Helping Older Readers Who Struggle

A Guest Post by Anna Hardway, M. Ed.

older struggling readers

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Accelerated Reading Intervention

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

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

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

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

The Science of Reading and the Brain

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

How the Brain Learns to Read

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

phonics stories for reading

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

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

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

teaching older struggling readers


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

Dyslexia, Reading, Phonics & the Brain

Decoding in Reading - The Dyslexic Brain

Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin, characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language. (For more on dyslexia, what it is, and what it isn’t, click here.)

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

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

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

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

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

Phonics for Dyslexia

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

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


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

Phonics for Dyslexics

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

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

Phonics for Dyslexia

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

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

How I Helped My Dyslexic Child Learn to Read

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

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

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

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

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

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

phonics for dyslexia


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

Phonics Stories - TH

Phonics Stories for Reading

 

phonics stories

phonics stories for reading

 

Phonics Stories

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


 

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

Secret Sundays - Episode 2

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

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

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

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

Posted by Secret Stories- Cracking the Reading/Phonics Code with the Brain in Mind on Wednesday, December 12, 2018

So, if you’re up for a challenge, try and join me this weekend for the second episode of Secret Sunday LIVE at 5pm on YouTube for “Cheating the Brain for Easy & Early Access to Hard Phonics Skills!” You will discover the “secret” ingredients to cooking-up a powerful, brain-based phonics “stew” in your classroom! In this short 30 minute timeframe, you will learn how to align core tenets of brain based learning with your existing phonics instruction to accelerate access to the WHOLE code that kids need to read AND to write!

I will also be doing another giveaway for a FREE Secret Stories Classroom Kit OR (if you already have it) any other item of your choice from the Secret Stories® website—from the Flashcards, to the new Decorative Squares, the Manipulative Placards or a class set of Porta-Pics….it’s your choice! To win, just share this link to the live broadcast on your Facebook or Instagram page anytime between now and the 5pm broadcast, and then be sure to follow and tag! I will also be sharing a free download link to one of the most popular items in my TpT store— one that’s never been offered for free—to ALL who tune in to learn on your precious Sunday! :-)

Secret Stories Phonics Kit

Secret Stories® Phonics Flashcards

Secret Stories® Decorative Squares Phonics PostersSecret Stories® Phonics Manipulatives Placards

Secret Stories® Phonics Phonics for Homeschool

So I’ll see you all on Sunday….same time, same place!

Talk soon,
Katie
https://www.KatieGarner.com

PS And YAY! I actually did it!!!  I gave you a “heads-up” more than an hour in advance! Lol ;-)

Title I Teacher (a.k.a. “Secret Agent” Amy Mitchel) Goes Undercover…. and takes her “student detectives” with her!


My name is Amy Mitchell. I am a reading specialist and Title I teacher in Wyoming County, West Virginia. In all the years that I’ve been working with kids, I have never had more fun or more success than I’m having now, and neither have my kids! What’s the difference? I have discovered the Secret Stories!

I teach struggling learners, and sometimes it can be difficult to get them to pay attention, to learn, and to use that learning at the appropriate time. They do not always understand that a letter with two humps is an /m/, nor do they often care.  We “teach” them and we “tell” them, “This is a /m/ and it says “mmmm,” or this is an /l/ and it says “llllll,” and then we assess them and they have little to no recall of these “randomly appearing” symbols and sounds.

One such kindergartener was in my class last year. She was just adorable, but had such trouble focusing on lessons and attending to tasks, and knew only one letter on her first assessment…the letter /s/.  We taught and taught and taught….letters of the week and high frequency words, as per our scope and sequence in Journeys, along with every other creative way to practice letter sound skills you can think of.  By November, she had picked up a couple letter names and sounds, but really wasn’t getting it.

Enter the Secret Stories…
I met Katie Garner at our state reading conference in November where she was doing the keynote and some break-out sessions. In the breakout, Katie showed us “The Better Alphabet Song” which is supposed to “give” (not “teach”) all of the individual letter sounds using  muscle memory, so as to take just 2 weeks to 2 months to acquire, both for kindergartners and preK (which I also teach). Katie also shared some “Secrets,” which explained the sounds letters make when they get together. She explained that the Secrets should be “tossed out” as needed, so that kids understood why letters weren’t always making the sounds that they should, and that this should happen in conjunction with kids learning the individual letters, via the “Better Alphabet.”  That way, kids would be able to make sense of what they were seeing in text throughout the day.

The Better Alphabet Song

Secret Stories Phonics Better Alphabet Song

When I got back from the conference, I found and watched every video I could (some many times) that Katie had online, and on my first day back, I just jumped in! It was the last week before Thanksgiving, so feeling that I had nothing to lose, I took right off implementing it in my classroom visits,  I started singing “The Better Alphabet Song” twice a day, just like Katie said to, and  I made sure that they were using their “muscle mouths” (were REALLY working their lips, tongue and teeth when singing, so as to “cement in” the sounds)…..

 

Secret Stories Phonics Program Better Alphabet Song- Mouth Muscles

…..AND that they were using their “eye glue” (i.e. keeping their eyes “glued” to the letters that I was pointing to as they were singing them. Katie had stressed over and over that to really forge the connection between the symbol and sound, kids had to “see what they sing” and “sing what they see,” as otherwise, they’ll be able to sing all the sounds but won’t be able to use them for reading and writing. 

I also started sharing some Secrets, even though I honestly didn’t think it would make much difference kids who still didn’t even know their basic letter sounds.

I went into class for a 45 minute time slot daily and told them Secret Stories and sang “The Better Alphabet Song” twice in that time slot. I showed them Secrets in their sight words, and we found other words with the same Secret. That’s all I did differently.

The SECRETS to Teaching Sight Words

Secret Stories Phonics Makes Teaching Sight Words Easy

The regular teacher of the little girl about whom I was so worried was out on maternity leave, and they had had substitute after substitute, so aside from my daily 45 minute visits, there was no stability. But when I came in, she would lean in to hear the Secret Stories I told. She LOVED the Secrets. Despite not yet knowing their individual sounds, she obsessed with their “secrets!”

Fast-forward to the week before Christmas break when it was time to assess again and this sweet little girl now know 14 letters and sounds! Growth!!! And it had barely been three full weeks— one week before Thanksgiving and these two weeks before Christmas!

Phonics Screening Assessment/ Phonics Check

So back to the assessment…
What I found most surprising when testing this little girl, beyond the fact that she now had 14 letter sounds, was what she said when I asked her about the letter /y/.  She didn’t know the name of the letter, but when I asked her about its sound, she answered in a profound way that shows the power of the Secret Stories for any learner, especially those who are struggling.

She said, “I know when it’s the line leader it says ‘yuh, yuh, yuh’ cuz it’s being good, but when it’s at the end, it says ‘e’ or ‘i’ cuz it’s being sneaky.” She couldn’t remember the letter name, and yet its three positional sounds, which aren’t aren’t even supposed to be taught until second grade! I was amazed. (If you don’t know the Secret Stories, and aren’t yet privy to who Sneaky Y® is, click here!)

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Poster

When you teach reading to early grade learners, it’s so easy to lose sight of the big picture, given the grade-specific phonics skills and their incremental assessments, but ultimately, what really matters is that kids are able to sound out words for reading and writing. Knowing what the letter /y/ is called doesn’t help you read or write words, but knowing the different sounds it’s likely to make depending on where it is in a word, does.

The “story” part of the Secret Stories appeals to a different part of the brain, a part that develops much earlier. It gives them a place for the letter sounds to “stick” and a different pathway for recall. It’s just incredible how it works.

Secret Stories Brain Based Phonics Instruction

At the year’s end, that child knew ALL of the letter names and sounds….and some Secrets!!! I was sold completely. Soon the Secrets were spreading with such success that our school board came to observe the Secret Stories in action during a meeting in our building. They loved it! News spread fast and soon other schools were wanting it, so Katie came and trained our whole district.

Phonics Workshop/ Phonics Training

Katie Garner Phonics Workshop

Now that it’s county-wide and everyone loves it, it’s spreading even more! We are adding our PreK and Head Start classes!

Fun Phonics Lessons with Secret Agent Mitchell

With inspiration from a friend and Pinterest, I decided that I would develop the theme of the “Secret” stories and made myself into a “Secret” Agent. When I first went into each classroom to introduce myself (and the Secret Stories), I dressed up in my Sherlock Holmes costume, trench coat, and had an oversized magnifying glass, all while the “Pink Panther” theme song played!

Since I traveled from room to room, I even decorated the cart that I pull with signs that said, “Top Secret” and “Keep Out” signs, with caution tape around it! I told the kids that all the Secrets I have inside are TOP SECRET and can only be accessed by me, or someone who is granted “clearance!”

We talked about what secret agents do, and how they must be trained to watch out for bad guys who try to trick them into doing things they aren’t supposed to do. Then I told them that letters sometimes try to trick us, and that it’s usually the vowels that try to do this, but that if we were good detectives, we can catch them, find out what they’re up to (i.e. discover their “Secret”) and unlock the hard word.

I read them a story of a trickster letter named Sneaky Y®, who was guilty of “breaking and entering,” as well as stealing and then impersonating others.

We even used a magnifying glass to find that sneaky guy when he was hiding behind a tree with a spy glass (telescope) and spotted him in lots of words as well. They LOVED it! (You can find the story that I’m reading to them about Sneaky Y® here.)

Of course, I had to mention that sometimes, letters are caught not doing what they are supposed to, and even breaking the “Secret” rules, so then they must go straight to jail!

I’ve told them about the “Thinking Vowels/Head Bop” trick, which allows some words to be “re-habilitated” (i.e. decoded) and not have to go to jail. I love that idea and so did they!

Even my classroom requires the highest level of security clearance, and may be accessed only by a scanned image of my handprint! No one else’s handprint will unlock the door, since I am the “Top Secret Agent!” (Not that they don’t love trying to “scan” their own handprints for unauthorized entry!)

Secret Stories Program "Detectives"

Of course, the walls are covered in Secret Stories® posters, but I also hung silhouettes of secret agents to “guard” all the Secrets in my room. One can be seen “guarding” the Secret Stories® Better Alphabet Chart, keeping safe “every letter, every sound, every day.”

Our Secret Phonics Posters

Another one of my agents is always keeping an eye on our Secret Stories phonics posters.

Secret Stories Phonics Program Detective Classroom

I have other agents watching our “Keys to Comprehension” (Zimmerman and Hutchins) and writing charts because decoding leads to “cracking text” for reading and writing. which only build upon one another. All of this leads to even more phonics fun and “Secrecy!”

I even transformed my big storage cabinet into a “secret vault” with a safe lock that can be accessed only with a “secret code” and scanned fingerprint!

I tell the kids that inside the vault are lots of ways to practice our Secrets with reading and writing. In truth, it contains all of my existing  reading resources—different learning games for phonics practice, sentence building, and sight word practice —all of which leads us to discover more Secrets! And that’s another thing I love, which is that Secret Stories work with anything and everything because they are teacher tools, as opposed to another phonics “program.”  

A Scope and Sequence for Phonics Programs and Instruction

As a Title I teacher, I do classroom visits, as well as “pull-out” groups. I bring kids to my “Secret Agent” room and tell them they are now “commissioned” as detectives to find “Secrets” in words, so as to unlock their sounds and read them. Our reading program refers to our secret mission simply as “decoding,” which doesn’t exactly excite kids. If we just stick to the script of our reading series and follow its slow scope and sequence for phonics skill introduction, kids in kindergarten and first grade would have to wait years for the “keys” to the code (i.e. Secrets) to unlock the words they see every day!

Secret Stories Phonics- NO MORE SIGHT WORDS

And upper grade, struggling readers might never get them, as they often missed the boat (or as Katie says, the “bus”) at the earlier grade levels when these critical code-skills were introduced.

In fact, the sounds that letters are actually the most likely to make (when they come together in words) aren’t even introduced in the scope and sequence until late first or even late second grade! How tragic! Especially when we have kindergartners easily unlocking words that would have been challenging to our second graders in previous years. It’s just amazing.

First Grade Phonics Programs— Scope and Sequence

Teaching Beginning Writers

And Secrets aren’t just for reading. They are equally useful in getting secret agents to WRITE, as this only increases their fluency and automaticity. Katie talks about the inherent connection between reading and writing in brain, particularly at the beginning grade levels.  The same Secret Stories posters we use to identify the sounds we need in reading are equally helpful for writing, as kids know that they can find any sound they need and just copy down the corresponding Secret pattern.

I use white boards often to build words and play with phonemes and letter/sound substitutions while making it fun and fast to practice letter formation and encoding to the point of automaticity. To kick it up a notch, and keep with my Secret Agent/Detectives theme, I use “invisible ink” tablets so that we don’t leave any clues behind about our Secrets! (Of course we really WANT the Secrets out! Everywhere! But the idea that they are OUR Secrets just makes kids want them MORE, and adds to the fun and secrecy!)

Secret Stories Phonics Lesson with Mommy E®

The Dollar Store has these little tablets that you can scribble on with a plastic stylus and pull up to make the writing disappear, and these work GREAT for this type of writing and word building practice. That is the same tablet outside my door that when pressed firmly with a hand leaves the perfect “scanned image” of a handprint. So much fun!

When my kids see me in the hallways, at lunch, or even out in town, they love to blow my “secret” cover as they point, giggle and say, “She’s a Secret Agent!”  They are sure to tell me any new Secrets they’ve learned in their classroom, or any new words that they’ve found with a new Secret in them. (And putting some Secret Stories phonics posters up around the school, in the hallways, etc… is a great way to spur conversations about Secrets!)

Secret Stories Phonics Posters in the Hallways

Secret Stories Phonics Posters- TH

SECRET STORIES Phonics Posters ER, IR, UR

Secret Stories Phonics Posters ING, ANG, ONG, UNG

SECRET STORIES PHONICS POSTER EU/EW

SECRET STORIES Phonics Poster "Blends"

 

 

 

 

In the lunchroom, kids even sing the “Better Alphabet Song” at the lunch tables! One kindergarten classroom sang “Happy Birthday” to their teacher on her actual birthday with the letter sounds instead of the real lyrics! (You can see the “Letter Runs” song here sung to the tune of Star Wars, as you can sing it to any tune the kids like!) Secrets are always there, always teaching.

Secret Stories Phonics Program Letter Runs to Happy Birthday!

To close, I thought I might share some of the messages I received after Katie came and trained our teachers to get them started. We have had a few collaboration sessions on how to implement what she taught us, and since then, I’ve received some of the following messages from other teachers in other schools in my county who I’ve helped implement this amazing tool….

“You can hear Secret Stories all over our building!”

“Everybody has embraced the Secret Stories and they use them every single day….singing ‘The Better Alphabet Song’ and sharing Secrets, decoding their names and every word they see. They love it!”

“I’m so thankful you introduced this [Secret Stories] to us! Thank you!”

“They [Secret Stories] are so easily incorporated!”

“I love it so much! Thank you!”

“When I’ve been testing my kids on letter sounds, they use the sound cues to remember the short vowel sounds (short & lazy) and their [superhero] arms for the long vowel sounds.”

“Best part of my day is walking down the K-2 hallway and hearing the kids singing ‘The Better Alphabet Song!” Thank you so much for bringing this to our county!” –Principal

And my absolute favorite was from a collaboration session with teachers about how using Secret Stories is going in their classrooms, now that they’ve had a chance to get started, and it’s from veteran kindergarten teacher, Deanna Bailey:

“When Katie came and showed us those writing samples, I was really intimidated! I’m just going to be honest. I thought, there is no way I am going to get my kids there by the end of kindergarten! BUT…after using them in my room with my students, I can now say to anyone who feels this way…. The intimidation needs to go down and the expectations need to rise up…a lot!’

What a testament to the power of backdoor learning with the Secret Stories! Expectations are rising in Wyoming County, and with them, our reading levels, test scores, and most importantly, our enthusiasm for reading and writing!


THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU Amy Mitchell!
I have nothing at all to add to your wonderful post, except to share a the two videos, below. They were taken at the district workshop that you mentioned, and I wanted to include them with your post because they bring to much the excitement that you shared about working with your students. I loved watching them, and I especially loved reading about all of the wonderful things that are happening in your district, particularly the point Deanna in regard to shifting our mindset about what kids can do, and when they can do it! That’s really the only “tricky” part of using Secret Stories®…..to change the way you think and allow the brain to do what it does best…. which is to MAKE SENSE of what being learned. Simply put, that’s all Secret Stories® do— they make PHONICS make SENSE, so that you can get on with the real reading and writing FUN!

Until Next Time,
Katie
www.KatieGarner.com
www.TheSecretStories.com

PS There are LOTS of great reading conferences coming up in November where I’ll be speaking, so if you’re interested in going to one, please check my schedule, as I would love to meet you in person!

PSS I just had to share this creative way that another teacher, Jessica Granada, a second grade teacher from Los Fresnos, Texas, found to display her new Secret Stories® “Decorative Squares” phonics posters….

Secret Stories Decorative Squares Phonics Posters

HOW COOL IS THAT??
Decorate your classroom ceiling with this FREE “appetizer-pack” of Secret Stories Phonics Posters!

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Does it ever feel like every day is a new day in Johnny’s head?
What I mean is, have you ever spent an entire week teaching something, only to have some kids look at you like they have NEVER seen it before on the following Monday? With so many skills to cover in so little time, teachers have to ensure that what they teach actually sticks.
Imagine that you are a bus driver and that the skill you are teaching is a stop along your route. Some of your students make it to the stop in time to catch the bus; others do not and so they are left behind. So what happens to the kids who miss the bus? Will there be another bus coming up behind it that they can catch? And what happens if they’re still not ready? How many more chances will they have to get on board?

Now instead of a bus driver, imagine that you are a merry-go-round operator, and the skill you are teaching is one of those pretty horses on the merry-go-round that keeps on spinning round and round. Opportunities to jump on are constant and ongoing, as it’s literally impossible to “miss” the merry-go-round!

Secret Stories® Phonics "Merry-Go-Round" Memories for Phonics Skills that Stick
Consider this same merry-go-round analogy as a framework for what brain science tells us makes memories stick, which is to provide spaced repetition at designated intervals (see below) so that the newly learned information just “keeps coming back,” and can therefore be more easily transferred into learners’ long-term memory. Once there, the information is theirs forever—never to be forgotten or fall prey to the “summer-slide!”
Skills that are traditionally introduced in a linear fashion over multiple grade level years (like letter sounds and phonics patterns) can be the most challenging to “bake” using the above recipe. With so many skills to cover, so little time to teach them, and so many students who are not developmentally ready to learn them in kindergarten, teachers in first and second grade are often trying to reinforce skills that many learners don’t even have.

If teachers in preK or kindergarten introduce a letter of the week, what happens when a student misses “D” week because he’s out sick? Worse yet, what if he is out for two weeks and misses both “D” and “E” weeks?  What if a learner isn’t developmentally ready for kindergarten and hardly picks up any of letter sounds the letter sounds introduced that year?

Click on the video above for individual letter sound mastery 
in 2 weeks to 2 months via early learners’ muscle memory.
Will the first grade bus have time to circle back around through each of those individual letter sound “stops” that he missed in kindergarten? If it does, will it be at the expense of making all of the necessary first grade stops— th, sh, ch, ph, wh, gh, etc..? And as he gets further and further behind having missed so many stops, how will he compensate for the skills he doesn’t have? Will he have to memorize even more sight words in order to make up for all of the skills he didn’t get that are in all of the words he can’t read?

When it comes to reading and writing and the skills kids need to do it, this conversation becomes critical. Traditionally, the “code” that’s needed to read and write— from the individual letter soundsblends and long and short vowels,  to the silent e/Mommy e®), Sneaky Y®digraphs, vowel combinations and VCCV/VCV/Babysitter Vowels®— are all “chopped-up and divvied-out” for formal introduction across multiple grade level years (PreK-2nd), which means that kids simply cannot afford to miss even ONE bus along the way….not if they’re supposed to be done “learning to read” by the end of second grade and ready to “read to learn” by third.

Closing the distance on all of the “missed stops” (i.e. phonics skills) in such a short amount of time is extremely difficult and rarely happens with traditional methods of instruction. Instead, kids who missed buses along the way must learn to compensate for the “holes” in their skill ability by memorizing more sight words and becoming better guessers, as the instructional focus is no longer on teaching the reader, but on teaching the reading. Struggling readers will carry these gaping holes with them through subsequent grade levels, where they become stuck on the instructional hump between learning to read and reading to learn.

The critical skills that kids need to read and write must be banned from the bus. They belong on the merry-go-round! And if you are using Secret Stories® to underscore your existing reading curriculum and instruction, then the merry-go-round is already spinning around in your classroom, though you probably didn’t even notice it. 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "AU/AW"

Every time you tell or retell a Secret, you are giving students another opportunity to jump on! 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "ER, IR, UR"

Each time you ask if there is a Secret in a word they are trying to read, or if they hear a Secret sound in a word they can’t spell, the merry-go-round is spinning…. solidifying a “deep-in-the-gut” level of skill-ownership for those who have already jumped on, while continually circling back for those not quite ready.

Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "EU/EW"

Using Secret Stories® to underscore existing core reading instruction makes it impossible for anyone to miss the bus because the Secrets just keep coming back— shared and re-shared, told and re-told, used and re-used— as students read and write across all content areas and throughout the entire instructional day.

Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "TH"
The Secrets are the ‘life-blood of our classroom, always within reach and ready for use, whenever and wherever they are needed” 
(Thank you, Tara Settle, for that great description!)
Underscoring core reading curriculum and instruction with the Secrets naturally provides for the spaced repetition and staggered reinforcement that research shows “makes skills stick.”  It’s not intentional, but automatic, and it continues with each subsequent grade level at which the Secrets are needed. The code doesn’t change with each grade level year, nor do the phonics skills kids need to crack it! Kinders are expected to read and write words like the, she, now, girl, boy, play, etc… even though they contain phonics skills that sit on the scope and sequence for first and second grade. “Three to four grade level years is just too long to make learners wait for access to the whole code.” (Dr. Richard Allington).
Secret Stories® Phonics Secret "OUS"

By targeting phonics skills to the earlier developing, affective “feeling” domain, Secret Stories® empowers learners as young as kindergarten with high-leverage phonics skills, like  Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels®, providing the much-needed “trigger” for determining whether a vowel will be long or short. And the same Babysitter Vowel® Secret that beginning readers need in order to decode words like making or motor, upper-grade readers can use to crack words in higher level text hibernating or migration

Secret Stories® Phonics "SECRETS" — Making Phonics Make SENSE!

And that merry-go-round just keeps on spinning— providing ongoing and never-ending opportunities for all kids to hop on when they’re ready!  And hop on, they will because Secret Stories® transform the code from skills they have to learn into “secrets” they WANT to know!

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack

Teaching phonics is not intuitive, but many things that great teachers naturally do are! Today’s educators can take advantage of the advancements in new technology and brain science to hone their teacher-instincts and streamline instructional practice.

An awareness and understanding of the brain science as it relates to best teaching and learning practices calls into question not only what we do, but also how, why, and even when we do it. It empowers us to go further— to be better, stronger and faster (think the Bionic Man!) and to hone our best teaching tools to perfection! “Neuroscience speaks loud and clear to educators, but it is up to us to heed its message!” (Dr. Kurt Fischer, Harvard University)

Secret Stories® Phonics— Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!
If you would like to dive deeper into the research behind Secret Stories® and the process of targeting phonics skill instruction to the affective domain for accelerated mastery, you can download the white paper by Dr. Jill Buchan, here.  (Dr. Buchan is also the author of the 2 Sisters Daily CAFE / Daily5 white paper.)

Finally, I want to let everyone know that I have dragged myself out of my comfort zone to learn about and become more active on Instagram. If you’re already on Instagram, you can find me @TheSecretStories, and if you’re not, you can get started with me! I’ve learned (and posted!) there every day over this past week, and have really enjoyed the more personal level of engagement and interaction that Instagram offers. I will continue to post there daily (cuz it’s a lot easier than composing a semi-well worded blog post— Lol!) sharing the latest research, live videos, YOURS and other teachers classroom pics and vids, as well as some behind-the-scenes conference and PD fun!

My hope is to create a special space where we can communicate, collaborate, grow and share as a Secret Stories® tribe, as well as continue discussions started in emails like this one. I really hope that you will join me! (And if you do, be sure to use the hashtag #SecretStoriesReading and #BrainRead in your post so that I see it.

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

PS I will be doing multiple featured sessions at the Michigan Reading Conference next weekend, and the North Carolina Reading Conference the weekend after that, followed by the Montana State Title I Conference, where I’ll be doing a morning keynote and multiple breakouts. And if you would like to check out my spring/summer speaking dates, or schedule a school or district PD/workshop, just click here.

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

 

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

 


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

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

How to Be a Good Word Doctor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Stories Phonics for Teaching Sight Words

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

NEW Secret Stories Phonics Flashcards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Free Secret Stories Phonics Posters Anchor Posters

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Why Wait to Teach the Sounds of  Y?

y as a vowel

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!

Secret Stories Phonics Program

Giving Beginning Readers Easy Access to “High-Leverage” Phonics Skills 

There is perhaps no where 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,
Sunday…
Sneaky Y sounds on the calendar

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!”

sounds of y
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.)
Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Poster

Sneaky Y® Digital Pack on TpT

Secret Stories Sneaky Y Phonics Story

Sneaky Y® Secret Story digital “cheat-sheet” is included in the Superhero Vowel® cheat-sheets in Secrets of the Superhero Vowels digital pack on TPT

Now that you know about the other sneaky sound that Y makes when he’s at the end of words, like  in Monday or May?”  
Secret Stories® Phonics Calendar
Secret Stories Calendar Secrets
That’s not Sneaky Y®!
That’s ey/ay, and they are just too cool! (like Fonzie!) 
“Who’s Fonzie?” you ask.
For those who are under 40, this clip should help…

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!)

Here’s a sneak-peek!

Secret Stories Sneaky Y Guided Reader
sneaky y sounds of y
Secret Stories Sneaky Y Phonics Story
sounds of y sneaky y
Secret Stories Sneaky Y Phonics Story
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?

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— ey and ay are just too cool!
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!
 
Daniel M. 
Kindergarten Teacher

AU AW PHONICS rule


Until Next Time,
Secret Stories® Phonics Read-Aloud
Katie 
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!
Katie Garner Education Keynote Speaker and Literacy Consultant —Professional Development Workshop
Katie Garner Education Keynote Speaker— Kindergarten Conference
For information on bringing Katie to your school or district for workshops, click here.
For more information on how to register, visit the Kindergarten Academy Facebook Page or email sac.kindergartenacademy@k12.sd.us.

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Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories

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“Beware of the stories you’ll read or tell; subtly, at night, beneath the waters of consciousness, they are altering your world.”   

                                                                                                                                       —Ben Okra     
                                  

Can you breathe underwater?

Obviously, the answer is no.

But what if you lived in a world where breathing underwater was possible?
Then the correct answer would be yes.
In other words, the answer depends on the context.

Traditionally, the idea of teaching complex phonic concepts and strategies to beginning, early grade learners would be considered developmentally inappropriate—a position with which I would have to agree.

Giving them however, is a completely different story!
By wrapping skills up into stories, we can give them what can’t be taught. Stories are easy for kids to remember because stories are HOW kids remember. Stories act as a sort of “memory-enhancer.” They serve as strong memory-holding templates in the brain and provide a much-needed framework for memory construction.

Secret Stories Phonics — "Stories act as memory-enhancers in the brain!"


Stories pose no developmental harm, nor are they age or grade-specific, as learners naturally take away only what is personally meaningful and relevant to them, without any expectations. In this way, the reading and writing code is transformed into ‘skill-drenched’ golden nuggets, buried within familiar and easy-to-remember stories, allowing learners to become their own “gate-keeper” of skills.

And herein lies the power of the Secret Stories® backdoor delivery method for the totality of skills that all readers and writers need, but traditionally cannot have—not until they are “ready.”

So hold your breath and prepare to dive into a new way of thinking about what we do and why we do it, and in no time, you and your students will be breathing underwater!

For more on the Secret Stories® use of the affective learning networks as a backdoor delivery system for high-leverage concepts and strategies, check out these previous posts here and here.

Secret Stories Phonics — Targeting Phonics Instruction to the Affective Learning Domain!
For more, subscribe free to the Secret Stories® YouTube Chanel.

You can also check out this video below on the brain’s development, back to front, and how to activate the earlier-developing, social and emotional “feeling” networks for use as a backdoor for accelerated skill mastery.

Before I close, I wanted to kick-off the new school year with this fun and FREE 36 page Secret Stories® Reward/Incentive Bucks Pack! It even includes a student purse and wallet for safekeeping of students “secret” earnings! Inside, you will find information on how to use it with the Secret Stories® in the classroom. You can grab it by clicking here or on the link, below.

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Reading Bucks
Free Secret Stories® Reward/Incentive Bucks

On a side note, I always love getting to meet so many incredible teachers at conferences around the US! And over the next couple of years, in addition to my current speaking schedule, I will be doing a series of keynotes in cities throughout the US and Canada as part of the Vulnerable Learners Summits some of my personal mentors, Dr. Richard Allington, Dr. Anne Cunningham and Debbie Diller (see promo below.) If you have the chance to attend one of the Summits, do go! They are amazing and each of us gets to spend some quality time with attendees, with alternating keynotes and lots of  follow-up extended length break out sessions. I hope to one day have the chance to meet YOU! :-)

Katie Garner International Keynote Education Speaker with RIchard Allington Debbie Diller and Anne Cunningham
For more upcoming dates, check out my speaking schedule, here!
Until Next Time,
Katie 
Katie Garner — Literacy Professional Development and Education Speaker

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Secret Stories Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind
Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!
Secret Stories Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind By Katie Garner #BrainRead
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Sample Poster Pack

 

Katie Garner Education Keynote Speaker and Literacy Consultant
For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here. 

 


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Secret Stories® Phonics #BrainRead

Secret Stories Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind

 

Too Many Phonics Rules, Too Little Time

Secret Stories® Phonics "oo" Secret!
Dear Katie,
I have been a Reading Specialist for thirty years, as well as an adjunct university professor. I have enjoyed great success with the Secret Stories, and my kindergarten through fifth grade students have had such an easy time mastering them and their reading levels have soared! Have you ever thought about adding more Secrets? For example, what about for these patterns, below?
—dge (as in edge)
—tch (as in catch)
—que (as in question)
—old (as in hold)
—ost (as in most)
—ind (as in kind)
—ink (as in link)
—ild (as in wild)
—ture (as in adventure)
—one (as in honk)
—unk (as in trunk)
—olt (as in bolt)
—stle (as in whistle)
—ank (as in bank)
—ive (as in give)
And finally, what are some good books and/or materials to use with, as well as to reinforce the Secret Stories? 
Best,
Laura B., Reading Specialist
Laura also send a little note from Ella, who asked me to write more stories, and also let me know that her favorite Secret Story was the secret about /th/, which is just too cute!
We had fun learning the Secret Stories.
Can you write (more) stories? My favorite is TH!”
From Ella 
I LOVE questions like these, so thank you to Laura and Ella for reaching out to ask them! Questions like this provide the perfect opportunity for me to open up a big can of worms when it comes to the way we traditionally think about phonics and reading instruction, in general.

Secret Stories® is not like traditional phonics, nor is it like any phonics program. The Secrets simply put meaning where there would otherwise be none, so as to shift instruction from brain antagonistic to brain compatible!

Secret Stories Phonics — Accelerated Access to the Phonics Code

Our brain is a pattern-making machine, and Secret Stories® feeds its craving to make sense of letter sound behavior in a way that very young (and upper grade, struggling) readers can easily understand. The rule of thumb when creating the Secrets was not to align them with traditional phonics rules, but with the brain science. The Secrets are tools, not rules, which means that they are designed for the sole purpose of helping kids crack words apart (decoding/reading) and put them back together (encoding/writing.) 

Secret Stories® Phonics— The Brain is a Pattern-Making Machine!

How to Predict the Most Likely Sounds of Letters in Unknown Words

Take -le,  for example, as in words like little or middle. There is no Secret for the —le sound because it’s not necessary in to read the words— not if learners know that the e at the end won’t talk anyway (as Mommy e® only tells the vowel she can reach to say its name, but she has no sound!) Likewise, if a phonics pattern is so rare that it would be of minimal use to elementary grade level readers, then it is not addressed with a Secret. In such cases, experience is the best teacher, so the key is to get enough real skills under learners’ belts so that they can get up and running with text, and allow text experience to fine-tune learners’ skills. An example of this would be the silent t in words containing the -st or -stle pattern, as in whistle or listen. This sound spelling applies to so few words that it doesn’t merit the time and space it would take up in beginning or struggling readers’ brains. Moreover, learners how know just enough Secrets to read the rest of such words would likely be able to make the adustment to figure out the word.

The key to being able to successfully give beginning grade learners everything they need is not to burden them with anything they don’t need. (Sorry for the double negative, but hopefully you get the drift!) In simpler terms, don’t get caught up in the minutia. Focus on what really matters and allow text experience do the rest. It is a far better teacher than either you or I will ever be!

 

In addition to providing the logical explanations for letter sound behavior that the brain craves, Secret Stories® also account for the common “default” sounds of letters in text— all of which are embedded into the graphics anchor sound posters. Because these defaults follow the same social emotional “feeling” based logic that drives learners’ own behavior, even inexperienced, beginning (and upper grade, struggling) readers are can think-through the alternative sound behaviors of letters in text, rather than always having to memorize  them as “exceptions.” Filtering out the fringe and streamlining the most common letter sound behaviors serves to foster an “if not this, than that” hierarchy of likelihood, helping navigate learner decision-making with unfamiliar text.

So before I specifically address the potential new Secrets requested, it is important to understand that just as the apple won’t fall too far from the tree, the letters won’t stray too far from their sounds! This handy saying can be used to help both students and teachers, alike to convey the flexible thinking needed when working through various sound options of letters in text.

Secret Stories® Phonics— Thinking OUTSIDE the Box About Letter Behavior!

Working with text requires learners to think “outside the box,” something they cannot do if they don’t first know what’s IN it. The Secrets ensure that learners know everything that’s IN the box so that they can easily think outside of it, something that working with text, demands. Students as young as kindergarten are easily able to identify the most and next-most likely sounds of letters in words they’ve never seen— stretching their analytical thinking and problem solving capabilities far beyond just the Secrets!

This critical analysis and diagnostic thinking game takes the form of “What else can it be? What else can we try?”….. much like the deductive reasoning process that doctors must employ when attempting to diagnose symptoms that don’t always “present” in the way that they should.

Activating Social-Emotional Learning Channels for Higher Level Thinking

When learners are equipped with Secrets, they actually enjoy engaging with text in this way, which transforms daily reading and writing into a virtual playground for critical thinking and deep literacy learning!

exceptions to phonics rules

By anchoring abstract letter sound and phonics skills into social and emotional frameworks that are already deeply entrenched within the learner, they become personally meaningful and relevant.

Secret Stories® Phonics— GH "Thinking OUT of the BOX!" (No more sight words!)

Now, let’s attack that list of potential “new” Secrets and see if we really do need to “add a few more cooks” to our phonics kitchen!

-dge  (as in ridge, sludge, budget, etc…)

Secret Stories® Phonics— C E, CI CY/ GE, GI, GY
Secret Stories® CE, CI, CY/ GE, GI, GY

If kids know the ce, ci, cy/ ge, gi, gy Secret then the addition of the letter d should pose no problem when sounding out the word. Even if they include the d sound, they would still be able to “get” (recognize) the word. Additionally, the e at the end would also cause no worry, as kids who know the Secrets know that Mommy E® can only tell the vowel to say its name if she’s one letter away, close enough to reach it!

Therefore, creating a new Secret for the dge pattern is unnecessary and would only result in our having “one too many” cooks in our kitchen! That’s not to say that knowledge of -dge as a spelling pattern wouldn’t be useful to upper grade learners, abut the primary goal is to get kids reading.  All of the research shows that reading is by far the best teacher for fine-tuning spelling, and kids who know the Secrets will be able to that experience, tenfold!

Next up— 
-tch (as in: scratch, itch, crutch, etc…)
Same as above.  

If learners know the ch Secret, then initially attacking it with the t sound before the ch won’t interfere with a reader’s ability to ultimately decode the word, even for kindergartners.

-que (as in: question, delinquents, frequency, queen, etc…)
Secret Stories® Phonics— QU
Secret Stories® QU

Knowing the qu Secret is all that is needed here, along with recognizing that as with -dge, the e at the end makes no sound. And keep in mind that when working with words not of English origin, Secret Stories® will get you close, but not all the way, as the same rules don’t apply, as with words like: bouquet, applique, etc… 

-ive (as in: dive, give, active, lives, etc…)

The first word, dive poses no problem at all, as Mommy E® is doing just what she should, which is  in telling i (who’s one letter away) to say his name! However, in the other words— give, active and live — Mommy E® is just “too tired to care,” as sometimes mommies are! Which is why sometimes,  she’ll just sit back and let the vowels do whatever they want… because even moms aren’t perfect! It’s words like these that require kids to put on their “Dr. Hat” and think-through to the next most likely sound!

decoding exception words

-old (as in: bold, cold, mold, etc…)

This one’s easy, with the only possible glitch being that the letter o is making its long (Superhero) sound instead of the short and lazy one it’s supposed to when Mommy E® or the Babysitter Vowels®´aren’t around. Even still, simply encouraging learners to “think like doctors” and trying the next most likely sound for o will enable them to get the word.

Learn the “Secrets” about Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels® in the video below.

-olt (as in: bolt, molten, revolt, etc..)

Same as above.  

-ank (as in: bank, sank, ankle, etc…)
Same as above.  

Secret Stories® Phonics— Superhero Vowels®
Superhero O and his “short and lazy” disguise!

-ost (as in: cost, post, lost, most, etc…)
Same as above, as o should short and lazy, since there is no Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® in sight, so again, learners need to “think like doctors” and try both sounds to be sure, just like any good word doctor would do.

-ind (as in: kind, windy, find, Indian, etc…)
Same as above.  

-ild (as in: mild, wild, child, build, mildew, etc…)
Same as above.  

-onk (as in: honk, bonkers, donkey, monkey, etc..)
This is like those above, with the exception of words like monkey, in which the short o can sound more like short u. Rather than having to “hire another cook” for our kitchen,  there is actually a handy trick called “Thinking Vowels—Head-Bop” that takes care of this, as well as other seemingly non-decodable sight words, like: come, of, was, love, some, does, above, etc... You can read  about it here!

Secret Stories® Phonics— "Head-Bop" Trick for Fickle Vowels/ Easy Sight Word Reading
Click here to learn the “Thinking Vowels/Head-Bop” Trick for Fickle Vowels

While we have a trick for the words above, every now and then,  kids will need to use a little more elbow grease to “bend” the letter sounds and “get” the word. Practicing is very helpful and can actually be a lot of fun, and a great way to do it is to read the books Hungry Thing and Hungry Thing Returns by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler “What else could it be? What else can I try?” 

How to Read Words that are Exceptions

-unk (as in: bunk, chunk, dunk, etc…)
No secrets needed, as the letters are doing exactly what they should!

-ink (as in: sink, blink, drink, etc…)
One of my favorite Secrets is I tries E on for Size, and it’s all that’s needed to explain why i will sometimes make e’s sound instead of his own!

Secret Stories® Phonics— "I tries E on for size"
Secret Stories® “I tries E on for Size”
-ture (as in: future, mature, lecture, etc…)
This one’s easily taken care of with the ER, IR & UR- Secret, as the t just makes its regular sound, and like some of the other patterns above, Mommy E® is just hanging out at the end, doing nothing!
Secret Stories® Phonics— ER IR UR
Secret Stories® ER, IR, UR
It’s so easy that not only can kindergartners do it, they can TEACH it!

-stle (as in: wrestle, castle, jostle, listless, etc…)

Reading Hard Words Can Be Easy, If You Know the “Secrets”

As mentioned earlier in this post, this pattern occurs too infrequently to mandate having another cook in our kitchen.  And even though Mommy E® is at the end, she isn’t interfering with how the word is sounded out, as she’s too far away to reach the vowel and make it say its name, anyway. And as for the silent t, even if learners did include it when sounding out the word, they should still be able to “get” (recognize) the word. It really doesn’t take much deductive reasoning (even for kinders!) to sound out a word like castle (with the t-sound) and be able to figure out that the word is actually castle (without the t sound)

Fostering this fluid and flexible thinking about letters and the sounds they make is what helps to  transform daily reading and writing into a playground of critical thinking and deep learning opportunities! And while the kids enjoy seeing the Secrets work, they have much MORE fun playing word doctor when they don’t— trying to figure out what else the letters might are doing and how best to tackle them! And as the more they engage, the more powerful they feel when working with text, and the more their confidence grows across the instructional day! they  over text grows by the day,

This is easy to see when watching these first graders at work, trying to account for why the i is long in words like light, right and fight, when there is no Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® there to make it say its name!  (This clip of Mrs. Mac’s class is one of my favorites!)

Former early grade teacher turned Harvard University Neuroscientist, Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang sums up what is evident in the short video clip above, which is that, “It is neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care about.”  These kids really care! Not about long and short vowels, but about mommies, babysitters, vacations, the behavior of other kids, etc… all of which are woven into the Secret that they are passionately debating in the word light.  
Secret Stories® Phonics— Apathy to Engagement
Now for the final part of Laura’s question regarding what books are best to use with Secret Stories®. That one’s easy— anything and everything! Books, magazines, posters, road signs, cafeteria menus, logos, etc…. literally everything with text is fair game!
The daily course of your instruction will dictate much of what kids are reading and writing each day, as Secrets are introduced in context of daily instruction across the course of the entire instructional day— whenever and wherever they are needed! From hallway signs to cafeteria menus to math books, Secrets are everywhere, just waiting to be discovered!
Secrets are easily introduced and reinforced with any text, and are especially helpful during guided reading. I have created a limited set of Secret Stories® Guided Readers to help teachers when working with guided groups and helping learners use the Secrets to decode text. These are especially helpful as they include an additional version with the Secrets in the text to help build learners’ visual acuity for easier pattern recognition, as well as teacher notes for added insights (similar to those made in this post) to help guide teachers through the process of helping learners when decoding trickier words.  It’s as if I were sitting right beside you and your students at the guided reading table! :-)
Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Readers
Access the Complete Set in the Guided Reader Description 
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® “Appetizer” Anchor Phonics Posters!

Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

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The brain is a pattern-making machine—seeking-out patterns and creating new ones. This is its natural system for learning. And yet, when it comes to teaching abstract letter sound and phonics skills for reading, it can be difficult (if not impossible) to feed the brain the logical explanations for letter sound behavior that it craves!

Secret Stories® Phonics— The Brain is a "Pattern-Making" Machine!

The Best Thinkers are the Best “Pattern-Makers”

Watch as these first graders are transformed into analytical “word doctors” upon coming across the /ie/ phonics Secret during guided reading. Watch as they think-through (i.e. pattern-out) all of the Secrets they know about Superhero I in order to account for his (sound) behavior, and while doing so, also create a brand NEW pattern! Their diagnosis? Apparently, Superhero I has some sort of obsessive “cookie-eating” and then “excessive exercising” disorder— Lol! (If your kids  know the /ie/ phonics Secret, they will LOVE watching this clip!)
Secret Stories® Phonics—  The Superhero Vowels® I Poster
Secret Stories® Superhero I
Secret Stories® Phonics Poster—The  IE "Secret!"
Secret Stories® Phonics “ie” Secret
And now for some teacher-fun!
These very talented teachers from Bremerton, Washington are bringing the “ie Secret” to life in their own way, which you can watch below. You can find this video and more on the free Secret Stories® Youtube Channel!
Underscoring existing reading and writing (phonics) curriculum and instruction with Secret Stories® makes kids privy to all of the letters’ “Secrets,” creating a “learner-driven” instructional environment that transforms daily reading and writing into a virtual playground for critical thinking and deeper literacy learning!
Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
“The measure of intelligence lies in the ability to see patterns where others see randomness.”
Now let’s watch the same first graders (from Mrs. Mac’s 1st Grade Class) in a whole group mini-lesson, during which the kids have noticed that in the word light, the /i/ is making its long sound, despite the fact that there is no Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® in sight! This conundrum sparks a creative (and highly imaginative) conversation about letter-sound behavior that is purely driven by  learners’ “need-to-know!”  (This is actually one of my ALL-TIME-FAVORITE clips!)
It’s difficult to imagine, given the high level of interest and student engagement seen in this video, that these first graders are actually discussing the impact of the /gh/phonics pattern on the sound of the letter /i/ when reading and writing words like sight and night.  Their enthusiasm for debating letter behavior is similar to that which is shown when discussing the behavior (or misbehavior!) of their classmates. This is because both concepts are anchored in the same familiar framework of social and emotional experience and understanding, making it easily accessible and ready for use!
Secret Stories® Phonics— From Apathy to Engagement!
“It’s neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care about.”
— Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang (Harvard Neuroscientist)
By aligning letter-behavior to kid-behavior, Secret Stories® forges learners’ own personal connections to letter sound and phonics skills, which allows inexperienced, beginning and struggling upper grade learners to easily hypothesize and deduce letters’ “most” and “next most” likely sounds.  Targeting phonics instruction to the social-emotional “feeling” domain transforms letters and sounds from skills they have to learn into “secrets” they want to know! And the fact that they are grown-up reading and writing “secrets” makes them even more important and helps mark them for memory and prioritized learning in the brain!
Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
Secrets make information important to learners, 
marking it for memory and prioritized learning in the brain.

And if you were wondering how these first graders so easily identified the different sounds for /gh/, you can learn the phonics Secret in the video, below. (Note the little girl standing next to the lady who is re-telling the Secret, as she is watching her closely to make sure that she doesn’t screw it up— Lol!)

Moving Phonics Instruction from Apathy to Engagement

All kids are naturally fascinated by the behaviors of other kids (i.e. “who did what to who, and why”)  and this inherent “need to know” is what naturally drives their desire to learn more Secrets! Even kindergartners can easily remember who the line leader is, who can’t sit together, and who always gets in trouble. The same “social-emotional” learning networks that store and retrieve this information can be used to help them keep track of letter sound behavior, making it easy for them to predict their “most” and “next most” likely sounds.  Secret Stories® provides the logical explanations that our brains crave about why the letters do what they do, so as to make phonics make sense! Secrets make phonics make SENSE because they are based on social and emotional frameworks that are already deeply entrenched within the learner. Knowing the letters’ “secrets” spark their natural curiosity. motivating them to engage more with text.

 

Secret Stories® Phonics— "Giving" Skills, Not "Teaching" Them for Accelerated Access to the Code
“Giving” Phonics Skills, Not “Teaching” Them for Accelerated Access to the Code

 

To wrap things up, I just had to share this wonderful email and picture that was sent to me by Aimee Meyer and her first grade class from Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Receiving letters like this one mean EVERYTHING to me, and I cannot thank her enough for taking the time to send it!
Secret Stories® Phonics Poster by First Grade Class
For More “Kid-Made’ Versions of the Secrets, Check Out This Post!

 


Dear Katie,
I just wanted to share our latest first grade classwork at St. Thomas More in Baton Rouge. My student made up their own Secret Story posters…..”Drop the “y” to add “ed” and “es! We adore our Secret Stories! I’d feel so lost without it! My school sent me to New Orleans a couple of years ago where I got to meet you and listen to you speak. Afterward, I went home and purchased the Secret Stories Classroom Kit as soon as could!

Thank you so much.
You don’t know how many little lives you’ve changed.

Aimee Meyer
PS Every K-4 classroom in America needs to implement Secret Stories!