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!
I know if you are reading this, you are probably a teacher of older students, or a parent of a struggling reader who has been told that their child “can’t read.”
If that’s the case, you are probably reading this late at night, having wrung your hands, scratched your head, and said your prayers….while continuing to search for answers. I know this because I have been you.
I never thought about becoming a Reading Specialist at any point in my college career. I started reading when I was three, so OBVIOUSLY I knew everything about reading, right? Nope, not even close.
My second year of teaching, I was plunked into a Title I Intervention position in a K-8 school. I had cruised through “intervention” with my K-2 students, as at that age, they absorb pretty much everything. My work with struggling readers at the upper grade levels, many of whom were struggling with dyslexia, was an entirely different story.
As soon as I began working with 3rd-8th grade struggling readers, I realized there was SO MUCH that I didn’t understand. I wanted to help them, but had no idea where to start, as many were just too far behind. It was at this time that I began working on my Master’s Degree in Special Education, as solving this problem would require more knowledge and tools than I currently possessed, and I was determined to help these kids!
When I had initially started working with struggling readers at the upper grade levels, my first reaction was to blame every teacher that they had ever encountered in earlier grades. How could a sixth grader in a regular education classroom be reading at SECOND grade level?
Being in a small school at the time, I got to know each of those teachers. Every one of them had been frustrated with the same children—not knowing how to help them, but trying to do their best. They simply didn’t know how to get there.
It was then that I started down the path of blaming parents, society, and culture in general. That’s a bleak place to be. This disposition didn’t last long, as soon I had my own son—who in first grade had decided that he would rather cut holes in his shirt rather than learn how to read. He was interested only in things that had wheels or made noise—neither of which applied to the average book. And so, his “go-to” reading material was anything with “schematics” (think assembly instructions for a bookshelf with diagrams for pictures!)…at six years old!
While my son may have been perfectly fine with the “Encyclopedia of Cars” and “Build Your Own Bookshelf” directions, I had to have something to “read” with him that was at least a little more enjoyable. Thank God for the “Look Inside/See Inside” books, as they were our regular bedtime “stories.”
Accelerated Reading Intervention
After finishing my master’s degree and becoming a Reading Specialist, I understood the importance of beginning grade level screeners and various other forms of assessments used to identify vulnerable learners so as to catch them before they fall. Research shows that the ability to identify all of the letters and sounds by Halloween in kindergarten is a primary predictor of later student reading success. Yet, for many at-risk, or vulnerable learners, achieving letter sound skill mastery often extends well beyond the kindergarten year and into first grade—delaying instruction of critical first grade phonics skills.
While spending the entire kindergarten year mastering individual letters and sounds is not an uncommon practice in today’s classrooms, it is unnecessary, as brain science offers preferred pathways for learning that fast-track individual letter sound instruction. The Better Alphabet Song is a perfect example of how easy it can be to put science into practice, as it targets earlier-developing, muscle memory pathways for faster skill acquisition, rather than relying on under-developed, executive processing centers.
And this is only the beginning, as we can use brain science like a road map to “cheat the brain” into learning more complex, phonics skills as well! For example, the Secret about the Babysitter Vowels® makes sounding-out longer, multi-syllabic words easy, as it provides an instant “compass” to know whether vowels will be long or short. Watch the clip below to see how the Mommy E® strategy extends into higher-level Babysitter Vowels®.
When working with remedial readers, the ultimate goal is for them to be able to apply information, ideas, content, skills, and strategies to various situations, and not to be dependent on others for information and ideas. The organization of Secret Stories provides the continued support that’s needed, while increasing students’ personal responsibility for their own learning. By the time students are in fourth grade, the window of time for learning to read has begun to close, as instructional momentum shifts away from “learning to read” land focuses squarely on “reading to learn.” For some students, my own son included, the traditional “front” door approach to reading instruction is not enough—they need more. They need to gain accelerated access through the “backdoor!”
Secret Stories accelerates access to ALL of the code-based, phonics skills that struggling learners need to read and write—regardless age or grade level. With its “backdoor-to-the-brain” approach, complex phonics patterns are made simple, as is the brain based process for teaching them. This makes Secret Stories one of the most highly effective, instructional tools available to educators and parents, alike.
For older, struggling learners who have tried so hard for so long, Secret Stories is the missing “piece” of the elusive reading-puzzle. Its “backdoor” approach re-ignites their interest, curiosity, and most importantly, their desire to unlock the mysteries of text!
Guest Blogger, Anna Hardway, M. Ed., is a 20-year educator and currently a consultant on various education topics such as Reading, Curriculum, Assessments and Development Strategy. She has worked inside public education, and has worked for Save the Children, as a Director of Programs for Early Literacy and Rural Education. She has also developed education recovery programs in the aftermath of disasters such as the Oklahoma Tornadoes of 2013, South Carolina Floods of 2015, West Virginia Floods of 2016 and Hurricane Harvey in 2017. If you would like to reach her, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/brain-puzzle-pidce.jpg12661040Anna Hardwayhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngAnna Hardway2019-04-27 12:45:392020-04-15 13:39:01Unlocking the Phonics Code for Older Readers
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!)
And if you tuned in for, what was supposed to be “Rewind Wednesday,” which was supposed to be a replay of Sunday’s episode on Facebook Live, but with me “chatting” live in the comments section throughout, then you know that was a complete debacle. Ugh!
Well, not a total debacle….at least, not once everyone from the THREE live groups (yes, I accidentally streamed three at the same time) all found their way into the one that I was actually in. But from that point on, it was smooth sailing! :-)
And finally, the UNPLANNED and totally IMPROVISED "Wednesday Rewind!”…..3rd time’s a charm! Lol 😊
So, if you’re up for a challenge, try and join me this weekend for the second episode of Secret Sunday LIVE at 5pm on YouTube for “Cheating the Brain for Easy & Early Access to Hard Phonics Skills!” You will discover the “secret” ingredients to cooking-up a powerful, brain-based phonics “stew” in your classroom! In this short 30 minute timeframe, you will learn how to align core tenets of brain based learning with your existing phonics instruction to accelerate access to the WHOLE code that kids need to read AND to write!
PS And YAY! I actually did it!!! I gave you a “heads-up” more than an hour in advance! Lol ;-)
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/secret-stories-phonics-program-converstation-station-6.jpg19112048Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2018-12-15 18:53:022020-03-03 14:25:47“Secret Sundays” with Katie Garner LIVE on YouTube 5pm EST | Brain-Based Phonics for Accelerated Reading and Writing
Fast-Tracking the “Too-Slow” Pace of Traditional Phonics Skill Instruction
If you’re frustrated with your reading program and the intractably SLOW pace of phonics skill instruction, or, if you are feeling overwhelmed by all of the sight words that kids have to memorize because they can’t read them, then you are in for a real treat!
I want to introduce you to one of my favorite teacher friends, Tara Settle, who just happens to teach in my home state of West Virginia, and who I met while doing a phonics workshop for the Wood County School District in Parkersburg, WV. If you follow me on Facebook Page, Instagram, or Twitter, the name might sound familiar, as I often share peeks into Tara’s classroom.
I love sharing insight from Tara’s classroom because she really “paints a picture” of not only of WHAT she does, but HOW and WHY she does it….and teachers really need all three if they are to make strategies their own!
For who are teaching first grade and using the Journeys Reading Series, you are really in luck, as that’s the catalyst for Tara’s post, below. For everyone else, regardless of whether you teach kindergarten, first or second grade, and no matter the reading series (or phonics program) you use, you will see that Tara’s situation likely mirrors your own. The reading “programs” don’t give kids at the early grade levels access to the phonics skills they need to read most of the words that are in them! However, your reading series IS the perfect “playground” for your kids to enjoy flexing their reading and writing muscles with the Secrets!
And so, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Tara, who has not one, but TWO sets of Secret Stories® Flashcards! (You will see why as you read on!)
(From this point on, Tara’s words are in black, and my commentary will appear in red.)
My name is Tara Settle, and as Katie said, I live in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and have taught for a total of 29 years. Having had the privilege of being a stay-at-home mother for my four children, I chose to educate them through homeschooling. It was a wonderful adventure for all of us! Both of my two sons had reading disabilities, and I searched high and low for ways to help them become more proficient in this overwhelming process. We persisted, they overcame, and today they are successful readers.
Fast forward to teaching first grade in a 90% low-socioeconomic status, Title 1 school. I encountered so many of the same struggling readers as my sons. And so I began my online search one summer, determined that there had to be something “out there” that could help my students.
The Secrets have changed my teaching career and the reading lives of all my students, who often come from homes with no previous help or reading “lap” time. The first year I used Secret Stories, I realized that it wasn’t your typical “phonics program,” as it worked like nothing I’d ever seen before. When my students understood that Sneaky Y® made 3 sounds, they were able to read words at the beginning of the year that my previous year’s class struggled with until the end. I was convinced that this multi-sensory, neuroscience based way of “cracking the reading code” was exactly what I had been searching for my entire teaching career. Every year, Secret Stories proves to be an approach that truly works for all readers!
One more thing…if you use Journey’s Reading Program and have found the online interactive “Settle On In” Blog for your students, that’s me! I created this free resource for teachers to use with their classes, so be sure to search for your weekly story there for free and safe resources for your class.
Journeys Reading Series/ Phonics Program
Week 1- Sight Words: play, the, with
I borrowed your ladies sunglasses idea that was posted on the Secret Stories Facebook Page yesterday when introducing “ey/ay” with our Journey’s Reading Series/Phonics Program, week 1 sight word, play. I sent the pig picture out to all my parents in a platform called Seesaw so they could have a (fingers crossed) dinner time conversation about our new Secret. I wouldn’t normally include a picture of the Secret, as per copyright, but I thought this might be a good way to introduce Secret Stories to my parents, as usually I will say, “Ask your child to tell you the Secret about ay/ey that we learned today, and see if they can tell you some words that it’s in.” (I thought that this one should be okay since it has a cute pig in front of the picture— Lol!)
I love the way Tara includes her parents by letting them know to ask to hear a Secret! This is a great way to keep parents in the learning-loop while at the same time, establishing kids’ “ownership” of the Secrets. And while you can’t copy or reproduce any of the Secret graphics or text to send home, you can use the Porta-Pics to give kids access to the Secrets at-home, as well as for individual use in the classroom. They are a little over $2 a piece, and when laminated, they should last 2-3 years, so they can be checked out to each new class. You can also get more ideas on how to share Secrets with parents here.
I got out my apron so that I was ready to greet my class today. They have to tell me the Secrets and read the words to enter our classroom! Luckily, they all remember the Secrets!!
The small cards seen in Tara’s apron (which she had specially made) are the cut-apart cards from the back of the Secret Stories® Book, although she also uses flashcards in the top pocket, which you will see a bit further down.
Journeys Reading Series/ Phonics Program
Week 2- Sight Words: no, find, sing, funny, they, do
Below is a pic of my sight word review/follow up for today. These are words from our first grade Journeys reading series.
It’s ironic that Journeys scope and sequence for first grade (like most all other reading series/phonics programs) doesn’t introduce the phonics patterns that are needed to actually read these words until the end of first and/or second grade! And yet, when using brain science as a road map to tap into the backdoor learning channels, kids can have them in preK! Don’t believe it? Click here!
Here is a picture of today’s sight word review. These are words from the our Journeys series. Knowing the Secrets means that we don’t have to waste time memorizing sight words, as we can just read them. Note that the words find and do require kids to think like word doctors, which you can read more about here.
Journeys Reading Series/ Phonics Program
Week 3- Level B Reader, Curious George
Curious George is the Journeys Lesson 3, Level B Reader, and it contained 17 words that my students couldn’t read without Secret Stories. Without these Secrets, they wouldn’t have even been able to decode the title! When you stop and think about it, it truly is mind-boggling, and it makes me so mad on behalf of these struggling students! I seriously wonder how other Journeys first grade teachers in Title 1 schools or with ELL learners use this series without Secret Stories.
It is ironic that the reading series requires that learners be able to read words that contain phonics skills not yet taught. Nor will they be for what is often another one or two more grade level years.
The kids also had to sing this Secret to me to enter the room, since you can’t read “George” without it! I used the 6×6 flash cards on my apron (instead of the smaller cards from the back of the book that I usually use) so that they could see the letters better.
The picture I am sending is of the words from the two leveled B and C readers that I will be reviewing today so that the students continue to see the connection between Secrets and the words in our stories. As an aside, I love having the extra set of space-saver posters, as they are just the right size to put up on my magnetic board next to the words they are in!
Below is a picture that I posted on Facebook that combines the two pics above. I love how Tara is constantly modeling how to use the Secrets to unlock the words they are reading, not just in these stories, but in text experiences throughout the entire instructional day— from math to social studies. In the hallways, on bulletin boards, even on the lunch menu in the cafeteria, Secrets are always there….always teaching. (As one little first grader in Mrs. Mac’s Class said, “I can’t turn it off! The Secrets are EVERYWHERE…. and I just keep reading them!!!!!”)
Journeys Reading Series/ Phonics Program
Week 4- Level C Reader, Lucia’s Neighborhood
All of the following are from our Journeys level C reader, Lucia’s Neighborhood. They had to read the word fire on my apron when entering the room this morning. This will be my introduction to the word “firehouse” in my level C vocabulary reader for guided reading this morning. (Not to mention the word firefighter, which is also in this story, and yet without the Secrets, would be virtually impossible for most beginning first graders to read!)
A word like fire requires knowledge of the phonics rule about silent e….. or, in Secret Stories-terms, the Mommy E® Secret! (If you don’t know it, it’s super-easy, as is Babysitter Vowels® which explains what happens when “mommy just has to get out of the house!” to read/spell multi-syllabic words like making, motor, etc… You can them both here!)
In order to read the word Lucia where /a/ is making the schwa (“uhhh”) sound, I remind the kids about the “Thinking Vowels” who can’t make up their minds whether to be long or short, and so they bop themselves on the head as they say, “Uhhhhhh?” You will see that I code “thinking vowels” with a dot for where they smacked their head. (I usually ask the kids to look for the Secrets they see in the words and then underline them.) Once again, just look at how many Secrets are in the title! I truly have no idea how I used to teach reading before Secret Stories!
When teachers say that Secret Stories® “changed the way they teach,” or that they “couldn’t go back to teaching without them,” it’s because things that used to be “so hard” are now so easy! Like, for example, helping beginning readers figure out the words in the title of this book—especially when the reading series or phonics program hasn’t yet introduced the skills they need to do it! Many of these patterns aren’t “supposed” to be taught until second grade, which is way too long to wait, especially if you need them to read and write beginning in kinder! Just think how many reading and writing opportunities are lost on kids who don’t know the Secrets, from kindergarten to second grade. And yet, they’re so easy, you can share them with pre-schoolers!
Below are the Secrets they need to read the sight words in this lesson. Notice that like in the word Lucia, we can use the same “Thinking Vowels” trick that we used to read Lucia to read the sight word does.
Teaching Reading & Writing Connections with Secret Stories
My team teacher, Mrs. Buckley, did a word work writing activity with our first grade enrichment group. We split our classes so as to better meet the needs of each or our groups. You will see more from Mrs. Buckley further down, below.
I love the way Tara and Lisa model use of the Secrets by “twisting and turning” them for both reading AND writing. This is so important in helping beginning grade learners understand the inherent reading and writing connection. Many early grade learners don’t realize that the same letter sounds that help them read words are equally powerful in writing them. Adding Secrets to the mix accelerates this otherwise slow learning curve, as the Secrets give them something beyond just individual letter sounds to read and write with!
Journeys Reading Series/ Phonics Program
End of Week 4
So far, these are all of the Secrets that I have introduced by the end of today, beginning of Week 4, Journeys program. I teach the Secrets, as we need them, to read the words that we encounter, not only in our reading series, but throughout the instructional day.
Here is what I have on the board for Monday next week, which is from Journeys Lesson 5, Gus Takes The Train. I will also be introducing /ation/ for station. We pretend to pull the train whistle while saying the /a/ and then do the /tion/ motions on the card.
This will occur when someone uses the vocabulary word “station” during the week. Singing the song “Down by the Station” also reinforces this Secret Story. I also teach them the song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” After singing it throughout the week, they will be given a copy of the text to highlight the Secret Stories they find in it. Then we read it together and sing it together from their highlighted page. They love it!
As in previous lessons, we first look for the Secrets we need to read the title, which you can see in the first picture below.
We used the train sound today and /ation/ because we had to say “train station” in our read-aloud! Woo-hoo!!!! The class helped me make this track and we now enter and leave the room to the /ch/ sound, and then as we gain speed, it becomes the /tion/ sound. Of course, we have to pull the train whistle for /a-tion/ too! (Notice the “partially pink” railroad track? That’s because we ran out of black tape— Lol!)
Now we find the Secrets that help us read the sight words introduced in Journeys Reading Program, Lesson 5.
It’s so much fun to go on Secret Stories “hunts,” which is where kids try and see who can find the most Secrets on a page or in a book! This is fun to do in whole or small group, and is also a great way to increase learners’ visual acuity for quicker pattern recognition in text. They kids love spotting Secrets! And every time we find one, I reinforce how knowing the Secret helps us to figure out the word.
Of course, we are always discovering new Secrets in words from our read-alouds, discussions, and writing blocks. One of the reasons that I put Secrets up with the text is to reinforce the connection between Secret Stories and reading. Students need to understand that the Secrets are the keys they need to unlock words. Secrets are power—the more they know, the more they can read and write! And they are everywhere, in all of the words that we come across each day.
I know this sounds like it should be an easy concept for my class to comprehend, but some can take longer to connect the dots than others. All of the kids know the Secrets, but it can take some longer than others to start applying them, which is why I take every opportunity to model using them whenever and wherever we are working with text.
I plan on introducing the /ch/ Secret this week with our story about trains.It seems appropriate, especially since its “default” sound is depicted as a “conductor” on the Secret Story poster! I’m not sure what word will trigger our “discovery” but am sure it will occur during this week.
And for those who don’t know the /ch/ Secret, check out the story as shown on the reverse side of the new Secret Stories® Flashcards, shown below. They have the Secret graphic on one side and the story text on the back.
And for those who don’t know the /ch/ Secret, check out the story as shown on the reverse side of the new Secret Stories® Flashcards, shown below. They have the Secret graphic on one side and the story text on the back.
My teacher friends wanted you to see how excited they are to gets the flash cards! ❤️
Hands-On Learning with the Secrets
I also wanted to point out that this is the first year I have been able to have the Secrets right beside our sight words on the whiteboard. The new phonics flashcards put the Secrets right into our hands! They are no longer just on our walls in the big poster size, but have now “come down” to interact with us during our learning discussions.We have them in our hands at stations, during guided reading groups, intervention groups, on the board beside the text, in line playing games while waiting, and so much more. Between the new flashcards and the Dual-Use Placards (which I bought at the end of last year) the Secrets are now both on AND off the walls and interacting with our daily learning!
I also wanted also share this quick parent video that made and send to parents using SeeSaw. It’s a great way to keep parents in the “Secret” learning loop!
And here is one that I sent home about our upcoming sight words.
Reading Intervention Isn’t Just for Struggling Readers
Lisa Buckley- First Grade Teacher (at Tara’s school)
How can the “Secrets” help more capable readers? In our district, reading intervention can refer to higher-level students who need more challenging reading opportunities, as well as to those who struggle.
Even capable readers get curious at times about why the letters do what they do. In my enrichment group we’ve pondered questions such as, “Why does /eigh/ say “ā” and why isn’t it spelled /ay/?”
We also discuss words like sleigh vs. slay, and how the Secrets help us attack these words in both spelling and reading. These kids know most, if not all of the Secrets, however, they are still curious about the connection to sounds that can represent different spellings. So, we have been using the Secrets intensively to study multi-syllabic words, while looking for multiple Secrets in the words. This helps with both fluency and comprehension when reading more difficult text.
In addition to the Curious George “word work” pictures from my enrichment group shown higher up above, you can see in the pics below how many words the kids found that had the Secrets about /ous/ and /i tries e on for size/.
My immense thanks to Tara, as well as her teammate, Lisa Buckley, for taking the time to share how Secret Stories® phonics instruction amplifies their reading/phonics program and gives kids “warp-speed” access to the tools they need to read and write! I can tell you that when I last left their school, these two were in the process of creating a “green room” in which to film a Secret Stories® Yoga video (I kid you not!) that kids could do during literacy center rotations. I can’t even imagine what this would look like, but I promise to let you know as soon as I find out!
In the meantime, I want to share this picture of Tara in her famous apron, as it’s one of my favorites because in it, I describe how she literally turns herself into a “walking, talking, AND singing Secret Story every morning!
In closing, I want to let you know that I will be spotlighting different teachers for different reasons in upcoming posts, and hopefully, adding some good stuff to your “Secret” bag of teaching tools and tricks!
And on that note, I also wanted to highlight Melissa Snyder for her “creative cutting” of the Secret Stories® Original Posters as she seems to have started a trend! (That is, for teachers who are artistic enough to trust themselves with the scissors—not me!)
Check out her clever-cutting of the Secret poster for eu/ew (mouse ears!) as well as /”i tries e on for size!”/ below. I also loved her Sneaky Y® and the Superhero Vowels®! If you don’t already know all of these Secrets—including Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels®— you can learn them all here!
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-)
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/sample_er_ur_ir_color.gif502600Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2018-10-01 17:57:162020-03-03 14:26:12Boost Your Existing Reading Program with Brain Based Phonics Instruction!
The reason I was unable to send out the Title I video link last weekend as promised, was due to an unexpected, four-hour long dumpster dive in Detroit last Sunday—the ONE day that I had time in-between flights and conference travel to edit and upload it.
Why was I dumpster diving in Detroit, you ask? Was it for jewelry or cash….? Nope. It was to rescue my favorite 1st-grade student writing sample below.
If you’ve seen me speak at a conference, it’s likely that you tripped over this particular piece of writing when walking into my session, as it’s usually draped over the door and extending out several feet into the walkway. It is a perfect example of early learner skill-automaticity, but at over 12 feet long and heavily laminated, it’s always a challenge to get into my suitcase! That said, I love it and always take it with me wherever I go (to speak, that is, not on regular vacations- lol)
Even when I do keynotes, you’re likely to see it thrown over those fancy, giant ballroom doors, like a “Jed Clampett-style” welcome sign for teachers!
So you can imagine my horror when after finishing up my sessions at the Michigan Reading Conference, I looked up and saw that it was GONE!
I searched everywhere and questioned everyone. “Has anyone seen a 1st-grade writing sample that’s about 12 feet long?” No one had.
I was especially suspicious of the “little-kid” cheerleaders (whose cheer competition was in the same part of the convention hall as the reading conference) as they seemed like the most likely suspects. Not only were they everywhere,tumbling up and down everything, but they were the only ones (aside from myself) who would have had any use for a 12-foot long piece of plastic (the makings of a perfect “cheer-banner!”)
But as it turned out, it wasn’t the cheerleaders.
It was a custodian who had apparently spotted my giant, puddled-up, plastic mass of writing on the floor by the door (where it fell) and decided to throw it away…. or try to, as it wouldn’t fit in her garbage bag.
The writing was so long, and the heavy-duty laminate so inflexible and unwieldy, that she’d apparently had to “hand-carry” that 12-foot long writing across the entire 3rd floor, down the escalator, and to the far side of the main lobby to the gondolas (a fancy word for rolling garbage bins), where it would then be taken to the building’s main compacting dumpster on the outer deck.
I later found out that my precious writing sample had been put into that giant compacter, where it was squished and squashed by an iron plate that pushed it further and further into the back recesses to make room for more cheerleader garbage.
By the time I had figured out what happened, that damn dumpster had literally “eaten and swallowed” my 12-foot long, 1st-grade writing sample! And to make matters worse, there was only one opening at the very front through which all of the garbage had to be pushed through. There was no top or side access door, which meant that there was no way to tell just how deep down that “rabbit hole” dumpster my writing had fallen!
But that didn’t stop me…. or my new (and VERY kind) friend, Kevin, an off-duty custodian who was willing to help me try and rescue my writing. So, with the circuit breakers turned off so that we wouldn’t be squished, (Can’t you just see those headlines? “Teacher and Custodian Squished to Death While Trying to Save Student Writing at the Michigan Reading Conference”) So Kevin and I donned matching garbage bags over our heads like ponchos and went in. (He went in because he knew what he was doing, and I went in because I was unable to accurately describe to Kevin what a 12 foot long, laminated 1st-grade writing sample actually looked like.)
We were in about three feet and randomly poking at walls of cheerleader garbage when I suddenly saw my writing pop out from behind some plastic cups. That super-heavy (and extremely expensive) Kinko’s lamination just would not be contained! Imagine a can of snakes trying to uncoil. It was like the tentacle of a giant, plastic octopus reaching out to me…as if it were running home to mommy (if mommy were standing in a dumpster).
I was so happy to see it that I actually had tears in my eyes, as I just couldn’t imagine having to fly home and leave it behind— no more than I could have imagined leaving behind the sweet student who wrote it! At this point (as if there had been any previous doubt) I’m sure that Kevin thought I was certifiably nuts!
It’s something that only a teacher would understand.
My husband certainly didn’t when I tried to explain why I’d missed my flight. Luckily though, Delta Airlinesdidunderstand (or else thought that I’d made up the most bizarre excuse EVER for missing a flight) as they were kind enough to book me on a later one that night.
Kevin, the bravest custodian EVER (and my personal hero!)
It is thanks to Kevin (the kindest and most patient custodian EVER) and to Kinkos (whose overly-expensive, plastic lamination is virtually indestructible) that my favorite 1st grade writing sample is back where it belongs….safe and sound, and ready for its next trip to Montana on Monday (despite being “three times-compacted” and having a little less spring in its step!)
And I got to experience two things that I never thought that I would:
1. Go dumpster diving in Detroit
2. Take a shower with a 12-foot long writing sample (It was the only way to get us both cleaned-up in time for the flight! :-)
So now that I’ve provided you with what is probably WAY too much information, here it is as promised!
And if don’t have an hour and just want to watch some highlights, watch the video below.
I also want to say a big THANK YOU to everyone who has taken the time to send me pics and vids (or post them on Instagram, FB or Twitter) from your classrooms, as I can’t tell you how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE seeing all of the awesome things your doing with the Secrets and your kiddos! It’s the reason that I dig through dumpsters— Lol!
PS To all those in Montana, I’m looking forward to doing the morning keynote and several breakout sessions at your State Title I Conference later this month, and to hopefully seeing many of you there! And Maryland-friends, I will be coming back again in May, so am looking forward to seeing many of you again soon, as well! (To view all upcoming conference and school/district PD dates, click here.)
And a note to all subscribers, be sure to add Katie@KatieGarner.com to your address book so that your spam folder doesn’t “eat” my emails like the dumpster “ate” my writing— Lol! :-)
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/content_IMG_4633.jpeg800278Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2018-04-16 16:10:002018-12-01 21:15:40National Title I Video Delay Due to Katie Garner’s Dumpster Diving in Detroit!
Does it ever feel like every day is a new day in Johnny’s head?
What I mean is, have you ever spent an entire week teaching something, only to have some kids look at you like they have NEVER seen it before on the following Monday? With so many skills to cover in so little time, teachers have to ensure that what they teach actually sticks.
Imagine that you are a bus driver and that the skill you are teaching is a stop along your route. Some of your students make it to the stop in time to catch the bus; others do not and so they are left behind. So what happens to the kids who miss the bus? Will there be another bus coming up behind it that they can catch? And what happens if they’re still not ready? How many more chances will they have to get on board?
Now instead of a bus driver, imagine that you are a merry-go-round operator, and the skill you are teaching is one of those prettyhorses on the merry-go-round that keeps on spinning round and round. Opportunities to jump on are constant and ongoing, as it’s literally impossible to “miss” the merry-go-round!
Consider this same merry-go-round analogy as a framework for what brain science tells us makes memories stick, which is to provide spaced repetition at designated intervals (see below) so that the newly learned information just “keeps coming back,” and can therefore be more easily transferred into learners’ long-term memory. Once there, the information is theirs forever—never to be forgotten or fall prey to the “summer-slide!”
If teachers in preK or kindergarten introduce a letter of the week, what happens when a student misses “D” week because he’s out sick? Worse yet, what if he is out for two weeks and misses both “D” and “E” weeks? What if a learner isn’t developmentally ready for kindergarten and hardly picks up any of letter sounds the letter sounds introduced that year?
Click on the video above for individual letter sound mastery
in 2 weeks to 2 months via early learners’ muscle memory.
Will the first grade bus have time to circle back around through each of those individual letter sound“stops” that he missed in kindergarten? If it does, will it be at the expense of making all of the necessary first grade stops— th, sh, ch, ph, wh, gh, etc..? And as he gets further and further behind having missed so many stops, how will he compensate for the skills he doesn’t have? Will he have to memorize even moresight words in order to make up for all of the skills he didn’t get that are in all of the words he can’t read?
When it comes to reading and writing and the skills kids need to do it, this conversation becomes critical. Traditionally, the “code” that’s needed to read and write— from the individual letter sounds, blends and long and short vowels, to the silent e/Mommy e®), Sneaky Y®, digraphs, vowel combinations and VCCV/VCV/Babysitter Vowels®— are all “chopped-up and divvied-out” for formal introduction across multiple grade level years (PreK-2nd), which means that kids simply cannot afford to miss even ONE bus along the way….not if they’re supposed to be done “learning to read” by the end of second grade and ready to “read to learn” by third.
Closing the distance on all of the “missed stops” (i.e. phonics skills) in such a short amount of time is extremely difficult and rarely happens with traditional methods of instruction. Instead, kids who missed buses along the way must learn to compensate for the “holes” in their skill ability by memorizing more sight words and becoming better guessers, as the instructional focus is no longer on teaching the reader, but on teaching the reading. Struggling readers will carry these gaping holes with them through subsequent grade levels, where they become stuck on the instructional hump between learning to read and reading to learn.
The critical skills that kids need to read and write must be banned from the bus. They belong on the merry-go-round! And if you are usingSecret Stories®to underscore your existing reading curriculum and instruction, then the merry-go-round isalreadyspinning around in your classroom, though you probably didn’t even notice it.
Every time you tell or retell aSecret, you are giving students another opportunity to jump on!
Each time you ask if there is a Secret in a word they are trying to read, or if they hear a Secret sound in a word they can’t spell, the merry-go-round is spinning…. solidifying a “deep-in-the-gut” level of skill-ownership for those who have already jumped on, while continually circling back for those not quite ready.
Using Secret Stories® to underscore existing core reading instruction makes it impossible foranyoneto miss the bus because the Secrets just keep coming back— shared and re-shared,told and re-told, used and re-used— as students read and write acrossall content areas and throughout theentire instructional day.
Underscoring core reading curriculum and instruction with the Secrets naturally provides for the spaced repetition and staggered reinforcement that research shows “makes skills stick.” It’s not intentional, but automatic, and it continues with each subsequent grade level at which the Secrets are needed. The code doesn’t change with each grade level year, nor do the phonics skills kids need to crack it! Kinders are expected to read and write words like the, she, now, girl, boy, play, etc… even though they contain phonics skills that sit on the scope and sequence for first and second grade. Three to four grade level years is just TOO LONG to make learners wait for access to the whole code!
By targeting phonics skills to the earlier developing, affective “feeling” domain, Secret Stories® empowers learners as young as kindergarten with high-leverage phonics skills, like Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels®, providing the much-needed “trigger” for determining whether a vowel will be long or short. And the same Babysitter Vowel® Secret that beginning readers need in order to decode words like making or motor, upper-grade readers can use to crack words in higher level texthibernating or migration.
And that merry-go-round just keeps on spinning— providing ongoing and never-ending opportunities for all kids to hop on when they’re ready! And hop on, they will because Secret Stories® transform the code from skills they have to learn into “secrets” they WANT to know!
Teaching phonics is not intuitive, but many things that great teachers naturally do are! Today’s educators can take advantage of the advancements in new technology and brain science to hone their teacher-instincts and streamline instructional practice.
An awareness and understanding of the brain science as it relates to best teaching and learning practices calls into question not only what we do, but also how, why, and even when we do it. It empowers us to go further— to be better, stronger and faster (think the Bionic Man!) and to hone our best teaching tools to perfection! “Neuroscience speaks loud and clear to educators, but it is up to us to heed its message!” (Dr. Kurt Fischer, Harvard University)
If you would like to dive deeper into the research behind Secret Stories® and the process of targeting phonics skill instruction to the affective domain for accelerated mastery, you can download the white paper by Dr. Jill Buchan, here. (Dr. Buchan is also the author of the 2 Sisters Daily CAFE / Daily5 white paper.)
Finally, I want to let everyone know that I have dragged myself out of my comfort zone to learn about and become more active on Instagram. If you’re already on Instagram, you can find me @TheSecretStories, and if you’re not, you can get started with me! I’ve learned (and posted!) there every day over this past week, and have really enjoyed the more personal level of engagement and interaction that Instagram offers. I will continue to post there daily (cuz it’s a lot easier than composing a semi-well worded blog post— Lol!) sharing the latest research, live videos, YOURS and other teachers classroom pics and vids, as well as some behind-the-scenes conference and PD fun!
My hope is to create a special space where we can communicate, collaborate, grow and share as a Secret Stories® tribe, as well as continue discussions started in emails like this one. I really hope that you will join me! (And if you do, be sure to use the hashtag #SecretStoriesReadingand#BrainRead in your post so that I see it.
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/bus.jpg1022789Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2018-03-13 17:18:002021-05-21 20:25:48Skip the Phonics Bus and Catch the Merry-Go-Round!
Teaching Sight Words— Never Make Kids MEMORIZE Words They Can READ!
“The Secret Stories are the life-blood of our classroom. They are always in view, always in our whole and small group conversations. We couldn’t read words without them. They are our best friends. They are always there, always teaching. They are the tools that students will take with them to the next grade!” —Tara Settle/1st Grade Teacher
Kids who know the Secrets understand why letters behave the way they do when they get together. For example, they know that the Superhero Vowels® have a power that no other letter in the alphabet has—they can “SAY THEIR NAMES!” (like /i/ in hike or /a/ in hate). But like all superheroes who don’t want to be recognized, they don’t want to be recognized, and so they will use “short and lazy” sound disguises to keep from being noticed (like /i/ in hit or /a/ in hat). To learn more about the Superhero Vowel® Secrets, check out this vlog post on the Secret Stories® Youtube Channel.
The Superhero Vowels® and their “Short & Lazy” Sound Disguises
Once kids know the Secrets about the Superhero Vowels®, they’ll need to know what “triggers” them to be long or short. That means letting them in on a couple of other “Secrets” about Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowel® which are so easy you can teach them to kindergartners! You can learn about both in the video below.
So what about words in which vowels don’t make the sounds that they should?
Like those pesky, high-frequency, one syllable sight words: of, was, come, love, what, some, want, etc… Well thanks to Tara Settle and her brilliant “Head-Bop/Thinking Vowels” trick, we can become even better Word Doctors, while at the same time, clear out some of the most frequent offenders that would otherwise have to be sentenced to Word Jail! (Note that in the “Word Jail” video was made before Tara had shared her trick with me, and so you will see many of the above word-offenders serving out their time!)
How to Decode “Undecodable” Words (So Kids Don’t Have to Memorize Them!)
Sometimes a vowel just can’t make up his mind which sound to make… “Should I be long?… Should I be short?…. I just can’t make up my mind— Uhhhhhhhhhhh?” (And here is where you give yourself a big BOP ON THE HEAD while making the “uhhhhh” sound, while prompting the kids to do the same!)
This handy “action-based” cue easily prompts kids to try the schwa, or “uhhh,” which is the MOST LIKELY sound-alternative for vowels that “stray” from their original sounds, allowing them to now easily decode: of, was, some, come, done, want, from, love, nothing, brother, again, around, among, another, something, etc… (For more tricks like this, as well as how to know when words really do have to be sentenced to jail time, you can check out this post.)
So here’s the trick for helping kids easily decode those seemingly “undecodable” words!
What I love about this trick is the power that it gives learners over text, minimizing the need to memorize words that can now be read! Plus, look at how many words can now be “paroled” from Word Jail!
Thanks to Tara and her student word doctors who who identified this tricky vowel-shifting pattern, kids all across the country now have a lot less sight words to memorize!
Thinking Outside the Box is Easy Once Kids Know What’s In It
It is also important to keep in mind when working with your own student word doctors, that thinking outside the box is much easier when you know what’s IN it! And that’s what a Secret is—everything that’s “in the box” when it comes to a letter/phonics pattern and the sounds it can make. For more on how to get kids to think outside the box when working their way through unfamiliar text, watch the video clip below.
For more on “teaching the READER, not teaching the reading,” as well as insight into the brain on memorizing sight words vs. decoding text, click here or on the pictures below!
You can also check out Tara’s most recent post for more on how she doesn’t teach sight words, here!
Join in the discussion in the new Facebook Group, and check out Tara’s original post, or her awesome blog with lots of oodles of ALL FREE resources for teachers! It’s called Settle On In and you can find it here.
Here’s Tara with not one, but TWO sets of the new flashcards!
There’s an elephant in your classroom.
And it’s huge.
You sweep by it every day in your classroom, several times in fact, and probably without ever even noticing. It’s most conspicuous during morning calendar time, as that’s its favorite time of day.
If you can’t see, watch this.
So now that you’ve spotted the elephant, it’s time to get rid of it!
Think of Secret Stories® as your “elephant-exterminator!” The Secrets are the logical explanations for letter sound behavior that learners’ brains crave! They are the reasons WHY letters “do what they do” when they don’t do what they should!
Giving Beginning Readers Easy Access to “High-Leverage” Phonics Skills
There is perhaps nowhere that elephant exterminator is needed more than on our morning calendar, especially when it comes to the letter Y!
It’s literally everywhere, and not once can it be found making the ONE sound that beginning grade learners are told to expect it to, which is “yuh!” as in: yellow, yes, you and yak.
Instead, it makes different sounds, one that seem belong to other letters, like in the words: January, February, May, July, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday,
Y is literally everywhere, yet not one time does it ever say, “yuh!”And the classroom calendar isn’t the only place these elephants like to roam.
We can see their tracks on the “boy’s” bathroom and in the books that we read “by” so and so author. They are even hiding in many of our favorite words, like: mommy, daddy, candy, etc…
It seems we have elephants running around everywhere!
Making Phonics Make Sense
When you don’t make sense, it’s time to tell a “Secret!”
Time to load-up on that “secret” elephant-spray so that we can make the sounds of Y make sense, and in doing so, give kids a much-needed reading and writing tool! (If you want to read more on this “elephant-extermination” process, read this article.)
And now, there is a “new and improved” elephant spray in the form of a power-packed guided reader that’s all about Sneaky Y® and his sneaky shenanigans! It’s called Sneaky Y’s Secret and it explains how Sneaky Y® got to be so sneaky! (Special thanks to Susan Eklove for the adorable text and Poco & Pop for the beautiful illustrations!)
If you are subscribed to the Secret News Blast, you should have already received a free download link for the Sneaky Y® Guided Reader in your email. If not ,subscribe now and never miss a Secret!
In closing, remember this “cool dude” from the video up above?
He’s not really Fonzie, but a kindergarten teacher from Washington State, and I he’d sent me the following email, along with that adorable video clip….
My name is Daniel and I teach kindergarten in Washington State. Last year my school district adopted a new reading curriculum and when my team examined the leveled readers before the start of the school year, we were initially in shock. We had no idea how our students were expected to read the new complex text introduced so early in the curriculum. After our initial reaction started to subside we got very motivated to create and find innovating and engaging methods for teaching more advanced phonics skills.
Around November I stumbled across a pin on Pinterest with the Secret Story posters for the R-controlled vowels, etc… I had seen it before and I thought it was a neat idea, but I had never clicked on the link. When I clicked on it and found your website and realized the scope of how many secret stories there were, I got really excited and shared it with my teaching partners who shared in my enthusiasm. They were the perfect solution to our problem! We made up a few secret stories on our own before convincing our school to purchase them for our grade level, but by January we had them and made the full commitment to implement them.
By the end of the year, we had by far the most students reading the Beyond Leveled Readers in the district, and many students needed even more challenging text. By the summer I started presenting about the Secret Stories to other teachers in my district and adjacent ones, and ever since I have been trying to share this amazing resource with as many teachers as I can.
After last year’s success, we wanted to step it up a notch this year, so we decided to create a video where we acted out every Secret Story. It took us 2 months to complete, but we are proud of the result. We’ve had our students watch it many times and they are making even more connections to the stories. Sometimes it is a gesture that one of us did that resonates with them, or remembering who acted out the story that helps the students remember the sound. It has proven to have been a very useful project and new resource.
We had a lot of fun doing it, and we would be honored if you had some time in your schedule to watch it. Thank you so much for this amazing resource and inspiring us to want to be the best reading teachers for our students as possible!
Until Next Time,
PS The registration deadline for the week-long South Dakota Kindergarten Academy this summer is fast approaching, and the preK/Kinder days have sold out. For all those who were unable to get into the PK/K workshop, you are encouraged to sign up for the 1st/2nd grade workshop, as the strategies and content covered in both sessions are applicable across the primary grade levels!
For information on bringing Katie to your school or district for workshops, click here.
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/04/elephant-2Bin-2Bthe-2Broom.png496372Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2017-04-22 03:00:002021-02-04 10:08:14How to Teach the Sounds of Y (a.k.a. Sneaky Y®) so kids just GET IT!