers in the brain, Secret Stories® crystalizes the connections between sound and print to empower beginning readers and writers. t’s a simple formula really….. the more phonics Secrets kids know, the more words they can read and write!
R-controlled vowels are traditionally taught at the end of first grade or beginning of second, but shared as a Secret, kids can have it in the first week of kindergarten!
I started teaching The Better Alphabet™ Song on Day 2 of school in August. I put all of the Secret Stories Posters up on Day 5.
On Day 6 my life changed.
I told a Secret, and from that moment on, my kindergartners wanted to know more and more and more. They were finding those Secrets everywhere! I had a student who entered into our class with no real gusto for learning letters or to read, according to his parents. This student became obsessed with looking for Secrets on the wall, finding those patterns in text, and writing them down. He would literally get a blank piece of paper and copy all of the Secrets he knew from the posters on the wall.
He would ask everyday if we could learn a new Secret, and if he saw any letter patterns in words that were on a Secret poster, watch out! He had to learn it. I would have been impressed had he been the only one, but it was every student in the class! They all wanted to know the Secrets!
Writing is where I began seeing the most notable change. Students were drawing speech bubbles for an animal writing project in late September. Inside the speech bubbles were the words “meow” for cats, “hoot” for owls and “nay” for horses. Those tricky phonics sounds that my students typically did not even hear in words were now being incorporated into their writing using the Secret posters on our wall. They referenced them constantly to read and spell. My students didn’t just “know” the secrets, they were owning them!
In reading, we assess students three times a year using FastBridge to determine which need reading interventions. My students were tested and I did not have one student qualify as needing intervention. The Reading Team was curious and wanted to know more about the Secrets. We’ve just completed the second round of testing, and again, none of my students were in need of intervention help. I have taught kindergarten for 14 years and this has never happened.
My students continue to excel in reading and writing, and I am happy to report that all of my students know 100% of upper and lowercase letters, as well as the sounds associated with each letter symbol, thanks to the Better Alphabet™ Song (even the child who came in knowing no letters and only yelled at me when I met him). And it’s only January!
During parent teacher conferences, the Secrets were a conversation that kept coming up. Parents wanted to let me know how impressed they were that their child already knew about blends and digraphs. They wanted to tell me how often their child comes home and shares the latest Secret. The parents were loving the progress that they were seeing just as much as I was.
Today they earned a celebration, and the idea that my students came up with (on their own) was to eat a popsicle, watch a Curious George Episode, and dress up as a Secret Story.
I am attaching a picture of me as “Mommy E” and a group photo that we took!
You can see a real joy for learning on the faces of these children, who are better because of your passion to make the reading and brain science accessible to teachers, and applying a creativity to make strategies that work!
Angela Wolfe, Kindergarten Teacher
Sound Wall = A Brain Based Phonics “Buffet”
Imagine going to a buffet, only to be told that items would be served one at a time, with the waiter deciding “what” you can have and “when” you can have it. This would effectively turn your buffet into a restaurant, defeating the whole purpose of why you go to a buffet in the first place, which is to take what you need with no waiting! At a restaurant, you’re at the mercy of the waiter or waitress who gets to decide “what” you can have and “when” you can have it.
Reading & Writing Across the Entire Instructional Day
Text is everywhere, which means so are Secrets! With a Secret Stories® Sound Wall, students have access to whatever they need to read and spell words across the instructional day. That means that kindergarten and first grade students don’t have to memorize all of the sight words with phonics patterns in them they haven’t been taught. Instead, they can learn the Secrets they need to easily decode them, regardless of which grade level scope and sequence they’re “supposed” to be on!
And with virtual learning, kids need access to the Secrets/ Sound Wall outside the physical classroom — wherever and whenever they are reading and writing. The Porta-Pics are an easy and inexpensive “portable” sound wall that kids can reference at home or anywhere outside of the regular classroom or resource classroom.
Prompting the “Need to Know” for Learner-Driven Instruction
Secrets make things important to kids, fostering a “need to know” for prioritized learning and marking information for memory in the brain. Secret Stories® transform the phonics skills kids have to learn into “secrets” they want to know! And the more they know, the more they want to know….and they’re all on the Secret Stories® Sound Wall, just waiting to be discovered!
Secrets are like the piece of cake on a buffet that you don’t know you want until you see it! That’s why they should ALL be up on Day 1!
I know if you are reading this, you are probably a teacher of older students, or a parent of a struggling reader who has been told that their child “can’t read.”
If that’s the case, you are probably reading this late at night, having wrung your hands, scratched your head, and said your prayers….while continuing to search for answers. I know this because I have been you.
I never thought about becoming a Reading Specialist at any point in my college career. I started reading when I was three, so OBVIOUSLY I knew everything about reading, right? Nope, not even close.
My second year of teaching, I was plunked into a Title I Intervention position in a K-8 school. I had cruised through “intervention” with my K-2 students, as at that age, they absorb pretty much everything. My work with struggling readers at the upper grade levels, many of whom were struggling with dyslexia, was an entirely different story.
As soon as I began working with 3rd-8th grade struggling readers, I realized there was SO MUCH that I didn’t understand. I wanted to help them, but had no idea where to start, as many were just too far behind. It was at this time that I began working on my Master’s Degree in Special Education, as solving this problem would require more knowledge and tools than I currently possessed, and I was determined to help these kids!
When I had initially started working with struggling readers at the upper grade levels, my first reaction was to blame every teacher that they had ever encountered in earlier grades. How could a sixth grader in a regular education classroom be reading at SECOND grade level?
Being in a small school at the time, I got to know each of those teachers. Every one of them had been frustrated with the same children—not knowing how to help them, but trying to do their best. They simply didn’t know how to get there.
It was then that I started down the path of blaming parents, society, and culture in general. That’s a bleak place to be. This disposition didn’t last long, as soon I had my own son—who in first grade had decided that he would rather cut holes in his shirt rather than learn how to read. He was interested only in things that had wheels or made noise—neither of which applied to the average book. And so, his “go-to” reading material was anything with “schematics” (think assembly instructions for a bookshelf with diagrams for pictures!)…at six years old!
While my son may have been perfectly fine with the “Encyclopedia of Cars” and “Build Your Own Bookshelf” directions, I had to have something to “read” with him that was at least a little more enjoyable. Thank God for the “Look Inside/See Inside” books, as they were our regular bedtime “stories.”
Accelerated Reading Intervention
After finishing my master’s degree and becoming a Reading Specialist, I understood the importance of beginning grade level screeners and various other forms of assessments used to identify vulnerable learners so as to catch them before they fall. Research shows that the ability to identify all of the letters and sounds by Halloween in kindergarten is a primary predictor of later student reading success. Yet, for many at-risk, or vulnerable learners, achieving letter sound skill mastery often extends well beyond the kindergarten year and into first grade—delaying instruction of critical first grade phonics skills.
While spending the entire kindergarten year mastering individual letters and sounds is not an uncommon practice in today’s classrooms, it is unnecessary, as brain science offers preferred pathways for learning that fast-track individual letter sound instruction. The Better Alphabet Song is a perfect example of how easy it can be to put science into practice, as it targets earlier-developing, muscle memory pathways for faster skill acquisition, rather than relying on under-developed, executive processing centers.
And this is only the beginning, as we can use brain science like a road map to “cheat the brain” into learning more complex, phonics skills as well! For example, the Secret about the Babysitter Vowels® makes sounding-out longer, multi-syllabic words easy, as it provides an instant “compass” to know whether vowels will be long or short. Watch the clip below to see how the Mommy E® strategy extends into higher-level Babysitter Vowels®.
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!
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 email@example.com
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/brain-puzzle-pidce.jpg12661040Anna Hardwayhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngAnna Hardway2019-04-27 12:45:392020-04-15 13:39:01Unlocking the Phonics Code for Older Readers
So what is dyslexia? Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is often genetic, and that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language. Dyslexic learners find it difficult to recognize and process letters and sounds accurately and automatically, and can also struggle with paired associate memory and/or orthographic memory. (For more on dyslexia, what it is, and what it isn’t, click here.) It’s a neurological, often genetic disorder that makes
Some researchers in the field, however, believe that dyslexia is not always organic, but the result of ineffective reading instruction and a lack of phonics skill acquisition at the earliest grade levels. Regardless, the specific learning challenges, deficits and observed behaviors are very similar, as is the need for instruction to circumvent the inherent areas of learner-weakness and tap into alternative areas of strength. And these learners have many areas of strength! Dyslexia does not affect intelligence, as most students with dyslexia are of average or even above-average intelligence.
Dyslexic children, as well as dyslexic adults, are often the quintessential “backdoor” learners—looking for effective “work-arounds” to solve problems, and often exhibiting high levels of creativity in doing so. For dyslexics, the “front” door might be closed, but the backdoor is WIDE open!
They may not move from “A” to “B” to “C” as per the traditional learning path, but they somehow find a way….even if it means having to skip “B” entirely, circle “F” twice, and then work they way back around to “C!” Traveling these unconventional paths allows them to observe more, think differently, be creative and build tenacity.
The answers lie in the brain science.
(Before reading on, learn more about “backdoor” skill-access for struggling readers, here.)
Reading Intervention for Dyslexic Learners
Beth Guadagni M.A., a Learning Specialist at The Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education, explains how dyslexic children can make great progress with reading when they’re given appropriate, intensive, and high quality intervention early. The following is an excerpt from her original post, which can be found here.
There are lots of good interventions that can be very effective in improving reading decoding. Remember that early intervention is critical, so if you suspect your child may have real reading problems, it’s best to consult an expert without delay.
Multi-sensory instruction and teaching techniques that recruit a child’s sense of touch, as well as their eyes and ears, is one of the most effective methods for teaching letter-sound pairings to children with weak phonemic awareness or paired associate memory. Similarly, kids with weak orthographic memory may respond better to multi-sensory methods, like tracing sight words on a textured surface, rather than simply drilling with flashcards. Multi-sensory teaching allows students to absorb information through different channels and can be extremely effective. For very intensive multi-sensory instruction, look for specialists or centers that teach using Orton-Gillingham or Linda Mood-Bell’s curricula.
For teachers and parents, one of our favorite interventions for students who struggle with weak paired associate memories (i.e. difficulty connecting the phonics patterns to their sounds) is Secret Storiesby Katie Garner. It pairs pictures of letters and letter combinations with stories that explain “why” the letters make the sounds they do. Our favorite is the explanation of the au/aw sound (They have crushes on each other, so whenever they’re together, they say, “Awww!”). This clever technique helps kids understand the “logic” behind letter sounds, instead of simply having to memorize information. Context, especially when it’s fun and already familiar, really help kids with poor paired associate memory learn quickly.
Many children with decoding difficulties, regardless of the cause, can comprehend more sophisticated material than they are able to read independently. It is important to give these students access to reading material that is at their intellectual level. Reading aloud while the child follows along is one way to do this. It also provides the added benefit of repeated exposures to words paired with correct pronunciation. Over time, this will help strengthen their weak paired associate or orthographic memories and improve their skills. For busy parents or kids who want a bit more independence, audiobooks are fantastic for kids to practice this on their own, as long as they can follow along with the text as they are listening.
Finally, practice, practice, practice! Accurate, fluent reading is the result of hundreds of hours spent with written words, so as to become automatic with letter patterns. We encourage lots of practice reading at home, but with a few cautionary notes. First, be aware that continued drilling without results can be very frustrating for your child, and may even be futile if the method he’s using isn’t one that’s best for his kind of mind. If he’s reading as often as his classmates, but falling further and further behind, ask his teacher or a reading specialist what other techniques he should try. Secondly, remember that reading, particularly for younger kids, should be a fun! Try to strike a balance: kids should not forgo reading because it’s hard, but reading shouldn’t feel like a grueling obligation either.
I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Elisheva Schwartz on the Dyslexia Quest Podcast (links to broadcasts, below). I first became aware of this popular podcast on Dyslexia after listening to an interview with Harvard-trained neuroscientist and researcher, Dr. Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang, whose research on learning and the brain is incorporated into the Secret Stories “backdoor” approach to accelerate phonics for reading and writing.
In the two-part podcast interview with Elisheva shared below, we discuss learning issues that are associated with dyslexia, and why the Secret Stories® are often referred to as “Phonics for Dyslexics”. To play, click the arrow under each of the descriptions, and for additional podcasts on the topic, visit www.elishevaschwartz.com. You can also access Secret Stories® free video library by subscribing on YouTube.
The Dyslexic Brain: A Backdoor Approach to Phonics for Reading – Pt. 1
CLICK THE ARROW (ON LEFT) TO PLAY PT. 1
The Dyslexic Brain: A Backdoor Approach to Phonics for Reading – Pt. 2
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.
Learn more about how Secret Stories® can help struggling readers access critical phonics skills for reading and writing.
Learn the “secret” phonics stories that go with the pictures here!
…..and never miss a Secret (or a Secret-freebie surprise!) by subscribing to the Secret email blast here!
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/dyslexia-phonics-au-aw-paired-associate-memory-2.jpeg7681024Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2019-03-20 22:17:202020-03-03 14:25:14Tricking the Dyslexic Brain Into Reading: A Backdoor Approach to Phonics
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 😊
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!
PS And YAY! I actually did it!!! I gave you a “heads-up” more than an hour in advance! Lol ;-)
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/secret-stories-phonics-program-converstation-station-6.jpg19112048Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2018-12-15 18:53:022020-03-03 14:25:47“Secret Sundays” with Katie Garner LIVE on YouTube 5pm EST | Brain-Based Phonics for Accelerated Reading and Writing
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.”
A Guest Post by Heather Vidal, Orton-Gillingham Reading Specialist
Katie has graciously invited me to share more about what dyslexia is (and isn’t!) and why the Secret Stories® method works within a curriculum for dyslexic students. You can read my other post here) As a reading specialist, private tutor and curriculum developer who works specifically with dyslexic students learning to read, I often get questions about what dyslexia is, but it’s actually easier to explain what Dyslexia is not.
What Dyslexia Is NOT
Dyslexia does not mean that students read entire words or sentences backwards.
While some dyslexic students do flip letters and transverse words, this is not the only sign of dyslexia, and some dyslexic students don’t do this at all.
Using Secret Stories® to Fast-Track Orton Gillingham Instruction
So what does all this have to do with Secret Stories®?
At one of the first trainings I took regarding the Orton-Gillingham approach, the trainer explained dyslexia like this—
“Imagine comparing a page of text to a brick wall. An efficient reader can see the mortar in between each brick (letter sound) and the different color variations that each brick possesses (the possibilities of letter sounds). If you were dyslexic, you would know you were looking at a wall, but segmenting each brick would be very difficult.”
Dyslexia can manifest in many ways, but all of these ways come back to students having difficulty reading and spelling (and most often, segmenting words into individual sounds.) Since dyslexia is classified as a neurobiological learning disability, the best way to help dyslexic learners is to utilize instructional methods that are compatible with the way the brains works.
Dyslexia is classified as a learning disability that causes students to struggle with fluency, word recognition, and poor decoding and encoding skills (Lyon, Shaywitz, & Shaywitz, 2003, p. 2). Seventy plus years of research has shown that the best way to help dyslexic kids learn to read is to employ a multi-sensory, phonics and linguistics based approach to reading instruction that offers continuous feedback.
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.
Hopefully 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!
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.
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/IMG_8148.jpg8961014Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2018-08-21 09:15:062021-01-06 18:53:21What Dyslexia Isn’t….and How to “Fast-Track” Orton-Gillingham Phonics Instruction with Secret Stories®
Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction, like Secret Stories®, is a multi-sensory approach to reading. I love seeing the two paired together, as they are a reading “dream-team!” They compliment each other beautifully, with Secret Stories® fast-tracking learner access to “high-leverage” phonics skills that can otherwise take years to acquire; and Orton-Gillingham providing an optimal reading and writing “playground” on which kids can use them! (This combination is especially effective with dyslexic learners and other struggling readers.)
Heather MacLeod Vidal, a learning specialist and curriculum writer from St. Petersburg, Florida, is an expert in Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction, and has been incorporating Secret Stories® into her OG lessons for years. I’ve asked her to share her insight and ideas here.
Orton-Gillingham and Secret Stories®
Greetings from sunny Florida!
I am so excited to write a guest post for Katie because I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Secret Stories. You see, I work as a reading specialist in a fabulous school in St. Petersburg Florida, and I actually write my own Orton-Gillingham phonics-based curriculum to help meet the needs of my kiddos.
For those of you that aren’t familiar, Orton-Gillingham is a multi-sensory approach proven to work with students struggling with reading, writing, and spelling. It is primarily suggested for students diagnosed with Dyslexia (which some numbers put at 17% of the population!). Here’s the thing though….sometimes, working with the same approach every day can get a little bit stale for students. This is where Secret Stories comes in!
As a reading specialist, I have the amazing luxury of seeing students in a one-on-one environment, so I scaffold all of my lessons for each student. The amazing thing that I have found about Secret Stories is that I can jump around and hit the Secrets as they align with my Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction lesson plans.
This means that when we cover open syllables, I don’t have to teach “vowel y” anymore. Now my students know the Secret Story about Sneaky Y®, the “sneaky cape stealer of e and i!”
We act it out with pillowcases that have Sneaky Y® with /e/ and /i/ felt letters glued to them. My students can get into the role by simply clothes-pinning the correct cape to their shirt as they read a given word.
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!” (And to crack those tricky, multi-syllabic words, watch this video to learn the Secret Stories Babysitter Vowels® trick!)
You see, this type of multi-sensory activity is precisely what Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction is all about. Without getting too technical, in order to build connections (known as “synapsis”) in the brain, we need to provide students with meaningful ways to remember a given skill. The more meaningful, the more connections, and the more the learning will “stick!”
You can repeat yourself 50 times, but if it is not in a way that is meaningful to your student, they still might not remember it! I promise you, your dyslexic students are much more likely to remember a skill if they have something special to connect it to!
Here’s the thing though, Secret Stories and OG do not have to be paced side by side. This year at my school, something really special started happening. One classroom teacher started using Secret Stories, and I saw glimpses of understanding in those students before having the Orton-Gilligham phonics instruction.
One of my kindergarteners who is severely dyslexic came to me on the day that I was planning to teach the /th/ rule in with Orton-Gillingham, and something amazing happened. She noticed that I had written several /th/ words on the whiteboard. I kid you not, my student said, “T and h are so rude to each other! They are always sticking their tongues out at each other!”
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 to have found the Secret!
If you are interested in more on how Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction works with Secret Stories, I will be doing another post on this topic for Katie soon, so stay tuned!
Guest Post by: Heather MacLeod Vidal Learning Specialist/ Curriculum Writer for Treetops Educational Interventions St Petersburg, FL
I want to thank Heather for taking the time to share this, as I think it’s great information for all those wondering if and how Secret Stories® and Orton-Gillingham phonics instruction could be used together. And as Heather mentioned, I will be sharing two more posts on this topic that Heather has written for my blog, which should be posted there within the week.
And if you would like to read more about Secret Stories®, I would invite you to check out this recently published article published in the Arkansas Reading Journal, which you can download here. I am excited to be one of the keynote speakers at the Arkansas Reading Conference this October.
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 prettyhorses 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!
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!”
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 moresight 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 sounds, blends 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 usingSecret Stories®to underscore your existing reading curriculum and instruction, then the merry-go-round isalreadyspinning around in your classroom, though you probably didn’t even notice it.
Every time you tell or retell aSecret, you are giving students another opportunity to jump on!
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.
Using Secret Stories® to underscore existing core reading instruction makes it impossible foranyoneto 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 acrossall content areas and throughout theentire instructional day.
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!
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 texthibernating or migration.
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!
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)
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 #SecretStoriesReadingand#BrainRead in your post so that I see it.
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/bus.jpg1022789Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2018-03-13 17:18:002021-05-21 20:25:48Skip the Phonics Bus and Catch the Merry-Go-Round!
Teaching Sight Words— Never Make Kids MEMORIZE Words They Can READ!
“The Secret Stories are the life-blood of our classroom. They are always in view, always in our whole and small group conversations. We couldn’t read words without them. They are our best friends. They are always there, always teaching. They are the tools that students will take with them to the next grade!” —Tara Settle/1st Grade Teacher
Kids who know the Secrets understand why letters behave the way they do when they get together. For example, they know that the Superhero Vowels® have a power that no other letter in the alphabet has—they can “SAY THEIR NAMES!” (like /i/ in hike or /a/ in hate). But like all superheroes who don’t want to be recognized, they don’t want to be recognized, and so they will use “short and lazy” sound disguises to keep from being noticed (like /i/ in hit or /a/ in hat). To learn more about the Superhero Vowel® Secrets, check out this vlog post on the Secret Stories® Youtube Channel.
The Superhero Vowels® and their “Short & Lazy” Sound Disguises
Once kids know the Secrets about the Superhero Vowels®, they’ll need to know what “triggers” them to be long or short. That means letting them in on a couple of other “Secrets” about Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowel® which are so easy you can teach them to kindergartners! You can learn about both in the video below.
So what about words in which vowels don’t make the sounds that they should?
Like those pesky, high-frequency, one syllable sight words: of, was, come, love, what, some, want, etc… Well thanks to Tara Settle and her brilliant “Head-Bop/Thinking Vowels” trick, we can become even better Word Doctors, while at the same time, clear out some of the most frequent offenders that would otherwise have to be sentenced to Word Jail! (Note that in the “Word Jail” video was made before Tara had shared her trick with me, and so you will see many of the above word-offenders serving out their time!)
How to Decode “Undecodable” Words (So Kids Don’t Have to Memorize Them!)
Sometimes a vowel just can’t make up his mind which sound to make… “Should I be long?… Should I be short?…. I just can’t make up my mind— Uhhhhhhhhhhh?” (And here is where you give yourself a big BOP ON THE HEAD while making the “uhhhhh” sound, while prompting the kids to do the same!)
This handy “action-based” cue easily prompts kids to try the schwa, or “uhhh,” which is the MOST LIKELY sound-alternative for vowels that “stray” from their original sounds, allowing them to now easily decode: of, was, some, come, done, want, from, love, nothing, brother, again, around, among, another, something, etc… (For more tricks like this, as well as how to know when words really do have to be sentenced to jail time, you can check out this post.)
So here’s the trick for helping kids easily decode those seemingly “undecodable” words!
What I love about this trick is the power that it gives learners over text, minimizing the need to memorize words that can now be read! Plus, look at how many words can now be “paroled” from Word Jail!
Thanks to Tara and her student word doctors who who identified this tricky vowel-shifting pattern, kids all across the country now have a lot less sight words to memorize!
Thinking Outside the Box is Easy Once Kids Know What’s In It
It is also important to keep in mind when working with your own student word doctors, that thinking outside the box is much easier when you know what’s IN it! And that’s what a Secret is—everything that’s “in the box” when it comes to a letter/phonics pattern and the sounds it can make. For more on how to get kids to think outside the box when working their way through unfamiliar text, watch the video clip below.
For more on “teaching the READER, not teaching the reading,” as well as insight into the brain on memorizing sight words vs. decoding text, click here or on the pictures below!
You can also check out Tara’s most recent post for more on how she doesn’t teach sight words, here!
Join in the discussion in the new Facebook Group, and check out Tara’s original post, or her awesome blog with lots of oodles of ALL FREE resources for teachers! It’s called Settle On In and you can find it here.
Here’s Tara with not one, but TWO sets of the new flashcards!