As teachers, there are so many ideas and resources being thrown at us. It can be very overwhelming trying to figure out which ones work, and which ones aren’t worth our time. New curriculums, new programs, new teacher websites and apps, all promising to be the “magic tool” that’s missing. It’s frustrating to waste time and money on new websites and apps, only to find out that either kids don’t like them or that they’re ineffective.
During the 2020 COVID school closures, I was struggling to find a way to teach my students virtually. Through one of the second grade Facebook groups, I came across Boom Cards. Though I found the platform a bit confusing at first, I quickly grew to love it, and I eventually began making Boom Cards of my own. During this time, I also decided to obtain my graduate degree in Curriculum and Instruction. Through my coursework, I realized that Boom Cards were not only fun, but backed by Behavioral Learning Theory.
While reading and completing coursework on the different learning theories, I wrote this in one of my papers,
When it comes to teaching our diverse students, there is no one size fits all learning theory. Teachers find, trim, and arrange bits and pieces of many different learning theories to craft the beautiful mosaic of student learning. In any one lesson, it is typical for a teacher to have elements from cognitivism, behaviorism, constructivism, and humanism.”
One learning theory that supports the use and effectiveness of using Boom Cards is the Behavioral Learning Theory. When people think of behavioral learning or operant conditioning in the classroom, they typically envision the conditioning of student behavior in regard to discipline and classroom management; however, incorporating behaviorism in the classroom can greatly impact both teaching and learning.
The stimulus-response sequence is a key element of understanding behaviorism… Behavioral learning theory argues that even complex actions can be broken down into the stimulus-response” (Western Governors University, 2021). In the case of Boom Cards, students hear a ding and see a green circle when they have a correct answer and they hear a “whoops” and see a red circle when they have an incorrect answer. Additionally, students must find and correct their error before moving on to the next card.
What I love most about Boom Cards, aside from the immediate feedback students receive, is the repetition! Students need to practice a skill several times to obtain mastery, and Boom offers this repetition, as well as immediate feedback and positive reinforcement.
Repetition and positive reinforcement go hand-in-hand with the behavioral learning theory…Positive reinforcement is key in the behavioral learning theory. Without positive reinforcement, students will quickly abandon their responses because they don’t appear to be working. (Western Governors University, 2021)
Think about it! How many times have your students abandoned their worksheets or other class assignments because they were “too hard,” or because they didn’t know if they were doing it correctly? How often are students completing work that won’t be graded until days later? How often do they practice skills incorrectly, and then have to “unlearn” them later? With Boom Cards, students are actively engaged because they know if they are doing their work correctly or not. They want to hear that ding! They want to feel successful, and when they hear the “Whoops” sound repeatedly, they know they’re doing something wrong. They know they need to ask for help. And for our shy students who won’t ask, we can see on their live report that they are struggling and in need of assistance. This allows us the opportunity to target struggling students and reteach the concepts in small group or “one-on-one” before they fall further behind.
How I Use Boom Cards in My Classroom
I scaffold all of my lessons using the Gradual Release of Responsibility Model. During COVID, I had structured all of my lessons (on Google Slides, Youtube, etc.) as “I do, We do, You do.” Now that we are back in the classroom, I structure my lessons as “I do. We do. You do (together),You do (individually).”
I begin with whole group direct instruction, making sure to build on students’ prior knowledge, and working on a examples together. Next, students work on an activity in partners or small groups. Then they complete their assigned Boom Card deck individually. I will also use Boom Cards to differentiate assignments and fill in learning gaps. I love that Boom Cards “self-grade” so you can look at the live data as students complete each deck. I use this as a daily formative assessment, and will sometimes even use Boom Cards as a summative assessment. The fact that they are SELF-GRADING is the best part, as this has saved me so much time, and truth be told, even given me some of my weekends back!
Below are step-by-step directions for creating a Boom account, as well as purchasing decks and assigning the to students in your classroom. I would also encourage you to check out the video below (and if helpful, please remember to like and subscribe!)
Membership Plans: Free and Paid
The Starter Plan (free):If you are a parent or if you homeschool 5 or less children, this is the plan for you. If you are a teacher that does not need to collect data on students’ progress, but want to give your students Boom Decks for extra practice of a particular skill, you can use the free account and assign “Fast Plays.”
*You will still need to purchase decks separately.
The Essential Plan ($25 year): I recommend this plan for regular classroom teachers on a tight budget, as it’s only $25 per year. The only thing I don’t like about this plan is that you don’t get the “live reports,” only student progress.
The Premium Plan ($40/ year): This is the plan I recommend all teachers get if they can afford it, as it does include the live reports which are so helpful in tracking student progress in “real-time” and targeting students in need of reteaching.
The Publisher Plan ($50/year): If you plan to make Boom Cards for your students (and possibly even sell them) this is the plan you would need. It’s the plan that I have.
Navigating the Boom Store
Below are step by step directions that walk you through how to find, purchase and access your Boom Decks.
When you first log in, this is what it looks like.
Click on “Store” to get started.
In the store, you can search for whatever material you need for your lesson. You can search: Secret Stories, phonics, cvc words, decoding, 3-digit addition, time, etc., and a list of available decks will come up. You can also click the “Find Free” green button to search all of the free decks.
Purchasing Boom Decks
You purchase decks with “points,” choosing from the following options:
200 points is $2.00
375 points is $3.75
and so on….
As you can see in the screenshot of my own Boom Library below, I currently have 1281 points remaining to use. I always purchase the $50 option, as this makes it easier to quickly do the math and decide if a deck is “worth” the cost, as the decks range in price. You can preview the first 4 slides of any deck to see if you like it. Once you own the decks, you own them forever. Just like on Teachers Pay Teachers, you can continue to use them year after year.
Assigning Boom Cards to Students
After you purchase a deck, you can go to your library to find them, and them choose which deck you want to assign to students.
I recommend doing this right before you release students to work independently. The reason for this is that I’ve had a few “over-achievers” try to do Boom Cards before school in the morning before the concept has been taught. It only takes a minute to assign, so if you can wait until school begins or just before the lesson to assign each deck, that works the best.
You can also make folders and store the decks by topic or standard, or in any other way that you wish.
First, click on “Action”
Next, click on “Assign”
Choose which class you want to assign the deck to. (I have my regular second grade class in “class 1” and students that I tutor in “class 2”).
After checking the box to select the class, you can then “x” out of that screen.
Students can then refresh their screens and the assigned deck will appear at the top of their list.
Reading Boom Reports
In addition to the information shown above, you can also get reports for each card so that you can identify common errors being made, or see which cards students struggled with the most.
To do this, just click on “title” when viewing the report.
Then click on “Report by Cards”
Now you can see the cards that had the most incorrect responses.
I hope that this “crash-course” on Boom Learning is helpful, especially to those who may want to use the new Secret Stories® Boom Cards in their classrooms, but were unsure of how to get started.
For more insight into these activities and everything else Secret Stories-related, join the Secret Group on Facebook, and be sure to download all of the free resources in the group file! You can also subscribe to the Secret email for personal notifications delivered directly to your inbox.
Teaching is not a profession for the weak. It is a profession that you have to feel in your bones and your soul. You have to wake up in the morning and know that you are going to make a difference in a child’s life by getting up and going to work.
The dedication and commitment it takes to be a teacher in today’s school system is not like it was when I graduated 32 years ago. School systems are asking more than we can give, yet teachers find ways to keep giving. That is because we know that the best has yet to come. This is why I get up each day and I show up for my students. I know that MY best day of teaching has yet to come. MY best year of teaching has yet to come! I will continue to grow and learn and get better because that is what I do as a teacher. I do what it takes for my students to succeed. I want my retirement year of teaching to be MY best year of teaching!
A guest post by kindergarten teacher, Sheryl Nicholson In this post, Sheryl explains how she began using Secret Stories in the last six weeks of kindergarten following Covid. In her second post, she describes starting with the Secrets from the very beginning of the school year on Day 1.
The Best is Yet to Come
Post-Covid Kindergarten in May In the spring of 2021, after a crazy year of COVID shut-downs, I was preparing my lesson plans for the week and looking for a good YouTube video on blending CVC words because my students were really struggling with this skill, Somehow I clicked on a video of Katie Garner talking about the Secret Stories.
SIX HOURS LATER, I’d binge-watched everything I could get my hands on about the Secret Stories on Katie’s Youtube Channel. In a nutshell, the Secrets are short brain-based stories that explain the sounds letters make when they get together, with posters to help kids remember for independent reading and writing. They make phonics accessible by connecting skills to what kids already know (i.e. having a crush, not getting along, playing rough and getting hurt, being sneaky, listening to your mom or babysitter, etc.).
Everything made so much more sense, including why my students were still struggling with blending simple CVC words. If the only sounds they knew were the ones letters make individually, then CVC words were all they could read, and these words were the least likely to be encountered throughout the day.
That’s because most words we came across contained phonics patterns that we hadn’t learned yet and wouldn’t for at least one or two more grade level years in first and second grade. I was starting to understand why Katie said in the video that it’s actually harder to go slow, especially when we don’t have to.
So with only six weeks left in the school year, I began frantically texting my teammate, and after a little arm-twisting, convinced her to jump in with me and start telling Secrets!
Sound Walls for Independent Reading & Writing
The more I learned about Secret Stories, the more excited I was to get them, and after waiting for what seemed like FOREVER, they came! We immediately laminated the posters and put them all up to make a sound wall that kids could use to help remember the new “secret” sounds they would be learning
I joined the Secret Facebook Group and found so many great ideas from other teachers on how to get started! I even found a cute idea posted in the free group files to create a “secret” cover for the section of my Secret Stories book that contained the Secrets! (There are lots to choose from)
Now we were ready to go!
Granted, we only had about six weeks of school left in the year, but I wanted to see if there was truly “magic” in these Secrets.
Having no clue where to start at the almost END of this school year, I just jumped in. The first “secret” I saw was in our school name, Lovejoy. So, Sneaky Y was the one that we started with, and I made a big deal about it being a grown-up reading “secret” that kids weren’t supposed to know. I even made them go and check the hallway to make sure that no one would hear! Then they all gathered around on the carpet and I told the secret about WHY /y/ was so sneaky, as well as the sounds he could make. THEY ATE IT UP!!!! After that one, we literally blew through the rest of the Secrets! They spotted them everywhere—in books, on the walls, in read alouds, at home…there was no escaping them!
The biggest change I saw was in their writing. They went from almost completely “inventive” spelling to using the secret phonics patterns.
Their confidence just soared with these new phonics tools under their belt. The only downside was the short time we had remaining to use them since our first grade teachers didn’t have them. So before school ended, I made each student a Secret Stories key chain (with the Secret “Take-Home” Tags on Tpt) to review during the summer.
Needless to say, word got around about these things called the “Secrets” and soon the other kindergarten teachers in our district wanted in on the action. At the end of the school year, we found a foundation that awards grants to teachers through a rigorous proposal process. It’s highly competitive, so in order to stand out, your proposal must be creative. So we decided to incorporate the Secrets into our grant proposal with a mock Zoom call. It was a huge success and we were able to get Secret Stories for all nine kindergarten classrooms at our school!
Instant Speech to Print Connections for Beginning Reading & Writing
By the end of that school year, my mind was already racing with ideas for the next school year, and how I could make teaching the Secrets even better for my kindergartners. I found the Secret Sound Stickers and these were the seeds for a million ideas!
I knew that I wanted to start introducing the Secrets in August, but wasn’t sure how to do that since most of my students wouldn’t even know the names of the letters yet. We could sing the Better Alphabet Song to fast-track mastery of the individual letters and sounds, but in order for kids to actually USE them to read or write anything, they would also need to know the phonics Secrets.
I am a firm believer in teaching smarter, not harder. I thought about the things that I already do and how I could incorporate Secret Stories into them.
Phonics Secrets in My Name At the beginning of each school year, I make All About Me posters for each one of my students. I send a form home at “Meet The Teacher” before school starts that parents and students fill out and return to me. Then I make a personalized poster for each student and every day we highlight one.
Spotlighting the phonics Secrets in student names is a perfect way to introduce them. Why teach kids how to just “recognize” their names when they can use the Secrets to actually READ them? Not only did knowing the Secrets in their names help to make sense of the sounds that the letters were making, it was also a personal way for kids to take ownership of the phonics skills. As different phonics Secrets were introduced, we would add the small red cards (from the back of the Secret Stories book) to our pocket chart to keep track of them.
I even grouped students with the same phonics Secrets in their names together as I shared their posters. For instance, I introduced everyone whose name had just one Secret, then I introduced those with a Mommy E in their name, and then I introduced those whose names started with the same blend, etc… This took about 4-5 weeks, but it was a perfect pace to introduce about 30 Secrets in 25 days or so.
Here’s one of my little ones explaining the phonics Secrets in her friend Crew’s name. (The only thing they loved more than learning how to read and write their own name was learning how to read and write the names of their friends!)
I also made cards for all of the high-frequency “sight” words and used the digital stickers to make the phonics sounds in them more accessible by showing the connection in a concrete way.
First we would read the words with the Secret phonics sound EMBEDDED; then we read them with the Secrets phonics sound up ABOVE; and finally we read them just the LETTERS for gradual release from the Secrets.
The sound stickers were such a game-changer for my students that I began sharing what I was doing with other teachers in the Secret Facebook Group. It was there that I discovered that the Decoding Sight Words with Phonics Secrets project was well underway! So at Katie’s request along with Shelley Mahn, we created a teaching tool to help show the connections between the so-called “sight words” kids need to know and the phonics Secrets they need to actually READ them! (I made the video to show exactly how we use it.)
One Secret is Worth a Hundred Words In past years, I would have introduced just 1-2 sight words a week, and by the end of the year, I would have introduced all the required words for kindergarten.
NOT THIS YEAR! I was able to give my students ALL 35 of the first semester words at once. They immediately noticed that they had the same phonics Secrets in them that were in their names and loved seeing which words they “shared” Secrets with!
I literally spread the pile of words all over our floor and let the kids just walk around and talk about what they saw. The first thing they noticed was which ones had similar Secrets. For example, words like: at, an, and, can, etc… all shared the short /a/ Secret and so they wanted to group them together, just as they’d done with their names.
After laying out all of the Secret Stories Flashcards and sorting all the words, we discovered that only 3 of the 35 words actually had to be memorizedas “heart words,” as the rest were all easily decodable!
It was so powerful to see these beginning kindergarten readers realize that this giant stack of unknown words wasn’t so scary, as they could already read them!
We continued doing the same sorting activities with these words that we had done with our names before adding them alongside on our Secret Sound Wall. (Note: The names and words were only displayed on our Secret Story sound posters temporarily to illustrate the connection between the Secret phonics patterns and the sounds they make in words. Once these concrete connections between sound and print were made clear, the Secret Stories posters were all they needed to read and spell throughout the day.)
By the end of kindergarten, we’d not only gone through all of our kindergarten words, but first grade’s list too! When kids own the code, kids can read ANY word, regardless of which grade level list they’re on….and that’s why Secret Stories make all the difference!
The past six or so months, Finley has really picked up on reading and it has become one of my favorite parts of our homeschool day. We don’t use any specific curriculum, but are slightly more structured than “unschooling.” While I’m certainly no expert on teaching kids to read, we have found a rhythm thats been working well for us. This post is not sponsored in anyway, I just genuinely love the products mentioned.
Personally, I believe children need to confidently know all of their letters and sounds before they can really start to read. Now I know there are experts and boxed curriculums who disagree, but speaking from experience, when you slow down and just follow your child’s pace, it creates a much more positive and productive learning environment.
There are so many ways to teach letter and sound recognition, and games are my favorite. Preschoolers and kindergarteners do not have the attention span to sit and practice with basic flash cards. Letters, alone, simply don’t hold their attention, and if you aren’t holding your child’s attention, they aren’t learning.
One of Finley and Lincoln’s favorite ABC learning games is “ABC Go Fish!” You play it just like regular “Go Fish” except now you’re matching upper and lower case letters. To add an additional element of learning, have your child say the letter’s sound when asking for a card.
Another game that has really helped Finley learn her letter sounds is a super simple game we made up to play in the car. You can say any simple CVC word, like cat or dog, emphasizing the first letter sound. Your child then names the letter and repeats the sound. If your child doesn’t know their letters / letter sounds, that’s okay. Just keep it fun and let them take their best guess, and then correct them if they get it wrong.
Fast Mastery of the Individual Letters and Sounds with the Better Alphabet™ Song
For kids who still need to master the individual letters and sounds… The absolute fastest and easiest way to teach the individual letters and sounds is with the Better Alphabet™ Song, which uses muscle memory to fast-track mastery of all the individual letters and sounds in about 2 weeks to 2 months (even for four year-olds!) The audio version of the song is included in the Secret Stories® Kit, and there’s also a new video version available here as well (which is really helpful for remote learning). You can learn more about how it works in the video below! :-)
Homeschool Reading Curriculums and Phonics Programs
When I was searching for language arts curriculums, everything I came across involved memorizing phonics rules and/or sight words. Memorization definitely has its place in learning, but memorization doesn’t always equal understanding. Instead of memorizing the most common words, I wanted Finley to understand the phonics rules and be able to breakdown the parts of a word. As for sight words, we only memorize the tricky words that seem to go against all the rules.
Going back to my philosophy of, “If it’s not engaging, they aren’t learning,” I didn’t want a phonics program that was based on memorization (a.k.a. boring) Enter Secret Stories!
Secret Stories is a brain based solution to the age-old problem of how to teach meaningless phonics skills in a meaningful way! Secret Stories takes those hard to remember and abstract phonics rules and gives them meaning through a unique, short and “secret” story. From Mommy E® to Sneaky Y® and the Superhero Vowels®, these “secret” stories are an absolute game changer for teaching phonics. The best part is, if you are already using a phonics curriculum or any other reading program, Secret Stories can be used right alongside it.
Phonics Rules vs. Phonics Stories
Each phonics rule has a Secret (phonics) Story to explain the sounds letters make when they get together, along with pictures to help kids remember for independent reading and writing. For example, “au/aw” have crushes on each other and whenever they get together, they get so embarrassed, they say “ahhhhhhhhh!” like in the words: August, Autumn, awful, saw, etc…
Click on the picture for more.
And that’s it!
We keep things simple in our homeschool! My goal is always to keep learning fun and engaging so that the love for learning continues to grow!For more, please visit https://parisjeske.com.
For more on how to teach your child to read at home, watch Secret Stories® author, Katie Garner’s one hour parent video, below.
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/phonics-readers.jpg17351125Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2020-06-19 18:09:462021-01-31 15:35:33Tips for Teaching Your Child to Read
A guest post by second grade teacher, Kelli Gunkle.
Struggling Readers + Failing School = No Time for “Cute”
My name is Kelli Gunkle and I am a second grade teacher in Daytona Beach, Florida. I have been teaching for 5 years in a low-income, DDD, turn-around school with many struggling readers. If you are not familiar with a school climate like the one I teach in, you may have some questions about what all of that means.
In a nutshell, 90% of our students are on free and reduced lunch. We have been a D status for 3 years which placed us in “turn-around” status. This simply means that if we do not earn a C or better we will be taken over, closed down, or turned into a charter school. I tell you this to paint a tiny picture of the environment that I truly have the pleasure of working in.
People often look at statistics and status’ and use those as reasons not to be somewhere. I look at statistics a little differently. All of what I told you above is why I teach at my school. It’s why I get up everyday and teach my heart out. It’s why I don’t have time for the cute stuff.
In my first year teaching, I was like most teachers, and very aware of the “perfect” Pinterest classrooms. Don’t get me wrong, I love anything that is aesthetically pleasing….who doesn’t?! More and more though, I was seeing too many “cute” activities and too little rigor. Activities that would get people to “pin, pin, pin” or “like, like, like,” but none that had much substance to move our struggling readers.
I am lucky enough to work for one of the best principals in our county, and under her training, I have learned a lot about choosing rigor over looks. The experience of working for this amazing woman taught me how to properly vet materials for quality before giving them over to my students. I don’t choose the craftivity; I rarely, if ever, even do them. Instead, I choose what I know is going to give my students the maximum instructional value, because our school just doesn’t have the time to “fluff” anything up.
Filling the Phonics Gaps for Reading
This past fall, I was looking for something — anything that could help fill the gaps in phonics with my struggling readers, who were at least a grade level behind in reading. I was given the opportunity to loop to third grade with my class, and so I was well aware of the gaps that they had. I went into this year knowing the holes that would need to be filled, but not knowing HOW I was going to fill them.
Enter Secret Stories Through countless search attempts, I stumbled upon the Secret Stories website and started reading all of the reviews. I was hooked. The minute I read that students were ASKING to learn about letter sounds and phonics patterns, I knew it was what I needed for my kids. And while the Secrets may be cute, they are all “meat” and no fluff! And so, unbeknownst to anyone at my school, I ordered the kit, put up the posters, and let the magic unfold! I call it magic because that’s the only way to describe what happens once you let the “genie” out of the bottle and start telling the Secrets.
With the current status of our school, we are a revolving door of district, state, and management company personnel going in and out of our rooms on a weekly to monthly basis. We have extra trainings, new strategies, brand-new curriculum, and countless other responsibilities that all teachers have. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to learn one more routine, strategy, or program to implement in my classroom. My kids don’t have the ability to take anything else in. THAT is why I love Secret Stories so much. It runs itself!
The minute I told my students the first Secret, and that NO ONE could know what I was about to tell them— especially all of those people in suits that kept coming in and out of our classroom—they were hooked! They have been begging for more phonics Secrets ever since!
If you were to come into my classroom, you would be welcomed by one of my favorite sights—our Secret Stories phonics posters! My classroom is all pastel colors, so this set was perfect. My kids use these posters ALL DAY LONG to reference how to both sound-out AND spell words words. (Ignore the feet in the first pic, as it was a long day! ;-)
Weaving Phonics Skill Instruction into Reading & Writing Across the Instructional Day
I wanted my kids to be thinking about the Secret phonics patterns outside of reading block as well, so we started “catching” the Secret sounds wherever and whenever we came across them throughout the day! This could be during a math lesson, during I-Ready lessons, or during our read-to-self time. Whenever they find a Secret, they can “catch” it and add it to our collection.
I bought a shoe rack, added the Secret Stories cards from the back of the book to each pocket, and on the side, placed a container for half-sized index cards and markers. This gives them everything they need to catch Secret phonics patterns and sounds during centers, small group, etc.
Watch the video below to see how we use this to “catch” Secrets!
Small Group Reading Instruction and Assessment Prep
I also use the Secrets heavily during small group time. As I mentioned above, our school is in “turn-around” status, so it is incredibly important to fill as many gaps as possible in the primary grades before students move on to 3rd-5th. In small group, we have learning targets and success criteria for the skills we are working on. The success criteria helps my struggling readers to see what steps they need to take in order to master their “I can” targets.
They know that they must achieve these smaller goals in order to obtain their greater goal. To that end, they rely on the Secrets when reading their word lists, as well as whatever they are reading for their weekly text.
When practicing test-taking strategies, we use the Secrets to help identify the phonics patterns and figure out new words in the text. This helps them to become more familiar with the text before they read it.
That way, when they are taking tests, they know to look for phonics patterns in unfamiliar words to help them. This makes them feel more comfortable when they working with more complex text, especially my struggling readers.
To see how we use Thinking Maps with Secret Stories, watch the video below.
The Secrets have changed the way I teach phonics and, if I’m being honest, I will never go back to phonics-based routines in order to teach my students how to read. They do not need to memorize; they need to WANT to READ!
The Secrets have given my students a “need to know” the sounds, rather than me having to force them to learn them. Now, they are ASKING me to teach them….they want to know ALL of the Secrets!!
In a profession where we have no time for the cute stuff, the Secrets have found a way to be adorable AND rigorous. What an amazing accomplishment!
From Learning to Read, to Reading to Learn: A Third Grade Update
HELLO SECRET STORIES ……AND HELLO THIRD GRADE! 🙌🏻😍🙌🏻
I had been going into my classroom with my teammate to get things set up. While we didn’t know what this year will look like, setting up our classrooms has brought a much needed peace. Just getting my Secret Stories Sound Wall up felt 👏🏻 so 👏🏻 good 👏🏻!
The Secret Stories are the keys to our reading, and they mean everything to me as a teacher. After using them for the first time last year, I will never go back! It is the best investment I’ve ever made for my classroom and my students’ learning💗 ….. not to mention my own learning as a teacher of reading.
Since last year’s blog post, I have looped on to third grade with my class. I am happy to say that, due to my students’ success in reading last year, there are now other teachers at my school who have caught “Secret Stories-fever” and are now using the Secrets with their students, as well.
The older kids get, the more they want you to just tell them how to spell words. Having not been with my class for six months, given our early release last spring due to Covid and summer vacation, I’ve had to to remind them to use the Secrets they know to spell words. For reading, this is a non-issue, as they just look at the Secret sound wall to decode the words, but for spelling, they often have to choose between two or three different ways to spell the sound.
In late September, I asked my students to take notes on a story, focusing on the main character, their feelings, their motivations, and their actions. Each student wrote what they thought the character was feeling, and what they believed had motivated their actions.
When I looked at this particular student’s paper, I was absolutely ELATED!
She had written the words “geelous,” and I knew immediately which Secrets she’d used to figure out that spelling! She clearly had command of the ge/gi/gy and /ous/ Secrets. And while she didn’t spell the word jealous exactly right, her ability to “build” that word demonstrated her ownership of the phonics skills that were in it — skills that could be easily used to read ANY words with these Secrets in them!
After telling me the word that she’d written, I commended her for using the Secrets she knew to spell it. Then we made a comparison of “geelous” and “jealous” on the board. Seeing her use the /ge/ Secret for the /j/ sound, and then correctly spell the ending with the /ous/ Secret just made my teacher-heart explode!❤️
And it’s still September….
Before I close, I want to share something that Katie and I worked on together to help students notice and use the Secrets to read and spell in remote learning lessons (as well as in literacy centers, whole group, and small group classroom instruction in the physical classroom next school year). They are “universal” task cards that work with any text and any grade level and can be used over and over again, making it easy to target specific skills/ Secrets on an individual, whole, or small group level. They are also helpful for differentiation, given that they can be paired with any text – from guided readers, to poems on the board, to math directions — they will get your kids searching for Secrets, no matter what they are reading!
Here is little sample batch that you can download and try, so you can see how they work. There is also a video down below that shows the complete set, which are available here.
For the complete set of Secret Stories® “Universal” Task Cards, click here.
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/kelli-lynn-2nd-grade-writing.jpg10531053Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2020-01-06 00:11:142021-01-31 18:09:08Teaching Struggling Readers in a Title I “Turn-Around” School
A Guest Post By Melissa Gregory —Kindergarten Teacher at Title I School in Ohio
Kindergarten- End of October
Who says kindergartners can’t have access to ALL of the code needed to read and write in a short amount of time????
By the end of the FIRST NINE WEEKS, these cuties are taking off in reading AND writing, and are so excited to be word detectives finding ‘secrets’ in every word they see!!!
Kindergarten Writing in Mid-November
I shared the above videos and comment with Katie back in October. It was my first year teaching kindergarten, and having taught first grade for the past ten years, I was just floored by what the kids were able to do. They loved for me to take the ‘Secret’ book and go through all of the grown-up reading and writing sounds that they know. They begged to do it every morning, and were the first ones to get mad and remind me if I got busy and forgot. They loved to pretend to be the Superhero Vowels when they were playing in the drama center (so cute!) On the 100th day of school, I asked them to write about their favorite part of kindergarten, and almost all of my kids said it was learning the Secret Stories! They had such ownership of their learning and were so proud!
My Journey from First Grade to Kindergarten
My name is Melissa Gregory, and I am a kindergarten teacher at a Title I School near Cincinnati, Ohio. This year was my first year teaching kindergarten, though I’d taught first grade for many years. I sent Katie the video of my class in late October, as I wanted her to see how fast my kindergartners were soaking-up all of the Secrets! These little kindergartners knew ALL of the them by the end of October, even though they were still learning their individual letter sounds with the Better Alphabet Song.
Having only taught first grade before, I had no preconceived notions about what kindergartners were “supposed” to do, and so we just “played” with the Secrets all the time. The Secrets were not only their favorite stories, but also their favorite “toys.” They didn’t just “know” them, they were actively using them to read and spell words! With every day came new growth and discovery, and being new to kindergarten, I felt like I was learning right along with them. I was just so excited that I had to share it, and from the moment that Katie posted our little video back in October on Facebook, we both began receiving so many comments and questions. Most wanted to know if the Secrets they knew in the video actually transferred to their reading and writing, and if so, how? So, Katie asked me to track of all of this year’s data and write this post.
This comment, in particular, sums up what many who saw the video back in October were curious to learn—
I am not understanding how this transfers into their reading & writing since it is done in isolation. Is there any assessment data showing how well kids can actually read? I show my students many videos and we sing many songs too, but I don’t see all kids accessing the information later in their reading and writing.
Thanks for any insight you can provide!
My background in first grade…. Having taught first grade in a large school district for the past ten years, this past year was to be my first ever teaching kindergarten. Our district had expanded from four Early Childhood Schools to six, and I was moved to a new building and placed in kindergarten. My new school was a Title 1 and Title 3 school, with both ESL and free and reduced lunch population.
I had been using Secret Stories in first grade for the past seven years, alongside the Lucy Caulkins Reading and Writing Workshop Model, which our district had adopted several years back. Secret Stories was a game-changer for me, as it gave my first graders more of the phonics “code” they needed to actually do reading and writing workshop! As a result, my students had always shown unbelievable growth—not just in their reading, but in their writing, as well. Knowing the Secrets gave them confidence to tackle new words in reading, write more complicated words in their stories, and even figure-out unknown words in their story problems for math.
As early grade teachers, our students are just learning how to “do” school, and so testing is not what is most important, nor should it define them. However, data is extremely important to principals, as well as to district and state-level administrators, as it provides a “snap-shot” of current student performance. If you were to look at my data from seven years ago and compare it to my data now, you would see a huge difference. Yes, I am sure that I have become a better teacher over time, but the truth is, I didn’t have my secret weapon, and so I couldn’t give it to my students. That’s what the Secret Stories are to me and my students. They are our secret reading weapon, and they continue to be the BEST gift I could ever give my kids!
Before I discovered Secret Stories, I had to do weekly word practice and a phonics focus, and so my calendar looked like this…
Sight Words, Word Families, and Phonics Rules (a.k.a. “Before Secrets”)
Everything was taught in isolation and nothing was authentic….or fun. Students would learn the sight words, word families and phonics rules for the week, and then we would move on with hope that they could retain those words and rules. There was no spiral-teaching, except for the weeks we reviewed, and those were only for the sight words, not the word families or phonics rules. I look back now and wonder how my class ever reached the levels required by the end of each school year? During the week, I would use rainbow word worksheets, word sorts, letter tiles and magnetic letters to practice the sight words, and I had a block of time set aside for word study each day.
Becoming Secret Word Detectives
The first thing that you notice when you start telling Secrets is how they naturally integrate with everything that you are already doing. They are literally everywhere! I no longer needed to set aside time for word practice or phonics “kill and drill,” as the kids were naturally using them ALL DAY LONG—in reading, in math, at lunch, in art…..anywhere and everywhere there were words, they found Secrets! Skill-reinforcement was “baked-in” to everything that we were already doing—across all subject areas, as the kids were constantly using them to read and write words. They loved being word detectives and spotting Secrets wherever they were hiding! My teaching became more authentic, which made learning easier and more natural for my students.
From day one, I had all of the Secret Stories posters hung in my room, and I started showing my kids how to use them. I explained that the Secrets were the “keys” they needed to “unlock” words, and I modeled using them for this purpose constantly. Whenever we came to a word that they couldn’t read or spell, I told them the Secret, and then showed them the poster and reminded them how they could use it to read and spell other words on their own. And off they went! During free choice time, they pretended to be the teacher, using the pointers to show and tell the Secret Stories, and then calling on their friends to make the sounds and show the motions. They referred to the posters constantly, sometimes to actually read or spell a word, and sometimes, just to “play” with telling their story and making their sound. I actually have the posters hung on both sides of my classroom so they can easily see them from anywhere, which just goes to show how much the kids use them!
Letters Behave Like Kids
The day I told them the first Secret Story, my teaching changed forever. Having a way to make phonics make sense just made everything we were already doing so much easier! Five and six-year-olds may not understand (or care about) letter sounds, but they do understand that letters behave differently when they are together with different friends, just like they behaved differently with different friends. In the Secret Stories, kids saw their own feelings and behaviors reflected back, which is why they loved hearing and telling them so much. The Secrets come from a place that kids can easily identify with and understand, like, for example: how a line leader is supposed to behave, when to (and when not to) be sneaky, not getting along with your classmate, being left out of a group, having to listen to your mom (or your babysitter!), and even what it would be like to have super powers! The Secrets make kids wonder. They made them curious. They make them think. But most of all, the Secrets make them want to know more Secrets!
My first graders had always learned the Secrets quickly, which is what made our Reading and Writing Workshop take off, but when I moved to kindergarten, I wasn’t sure how this would go. At curriculum night, I shared with parents that I was unsure about how kindergartners would do with Secret Stories, since I’d only used them in first grade. But I also told them that if their kids were going to be reading and writing in kindergarten, then they were going to need them!
Our end-of-year standard for kindergarten was mastery of: individual letter sounds, 25 sight words, and three digraphs- /sh/, /th/ and /wh/….and that was it. My first grade teacher-brain couldn’t help but wonder what in the world kids were actually supposed to be able to do with that?! However, I knew that, as a kindergarten teacher, I would be spending a lot of time on individual letters and sounds, and would need to focus on those first. I was even concerned that giving them the Secrets might be too much…..oh boy was I wrong!
Word Work Playground
The Daily Calendar
At the early grade levels, the entire day is a playground of word exploration and play! I actually shared the first Secret before I’d even introduced any of the individual letters and sounds. It was the Secret about au/aw, which I told them on the first day of school during calendar time. (I remembered seeing Katie doing this in a kindergarten YouTube video and so I thought I would do the same.) I asked the kids how many of them knew what a “secret” was. I told them that there were special secrets that could only be told to very special kindergartners, and that these secrets would help them to become better readers and writers. I also made sure to let them know that they could tell their parents (or loved ones), and that when they go home, they could pretend to be the teacher and teach the Secret Story to them.
School starts in early August, and we do Calendar Time every day, so since we would be “reading” the word August on a daily basis, it made sense to explain why the /A/ wasn’t making the sound it was supposed to (based on the sounds it makes in the Better Alphabet Song, which we also sang every morning and afternoon). To understand why, the kids would need to know the Secret about au/aw.
The picture below is not of me or my class, but I found it on one of Katie’s blogs, and it gives you the idea.
Whenever I told them a Secret, I would make a huge deal about how they were ‘grown-up’ reading and writing secrets, and that no other kids were allowed to know them! Then throughout the rest of the day, I would introduce other Secrets, as we needed them to read and spell words that we would frequently use or encounter (i.e. student names, high-frequency sight words, color words, math words, etc…). Then we could use these Secrets to crack even more words that we came across. Once you begin telling Secrets, there is a sort of “snowball-effect,” which quickly takes on a life of its own, as the kids start to drive their own learning!
Over the next two weeks, I had introduced them all authentically. I purposefully searched for ways to introduce them to the class that would be meaningful.
I introduced Secrets to help us read and write the names of students in our class. Kids love to talk about, explore and “play” with their own names, as well as their friends’ names. They especially loved keeping track of whose names had which Secrets in them, often alerting visitors to our class that they had a Secret in their name, but then refusing to tell them what it was….because of course, it’s a “secret!”
I introduced Secrets that we found in our read-aloud mini-lessons. And while I don’t have a picture of this from my own classroom, I did find this video of Katie doing the same.
Word Study in Math
When talking about Math Workshop, I introduced the Secrets that we needed to read those words (/th/ and /sh/). I really wanted the kids to see the Secrets as their own, personal keys to unlock any word—not something that was confined to our reading lesson. The video below demonstrates this point.
As we practiced walking around our building, trying to learn where places were located, I would point out the Secrets in words that we saw on the walls. I asked parents to send in environmental print, and we would use the words they brought in each day to teach more Secrets. For example, to read the store name, Target, we learned the Secret about /ar/.
When we saw the word Walmart, we needed the /al/ Secret to crack it, along with the previously learned Secret about /ar/. Learning was authentic and continually spiraling. Secrets were shared and re-shared, with the kids never tiring of re-telling old Secrets and learning new ones. And all this was happing simultaneously to picking up the individual letters and sounds with muscle memory, via our Better Alphabet Song (sung twice a day, every day!) I actually caught one of my little guys, who was obsessed with this song, singing it to himself at recess, and I recorded it, as he was just so cute! It’s the video below.
Now I’ll admit that teaching all of the Secrets in the first two weeks of kindergarten isn’t what Katie says to do in her book, but my kids were so hungry to hear more Secrets, that I thought, why not? After all, they’re just stories….and who worries about telling kids too many stories??
I know what you’re thinking (especially if you teach kindergarten), but before you judge, just remember that I wasn’t “teaching” skills, I was telling stories! Stories that they loved and would beg to hear! Also, having never taught kindergarten before, I had no preconceived notions about what kindergartners could and couldn’t do. All I knew was that they kept begging me to tell them just “one more Secret”….and so I did! And every one that I told came back to me like a boomerang in our daily reading and writing—which would only motivate me to tell more! (I literally could not keep a secret- Lol!)
The more Secrets I told them, the more they wanted. The more Secrets they had, the more words they could read and write. Secret skill transfer to reading and writing was easy and natural, as it is only for these purposes that Secrets were shared, so kids automatically made this connection, unlike with an isolated phonics skill lesson. And unlike a phonics “program,” Secrets aren’t grade-specific, and there are no scripted lessons to follow, making it easy to work them into everything you do—any time, any where, and for any purpose….without any prep!
One of the first things that I discovered in kindergarten was that five-year-olds were just as excited to hear the Secrets as I was to tell them! The more excitement I showed, the more they showed, and the more they were learning without even knowing! Without any prompting, they were finding Secrets everywhere, and then telling each other their “secret” sounds. I was constantly amazed at how their little eyes lit up every time they spotted Secrets that they knew in words—from reading passages, to the cafeteria menu, to signs in the hallway. I was even told by parents that “Secret-spottings” were happening at home on newspapers, magazine covers, and even on signs! These little kindergartners were quickly realizing that everywhere there were words, there were Secrets, and that they had the keys to unlock them.
My “original” Secret Stories book….well-loved and well-used! Kids loved to play with it at centers.
On the 100th day of school, I asked my kids to write about their favorite part of kindergarten, and almost all them said it was learning Secret Stories! These kids were on fire, absorbing and learning everything they could about this ‘grown-up’ world of reading and writing! All day long, they were pointing them out, and I would tell them that we were “stamping our brains” with new Secrets each time we found them in text.
If we were reading poems, they wanted to circle the Secrets. In read-aloud, they wanted to come up and put highlighter tape on the Secrets. Even in math, science and social studies, they were always “on the hunt” for Secrets. They were obsessed, and it was wonderful! It was so much fun watching their excited conversations about what the Superhero Vowels® were doing, and whether they would “say their name” or be “short and lazy” (if Mommy E® or the Babysitter Vowels® weren’t around). Both their reading AND writing just soared!
To see just how obsessed they were with the Secrets, check out this video that was sent to me by one of my parents of their child’s birthday party. In the caption, the father wrote, “The secrets really ARE everywhere!”
Secret Stories to Sound Out Words for Reading
When my students are reading and come upon an unknown word, I don’t tell them what it is. Instead, I tell them to look for the Secrets.
Several years ago, when I started teaching first grade and hadn’t yet discovered Secret Stories, my kids were usually unsuccessful when attempting to sound out most words, unless they were simple C-V-C words, like cat, bed, cut, etc… Now that my kids know the Secrets, they wouldn’t even start sounding out a word without first noticing the Secrets that are in it. For example, before they knew the Secrets, my first graders might try to sound out the word first like this, “ff-ih-ruh-ss-tuh,” making each letter sound individually. With the Secrets, even my kindergartners will automatically say, “f-ir-st,” because they immediately notice the Secrets and blends.
This is another reason why it is so important that all of the Secret Stories posters are up on your wall where kids can easily see them, as it’s the first place they’ll look when they can’t read or spell a word. It’s also important to encourage them to use the motions or action that naturally goes along with each story sound. Unlike a “program” (i.e. Zoo Phonics, Letterland, Jolly Phonics, etc…) the Secret Stories motions aren’t arbitrary actions that you have to know and remember, but just the natural physical response of engaging in the action/making the sound, like holding the steering wheel and slamming on the pretend brakes when saying, “Errrrrrrrrr” (for er/ir/ur) or sticking your tongue out and making a mean face when saying “thhhhhhhhhh” (for /th/).
We don’t just “stamp our brains” with the pictures, but with the sounds and actions as well! All children learn differently, and the more modalities we can incorporate in our learning, the more connections we make in our brains! Secret Stories’ multi-sensory instruction activates all of the senses—see it, say it, do it and even FEEL it— for deep learning, which is why the Secrets “stick” so easily, even for kindergartners. The visual below is actually from Katie’s session handout, but I wanted to add it here to show how a multi-sensory approach to instruction (especially for phonics) helps to forge deeper learning connections in the brain.
Kindergarten in December
The following videos are of students in my class, who you will see looking up at the wall behind them to find the Secrets they need to decode the words they’re trying to read. I always give them a little time before asking what Secret (or Secrets) they see. These clips are from early December, back when they were still learning how to actively decode new words. As their decoding ability improved, we were able to focus more on fluency, which you will see in later videos further down below.
*Note that these are “cold” readings of instructional-level text, which means that it offers some challenges, based on their current reading level, which of course, is different for each child. Most often, in guided reading, I intentionally select more challenging text (rather than easier books) so as to give them words that they might struggle with a bit, so as to help them stretch and grow as readers.
Teaching the Reader, Not the Reading
The Secret Stories reach every child. My ESL students and little ones on IEPs were able to pick them up just as easily as the rest of my kids. No matter how a child learns, the Secrets just make sense. Kids who aren’t yet developmentally ready to read still love to hear and tell the stories—talking about them like they would their favorite TV or video game characters. But for kids who are ready, these simple stories open up a whole new world of reading and writing for them to explore! Because the Secrets apply to everything we do in kindergarten, reinforcing them is easy and can be done with high, medium and low-level learners, simultaneously. While higher-level learners are able to transfer knowledge of the story to the sounds and letter patterns they need for reading and writing, lower-level learners are simply enjoying knowing and telling the story, not yet realizing the power that it holds.
The first time that I did a Running Record on a child in kindergarten after having introduced all the Secret Stories, I was in shock! Our reading was off the charts, and so were our scores. Once my kindergartners had successfully gotten me to spill all of the Secrets (yes, I blame them!) they were unstoppable. The best part of teaching kindergarten was watching the extreme progression from kids knowing little-to-no letter sounds to becoming full-fledged readers! The transformation was incredible. The second best part was seeing their excitement as they evolved as readers and writers. I only wish that I would have recorded this child at the beginning of the year when he still didn’t know all of his letters or sounds!
Kindergarten Reading Level – Late Fall
Kindergarten Reading Level – Winter
It was around this time in mid-December, just before the holiday break, that I sent Katie the following update….
I just completed our F&P (Fountas & Pinnell) assessments yesterday and today on my kindergarten class! Our kids have to be at a level D by the END of the year, and more than half of my kids are already there, with 10 reading between levels F-I! And most didn’t even know their letters and sounds at the beginning of the year!
Not having ever taught kindergarten before, I am just floored by their progress! I was in first grade for the past 11 years, so I was not sure how quickly kindergartners would learn the sounds and put it together in order to read fluently. Well, by December, they were reading and comprehending!!!!♥️If anyone ever wonders if the Secrets work in Kindergarten, they should hear these angels read and comprehend. I myself am amazed! Sorry, but had to brag about Secret Stories! I know all of the teachers out there who use it will get it! 🙂
PS We also do Maps Testing, and I can’t wait to see the difference in overall growth from September to December! I will share that when I get it.
Below is my kindergarten F&P data showing where we were in December, as well as their overall growth by the end of the school year.
“Fountas & Pinnell” Reading Level Assessments
Note that by the end of the school year, 50% were reading at “end of first grade” level, having passed level J (the highest level-assessment allowed for kindergarten by the district). This is compared to 6% of kindergartners, district-wide (including students from non-Title I schools).
Our district also uses MAP Testing with a projected RIT score to show where kids should be by the end of the year. Those who use NWEA MAP will better understand the data below. For those who don’t, the projected RIT score is for Spring. As you can imagine, several students had already surpassed the projected RIT score by Winter testing. Our administration looks at the percent of projected growth met, which should be around 100% by the end of the year. Anything above that indicates how much more a student grew than was expected from their RIT score.
On average, there should be about a 10-point growth from Fall to Spring. The assessment data below shows growth from both winter and spring. Keep in mind that these assessments are just a snapshot of the entire child, and do not inform what is good overall growth. They are most useful to ensure that all students are continuing to move—from the lowest to the highest. Average student growth on this assessment is traditionally between 80%-120% percent. My average student this year in kindergarten was over 200%.
Kindergarten “Map” Testing – Reading
As I stated above, while data is important, it provides only a snapshot of the whole child, especially in kindergarten. Secret Stories have improved my scores immensely over the years, so I no longer worry about testing, as we are always way ahead of where we need to be, midway through the year. Not having to worry about teaching the “reading” means that I can focus more on teaching the reader. That’s where I can invest my time and energy, not on sight word lists and reading “practice!”
Word Work Activities and Phonics Play
Midway through kindergarten, my class had become highly-skilled word detectives, and our “word work” was never limited to our reading block! We circled and highlighted Secrets in the stories and poems we read, put highlighting tape on our big books, and were always on the look-out for Secrets hiding both in and outside of our classroom! Reading and writing was never limited to an isolated “phonics” or “word work” time; it was immersed into every part of our day! Whenever Secret phonics patterns were spotted, we would circle or highlight them. Then we tap out the word, chunking each Secret Story sound together (instead of saying the letters sounds individually). For example, if we came across the word thirds in Math, we would highlight the letters /th/ and /ir/, and then tap and sound it out as, it out as “th-ir-d-s” (as opposed to “t-h-i-r-d-s”). We would even use a large magnifying glass to show how the Secret letter patterns should jump out at you before you start reading them!
Using a document camera, we would look at poems, like the one about leprechauns, below. We would then circle all of the Secrets we could find and read it aloud, together. If you walked into my room, you would see that no matter what paper I put in front of them, they would all find and circle the Secrets before I even mentioned looking for them.
Secret Stories Hunts
Another fun opportunity for phonics play is going on Secret Story “Hunts,” as this is a great way to strengthen beginning learners’ visual acuity to quickly recognize letter patterns in text. While we often do this at guided reading with our little books, we also like to “hunt” for Secrets in words all around our classroom. We can hunt for words that contain a specific Secret Story pattern, or for words with any Secret Stories patterns! We can also use a timer to make it into a contest to see who can find the most—although to win, they have to be able to READ all of the words that they “captured!” Another fun twist is to extend the hunt to the hallway, the cafeteria, the principal’s office, or even the entire school! The picture below shows the kids going on a Secret Stories Hunt around our classroom.
“Sentence of the Day” and Focus Words
We also have a “Sentence of the Day” book, which we make and do together every day. The students start at the carpet with me, and I introduce the sentence and our focus word.
For example, in the video below, the sentence was, “She is not in school today?” with the focus word, not.At the beginning of the year, I would have to read the sentence to them a few times, but at this point, they are doing a cold read of the sentences to me. We literally take apart the sentence. The students look for Secret Stories, punctuation, capitalization, plus anything else they happen to notice, and then we pull out one word, and think of more words that rhyme with it.
This is a great way to reinforce awareness that if they know how to read and spell the word not, then they can also read and spell the words lot, hot, rot, shot, etc… or, as in the next clip below, if they know how to read and spell the word will, they can also read and spell words like: hill, pill, fill, chill, etc… This activity is a powerful one, as it reinforces everything they know about reading and writing, and provides an easy to way to informally assess their ability to apply the Secrets. It’s also a great way to increase phonemic awareness, as well as recognition of word families for both reading and spelling, but without causing confusion between simple word letter patterns (like -op, -at, -it, etc…) with Secrets (which are the sounds letters make when they don’t do what they should!)
Once we have finished, we then read the sentences three or four times (or more at the beginning of the year). Then the kids go back to their seats, write the word four times, and then write the sentence in their very best handwriting. When finished, students will raise their hands and read it to me. When first starting to read, I have them point to each word as they are reading it so that they can practice one-to-one correspondence, which some students continue doing through the year.
Merry-Go-Round Phonics Instruction
I can’t stress enough the importance of activating all of the modalities in learning practice—the visual, the auditory and the kinesthetic. Whenever we would spot Secrets, we would always reference the poster (visual) while making the sound (auditory) and doing the motion (kinesthetic). By presenting information to the brain from as many angles as possible, Secret Stories fosters deep connections that learners can’t forget. Katie talks about how Secret Stories offers kids a “merry-go-round” for learning that just keeps spinning, giving kids who need it more time “jump on,” and giving them never-ending opportunities to do so. We keep our merry-go-round spinning by always taking the time to re-tell the story, reference to the poster, and engage in the action with the sound. This constant reinforcement of what the Secret is, where it lives (on the wall), and the sound (or sounds) it makes helps to ensure that our merry-go-round never leaves anyone behind—regardless of where they are in the learning process.
Whenever we stand in line before leaving the classroom, one student gets to take my pointer and be the teacher, pointing to the different Secret Stories posters (or words on other posters) hanging in the room. Whatever words were pointed to, the kids would have to read as quickly as they could. This simple game actually had a big impact on their learning, and was well worth the extra five minutes it took to line up. It was during these short, little 3-5 minute windows that I first began to see them evolving into readers before my eyes! Their writing was also improving with each passing day, as they got better and better at using the the posters to transcribe the sounds they heard into readable words.
Using Secret Stories with the Reading and Writing Workshop Model
Our district has used Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Workshop Model for the past 15 years. Before the Secrets, I would follow the Readers/Writers Workshop books like they were my Bible!
I was teaching first grade when I first heard about the Secret Stories from my sister, who was also a first grade teacher, as her school had just purchased them. She would rave and rave about them, telling me all about her school’s success. I was intrigued, but as with any new “program,” I was a little apprehensive. The last thing I needed was something else to teach, and I didn’t really want another book with more lessons that I would have to squeeze into my already overstuffed day. But once she explained how easy it was, and that it really wasn’t a “program” at all, I was all in!
I decided to purchase it with my own money and immediately begin introducing it to my first grade class. Some of my first graders at the time were already reading, while others were still working on letter sounds and sight words, though all of them were captivated by these little “secret” stories. A wave of learning began to rise across the different levels in my classroom, with everyone taking something away from each Secret that I told.
I could write a big word on the board, like for example, vacation or assumption, and while my stronger readers would use the Secrets to silently sound out the word, my lower-level readers would be equally excited to just look for the Secrets and tell their stories while acting out their sounds. Despite the different levels, we could all go back and blend the letter sounds and Secrets together to read the word aloud. To me, this is the epitome of what Katie refers to as, “Buffet-Style” Instruction, with all level learners able to come to the table and “eat” what they’re ready for! The result was a no-prep “multi-tiered” word work activity that not only reinforced the Secrets, but also that no matter our age or grade level, if we knew the Secrets, we could figure out 99% of the words we encounter! (And if you’re wondering how this would work with words that don’t follow phonics rules, that’s actually the most fun part….getting to be “Word Doctors,” which you can read more about here.)
Phonics Units of Study /Phonics Workshop Model
This school year, our district adopted the new Lucy Calkins TCRWP Phonics Units of Study/Phonics Workshop for kindergarten and first grade. This was another thing that I was concerned about when moving to Kindergarten, as I was unsure how to incorporate Secret Stories with a phonics program.
We didn’t receive our TCRWP Phonics Units Teacher Kits until October, so during a professional development on how to use them, we were told to begin on book 2. given that book 1 was geared toward the very first few weeks of kindergarten and we were now two months in. Once I got started, I quickly realized that my students already knew all the concepts—not only book 2, but in book 3, as well. So I had to jump ahead to book 4, and even then, I was able to skip several more lessons that my kids were already able to do.
The reason I was able to skip so many books was not just because we’d already learned all of the skills presented, but because we had been using them daily in everything we do. And while this might seem as though it would present a conflict, it’s actually quite the opposite! Because we didn’t need to engage in any of the phonics skill introduction or practice work in the program, we were able to take full advantage of the open-ended, extension activities for authentic reading and writing that the program offered. The Phonics Units turned out to be a perfect “playground” on which we could flex our Secret Stories “muscles” in a variety of ways for reading and writing!
In the Phonics Units of Study, Lucy Caulkins stresses that in order for beginning learners to be able to transfer phonics skills to reading and writing, they need faster access to them. But unlike the Phonics Units, which deliver phonics skills by grade level across kindergarten, first and second, Secret Stories fast-tracks the WHOLE code in kindergarten by giving kids a way to understand letter sound behavior—so they don’t need to memorize everything, or learn through rote practice. So then, why wait? The more tools we bring to the table, the more value we can take away….and that goes for any reading series or program!
Prior to adopting the Phonics Units of Study, our district required kindergarten students to know 25 sight words by the end of the school year, while first graders had to know 115 before moving on to second grade. In December, I decided to go ahead and test those students who were ready on all of the first grade words, even though our district only requires the 25. Suffice it to say that I actually had to contact our central office and complain (in a nice way) that the online entry system would not allow me to enter anything above a “99” in the field for kindergarten because it only registered two-digit numbers. (They changed it for me! :-)
So here we were, barely half way through kindergarten, and most of the kids could already read all of the 115 first grade words or more! (You can imagine how cocky they were, especially the ones with first grade siblings!)
Kindergarten Sight Word Mastery (Baseline & Mid-Year Assessment)
I’ve always loved using Secret Stories with Writers Workshop, as the two really do go hand-in-hand! Each day I do a mini-lesson and I model, model, model! Then, before students go back to their seats to begin their own writing, we spend a few minutes discussing what they notice in my writing—highlighting, circling, or using highlighting tape to mark all of the Secret Stories that they see. When they are doing their own writing, they are using the Secret Stories posters constantly.
As they tap their arm to segment the sounds that they hear in each word, they know which Secrets make each sound, and can refer to the posters to see how to write it, or just to self-check. Each student also has a Porta-Pic in in their desk folders for easy access that they can refer to anytime they are reading or writing. Kids can take them home for reading and writing there (since they won’t have access to the posters) as well as to their resource/pull-out classrooms (for those who go).
The following video clips show our Writers Workshop time at the beginning of the school, as well as midway through the year. You will notice that at the beginning of the year, students focus more on drawing the pictures and just trying to get some letters down on the page, whereas by the end of the year, they are writing books.
Kindergarten Writing Workshop – Fall
Kindergarten Writing Workshop – Winter
Play-Based Learning & Phonics Fun
During center choice time, my students love to use the puppets and pretend to be the teacher teaching the Secrets. Recently, one student asked if we could make Superhero Vowel puppets. This led to an entire STEAM lesson, and ended with our making puppets for all of the Secrets, and even putting on our own puppet shows!
I divided students into groups of four, and each group had to design and create their own puppets using supplies from our classroom, and then create a skit. Once they made their puppets, they worked with their partners to rehearse their skits. Then each group presented their puppet show to the class. Once all of the skits were finished, students sat and shared their puppets and the sounds that they made.
Play-based, cooperative learning is so much more valuable than any scripted lesson, not to mention a lot more fun! With the Secrets, kids already own the skills, so the real learning lies in their discovery of how to use them. In early grade classrooms, there are endless opportunities to “play” as readers and writers! And I believe that this is why the kids love learning the Secrets so much—because they give them more to play with! They associate the Secrets with fun, play, and stories!
Here are some short clips from our Secret Stories puppet-play—
/ch/ and /ed/
Short and Long Vowel Sounds (a.k.a. Superhero Vowels & their ‘Short & Lazy’ Sounds)
The 3 Sounds for Y (a.k.a. Sneaky Y®)
Reading fluency is key as phonics skills become second nature, and one way to encourage it is through song! We love to read, write and SING our way to fluency! First, we read a book about our favorite animal, then we write about it, and then we sing about it! Check out this talented little one sharing her “All About Animals” writing about raccoons, to the tune of “Party in the USA!” It’s adorable!!
As a teacher in a Primary K-1 building for over 13 years, when students would leave, I wouldn’t get to see them again unless they come back to visit. When they did, I would always ask them to read to us, and then I would let my little ones ask them questions. Once question that they always ask is, “What did you learn that helped you the most?” and the response is almost always, “Secret Stories.” I love knowing that I have given them a gift that continues to help them grow as readers and writers, long after they leave my classroom.
Teacher Expertise in Phonics Secret Stories
The best way to start Secret Stories is to jump right in and don’t overthink it!
Secret Stories give beginning grade learners easy access to all of the code they need to read and write long-before they will be formally introduced by your reading series or phonics program (as per traditional grade level scope and sequences). THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM—it’s a gift!
All you have to do is tell the story and then plug in its sound (for reading) or the letter patterns (for spelling/writing). Telling a Secret to explain strange letter behavior will never (I repeat, NEVER!) conflict with anything else you are doing—no matter what reading series or even phonics “program” you are using! It’s simply giving meaning to letters and sounds that would otherwise have none—and thus, would need to be repeatedly practiced as “skills” (instead of stories).
While Secret Stories is systematic and explicit with introduction of “most-needed” (highest-frequency) first, you can also share and use Secrets as you need them throughout the instructional day! Never limit them to just language arts time, because remember, they’re not a “program,” they’re tools for both you and your students! Secrets should never be taught in isolation, but immersed into everything that you do, and talked about everywhere you go (which kids will naturally do anyway whenever they see words!)
Remember to take advantage of every opportunity to make your students’ learning authentic, but don’t wait too long to introduce all the Secrets. And to all my fellow kindergarten teachers out there, DO NOT WAIT for kids to know the individual letter sounds before you start telling them Secrets! That’s like waiting for kids to learn Bob’s name before introducing them to Tabitha, just because her name has a /th/ in it!
And most important of all, GET EXCITED! If you’re excited, then your kids will be excited! (This is actually the easiest part, as you won’t be able to help yourself!)
Children are like sponges, soaking up everything around them to grow. And my little sponges grew beyond my wildest expectations! All I had to do was feed them the Secrets, and then watch them grow into real-life readers and writers!
Phonics “Secrets” to Support Reading and Writing at Home
“The Best Gift I Have Ever Given” was originally posted on Tara Settle’s popular teacher blog, Settle on In. With permission from Tara, it’s re-posted below, along with some background.
Update Note: An “unlisted” parent-share page has been created to help teachers share information about how Secret Stories® are used to read and spell in the classroom, and how they can best support reading and writing with them at home. Here is the direct link, which you are welcome to share with parents in your classroom. https://www.thesecretstories.com/learn-more/free-phonics-resources-for-parents/
Tara Settle – 1st Grade Title I Teacher Tara Settle from Settle On In If you have read my previous post, then you know that I am a passionate advocate for Secret Stories and the accelerated access to phonics skills they provide beginning grade learners for reading and writing. In fact, I am always telling teachers that I meet about the Secrets and the huge difference that they make.
Secret Stories is a brain-based approach to fast-track phonics skills for reading and writing, giving kids the logical explanations for letter sound “behaviors” that their brains crave! It’s not a program, and no additional time is needed to teach it. The Secrets are simply teacher tools that make phonics make sense to kids, so that they can have more of the code to read and write with. (And if you’re a K or 1st teacher, then you know how important this is!)
I love the spirit of teachers. We are all in this together—not for us, but for the kids. That is one of the things that I truly appreciate about being a teacher, as well as our need to share great ideas with one another! And so, now that the hustle, bustle, and chaos of the Christmas classroom season is over, I wanted to share something that helped me so much during the year, and was actually the inspiration behind this post.
As I work in a Title 1 school with many extremely low level students, we rely on our Secret Stories. It is simply the best tool I have ever used in my classroom to turn my students into readers! I will never teach without the Secrets again, period! I bought them with my own money one summer because I was so desperate to help my struggling students. As a teacher, I was so frustrated because I felt I was failing them year after year, no matter what I tried. Yes, they were learning to read, but I knew they needed to make more progress in first grade, especially given the new demands and standards.
Fast-forward “post-Secret Stories” and I no longer feel this way! I finally feel like I am providing the best approach to help all of my students master reading, and it doesn’t even matter which reading series we use! As long as the kids know the Secrets, they have access to ALL of the phonics tools they need to crack the code—regardless of which book our district adopts. I honestly feel this way, and that was how the BEST GIFT I have ever given came to be this year….and I am so excited to share this idea with all of you, my fellow teachers!
I had recently watched a Secret Stories Sunday YouTube LIVE with Katie and one of the Title 1 teachers mentioned having held a parent event at their school and giving out the Secret Stories to parents on something called Porta-Pics
We actually used these in our classroom, but we call them “Code Crackers,” or our “Code-Cracking Cards!” I had been pondering what holiday gift to give my first graders, and it suddenly hit me….I could give them the entire “Secret Phonics Code” to take and keep at home! This would literally be the BEST GIFT I could ever give my kids!
Why hadn’t I thought of this before???
Oh yeah, money and cost, duh!
Porta-Pics would cost about $2.60 per kid (as the class set is $65), but I figured and schemed my way around this problem!
At our Title 1 school, each teacher receives $100 to purchase items for the classroom. I already had a set of Porta-Pics that I used in the classroom, so I could give those to my kids this year, and then use next year’s Title 1 money to replace them for next year’s group… and I’d still have $35 left over! :-)
So I did it! And truth be told, I really would have paid for them out of my own pocket, once I realized what a dunce I had been all these years, teaching Secret Stories, but never giving the Secrets to the kids to keep and use at home. What had I been thinking? This was another “a-ha” moment in my teaching life.
The last part of my gift was to try and make sure that the parents understood what a precious gift their child now owned. The children needed help from a trusted adult to protect this treasure! (No kidding, I really feel this way, too!) So I typed up a note to the “trusted adults” and taped it on the back of each Secret Stories Porta-Pic “treasure” code card.
Honestly, I even teared-up a bit as I taped each note on each gift. I explained to the parents that this was the BEST GIFT I had ever given my students. I didn’t want to brag, but I wanted them to understand the power of this gift to help their child.
It sounds strange to say (although all teachers will understand) but I was actually saddened that I had never given these phonics code-crackers to my past students. I had taught them all of the the Secrets as we worked our way through our Journeys Reading Program, but I never gave them this piece of additional support for home. This class, however, would have help “on-hand” and ready for use at home whenever they needed it, so that they can be the teacher and educate their parents about the “stories” that help them read. The parents, in turn, could learn along with their child, and have a “real” tangible tool to support their children as readers. Maybe the Secret Stories will help take away some of the frustrations that children and parents feel in trying to improve their reading levels, fluency, sight word knowledge, and so on, and so on… Now can you now see why this is the BEST GIFT I have ever given my class?
And if you are saying to yourself, “Well, Mrs. Settle, Christmas is over, so I will try to remember this idea next year.” I say to you, “Why wait?!!”
I am seriously disappointed that I waited so long to think about giving this precious gift to my students. Don’t make the same mistake. You could give them as a New Year’s Gift or a Valentine Present. Better yet, hold a parent event in your classroom and let them know will be giving out a special treasure to all those who come! Make it pirate-themed event with Porta-Pics as the “gold” that’s given at the end of the party. Find ANY reason to get this tool into your students’ hands at home to support their reading adventure!
And if you don’t use Secret Stories, you should!
I NEVER (well, almost) have to say to a child trying to read an unknown word…. “It just is… it just does… you just have to remember,” or worse, “I just taught that last week!”
All I have to say is, “Is there a Secret in that word?” and they immediately look to the posters and find the sound (or spelling) they need. Even without the posters (in the hallway, library, lunch line, etc…) a simple “Secret” gesture is all it takes to prompt the sound! What more can you ask for?
Oh, and one more thing, my first graders can now READ all of their sight words, which means we skipped the whole “memorizing” thing! And not only that, but every time they learned a Secret to read a sight words, they could use it for a hundred more words, which meant no lost time, and no words lost! Can you imagine? (This is why teachers who use the Secrets always say they could never go back to teaching without them…. it’s just waaaayyyyyyy too much work and with so little to show for it!)
So, visualize the “happy teacher dance” that I did when I gave my kids BEST GIFT EVER this Christmas, and listened to them “ohhhh” and “ahhhh!” To say they were surprised would be an understatement! They were overwhelmed at the idea of getting to take the “grown-up” reading and writing Secrets home with them! (I later learned that some students had hung them next to their bed so that they could practice tell themselves the stories at night, and some kept them magnetized to their fridge in the kitchen, so brother and sister could use them for homework too, as our whole school uses Secret Stories).
So, there you have it, the BEST GIFT I have ever given my students!
PS I sent this Seesaw video home to parents just before and after holiday break. It will give you an idea of the concrete connections that I’m talking about, as well as how pull my parents in on the Secrets!
Christmas Pajama Day We played the “I Know My Secrets” phonics game before I told them they could take Porta-Pics home. This is one of our favorite activities for phonics and reading, and the kids love it! (Katie has since talked about how to play this game and lots of other “secret” phonics games and activities that you can play with your class in her Secret Sunday YouTube Live. (Just be sure to click on “Show Chat Replay” in the upper right corner when you watch the video, as some of the best stuff is happening in the conversation between teachers as Katie is talking!)
Working with a partner, one student points to a Secret (picture) on the Porta-Pic, and then the other has to tell the Secret Story and make its sound. If they are able to recall the phonics story and sound correctly, they can put a colored chip on that Secret.
Students take turns and I usually set a timer for three minutes to keep the game going quickly.
The beauty of this phonics activity is that if one partner doesn’t know the Secret, the other has to “teach” it before they can move on. We play several rounds and whoever wins the most rounds from each partner group wins a prize!
We played lots of Christmas party games, but “I Know My Secrets” was still the most popular party game of the day!
We play a lot of the Secret phonics games that Katie talked about in her LIVE talks, and I have made a concerted effort this year to get the Secrets “off the walls” and into the hands of the kids! As we wouldn’t ever want to really take our posters off the wall because we are constantly using them to read and write throughout the day, we use additional sets of placards, square posters and flashcards (as all are available without the book if you already have the kit). This has opened up a whole NEW level of learning fun!
Plus, it helps to “connect the dots” for students who know the Secret Story, but need to see a concrete connection to the words that it’s in. Now I can bring the words and the Secrets together, as needed, which I actually do for every story in our Journeys Reading Series. Having extra sets of visuals that I (and students) can easily manipulate while keeping our “real” Secret Stories posters on the wall where they “live” (i.e. where kids can easily find them) has been a game-changer this year!
Thanks so much to Tara Settle at Settle On In for sharing more about the creative ways she uses the Secrets in her classroom!
PS If you don’t have Porta-Pics to send home, the Secret Story “Take-Home” Tags are an easy way to keep parents in the “learning-loop” and let them know which phonics Secrets their kids are learning OR have already mastered! With the Secret Sound Image/ Digital Sticker on the front and word examples on the back, they are perfect to send home and spark conversation and questions about the Secrets. (They also make a great “mini-book of Secrets” for fun home/summer review!)
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?
Laura also sent a little note from Ella, who’d asked me to write more stories, and also to let me know that her favorite Secret Story was the one 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 or reading program. There are no “grade level walls” that delay access to the code kids need to read and write The Secrets simply put meaning where there would otherwise be none, so as to shift instruction from brain-antagonistic to brain-compatible.
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. (Mommy E® is supposed to tell any vowel that’s one letter away, “YOU SAY YOUR NAME!” However, I like to tell kids that “Sometimes mommy’s there, but she’s just too tired to care!” ex. have, because, riddle, etc…)
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 adjustment 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! The ultimate goal is GET KIDS READING by not taking 3-4 grade level years to deliver the “whole” code they need to do it!
By using brain-based connections to make phonics make sense, we can accelerate learner-access to the “whole” code that’s needed to read and write—rather than divvying it out in grade-level “bits and pieces!” This allows beginning grade learners to start gaining valuable text experience years earlier than they otherwise could. And READING is a far better teacher than we will ever be!
In addition to providing logical explanations for letter sound behavior that the brain craves, Secret Stories®also accounts for their “next-most likely” default sounds — all of which are embedded into the sound posters. Because these defaults follow the same social emotional “feeling” based logic that drives learners’ own behavior, even inexperienced, beginning readers (and upper grade struggling readers) are easily able “think-through” the alternative sound behaviors of letters in unknown words instead of just having to memorize them (as exceptions).
Filtering-out the fringe and streamlining the most common letter sound behaviors offers kids a new way of thinking about phonics. Instead of the binary “rule/exception” approach to phonics, Secret Stories® aligns letter behavior with kid behavior, making sounds easily predictable. It is within this “hierarchy of likelihood” that young and inexperienced readers are easily able to logically deduce the most and next-most likely sounds of letters, even in words they have never seen before.
Finally, there is one more point I need to make before I specifically address why there are no Secrets for the words above. Just as apples won’t fall far from the tree, letters won’t stray far from their sounds! This handy saying can be used to help both students and teachers, alike to convey the flexible thinking that’s needed to effectively work-through the most and next-most likely sound options.
Working with text requires learners to “think outside the box,” which they cannot do if they don’t know first know what’s IN it. The Secrets equip learners everything that’s IN the box so they can more easily think outside it. Rather than having to memorize words that are exceptions in order to read them, students can use higher-level thinking and problem solving to figure them out, stretching their analytical thinking and problem solving capabilities far beyond just phonics skills for reading.
Activating Social-Emotional Learning Channels for Higher Level Thinking
When learners are equipped with Secrets, they actually enjoy engaging with text in this way, as daily reading and writing is transformed into a virtual playground for critical thinking and deep literacy learning!
By anchoring abstract letter sound and phonics skills into social and emotional frameworks that are already deeply entrenched within the learner, they become personally meaningful and relevant.
Now Let’s Play “Word Doctor” with the Words Above!
Let’s start with the simplest one, which is ck. Both letters are simply making their correct sounds, and because their sounds are identical, this spelling pattern is easy to sound out. Thus, no Secret is needed!
Next up is -dge (as in ridge, sludge, budget, etc…)
Therefore, creating a new Secret for the –dgepattern is unnecessary andwould only result in our having “one too many” cooks in our kitchen! That’s not to say that knowledge of -dgeas 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!
-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.
Knowing the qu Secret is all that is needed here, along with recognizing that as with -dge, the e at the end makes no sound. And keep in mind that when working with words not of English origin, Secret Stories® will get you close, but not all the way, as the same rules don’t apply, as with words like: bouquet, applique, etc…
-ive(as in: dive, give, active, lives, etc…)
The first word, dive poses no problem at all, as Mommy E® is doing just what she should, which is in telling i (who’s one letter away)to say his name! However, in the other words— give, active and live — Mommy E® is just “too tired to care,” as sometimes mommies are! Which is why sometimes, she’ll just sit back and let the vowels do whatever they want… because even moms aren’t perfect! It’s words like these that require kids to put on their “Dr. Hat” and think-through to the next most likely sound!
-old (as in: bold, cold, mold, etc…)
This one’s easy, with the only possible glitch being that the letter ois 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.
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.
-on (as in: Monday, money, done, etc..)
In all these words, the short o sounds more like short u, or schwa sound. The letter o makes this sound in many words, like: come, of, love, some, done, etc. Other vowels will often “default” to the schwa sound as well in words like: what, was, was, want, above, about, pencil, etc. When vowels make this sound, it’s because they are thinking, which is why they’re called the Thinking Vowels™, and their sound is easily prompted with a simple “head-bop.” With this simple secret trick, even kindergartners can easily decode otherwise “undecodable” words! You can read about the Thinking Vowels™ here.
-unk (as in: bunk, chunk, dunk, etc…)
No secrets needed, as the letters are doing exactly what they should! -ink (as in: sink, blink, drink, etc…)
One of my favorite Secrets is I tries E on for Size,and it’s all that’s needed to explain why i will sometimes make e’s sound instead of his own!
Secret Stories® “I tries E on for Size”
-ture (as in: future, mature, lecture, etc…)
This one’s easily taken care of with the ER, IR & UR- Secret, as thet just makes its regular sound, and like some of the other patterns above, Mommy E® is just hanging out at the end, doing nothing!
Not only can beginning kindergartners LEARN it, they can TEACH it!
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 (withthe 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.
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!
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! :-)
Access the Complete Set in the Guided Reader Description
For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here.
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/IMG_0318.jpg998979Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2016-02-20 19:42:002022-09-21 16:32:12How to Avoid Having “Too Many Cooks in the Phonics Kitchen!”
Using Music to Cement “Sound-to-Symbol” Connections in the Brain
I’m often asked why the Secret Stories® musical brainteaser exercises (on the musical download that’s included in the kits) aren’t exactly songs, as there is no instrumental accompaniment, no fun lyrics….just simple and instantly recognizable tunes with constantly changing “sound-symbol” manipulations! They are the fastest way to “glue” the sound-to-symbol (“speech to print”) connections together and build the automaticity needed for easy and effortless reading and writing!
If you use the Secrets in your daily reading and writing (phonics) instruction, you may have wondered why the Secret Stories® musical brain teaser “songs” sound so differently from other educational songs sung in early grade classrooms? Like everything else that is Secret Stories®, it’s about getting the maximum “brain-BANG” for the instructional buck!
Note that the previously included CD is now a music DOWNLOAD!
As teachers, we’ve all seen how easily and effortlessly students can sing through skills when they’re set in a song. Like, for example, the old “ABC Song,” assuming that you don’t mind the inclusion of that imaginary letter, “elemeno!” Kids sing daily songs as if on “autopilot,” which they are. The words literally roll off their tongue, and with no thinking required!
And this is good, right?
Not necessarily, as it depends what the skill is and how kids are going to need to use it.
Familiar and repetitive songs are perfect for fast mastery of “set” skills that are finite and sequential—in other words, skills that need only to be parroted back, “as is,” like the days of the week, months of the year, names of the planets, fifty nifty states, etc… Such skills are easily acquired through song and stored in learners’ muscle memory, which works much like a ‘read-only’ disc. This means that while the information is easily regurgitated, it cannot be altered or manipulated….which is fine for naming the days of the week, but not so helpful for manipulating letter sounds and phonics patterns to read and spell.
Letters and sounds exist for one reason—using them to read and spell words. The ability to sing through the letter names in order serves no practical purpose for reading and writing. Beginning learners must be able to actively manipulate these sounds and symbols in a “free-form” and flexible manner in order to use them as “tools” to read and write.
Unlike the “traditional” Alphabet Song, the Secret Stories Better Alphabet™ Songdoes empower beginning learners with this ability, taking approximately 2 weeks to 2 months for simultaneous mastery of BOTH letter names AND sounds—which are cemented together through muscle memory. (For more on the Better Alphabet™, see links at bottom.)
The “Unfamiliar and Unexpected” are the Brain’s BEST Friends!
Singing through the virtually endless letter sound combinations in a variety of constantly changing, musical exercises is the best way to ensure that learning not only remains novel, but that the stress-level is kept low, while the challenge remains high! It’s also the best way to forge critical “sound-symbol” connections in the brain and increase automaticity for using them in both reading and writing!
We all like novelty! In fact, our brains are made to be attracted to novelty. And it turns out that it could actually improve our memory and learning capacity!
It’s actually hardwired into my brain—and yours—to appreciate and seek out novelty. Anything that’s new, different or unusual… we can even be drawn to novelty without being conscious of it. Of course, this makes a lot of sense—we wouldn’t get much done if ordinary things captivated us constantly!
The cool thing about this is how intricately novelty seems to be associated with learning, which means we can use this knowledge to our advantage for learning new things and improving our memory.
It’s been thought before that novelty was a reward in itself, but, like dopamine, it seems to be more related to motivation. Our Dopamine pathways become activated whenever we are exposed to novelty, and only completely new things will activate our midbrain area. Studies show that the plasticity of the hippocampus (the ability to create new connections between neurons) was increased by the influence of novelty—both during the process of exploring a novel environment or stimuli and for 15–30 minutes afterward.
As well as increasing our brain’s plasticity—and therefore the potential for learning new concepts and facts—novelty has been shown to improve the memory of test subjects. Studies suggest that dopamine (a “reward” chemical in the brain) levels increase in the context of novelty. Each new stimuli gives you a little rush of motivation to go further, to find more new stimuli that will generate more dopamine rewards.
Here is a graph that shows activity in your brain on this:
According to a study conducted by Dr. Emrah Duzel from University College in London:
Subjects performed best when new information (i.e. constantly changing musical manipulations) was combined with familiar information (i.e. letters/sounds) during learning. After a 20 minute delay, subjects’ memory for slightly familiar information (i.e. letters/sounds) was boosted by 19 per cent if it had been mixed with something new during learning sessions.
This research suggests that we use the brain’s increased plasticity wisely by setting aside time to learn right after novel stimuli, as learners’ brains are more open to making new connections during and right after this time. So why not take advantage!
Dr Düzel pointed out additional benefits that could come from his research:
“We hope that these findings will have an impact on those with poor memory. Current practice aims to improve memory through repeatedly exposing a person to information. This study shows that it’s more effective if you mix something new with the old. You actually learn better, even though your brain is also tied up with new information.
So what does this mean for teachers? And how can it benefit our phonics instruction? It means that you can significantly improve knowledge retention and make new ideas and concepts (like letter sounds and phonics skills) stick by introducing novelty into the learning process. And doing this is easier than you think!
Above is just one example of MANY research studies showing the significant impact that novelty has on the brain, and for purposes of teaching and learning, novelty can take many forms! Incorporating novel experiences into daily learning doesn’t mean having to continually add on new skills and information to what you’re already teaching!
Novelty can be easily achieved by simply framing “slightly-familiar” content in new and unique ways. This causes our brains to notice and recognize it more easily because it’s been offset by the new way in which it’s being presented. (In other words, it not only keeps it fresh, but makes it more exciting!)
A Novel Approach to Decoding and Encoding with Musical Practice and Play
If this sounds confusing, but I promise, it’s not once you see it in action.
And it’s not just the musical brain teaser exercises in the Secret Stories® that make use of this “novelty-effect,” but the Secrets, themselves! Transforming phonics skills kids have to learn into secrets they want to know makes them important to kids—marking them for memory and prioritized learning in the brain (Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, 2018). This is especially true when framing them as “Grown-up Reading and Writing Secrets” that kids must be “big enough” to hear!
Every Secret is a new story about the “secret” behavior (or misbehavior!) of letters….and the higher the grade level, the more significant this “novelty-effect!” Older, struggling learners have had their share of disconnected and often confusing phonics instruction. Feeling as if they’ve already “been there and done that,” most have spent countless hours across multiple grade level years trying and failing to acquire the phonics skills they need to read and write. For these struggling, upper grade learners, framing these seemingly boring and meaningless letter sound skills as novel “secrets” that explain all of the sounds letters make when they get together, sparks their natural curiosity and reignites their interest—motivating them to want to know and learn more as things finally start to make sense!
Following are some short video clips showing the Secret Stories® Musical Brain Teasers in action for fun and novel phonics play and practice! These little brain-based ditties are best done in bits of downtime throughout the day (think “instantaneous singing!”) while waiting for the bus, or for the music teacher to come, or for the lunch line to move. (To access the musical download, find the code on the inside back cover of your Secret Stories® book.)
The Beethoven Blends AND Beethoven Blends ‘In-Reverse!’
Click Here for the Digital Version of the Secret Stories® Beethoven Blends on Teachers Pay Teachers
Apples & Bananas to the EXTREME!
The “Letter Runs” – Forward, Backward, Long & Short!
This song is almost never sung the same way twice, as you can do it backward AND forward, and even sing it to different tunes— from the Star-Spangled Banner to Happy Birthday—all while continually switching the vowel sounds back and forth, from long to short! (So many ways, so little time! ;-)
This class can even sing it “Jedi-Style!”
(Note: You can’t see from the way that the teacher is facing in the video, but she is pointing to each letter as it’s sung, so as to ensure that kids always “SEE what SING and SING what they SEE!” This is key to forging the the letter-sound connections in the brain. However, when doing the rapid-paced Letter Runs forward and backward, it’s much easier when using a vertical alphabet. (The one pictured beneath the video is included is included in the Better Alphabet Anchor Pack, shown further down below.)
And then there’s the Better Alphabet™ Song for fast mastery of individual letter sounds in just 2 weeks to 2 months! (Video version below.) During this time, kids are also learning Secrets that explain WHY the letters aren’t always making the sounds they should!
Click Here for the “Video-Version” of the Better Alphabet® Song
Click Here for the Better Alphabet™ Classroom Anchors
Click Here for the Better Alphabet™ Digital Mini-Mats for Individual Student Reference & Home Use
Click Here to Download the FREE “Appetizer-Pack” of Secret Stories® Phonics Posters
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/Pasted-Graphic.png378393Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2014-07-17 14:34:002020-12-10 18:15:51A Novel Approach to Phonics Instruction: Using Music to Accelerate Reading
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