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
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)…..
…..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
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!)
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.
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
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!)
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.
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!
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.
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!)
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!)
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.
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!
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….
HOW COOL IS THAT??
Decorate your classroom ceiling with this FREE “appetizer-pack” of Secret Stories Phonics Posters!
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!
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?
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 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.
Every time you tell or retell a Secret, 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 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.
(Thank you, Tara Settle, for that great description!)
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 hibernating 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)
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.
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.
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
How to Be a Good Word Doctor
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!
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!
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 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.
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!
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 Workshops, video blogs and more on the Secret Stories® YouTube Channel.
Why Wait to Teach the Sounds of Y?
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.
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 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.
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.
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!”
That’s ey/ay, and they are just too cool! (like Fonzie!)
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!
In closing, remember this “cool dude” from the video up above?
|For information on bringing Katie to your school or district for workshops, click here.|
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.
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.
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, 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.
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! :-)
|For more upcoming dates, check out my speaking schedule, here!|
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!
The Best Thinkers are the Best “Pattern-Makers”
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!)
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!
“The measure of intelligence lies in the ability to see patterns where others see randomness.”
|“It’s neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care about.”
— Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang (Harvard Neuroscientist)
|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
|For More “Kid-Made’ Versions of the Secrets, Check Out This Post!|
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.
PS Every K-4 classroom in America needs to implement Secret Stories!
These 6 kids were engrossed in telling the Secrets (and trying to figure out the ones we haven’t learned yet!) The little guy in the stripes has become our unofficial “Word Jail Warden!” He can spot an ‘Outlaw Word’ a mile away! We will start ‘paroling’ some of them soon!”
Kjersti Johnson- Kindergarten Teacher
Phonics on Steroids: “Warp-Speed” Access
to the Reading & Writing Code in Kindergarten!
As teachers, I think we have all had that moment when we sit down with one of our students and they completely knock our socks off! This post is all about one of those moments.
Yesterday, I had just gotten my afternoon class of kindergartners settled into our Dailies….they were spread around the room, some reading, some writing, some listening to books on iPod shuffles, and a few shopping for new books.
I looked around to see who I would confer with (one of my favorite times of the day, by the way!) I started with Abel.
Now let me tell you about a little kindergartner named Abel.
He is one of the sweetest little guys I know. He has an amazing smile, and he is also VERY excited about learning!
He is an English Language Learner who entered kindergarten knowing 7 letters and 0 sounds. He worked SO hard the first weeks of school to learn his ABC’s and by October, he knew ALL 52 upper and lowercase letters! (the Better Alphabet Song was a huge success!)
So back to yesterday……
I sat down next to him and asked him to read to me. That’s when he pulled out Arthur’s Halloween.
I looked at him and said, “Oh, this looks like a great picture read. Can you tell me a story to go with the pictures?” This is kindergarten after all, and it’s a tough book! He gave me a strange look, and then…….He was READING it!
Later in the day, I had him read it again so that I could video it, and here he is reading Marc Brown’s Arthur’s Halloween.
ELL Kindergarten in October—”Spotting Secrets” in Arthur’s Halloween
|Secret Stories® Phonics Head-Bop Trick for Fickle Vowels|
“Night”….with its tricky /gh/?
|Secret Stories Phonics Secret— Positional Sounds of gh|
Didn’t stump him. He saw that Babysitter Vowel® o telling e to say its name! He also spotted /o/ and /r/ who can “never make up their minds when they get together,” and read it like a pro!
That Sneaky y® didn’t trick him!
|Sneaky Y® Phonics Secret|
Then we got to “making”…. and guess who was able to use the Babysitter Vowels® Secret to figure out whether /a/ would be long or short?!
He knew it wasn’t right when he first read it, but then he remembered the Secret! (and please excuse me telling another student, TWICE, to go color their work! ;-)
|Secret Stories Babysitter Vowels®— How to Know Whether a Vowel Will Be Long or Short?|
Rough-housing /ou/ and /ow/ saying “Owwwww!” No worries.
|Secret Stories® Phonics ou/ow Secret!|
“Look and spooky”….?
Knowing the Secret, he switched sounds for /oo/ like a pro!
|Secret Stories® Phonics /oo/ Secret|
I was BLOWN away! And so I made poor Abel read that page to everyone I could find! I was so proud of him! (and by the way, he is determined to read the whole book now, and I have no doubt that he will!)
This morning, I shared the video with my principal, our Dean of Students, and our LAP teacher. The question of how and when I use the Secret Stories in my class came up, and I thought to myself, “When don’t I use them???”
The Secrets aren’t limited just to “reading” time. We use them ALL DAY LONG, which in half-day kindergarten, is only about 2 hours and 40 minutes. (Oh, did I forget to mention that I teach half-day kinder?!) That’s not very long, which is why getting the most bang for the buck in the short amount of time we have is critical. Secret Stories® makes what used to seem impossible EASY! (It’s like phonics on steroids!)
We look for Secrets in our poems…..
We use yellow and blue for “popcorn” words. We “butter” the new ones and put blue dots under the ones that we already know. Then we use a green highlighter to find Secrets.
And honestly, I have to say, now that the kids know the Secrets, I spend almost no time at all on memorizing sight words, except for the small handful that really break the rules and have to go to jail, as most of the words the kids can just read.
We look for Secrets in Science….
Look at the picture above to see how many variations of the word hibernate we found when reading our big book in our whole group Science lesson! One of the kids spotted the er Secret, then another spotted the /or/ and /ing/ Secrets, and we were off! Next came the Babysitter Vowels®, which they used to help them figure out whether the vowels would be long or short. Some students knew the Secret sounds immediately, and others had to check the posters first before sounding out each part, but they were all able to read all of the words— and write them!
No one was left out of the reading and writing fun because we all had one thing in common— we all knew the Secrets! That day, we did more reading and writing in Science than in our designated reading and writing blocks, combined! What better way is there to show beginning learners what these Secret skills are actually for!
My favorite thing is what happened the following day when I was working with a small group and heard Abel yell from his seat across the room, “Mrs. Johnson! Mrs. Johnson! Look, I found the word hibernate in my book!”
And sure enough, he had.
Even for an ELL Kindergartner in October, sounding out the word hibernate with the Mommy E® was easy!
We use Secrets when we write…..
See the /ow/ and /ing/ in snowing and the /ou/ in mountains!
|We look for Secrets when we read the directions on our math papers.|
Words like draw and count with the “letters who love each other” (au/aw) and the “letters who don’t” (ou/ow) can’t fool us!
|Spotting Secret Stories® in Math!|
|As usual, ou & ow are not getting along!|
|The “anniversary” of au & aw Valentine’s Day!|
I almost never have to read the math story problems to my kids anymore because they can do it all by themselves using our Secrets!
Secret Stories® has opened up so many possibilities…..there seems to be no limit to what my kindergartners can do. It has really changed everything.
And while I do still have kids that are just chugging along at their own pace, like sweet little Abel, they are ALL sucking up the Secrets— even those who are not always ready to apply them. And that’s okay, because I know they have the “keys” in their pocket that they will need to unlock the words they want when they are ready, just like Abel did.
|Transforming letters and sounds from skills they have to learn
into Secrets they want to know!
Thank you, Kjersti!
I can’t thank Kjersti enough for that deep dive into all of the wonderful things that she’s doing in her kindergarten classroom. I will be doing a part 2 “follow-up” to Kjersti’s post, so stay tuned! (You can catch another post by Kjertsti here!)
And if you haven’t tried the Secrets but would like to try sharing then with YOUR kiddos, you can download this mini-poster “appetizer” anchor pack FREE!
Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class and see the difference they make!
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I received this adorable picture and description from kindergarten teacher, Kjersti Johnson, along with the following email…
I teach two sessions of half-day Kindergarten, with my morning class tied to our Intensive Support Class (4-8 fully inclusive kiddos) and my afternoon class with half ELL, plus a few in the am too!)
I knew the Secret Stories was a keeper last year when one of my Intensive Needs kids, who was really struggling with speech and connecting letters and sounds, pointed to his name and said, “Those letters are bad. They always stick out their tongues!” and then proceeded to make their sound! Or, when my little guy, who moved to my class mid-year knowing ZERO letters or sounds, was able to read through ALL the letter sounds mixed up, singing “____ says ______, ___-___-___!” after just a couple weeks of doing the “Secret Stories® Better Alphabet Song!”
With regard to the frustration over the controversy over what our youngest learners can and can’t do, I’ve always had high expectations for my kinders, and they have always risen to meet them, often soaring far beyond!
It has been a fight to pull Kindergarten into this century. I boxed up our basal six years ago when I started using Daily 5/Cafe in my literacy blocks. My students just took off! (It’s amazing what they can do when you put the right book in their hands.) But it was Secret Stories that really allowed me to take my kids to the next level!
I love when we sit down to read something and I ask what strategies we should use, as they always yell out, “Look for the Secrets!” They amaze me every day with the new words they can read and write! Oh, and I love how they are starting to revise their own writing! I put a binder clip on their writing notebooks so they can’t fill it all in in one sitting. When they want their clip moved, they have to look back and make revisions to show that they’re ready. They will tell me, “When I wrote this, I didn’t know the Secret about this word, but now I do!”
I have always believed that there is a strong tie between reading and writing. It is one of the reasons that we spend so much time doing both in my Kindergarten class. Usually, students are free to choose their writing topic, but once in a while I give them a prompt.
This past month, we began a Gingerbread unit. In it, we have a class Gingerbread Man that decides to travel the world. While he is on his trip, he sends us many different versions of Gingerbread stories to read. At the end of the unit, he returns to our class and asks the kids to write about their favorite story.
In past years, my kindergartners would have to rely on “kid-spelling” or I would have to take a lot of dictation, but not this year! Thanks to the Secret Stories, my kids were able to write like the big kids! The only help I gave was a word bank of words they might need, but I didn’t spell them….. they did!
They helped me spell words like: gingerbread, favorite, girl, cowboy, and because, and the rest of the words they spelled themselves! They were even able to write about why they liked the story! I was so proud of my kindergartners (not to mention blow away!) that I wanted to share a couple samples, as well as some Secrets used to spell some of the words they wrote!
|Note the eu/ew Secret in the word crew! (plus the Sneaky Y®, Babysitter Vowels®, Mommy e®, or, oo, th, er/ir/ur, au/aw, & ou/ow Secrets!)|
Transforming skills kids have to learn into Secrets they want to know!
A future kindergarten teacher….
We also wrote about How I Ate My Gingerbread Man (after eating them of course!) Once again, I was blown away by how they used the Secret Stories they knew to figure spellings for words they wanted to use in their writing… not just “word wall” and “word family” words, but ANY words! I loved watching them stop and look at (or even walk over to) our Secret Wall!
This next paper was written by one of my ELL students. When assessed in September, he knew seven letter names and zero sounds. Thanks to Secret Stories Better Alphabet Song, he was able to identify all of the upper and lower case letters, as well as their sounds by October!
He now also knows all of the Secrets and is using them to read and write! (On a side note, I had taken a leap of faith and done as Katie suggested, which was to begin telling the Secrets from Day 1, so as to acquire them simultaneously with the individual letters and sounds and though I’d never done that before with kinders, I am now a BELIEVER!!!
As Katie often says, “experience is the best teacher,” and because this little guy knew lots of Secrets, he was reading up a storm, which is how he knew that the word didn’t “look right.”
And I especially love how this next little guy added a “crunch, crunch, crunch” at the end!
I am just so proud of my kindergartners, I could burst, which is why I wrote to Katie! And with only HALF of the school year under our belt so far, I can’t wait to see where we by the end of this year!
We are so thankful to Katie Garner for sharing the Secrets with us!
Kjersti Johnson/ Kindergarten Teacher
|Download the FREE Mini-Poster Sample Pack and Start Sharing Secrets Tomorrow!|
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|Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Reader “My Class”|
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