The Best is Yet to Come – Part 2
A guest post by kindergarten teacher, Sheryl Nicholson.
*Note: Sheryl uses Secret Stories to support science of reading-based instruction alongside the Wonders Reading Curriculum.
If you read my first blog post, you know that I didn’t discover Secret Stories and start using them until the final weeks of kindergarten after a tumultuous year of Covid. While I documented my journey using the Secrets in those last few weeks of kindergarten, I wanted to write a second post about how to start from the beginning of the year on Day 1. This is that post, and I hope it’s helpful!
Rule number #1 The Better Alphabet™ Song Sing the Better Alphabet™ Song EVERY day, TWICE a day…NO MATTER WHAT!
I do this because it’s the fastest way to ensure that kids know all the letter names and sounds in about two weeks to two months. And I don’t mean one sound per letter, but EVERY POSSIBLE SOUND a letter can make when it’s by itself, including the long AND short vowel sounds, the hard AND soft sounds for /c/ and /g/ and even the three sounds of /y/, not to mention in the “most likely” order for the most successful word attack! But it doesn’t “teach” them. It “gives” them.
The reason I say that the Better Alphabet™ Song “gives” the sounds rather than teaches them is because unlike traditional alphabet songs or practice, it doesn’t rely on what are often “underdeveloped” cognitive processing centers with learners having to “remember” the letters and sounds. Instead, it uses earlier-developing muscle memory to forge the connections between the letter names and sounds for automatic and non-conscious sound retrieval, via the mouth muscles. (Katie Garner explains more about this in the video below, as well as how she uses the neuroscience to “cheat” (get around) the traditional limitations of information retrieved through muscle memory.
The Better Alphabet™ Song is the first track on the music download that comes with the Secret Stories Kit. (There’s a code on the inside back cover of the book to download all of the musical “sound-skill” exercises.) There is also a video version of the song on TpT, but I just use the audio version or sing it a cappella (without music) with my kids.
In addition to the Better Alphabet™ anchor posters, each student has their own individual Better Alphabet™ mat (pictured at the top) that they keep in the back of their writer’s notebook. They bring it to the carpet every time we do the Better Alphabet. As Katie explains in the video, it’s absolutely critical that kids SEE the letters when SINGING their sounds, as this is what forges them together in the brain for use when reading and writing. We do this with “eye-glue,” which means that we keep our eyes glued to the letter as we sing its sound(s).
This video isn’t of my class, but was on Youtube. It’s actually a prek class, but I loved the little girl pointing up during the song to focus everyone’s attention on the alphabet anchors, as it shows the kids know how important “eye-glue” is! I also love the letter sound assessment immediately following it!
Forging “Sound-Symbol” Connections in the Brain
As an incentive, I give an award to one student who has the best “eye glue” and “muscle mouth” (which means that they are really working their lips, tongue and teeth” to engage muscle memory!).
I give the smaller bookmark-size award during the week (two a day, once each time we sing it) and then every Friday, I give out the large award for “Best of the Week!” You don’t have to give actual awards, as you can also make it an ongoing contest, with “boys against girls” or even between different table groups. Whichever group wins can earn small privileges, like getting to line up first or pick recess equipment first, etc…
I do this everyday until my students have all reached 100% mastery of the letters and sounds. This usually takes between two weeks and two months. After a couple of weeks, I add the “Letter Runs” which you can hear us sing through in the videos below, as those are the next tracks of musical exercises in the music download.
And check out the video below where kids are singing the Letter Runs to the tune of Star Wars!
Using Music to Support Orthographic Mapping of in the Brain
Whereas the Better Alphabet® instills fast mastery over both the letter names and sounds, the Letter Runs “raise the bar” by skipping the letter name and requiring fast recall of the sounds so as to mimic actual decoding for reading (i.e. see the letter and make the sound). Letter Runs can be sung fast OR slow and to ANY tune! They can even be sung backwards!
According to Katie, the purpose of the Letter Runs and the other musical exercises on the download (aside from the Better Alphabet) is to actually avoid activating muscle memory by constantly switching-up the speed, tune and order. This forces kids to “actively manipulate” the sound-symbol connections in ANY order, just as they must do when using them to read and write.
So, at about the two week mark, we started following up the Better Alphabet™ Song with the Letter Runs as fun challenge, still making sure to use our “eye glue” and “muscle mouths!” The great thing about starting the Letter Runs BEFORE kids have 100% mastery of all the letters and sounds is that they love the challenge! They don’t fret about the letters they don’t know, they just love singing through the ones that they do as fast as they are able! Even the kids who know only a handful of letters still beg to sing it over and over again. It’s just such a great way to build automaticity of the sounds they DO know so that they can start USING them to read and write!
By spring break, the kids are able to do the Letter Runs in ANY order… forward, backward, or completely random….just like in REAL words! They can handle anything I can throw at them because the letters and sounds are so solidly forged in their memory (aka “orthographically mapped” in their brain!)
The above-described routine is NON-NEGOTIABLE and we do it every single day without fail! And simultaneously, we are also learning about the “grown-up” reading and writing Secrets, which are the sounds that letters make when they get together and DON’T do what they should! All of our Secret Stories® posters are up on Day 1 and ready for use whenever and wherever we need them!
And we definitely need them! We find Secrets everywhere…in student names, on the calendar, in our required sight word lists, on our math directions, in stories and poems that we read, even the lunch menu! (To read more about how we do this and what it looks like, click here to read my previous post.)
“A to Z in Three” – August, September & October
We also do something called A to Z in Three. First, we spend the first 26 days of school doing a quick “letter a day” spotlight. This quick overview helps lay the foundation for more intensive study of the letters over the next couple of months. Even though many students will have already acquired the letter names and sounds by the first month by singing the Better Alphabet™ Song twice a day, they still need to be able to write them, and that requires fine motor control.
Working in ABC order, we brainstorm things that began with the sound of our focus letter and draw them on the page. The we practice writing the letter, with kids who know more letters able to use them to try and write the words to go with their pictures. We use simple pages like the ones below, as well as pages in our Decoding Dictionaries, which are in the Decoding Sight Words with Phonics Secrets pack that’s on TpT. (In addition to our Better Alphabet Mats, we also keep Porta-Pics in our writing folder for easy reference to the phonics Secrets. These can be reused over multiple years.)
“Decoding Dictionaries” – All Year Long
I prep the Decoding Dictionaries for each student before school starts. You can find my post about how I use these here or for a quick overview, you can watch the video below.
The reason it’s so important to fast-track the individual letter sounds is so that kids can start using them alongside the phonics Secrets they know to really read and write and make sense of words wherever they see them! It’s hard to imagine, but in the world of Secret Stories, kids pick up the phonics patterns even easier than they do the individual letter sounds, as they don’t have to go through muscle memory, nor do they have to be practiced twice a day. This is because the Secrets are based on things kids ALREADY know, like sticking your tongue out, riding in a car, playing rough and getting hurt or being sneaky. The minute they hear them, they remember the story and the sound. The only thing they need to apply them to reading and writing are the sound posters, as that is how they keep track of which letters make what sounds.
If you doubt how quickly kindergartners can progress into real readers and writers with just the Better Alphabet™ and a handful of phonics Secrets, check out the video clips below.
There are just so many ways to “play” with these secret building blocks of the code! I encourage you to read my first blog post that explains how we begin incorporating Secret Stories into our daily routines from the very first day of kindergarten. I shared one of my favorites that I do every year with student names in the Secret Stories Facebook Group which you can see in the picture below.
If you would like to reach out to me with any questions, you can find me in the Facebook group by clicking the picture above and then on my name at the top of the post. I look forward to continuing the conversation and seeing you in there!
Sheryl JB Nicholson
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/09/IMG_8398.jpg11501142Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2022-09-05 19:42:562022-10-08 08:16:02How to Teach Individual Letter Sounds Fast and Easy!
Crystalizing “speech to print” connections for independent reading and writing in a way that even kindergartners can easily understand.
I love watching the kids use our Secret posters on the wall to read and write whatever they want. It’s amazing what our youngest learners can do and how easily they can do it when we just give them the tools they need and let them ‘play!’
Sound Walls, Word Walls and the Science of Reading
The purpose of a sound wall is to clearly represent the connections between speech and print in a way that students can easily understand and use as a source of reference to read and spell words. It is a way to organize and display the different sounds (phonemes) heard in speech and the spelling/phonics patterns (graphemes) that represent them in print.
With advancement of new research on the science of reading, there is a clearer understanding of the roles that phonetics and phonology (i.e. “symbol to sound” relationships) play in beginning reading and spelling. Because learning to speak happens long before learning to read, teaching the connections between the letters on the page and the sounds they represent in speech is critical.
Unlike a word wall, which organizes words in alphabetical order so that students can find and copy them, sound walls are organized by sounds alongside the letter patterns that represent them.
The biggest difference between the two is that word walls give learners access to only a limited number of words, whereas sounds walls empower them with ALL of the phonics “building blocks” needed to read and spell ANY word. However, in order for students to actually USE a sound wall to independently read and spell, the “sound-to-print” connections represented must be obvious and easy to understand—even for a five-year old!
This is exactly what a Secret Stories® sound wall is, as while the Secrets explain the sounds letters make when they get together, the sound posters are what help them remember for independent reading and spelling.
In just one glance, students as young as kindergarten can instantly identify the sounds that the phonics patterns represent, and then use them to read and spell words. Rooted in brain science, Secret Stories® target “universal” social-emotional understanding by connecting letter behavior to kid behavior, making sounds easily predictable — even for kindergartners. The Secret posters are a ready-made sound wall that even that earliest grade learners can independently reference to read, write and spell.
How to Work Smarter, Not Harder
“The Secrets are so versatile and work great with our district-required sound wall. The kids reference the Secret Stories posters constantly to figure out words. The Secrets are the ‘backdoor’ in for sure!”
Secret Stories® Sound Wall Integration with Articulation Mouth Pics, as shared in the Secret Stories® Facebook Group.
“The (mouth picture/articulation) sound walls are proposed as memory supports, reminders to kids about how to articulate the proper phonemes (language sounds) for the proper graphemes (letters and letter combinations). …… as a practical memory aid, they’re weak (more useful for the teacher as a guide to presentation than to the kids as a guide to reading words).
I guess the idea would be that when a student comes to a challenging word, he/she could go to the word wall, find the right combination of graphemes and examine the pictures of the articulatory apparatus in the hopes that replicating that shape would lead to proper sounding out of that word.”
“My take? That’s far too cumbersome as a memory aid — about as practically useful as the lists of 3-cueing clues that some teachers provide: If you come to a word you don’t know, look at the picture. If that doesn’t work, read to the end of the sentence….. The problem is that these steps are neither much like real reading nor practical as efficient scaffolds. Memory aids need to be easy to access or people just don’t use them.” —Dr. Tim Shanahan
“Across various studies (Ehri, 2014; Ehri, Deffner, & Wilce, 1984; McNamara, 2012; Schmidman & Ehri, 2010) it has been found that such embedded mnemonic pictures can reduce the amount of repetition needed for kids to learn the letters and sounds, with less confusion, better long-term memory, and greater ability to transfer or apply this knowledge in reading and spelling.
If one relies on data – rather than reasoning – the answer is kind of a no-brainer — it is a good idea to use embedded mnemonics. It looks like, at least with regard to this feature, your previous program was better than the new one.”
“When it comes to teaching letters and sounds, no question about it, use embedded mnemonics. They work.” —Dr. Tim Shanahan
Targeting “Backdoor” Routes for Accelerated Learning
Aligning Phonics Skills with “Universal” Frameworks of Experience and Understanding
While the Secret Stories® posters on their own are an ideal sound wall, they can also be used in-tandem with any existing sound wall or reading/phonics anchor charts, helping to simplify and streamline the sound-symbol connections. This is because the Secrets align with what kids already know, providing a faster and more efficient route for learners.
…..rather than relying on “underdeveloped” auditory and cognitive processing centers for skill mastery.
This is especially true for teaching vowel sounds. They can be easily prompted with emotion-based cues that literally “land” learners in the correct sound — as opposed to relying on inherently weak areas for early (and struggling) learners, which include: developmental/cognitive readiness, language processing, auditory discrimination and articulation capability. It’s so much easier and faster to just sneak these skills through the brain’s social-emotional “backdoor” and avoid these learning “landmines” entirely. (The same goes for accelerating mastery of the individual letter-sounds with the Better Alphabet® Song — which uses earlier-developing, muscle memory to fast-track mastery in 2 weeks to 2 months, while at the same time, telling Secrets!)
Likewise, incorporating the Secrets with sound wall displays that use picture cues for words (rather than sounds) is also extremely helpful. For example, the picture of a saw on the card below depicts the sound of the au/aw spelling pattern. The picture of a girl on the card further down below depicts the sound for the er/ir/ur spelling patterns. These “word-based” picture cues are commonly found on most phonics posters and sound wall displays, yet they add extra and unnecessary steps that can be difficult for some learners — especially very young learners and non-native English-speaking (ELL/ESL) learners.
This is because using them requires students to first recognize what the object in the picture is, and second, have the vocabulary to name it. Third, they must understand the alphabetic principle of letters coming together to represent sounds in words. Only then will they be able to properly segment the sounds that they hear (step 4) so as to successfully identify which sound actually corresponds with the letters/ phonics patterns on the card (step 5).
Similar to vowel sound acquisition (above), each of these additional steps rely on inherently weak areas for early (and struggling) readers: developmental readiness, cognitive processing, auditory discrimination, articulation capability, etc..
Additionally, there is the added spelling confusion that can arise for learners when seeing all three sounds — er,ir and ur — alongside the picture of a girl, as only one actually represents the correct spelling of the word girl. Likewise, the same visual confusion would arise with learners seeing both au and aw to represent the sound heard in the word saw.
And then there’s the problem of learners knowing which sound the picture actually represents — the initial, medial or ending sound. This can be especially difficult for beginning readers and ESL students who are often still learning individual letters and sounds and focusing more attention on initial and ending sounds. All of these reasons help to explain why, with traditional reading instruction, it takes 3-4 grade level years before learners acquire the “whole” phonics code needed to read and write.
Fast-Tracking Phonics Pieces of the Reading Puzzle
The pieces of the phonics code are like the pieces of a puzzle. Every piece is important. The more pieces you have, the easier it is to see how those pieces fit together and make sense. The fewer pieces you have, the harder it is to see how they are connected, and the less it makes sense. Not to mention that it’s no fun to play with a puzzle that’s missing half the pieces! Seriously, what would be the point?
Like the pieces of a puzzle, each piece of the phonics code is important. The more pieces kids have, the easier they can put them together and actually use them to read and write — and the more motivated they will be to do it! That’s why it’s actually harder to go slow when teaching phonics for real reading and writing! And with the Secrets, you don’t have to.
Kids need as much of the phonics code as possible, as soon as possible to “power-up” skill-transfer to daily reading and writing — the ideal place to hone them! Only then can learners begin to make sense of text that’s all around them across the instructional day. That’s why it’s critical to hang up ALL of the Secret Stories® posters on Day 1, as this ensures a comprehensive sound wall with access to ALL the code kids need to read and write!
The Secrets work with any existing reading curriculum or phonics program to fast-track more of the code kids NEED to read and write. Taking advantage of early developing, social-emotional centers in the brain, Secret Stories® crystalizes the connections between sound and print to empower beginning readers and writers. t’s a simple formula really….. the more phonics Secrets kids know, the more words they can read and write!
R-controlled vowels are traditionally taught at the end of first grade or beginning of second, but shared as a Secret, kids can have it in the first week of kindergarten!
I started teaching The Better Alphabet™ Song on Day 2 of school in August. I put all of the Secret Stories Posters up on Day 5.
On Day 6 my life changed.
I told a Secret, and from that moment on, my kindergartners wanted to know more and more and more. They were finding those Secrets everywhere! I had a student who entered into our class with no real gusto for learning letters or to read, according to his parents. This student became obsessed with looking for Secrets on the wall, finding those patterns in text, and writing them down. He would literally get a blank piece of paper and copy all of the Secrets he knew from the posters on the wall.
He would ask everyday if we could learn a new Secret, and if he saw any letter patterns in words that were on a Secret poster, watch out! He had to learn it. I would have been impressed had he been the only one, but it was every student in the class! They all wanted to know the Secrets!
Writing is where I began seeing the most notable change. Students were drawing speech bubbles for an animal writing project in late September. Inside the speech bubbles were the words “meow” for cats, “hoot” for owls and “nay” for horses. Those tricky phonics sounds that my students typically did not even hear in words were now being incorporated into their writing using the Secret posters on our wall. They referenced them constantly to read and spell. My students didn’t just “know” the secrets, they were owning them!
In reading, we assess students three times a year using FastBridge to determine which need reading interventions. My students were tested and I did not have one student qualify as needing intervention. The Reading Team was curious and wanted to know more about the Secrets. We’ve just completed the second round of testing, and again, none of my students were in need of intervention help. I have taught kindergarten for 14 years and this has never happened.
My students continue to excel in reading and writing, and I am happy to report that all of my students know 100% of upper and lowercase letters, as well as the sounds associated with each letter symbol, thanks to the Better Alphabet™ Song (even the child who came in knowing no letters and only yelled at me when I met him). And it’s only January!
During parent teacher conferences, the Secrets were a conversation that kept coming up. Parents wanted to let me know how impressed they were that their child already knew about blends and digraphs. They wanted to tell me how often their child comes home and shares the latest Secret. The parents were loving the progress that they were seeing just as much as I was.
Today they earned a celebration, and the idea that my students came up with (on their own) was to eat a popsicle, watch a Curious George Episode, and dress up as a Secret Story.
I am attaching a picture of me as “Mommy E” and a group photo that we took!
You can see a real joy for learning on the faces of these children, who are better because of your passion to make the reading and brain science accessible to teachers, and applying a creativity to make strategies that work!
Angela Wolfe, Kindergarten Teacher
Sound Wall = A Brain Based Phonics “Buffet”
Imagine going to a buffet, only to be told that items would be served one at a time, with the waiter deciding “what” you can have and “when” you can have it. This would effectively turn your buffet into a restaurant, defeating the whole purpose of why you go to a buffet in the first place, which is to take what you need with no waiting! At a restaurant, you’re at the mercy of the waiter or waitress who gets to decide “what” you can have and “when” you can have it.
Reading & Writing Across the Entire Instructional Day
Text is everywhere, which means so are Secrets! With a Secret Stories® Sound Wall, students have access to whatever they need to read and spell words across the instructional day. That means that kindergarten and first grade students don’t have to memorize all of the sight words with phonics patterns in them they haven’t been taught. Instead, they can learn the Secrets they need to easily decode them, regardless of which grade level scope and sequence they’re “supposed” to be on!
And with virtual learning, kids need access to the Secrets/ Sound Wall outside the physical classroom — wherever and whenever they are reading and writing. The Porta-Pics are an easy and inexpensive “portable” sound wall that kids can reference at home or anywhere outside of the regular classroom or resource classroom.
Prompting the “Need to Know” for Learner-Driven Instruction
Secrets make things important to kids, fostering a “need to know” for prioritized learning and marking information for memory in the brain. Secret Stories® transform the phonics skills kids have to learn into “secrets” they want to know! And the more they know, the more they want to know….and they’re all on the Secret Stories® Sound Wall, just waiting to be discovered!
Secrets are like the piece of cake on a buffet that you don’t know you want until you see it! That’s why they should ALL be up on Day 1!
A guest post by first grade teacher, Karrie Kehrig.
It was the first week of October, and even though school hadn’t started until the end of August, I was already feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.
As a hybrid classroom for distance learning, I have 22 students in person and 7 online, and teaching both groups well is anything but easy. We were only a few weeks into this school year when I experienced one of those special “teacher-moments” when you know that you’re doing something that is perfectly right and you can’t help but to smile! I’ll come back to this in just a bit, but first, a little background…..
This year is my 21st year teaching, though I took ten years off in the middle of my career to raise my three children. I began teaching in the late 1980s when whole language was all the rage, though I had grown up in Catholic schools where phonics was the focus. I have seen and lived through both sides of the teaching debate and the resulting “Reading Wars” over what works best when it comes to teaching reading.
Fast forward to the 2012 State Reading Conference…. If you’ve never been to a reading conference before, then you should know that you’re usually just hoping for a few nights away to clear your mind, and maybe one or two good ideas that you can bring back to use in your classroom. However that year, the Michigan Reading Conference changed my life forever.
If They Don’t Know the Phonics Secrets, How Can They Read the Words?
I will never forget that day. I was walking around trying to decide what speaker to go see, when I noticed a room jam-packed with people.I told my friend that we needed to go and see what all the excitement was about.
Everyone in Katie’s session was given a free download pack with the anchor posters and activities used in the session. That was great, but I wanted all of it, so as soon as I got home, I immediately bought the Secret Stories Kit so that I could start using it in my classroom.
Looking at Words vs. Reading Them
When I first started using Secret Stories, I’m embarrassed to say that I didn’t listen to Katie and only put up a few posters, as I just didn’t think that I would have time to teach them all. We have a reading series AND a phonics program, as well as writing, math, science and social studies curriculums that we have to follow, so my initial plan was to just use the Secret Stories as yet another curriculum. Oh boy, was I ever wrong!!
I quickly realized that the more Secrets I shared, the more words my kids could read and write on their own, and that the more they knew, the more they wanted to know! This was eye-opening for me, as I now understood why Katie was so adamant in the book about putting up ALL of the posters up on Day 1. We are working with words all day long across all areas of the curriculum, and the Secrets are IN those words! If kids don’t know the Secrets, how can they read the words?!
Typically in kindergarten and first grade, we just look at the words and say them, as we don’t actually expecting the kids to read them.
For example, we look at and say the words on our daily calendar every day, but kids aren’t actually reading them. How could they when in words like August, the letter /A/ is making the short /o/ sound, or in words like: January, May, July and Monday, the letter /y/ is making every sound other than the one that kids actually know? And so, we just point to the words and say them.
But where’s the instructional value in just looking at words day in and day out, or even worse, in all of the time we spend memorizing words because kids don’t know how to read them? When you can’t read the words, looking and memorizing are the only options, especially for beginning grade learners who don’t even know all of the letter sounds.
Phonics Instruction that Makes Sense
But with the Secrets, I can just tell a story about au/aw being in love in the word August, or about Sneaky Y® and the sounds he makes when he’s at the end of a word (as in: July, May & January) and thinks no one will see him!
Why wouldn’t I tell them the Secrets?
Especially since our daily calendar provides a perfect “built-in” opportunity to practice using them in a familiar context, so it’s a win-win! And likewise in math, social studies, and even at lunch! Text is everywhere….and so are the Secrets!
Once you start seeing them, you can’t stop….and your students can’t either! They will start finding them everywhere in every subject area across the entire instructional day and even at home! My kids point them out all the time– in math problems, science and social studies lessons, and even religious studies (as I teach at a Catholic School). We find Secrets in everything we do ALL day long.
Don’t Wait for the Reading Series or Phonics Program to Teach It
By putting up ALL of the posters, I was able to explain the sounds of letters in words that we see everyday, long before our reading series formally introduced them. This was a huge timesaver, especially since words like play and they were on our Week #1 sight word list, but the ey/ay phonics skill needed to read them wasn’t supposed to be introduced (by our reading series) until mid-January. That meant countless hours, weeks, and months of instructional time that would have typically been spent memorizing these words was now spent reading them….plus many more!
This realization that I didn’t have to “wait” until mid-January to teach the ey/ay Secret that my kids needed now was huge! By not waiting on the reading series to teach the Secret, my students were actually able to make better use of it—as now they could actually read it! They were finding the Secrets in every story, and they were so excited!
I really enjoy using Secret Stories with our reading series, not only because kids could actually read the stories that were in it, but because it provided endless opportunities to introduce more Secrets while reinforcing the ones they already knew. It also allowed me to shift instructional focus to comprehension strategies, as students were no longer overwhelmed with memorizing and decoding.
More than anything, I began to realize what a huge disservice I’d done to my students that first year by holding back so many Secrets and waiting for my reading series to introduce them. But we live and learn, and when we know better, we do better….which brings me back to October.
This is Cecilia’s writing from October, which was only about one month into the school year. It not only made me smile, but it showed me that despite all of the overwhelming stress I was feeling, there was at least ONE thing I was doing perfectly right!
The Phonics Code Kids Need to Read and Write
We were working on the short /e/ sound, and Cecilia needed to write a sentence with a short /e/ word in it. She did that, and so much more!
Even though the spelling isn’t technically correct (as she didn’t know the Secret for /ai/ yet), Cecilia “owned” enough of the phonics code to write the word that she wanted….and this was so much more exciting to me than the fact that she spelled the word wet correctly!
You see, my class learned about the ey/ay Secret in the first week of school when the word “play” came up in a story. Unlike my first year, I didn’t wait to tell it until mid-January when our reading series introduced it. Instead, I took advantage of the first opportunity I had, and I used that teachable moment to give my students a valuable piece of the code they would need to read and write every day. And use it they did.
Cecilia’s writing shows that she is starting to “play” with the critical sound-symbol (“speech to print”) connections that are the foundation for all reading and writing. She hears the long /a/ sound in the word rain, and she knows a Secret that she can use to convert that sound to print. With each new Secret she learns, her power as a reader and writer grows. She is able to make sense of the sounds letter make in words all around her, in books and on billboards. Text is everywhere, and she’s reading it!
This is such a tremendous accomplishment for a first grader at the beginning of October, and there is no doubt in my mind that as Cecilia learns more Secrets and gains more text experience, she will spell rain with /ai/ and not /ay/…… but for now though, I am smiling! When kids know the phonics Secrets, they CAN read the words!
Karrie Kehrig is a first grade teacher at St. Lawrence Catholic School in Utica, Michigan. She has an MA in Early Childhood Education from Oakland University and a BS in Science from Siena Heights College. (Connect with Karrie in NEW Secret Stories® Support Group on Facebook here.)
I am so grateful to Karrie for taking the time to share this post and provide a glimpse into what hybrid learning looks like in her classroom this year!
And to “run” with Karrie’s point about just how powerful early ownership of the phonics code can be for beginning grade learners, I wanted to share some “end of year” kindergarten writing samples, along with some first grade writing samples further down, below. The Secrets are everywhere throughout their writing, as they are the tools they use to write about dolphins, kings and queens! For more on how to fast-track phonics for beginning writing, check out the video below, and subscribe on Youtube for more.
You can also download the FREE Secret Stories® Fairy Tale Writing Pack (used in some of the writing samples below) here or by clicking on the pic below.
A guest post by second grade teacher, Kelli Gunkle.
Struggling Readers + Failing School = No Time for “Cute”
My name is Kelli Gunkle and I am a second grade teacher in Daytona Beach, Florida. I have been teaching for 5 years in a low-income, DDD, turn-around school with many struggling readers. If you are not familiar with a school climate like the one I teach in, you may have some questions about what all of that means.
In a nutshell, 90% of our students are on free and reduced lunch. We have been a D status for 3 years which placed us in “turn-around” status. This simply means that if we do not earn a C or better we will be taken over, closed down, or turned into a charter school. I tell you this to paint a tiny picture of the environment that I truly have the pleasure of working in.
People often look at statistics and status’ and use those as reasons not to be somewhere. I look at statistics a little differently. All of what I told you above is why I teach at my school. It’s why I get up everyday and teach my heart out. It’s why I don’t have time for the cute stuff.
In my first year teaching, I was like most teachers, and very aware of the “perfect” Pinterest classrooms. Don’t get me wrong, I love anything that is aesthetically pleasing….who doesn’t?! More and more though, I was seeing too many “cute” activities and too little rigor. Activities that would get people to “pin, pin, pin” or “like, like, like,” but none that had much substance to move our struggling readers.
I am lucky enough to work for one of the best principals in our county, and under her training, I have learned a lot about choosing rigor over looks. The experience of working for this amazing woman taught me how to properly vet materials for quality before giving them over to my students. I don’t choose the craftivity; I rarely, if ever, even do them. Instead, I choose what I know is going to give my students the maximum instructional value, because our school just doesn’t have the time to “fluff” anything up.
Filling the Phonics Gaps for Reading
This past fall, I was looking for something — anything that could help fill the gaps in phonics with my struggling readers, who were at least a grade level behind in reading. I was given the opportunity to loop to third grade with my class, and so I was well aware of the gaps that they had. I went into this year knowing the holes that would need to be filled, but not knowing HOW I was going to fill them.
Enter Secret Stories Through countless search attempts, I stumbled upon the Secret Stories website and started reading all of the reviews. I was hooked. The minute I read that students were ASKING to learn about letter sounds and phonics patterns, I knew it was what I needed for my kids. And while the Secrets may be cute, they are all “meat” and no fluff! And so, unbeknownst to anyone at my school, I ordered the kit, put up the posters, and let the magic unfold! I call it magic because that’s the only way to describe what happens once you let the “genie” out of the bottle and start telling the Secrets.
With the current status of our school, we are a revolving door of district, state, and management company personnel going in and out of our rooms on a weekly to monthly basis. We have extra trainings, new strategies, brand-new curriculum, and countless other responsibilities that all teachers have. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to learn one more routine, strategy, or program to implement in my classroom. My kids don’t have the ability to take anything else in. THAT is why I love Secret Stories so much. It runs itself!
The minute I told my students the first Secret, and that NO ONE could know what I was about to tell them— especially all of those people in suits that kept coming in and out of our classroom—they were hooked! They have been begging for more phonics Secrets ever since!
If you were to come into my classroom, you would be welcomed by one of my favorite sights—our Secret Stories phonics posters! My classroom is all pastel colors, so this set was perfect. My kids use these posters ALL DAY LONG to reference how to both sound-out AND spell words words. (Ignore the feet in the first pic, as it was a long day! ;-)
Weaving Phonics Skill Instruction into Reading & Writing Across the Instructional Day
I wanted my kids to be thinking about the Secret phonics patterns outside of reading block as well, so we started “catching” the Secret sounds wherever and whenever we came across them throughout the day! This could be during a math lesson, during I-Ready lessons, or during our read-to-self time. Whenever they find a Secret, they can “catch” it and add it to our collection.
I bought a shoe rack, added the Secret Stories cards from the back of the book to each pocket, and on the side, placed a container for half-sized index cards and markers. This gives them everything they need to catch Secret phonics patterns and sounds during centers, small group, etc.
Watch the video below to see how we use this to “catch” Secrets!
Small Group Reading Instruction and Assessment Prep
I also use the Secrets heavily during small group time. As I mentioned above, our school is in “turn-around” status, so it is incredibly important to fill as many gaps as possible in the primary grades before students move on to 3rd-5th. In small group, we have learning targets and success criteria for the skills we are working on. The success criteria helps my struggling readers to see what steps they need to take in order to master their “I can” targets.
They know that they must achieve these smaller goals in order to obtain their greater goal. To that end, they rely on the Secrets when reading their word lists, as well as whatever they are reading for their weekly text.
When practicing test-taking strategies, we use the Secrets to help identify the phonics patterns and figure out new words in the text. This helps them to become more familiar with the text before they read it.
That way, when they are taking tests, they know to look for phonics patterns in unfamiliar words to help them. This makes them feel more comfortable when they working with more complex text, especially my struggling readers.
To see how we use Thinking Maps with Secret Stories, watch the video below.
The Secrets have changed the way I teach phonics and, if I’m being honest, I will never go back to phonics-based routines in order to teach my students how to read. They do not need to memorize; they need to WANT to READ!
The Secrets have given my students a “need to know” the sounds, rather than me having to force them to learn them. Now, they are ASKING me to teach them….they want to know ALL of the Secrets!!
In a profession where we have no time for the cute stuff, the Secrets have found a way to be adorable AND rigorous. What an amazing accomplishment!
From Learning to Read, to Reading to Learn: A Third Grade Update
HELLO SECRET STORIES ……AND HELLO THIRD GRADE! 🙌🏻😍🙌🏻
I had been going into my classroom with my teammate to get things set up. While we didn’t know what this year will look like, setting up our classrooms has brought a much needed peace. Just getting my Secret Stories Sound Wall up felt 👏🏻 so 👏🏻 good 👏🏻!
The Secret Stories are the keys to our reading, and they mean everything to me as a teacher. After using them for the first time last year, I will never go back! It is the best investment I’ve ever made for my classroom and my students’ learning💗 ….. not to mention my own learning as a teacher of reading.
Since last year’s blog post, I have looped on to third grade with my class. I am happy to say that, due to my students’ success in reading last year, there are now other teachers at my school who have caught “Secret Stories-fever” and are now using the Secrets with their students, as well.
The older kids get, the more they want you to just tell them how to spell words. Having not been with my class for six months, given our early release last spring due to Covid and summer vacation, I’ve had to to remind them to use the Secrets they know to spell words. For reading, this is a non-issue, as they just look at the Secret sound wall to decode the words, but for spelling, they often have to choose between two or three different ways to spell the sound.
In late September, I asked my students to take notes on a story, focusing on the main character, their feelings, their motivations, and their actions. Each student wrote what they thought the character was feeling, and what they believed had motivated their actions.
When I looked at this particular student’s paper, I was absolutely ELATED!
She had written the words “geelous,” and I knew immediately which Secrets she’d used to figure out that spelling! She clearly had command of the ge/gi/gy and /ous/ Secrets. And while she didn’t spell the word jealous exactly right, her ability to “build” that word demonstrated her ownership of the phonics skills that were in it — skills that could be easily used to read ANY words with these Secrets in them!
After telling me the word that she’d written, I commended her for using the Secrets she knew to spell it. Then we made a comparison of “geelous” and “jealous” on the board. Seeing her use the /ge/ Secret for the /j/ sound, and then correctly spell the ending with the /ous/ Secret just made my teacher-heart explode!❤️
And it’s still September….
Before I close, I want to share something that Katie and I worked on together to help students notice and use the Secrets to read and spell in remote learning lessons (as well as in literacy centers, whole group, and small group classroom instruction in the physical classroom next school year). They are “universal” task cards that work with any text and any grade level and can be used over and over again, making it easy to target specific skills/ Secrets on an individual, whole, or small group level. They are also helpful for differentiation, given that they can be paired with any text – from guided readers, to poems on the board, to math directions — they will get your kids searching for Secrets, no matter what they are reading!
Here is little sample batch that you can download and try, so you can see how they work. There is also a video down below that shows the complete set, which are available here.
For the complete set of Secret Stories® “Universal” Task Cards, click here.
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/01/kelli-lynn-2nd-grade-writing.jpg10531053Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2020-01-06 00:11:142021-01-31 18:09:08Teaching Struggling Readers in a Title I “Turn-Around” School
A Guest Post By Melissa Gregory —Kindergarten Teacher at Title I School in Ohio
Kindergarten- End of October
Who says kindergartners can’t have access to ALL of the code needed to read and write in a short amount of time????
By the end of the FIRST NINE WEEKS, these cuties are taking off in reading AND writing, and are so excited to be word detectives finding ‘secrets’ in every word they see!!!
Kindergarten Writing in Mid-November
I shared the above videos and comment with Katie back in October. It was my first year teaching kindergarten, and having taught first grade for the past ten years, I was just floored by what the kids were able to do. They loved for me to take the ‘Secret’ book and go through all of the grown-up reading and writing sounds that they know. They begged to do it every morning, and were the first ones to get mad and remind me if I got busy and forgot. They loved to pretend to be the Superhero Vowels when they were playing in the drama center (so cute!) On the 100th day of school, I asked them to write about their favorite part of kindergarten, and almost all of my kids said it was learning the Secret Stories! They had such ownership of their learning and were so proud!
My Journey from First Grade to Kindergarten
My name is Melissa Gregory, and I am a kindergarten teacher at a Title I School near Cincinnati, Ohio. This year was my first year teaching kindergarten, though I’d taught first grade for many years. I sent Katie the video of my class in late October, as I wanted her to see how fast my kindergartners were soaking-up all of the Secrets! These little kindergartners knew ALL of the them by the end of October, even though they were still learning their individual letter sounds with the Better Alphabet Song.
Having only taught first grade before, I had no preconceived notions about what kindergartners were “supposed” to do, and so we just “played” with the Secrets all the time. The Secrets were not only their favorite stories, but also their favorite “toys.” They didn’t just “know” them, they were actively using them to read and spell words! With every day came new growth and discovery, and being new to kindergarten, I felt like I was learning right along with them. I was just so excited that I had to share it, and from the moment that Katie posted our little video back in October on Facebook, we both began receiving so many comments and questions. Most wanted to know if the Secrets they knew in the video actually transferred to their reading and writing, and if so, how? So, Katie asked me to track of all of this year’s data and write this post.
This comment, in particular, sums up what many who saw the video back in October were curious to learn—
I am not understanding how this transfers into their reading & writing since it is done in isolation. Is there any assessment data showing how well kids can actually read? I show my students many videos and we sing many songs too, but I don’t see all kids accessing the information later in their reading and writing.
Thanks for any insight you can provide!
My background in first grade…. Having taught first grade in a large school district for the past ten years, this past year was to be my first ever teaching kindergarten. Our district had expanded from four Early Childhood Schools to six, and I was moved to a new building and placed in kindergarten. My new school was a Title 1 and Title 3 school, with both ESL and free and reduced lunch population.
I had been using Secret Stories in first grade for the past seven years, alongside the Lucy Caulkins Reading and Writing Workshop Model, which our district had adopted several years back. Secret Stories was a game-changer for me, as it gave my first graders more of the phonics “code” they needed to actually do reading and writing workshop! As a result, my students had always shown unbelievable growth—not just in their reading, but in their writing, as well. Knowing the Secrets gave them confidence to tackle new words in reading, write more complicated words in their stories, and even figure-out unknown words in their story problems for math.
As early grade teachers, our students are just learning how to “do” school, and so testing is not what is most important, nor should it define them. However, data is extremely important to principals, as well as to district and state-level administrators, as it provides a “snap-shot” of current student performance. If you were to look at my data from seven years ago and compare it to my data now, you would see a huge difference. Yes, I am sure that I have become a better teacher over time, but the truth is, I didn’t have my secret weapon, and so I couldn’t give it to my students. That’s what the Secret Stories are to me and my students. They are our secret reading weapon, and they continue to be the BEST gift I could ever give my kids!
Before I discovered Secret Stories, I had to do weekly word practice and a phonics focus, and so my calendar looked like this…
Sight Words, Word Families, and Phonics Rules (a.k.a. “Before Secrets”)
Everything was taught in isolation and nothing was authentic….or fun. Students would learn the sight words, word families and phonics rules for the week, and then we would move on with hope that they could retain those words and rules. There was no spiral-teaching, except for the weeks we reviewed, and those were only for the sight words, not the word families or phonics rules. I look back now and wonder how my class ever reached the levels required by the end of each school year? During the week, I would use rainbow word worksheets, word sorts, letter tiles and magnetic letters to practice the sight words, and I had a block of time set aside for word study each day.
Becoming Secret Word Detectives
The first thing that you notice when you start telling Secrets is how they naturally integrate with everything that you are already doing. They are literally everywhere! I no longer needed to set aside time for word practice or phonics “kill and drill,” as the kids were naturally using them ALL DAY LONG—in reading, in math, at lunch, in art…..anywhere and everywhere there were words, they found Secrets! Skill-reinforcement was “baked-in” to everything that we were already doing—across all subject areas, as the kids were constantly using them to read and write words. They loved being word detectives and spotting Secrets wherever they were hiding! My teaching became more authentic, which made learning easier and more natural for my students.
From day one, I had all of the Secret Stories posters hung in my room, and I started showing my kids how to use them. I explained that the Secrets were the “keys” they needed to “unlock” words, and I modeled using them for this purpose constantly. Whenever we came to a word that they couldn’t read or spell, I told them the Secret, and then showed them the poster and reminded them how they could use it to read and spell other words on their own. And off they went! During free choice time, they pretended to be the teacher, using the pointers to show and tell the Secret Stories, and then calling on their friends to make the sounds and show the motions. They referred to the posters constantly, sometimes to actually read or spell a word, and sometimes, just to “play” with telling their story and making their sound. I actually have the posters hung on both sides of my classroom so they can easily see them from anywhere, which just goes to show how much the kids use them!
Letters Behave Like Kids
The day I told them the first Secret Story, my teaching changed forever. Having a way to make phonics make sense just made everything we were already doing so much easier! Five and six-year-olds may not understand (or care about) letter sounds, but they do understand that letters behave differently when they are together with different friends, just like they behaved differently with different friends. In the Secret Stories, kids saw their own feelings and behaviors reflected back, which is why they loved hearing and telling them so much. The Secrets come from a place that kids can easily identify with and understand, like, for example: how a line leader is supposed to behave, when to (and when not to) be sneaky, not getting along with your classmate, being left out of a group, having to listen to your mom (or your babysitter!), and even what it would be like to have super powers! The Secrets make kids wonder. They made them curious. They make them think. But most of all, the Secrets make them want to know more Secrets!
My first graders had always learned the Secrets quickly, which is what made our Reading and Writing Workshop take off, but when I moved to kindergarten, I wasn’t sure how this would go. At curriculum night, I shared with parents that I was unsure about how kindergartners would do with Secret Stories, since I’d only used them in first grade. But I also told them that if their kids were going to be reading and writing in kindergarten, then they were going to need them!
Our end-of-year standard for kindergarten was mastery of: individual letter sounds, 25 sight words, and three digraphs- /sh/, /th/ and /wh/….and that was it. My first grade teacher-brain couldn’t help but wonder what in the world kids were actually supposed to be able to do with that?! However, I knew that, as a kindergarten teacher, I would be spending a lot of time on individual letters and sounds, and would need to focus on those first. I was even concerned that giving them the Secrets might be too much…..oh boy was I wrong!
Word Work Playground
The Daily Calendar
At the early grade levels, the entire day is a playground of word exploration and play! I actually shared the first Secret before I’d even introduced any of the individual letters and sounds. It was the Secret about au/aw, which I told them on the first day of school during calendar time. (I remembered seeing Katie doing this in a kindergarten YouTube video and so I thought I would do the same.) I asked the kids how many of them knew what a “secret” was. I told them that there were special secrets that could only be told to very special kindergartners, and that these secrets would help them to become better readers and writers. I also made sure to let them know that they could tell their parents (or loved ones), and that when they go home, they could pretend to be the teacher and teach the Secret Story to them.
School starts in early August, and we do Calendar Time every day, so since we would be “reading” the word August on a daily basis, it made sense to explain why the /A/ wasn’t making the sound it was supposed to (based on the sounds it makes in the Better Alphabet Song, which we also sang every morning and afternoon). To understand why, the kids would need to know the Secret about au/aw.
The picture below is not of me or my class, but I found it on one of Katie’s blogs, and it gives you the idea.
Whenever I told them a Secret, I would make a huge deal about how they were ‘grown-up’ reading and writing secrets, and that no other kids were allowed to know them! Then throughout the rest of the day, I would introduce other Secrets, as we needed them to read and spell words that we would frequently use or encounter (i.e. student names, high-frequency sight words, color words, math words, etc…). Then we could use these Secrets to crack even more words that we came across. Once you begin telling Secrets, there is a sort of “snowball-effect,” which quickly takes on a life of its own, as the kids start to drive their own learning!
Over the next two weeks, I had introduced them all authentically. I purposefully searched for ways to introduce them to the class that would be meaningful.
I introduced Secrets to help us read and write the names of students in our class. Kids love to talk about, explore and “play” with their own names, as well as their friends’ names. They especially loved keeping track of whose names had which Secrets in them, often alerting visitors to our class that they had a Secret in their name, but then refusing to tell them what it was….because of course, it’s a “secret!”
I introduced Secrets that we found in our read-aloud mini-lessons. And while I don’t have a picture of this from my own classroom, I did find this video of Katie doing the same.
Word Study in Math
When talking about Math Workshop, I introduced the Secrets that we needed to read those words (/th/ and /sh/). I really wanted the kids to see the Secrets as their own, personal keys to unlock any word—not something that was confined to our reading lesson. The video below demonstrates this point.
As we practiced walking around our building, trying to learn where places were located, I would point out the Secrets in words that we saw on the walls. I asked parents to send in environmental print, and we would use the words they brought in each day to teach more Secrets. For example, to read the store name, Target, we learned the Secret about /ar/.
When we saw the word Walmart, we needed the /al/ Secret to crack it, along with the previously learned Secret about /ar/. Learning was authentic and continually spiraling. Secrets were shared and re-shared, with the kids never tiring of re-telling old Secrets and learning new ones. And all this was happing simultaneously to picking up the individual letters and sounds with muscle memory, via our Better Alphabet Song (sung twice a day, every day!) I actually caught one of my little guys, who was obsessed with this song, singing it to himself at recess, and I recorded it, as he was just so cute! It’s the video below.
Now I’ll admit that teaching all of the Secrets in the first two weeks of kindergarten isn’t what Katie says to do in her book, but my kids were so hungry to hear more Secrets, that I thought, why not? After all, they’re just stories….and who worries about telling kids too many stories??
I know what you’re thinking (especially if you teach kindergarten), but before you judge, just remember that I wasn’t “teaching” skills, I was telling stories! Stories that they loved and would beg to hear! Also, having never taught kindergarten before, I had no preconceived notions about what kindergartners could and couldn’t do. All I knew was that they kept begging me to tell them just “one more Secret”….and so I did! And every one that I told came back to me like a boomerang in our daily reading and writing—which would only motivate me to tell more! (I literally could not keep a secret- Lol!)
The more Secrets I told them, the more they wanted. The more Secrets they had, the more words they could read and write. Secret skill transfer to reading and writing was easy and natural, as it is only for these purposes that Secrets were shared, so kids automatically made this connection, unlike with an isolated phonics skill lesson. And unlike a phonics “program,” Secrets aren’t grade-specific, and there are no scripted lessons to follow, making it easy to work them into everything you do—any time, any where, and for any purpose….without any prep!
One of the first things that I discovered in kindergarten was that five-year-olds were just as excited to hear the Secrets as I was to tell them! The more excitement I showed, the more they showed, and the more they were learning without even knowing! Without any prompting, they were finding Secrets everywhere, and then telling each other their “secret” sounds. I was constantly amazed at how their little eyes lit up every time they spotted Secrets that they knew in words—from reading passages, to the cafeteria menu, to signs in the hallway. I was even told by parents that “Secret-spottings” were happening at home on newspapers, magazine covers, and even on signs! These little kindergartners were quickly realizing that everywhere there were words, there were Secrets, and that they had the keys to unlock them.
My “original” Secret Stories book….well-loved and well-used! Kids loved to play with it at centers.
On the 100th day of school, I asked my kids to write about their favorite part of kindergarten, and almost all them said it was learning Secret Stories! These kids were on fire, absorbing and learning everything they could about this ‘grown-up’ world of reading and writing! All day long, they were pointing them out, and I would tell them that we were “stamping our brains” with new Secrets each time we found them in text.
If we were reading poems, they wanted to circle the Secrets. In read-aloud, they wanted to come up and put highlighter tape on the Secrets. Even in math, science and social studies, they were always “on the hunt” for Secrets. They were obsessed, and it was wonderful! It was so much fun watching their excited conversations about what the Superhero Vowels® were doing, and whether they would “say their name” or be “short and lazy” (if Mommy E® or the Babysitter Vowels® weren’t around). Both their reading AND writing just soared!
To see just how obsessed they were with the Secrets, check out this video that was sent to me by one of my parents of their child’s birthday party. In the caption, the father wrote, “The secrets really ARE everywhere!”
Secret Stories to Sound Out Words for Reading
When my students are reading and come upon an unknown word, I don’t tell them what it is. Instead, I tell them to look for the Secrets.
Several years ago, when I started teaching first grade and hadn’t yet discovered Secret Stories, my kids were usually unsuccessful when attempting to sound out most words, unless they were simple C-V-C words, like cat, bed, cut, etc… Now that my kids know the Secrets, they wouldn’t even start sounding out a word without first noticing the Secrets that are in it. For example, before they knew the Secrets, my first graders might try to sound out the word first like this, “ff-ih-ruh-ss-tuh,” making each letter sound individually. With the Secrets, even my kindergartners will automatically say, “f-ir-st,” because they immediately notice the Secrets and blends.
This is another reason why it is so important that all of the Secret Stories posters are up on your wall where kids can easily see them, as it’s the first place they’ll look when they can’t read or spell a word. It’s also important to encourage them to use the motions or action that naturally goes along with each story sound. Unlike a “program” (i.e. Zoo Phonics, Letterland, Jolly Phonics, etc…) the Secret Stories motions aren’t arbitrary actions that you have to know and remember, but just the natural physical response of engaging in the action/making the sound, like holding the steering wheel and slamming on the pretend brakes when saying, “Errrrrrrrrr” (for er/ir/ur) or sticking your tongue out and making a mean face when saying “thhhhhhhhhh” (for /th/).
We don’t just “stamp our brains” with the pictures, but with the sounds and actions as well! All children learn differently, and the more modalities we can incorporate in our learning, the more connections we make in our brains! Secret Stories’ multi-sensory instruction activates all of the senses—see it, say it, do it and even FEEL it— for deep learning, which is why the Secrets “stick” so easily, even for kindergartners. The visual below is actually from Katie’s session handout, but I wanted to add it here to show how a multi-sensory approach to instruction (especially for phonics) helps to forge deeper learning connections in the brain.
Kindergarten in December
The following videos are of students in my class, who you will see looking up at the wall behind them to find the Secrets they need to decode the words they’re trying to read. I always give them a little time before asking what Secret (or Secrets) they see. These clips are from early December, back when they were still learning how to actively decode new words. As their decoding ability improved, we were able to focus more on fluency, which you will see in later videos further down below.
*Note that these are “cold” readings of instructional-level text, which means that it offers some challenges, based on their current reading level, which of course, is different for each child. Most often, in guided reading, I intentionally select more challenging text (rather than easier books) so as to give them words that they might struggle with a bit, so as to help them stretch and grow as readers.
Teaching the Reader, Not the Reading
The Secret Stories reach every child. My ESL students and little ones on IEPs were able to pick them up just as easily as the rest of my kids. No matter how a child learns, the Secrets just make sense. Kids who aren’t yet developmentally ready to read still love to hear and tell the stories—talking about them like they would their favorite TV or video game characters. But for kids who are ready, these simple stories open up a whole new world of reading and writing for them to explore! Because the Secrets apply to everything we do in kindergarten, reinforcing them is easy and can be done with high, medium and low-level learners, simultaneously. While higher-level learners are able to transfer knowledge of the story to the sounds and letter patterns they need for reading and writing, lower-level learners are simply enjoying knowing and telling the story, not yet realizing the power that it holds.
The first time that I did a Running Record on a child in kindergarten after having introduced all the Secret Stories, I was in shock! Our reading was off the charts, and so were our scores. Once my kindergartners had successfully gotten me to spill all of the Secrets (yes, I blame them!) they were unstoppable. The best part of teaching kindergarten was watching the extreme progression from kids knowing little-to-no letter sounds to becoming full-fledged readers! The transformation was incredible. The second best part was seeing their excitement as they evolved as readers and writers. I only wish that I would have recorded this child at the beginning of the year when he still didn’t know all of his letters or sounds!
Kindergarten Reading Level – Late Fall
Kindergarten Reading Level – Winter
It was around this time in mid-December, just before the holiday break, that I sent Katie the following update….
I just completed our F&P (Fountas & Pinnell) assessments yesterday and today on my kindergarten class! Our kids have to be at a level D by the END of the year, and more than half of my kids are already there, with 10 reading between levels F-I! And most didn’t even know their letters and sounds at the beginning of the year!
Not having ever taught kindergarten before, I am just floored by their progress! I was in first grade for the past 11 years, so I was not sure how quickly kindergartners would learn the sounds and put it together in order to read fluently. Well, by December, they were reading and comprehending!!!!♥️If anyone ever wonders if the Secrets work in Kindergarten, they should hear these angels read and comprehend. I myself am amazed! Sorry, but had to brag about Secret Stories! I know all of the teachers out there who use it will get it! 🙂
PS We also do Maps Testing, and I can’t wait to see the difference in overall growth from September to December! I will share that when I get it.
Below is my kindergarten F&P data showing where we were in December, as well as their overall growth by the end of the school year.
“Fountas & Pinnell” Reading Level Assessments
Note that by the end of the school year, 50% were reading at “end of first grade” level, having passed level J (the highest level-assessment allowed for kindergarten by the district). This is compared to 6% of kindergartners, district-wide (including students from non-Title I schools).
Our district also uses MAP Testing with a projected RIT score to show where kids should be by the end of the year. Those who use NWEA MAP will better understand the data below. For those who don’t, the projected RIT score is for Spring. As you can imagine, several students had already surpassed the projected RIT score by Winter testing. Our administration looks at the percent of projected growth met, which should be around 100% by the end of the year. Anything above that indicates how much more a student grew than was expected from their RIT score.
On average, there should be about a 10-point growth from Fall to Spring. The assessment data below shows growth from both winter and spring. Keep in mind that these assessments are just a snapshot of the entire child, and do not inform what is good overall growth. They are most useful to ensure that all students are continuing to move—from the lowest to the highest. Average student growth on this assessment is traditionally between 80%-120% percent. My average student this year in kindergarten was over 200%.
Kindergarten “Map” Testing – Reading
As I stated above, while data is important, it provides only a snapshot of the whole child, especially in kindergarten. Secret Stories have improved my scores immensely over the years, so I no longer worry about testing, as we are always way ahead of where we need to be, midway through the year. Not having to worry about teaching the “reading” means that I can focus more on teaching the reader. That’s where I can invest my time and energy, not on sight word lists and reading “practice!”
Word Work Activities and Phonics Play
Midway through kindergarten, my class had become highly-skilled word detectives, and our “word work” was never limited to our reading block! We circled and highlighted Secrets in the stories and poems we read, put highlighting tape on our big books, and were always on the look-out for Secrets hiding both in and outside of our classroom! Reading and writing was never limited to an isolated “phonics” or “word work” time; it was immersed into every part of our day! Whenever Secret phonics patterns were spotted, we would circle or highlight them. Then we tap out the word, chunking each Secret Story sound together (instead of saying the letters sounds individually). For example, if we came across the word thirds in Math, we would highlight the letters /th/ and /ir/, and then tap and sound it out as, it out as “th-ir-d-s” (as opposed to “t-h-i-r-d-s”). We would even use a large magnifying glass to show how the Secret letter patterns should jump out at you before you start reading them!
Using a document camera, we would look at poems, like the one about leprechauns, below. We would then circle all of the Secrets we could find and read it aloud, together. If you walked into my room, you would see that no matter what paper I put in front of them, they would all find and circle the Secrets before I even mentioned looking for them.
Secret Stories Hunts
Another fun opportunity for phonics play is going on Secret Story “Hunts,” as this is a great way to strengthen beginning learners’ visual acuity to quickly recognize letter patterns in text. While we often do this at guided reading with our little books, we also like to “hunt” for Secrets in words all around our classroom. We can hunt for words that contain a specific Secret Story pattern, or for words with any Secret Stories patterns! We can also use a timer to make it into a contest to see who can find the most—although to win, they have to be able to READ all of the words that they “captured!” Another fun twist is to extend the hunt to the hallway, the cafeteria, the principal’s office, or even the entire school! The picture below shows the kids going on a Secret Stories Hunt around our classroom.
“Sentence of the Day” and Focus Words
We also have a “Sentence of the Day” book, which we make and do together every day. The students start at the carpet with me, and I introduce the sentence and our focus word.
For example, in the video below, the sentence was, “She is not in school today?” with the focus word, not.At the beginning of the year, I would have to read the sentence to them a few times, but at this point, they are doing a cold read of the sentences to me. We literally take apart the sentence. The students look for Secret Stories, punctuation, capitalization, plus anything else they happen to notice, and then we pull out one word, and think of more words that rhyme with it.
This is a great way to reinforce awareness that if they know how to read and spell the word not, then they can also read and spell the words lot, hot, rot, shot, etc… or, as in the next clip below, if they know how to read and spell the word will, they can also read and spell words like: hill, pill, fill, chill, etc… This activity is a powerful one, as it reinforces everything they know about reading and writing, and provides an easy to way to informally assess their ability to apply the Secrets. It’s also a great way to increase phonemic awareness, as well as recognition of word families for both reading and spelling, but without causing confusion between simple word letter patterns (like -op, -at, -it, etc…) with Secrets (which are the sounds letters make when they don’t do what they should!)
Once we have finished, we then read the sentences three or four times (or more at the beginning of the year). Then the kids go back to their seats, write the word four times, and then write the sentence in their very best handwriting. When finished, students will raise their hands and read it to me. When first starting to read, I have them point to each word as they are reading it so that they can practice one-to-one correspondence, which some students continue doing through the year.
Merry-Go-Round Phonics Instruction
I can’t stress enough the importance of activating all of the modalities in learning practice—the visual, the auditory and the kinesthetic. Whenever we would spot Secrets, we would always reference the poster (visual) while making the sound (auditory) and doing the motion (kinesthetic). By presenting information to the brain from as many angles as possible, Secret Stories fosters deep connections that learners can’t forget. Katie talks about how Secret Stories offers kids a “merry-go-round” for learning that just keeps spinning, giving kids who need it more time “jump on,” and giving them never-ending opportunities to do so. We keep our merry-go-round spinning by always taking the time to re-tell the story, reference to the poster, and engage in the action with the sound. This constant reinforcement of what the Secret is, where it lives (on the wall), and the sound (or sounds) it makes helps to ensure that our merry-go-round never leaves anyone behind—regardless of where they are in the learning process.
Whenever we stand in line before leaving the classroom, one student gets to take my pointer and be the teacher, pointing to the different Secret Stories posters (or words on other posters) hanging in the room. Whatever words were pointed to, the kids would have to read as quickly as they could. This simple game actually had a big impact on their learning, and was well worth the extra five minutes it took to line up. It was during these short, little 3-5 minute windows that I first began to see them evolving into readers before my eyes! Their writing was also improving with each passing day, as they got better and better at using the the posters to transcribe the sounds they heard into readable words.
Using Secret Stories with the Reading and Writing Workshop Model
Our district has used Lucy Calkins’ Reading and Writing Workshop Model for the past 15 years. Before the Secrets, I would follow the Readers/Writers Workshop books like they were my Bible!
I was teaching first grade when I first heard about the Secret Stories from my sister, who was also a first grade teacher, as her school had just purchased them. She would rave and rave about them, telling me all about her school’s success. I was intrigued, but as with any new “program,” I was a little apprehensive. The last thing I needed was something else to teach, and I didn’t really want another book with more lessons that I would have to squeeze into my already overstuffed day. But once she explained how easy it was, and that it really wasn’t a “program” at all, I was all in!
I decided to purchase it with my own money and immediately begin introducing it to my first grade class. Some of my first graders at the time were already reading, while others were still working on letter sounds and sight words, though all of them were captivated by these little “secret” stories. A wave of learning began to rise across the different levels in my classroom, with everyone taking something away from each Secret that I told.
I could write a big word on the board, like for example, vacation or assumption, and while my stronger readers would use the Secrets to silently sound out the word, my lower-level readers would be equally excited to just look for the Secrets and tell their stories while acting out their sounds. Despite the different levels, we could all go back and blend the letter sounds and Secrets together to read the word aloud. To me, this is the epitome of what Katie refers to as, “Buffet-Style” Instruction, with all level learners able to come to the table and “eat” what they’re ready for! The result was a no-prep “multi-tiered” word work activity that not only reinforced the Secrets, but also that no matter our age or grade level, if we knew the Secrets, we could figure out 99% of the words we encounter! (And if you’re wondering how this would work with words that don’t follow phonics rules, that’s actually the most fun part….getting to be “Word Doctors,” which you can read more about here.)
Phonics Units of Study /Phonics Workshop Model
This school year, our district adopted the new Lucy Calkins TCRWP Phonics Units of Study/Phonics Workshop for kindergarten and first grade. This was another thing that I was concerned about when moving to Kindergarten, as I was unsure how to incorporate Secret Stories with a phonics program.
We didn’t receive our TCRWP Phonics Units Teacher Kits until October, so during a professional development on how to use them, we were told to begin on book 2. given that book 1 was geared toward the very first few weeks of kindergarten and we were now two months in. Once I got started, I quickly realized that my students already knew all the concepts—not only book 2, but in book 3, as well. So I had to jump ahead to book 4, and even then, I was able to skip several more lessons that my kids were already able to do.
The reason I was able to skip so many books was not just because we’d already learned all of the skills presented, but because we had been using them daily in everything we do. And while this might seem as though it would present a conflict, it’s actually quite the opposite! Because we didn’t need to engage in any of the phonics skill introduction or practice work in the program, we were able to take full advantage of the open-ended, extension activities for authentic reading and writing that the program offered. The Phonics Units turned out to be a perfect “playground” on which we could flex our Secret Stories “muscles” in a variety of ways for reading and writing!
In the Phonics Units of Study, Lucy Caulkins stresses that in order for beginning learners to be able to transfer phonics skills to reading and writing, they need faster access to them. But unlike the Phonics Units, which deliver phonics skills by grade level across kindergarten, first and second, Secret Stories fast-tracks the WHOLE code in kindergarten by giving kids a way to understand letter sound behavior—so they don’t need to memorize everything, or learn through rote practice. So then, why wait? The more tools we bring to the table, the more value we can take away….and that goes for any reading series or program!
Prior to adopting the Phonics Units of Study, our district required kindergarten students to know 25 sight words by the end of the school year, while first graders had to know 115 before moving on to second grade. In December, I decided to go ahead and test those students who were ready on all of the first grade words, even though our district only requires the 25. Suffice it to say that I actually had to contact our central office and complain (in a nice way) that the online entry system would not allow me to enter anything above a “99” in the field for kindergarten because it only registered two-digit numbers. (They changed it for me! :-)
So here we were, barely half way through kindergarten, and most of the kids could already read all of the 115 first grade words or more! (You can imagine how cocky they were, especially the ones with first grade siblings!)
Kindergarten Sight Word Mastery (Baseline & Mid-Year Assessment)
I’ve always loved using Secret Stories with Writers Workshop, as the two really do go hand-in-hand! Each day I do a mini-lesson and I model, model, model! Then, before students go back to their seats to begin their own writing, we spend a few minutes discussing what they notice in my writing—highlighting, circling, or using highlighting tape to mark all of the Secret Stories that they see. When they are doing their own writing, they are using the Secret Stories posters constantly.
As they tap their arm to segment the sounds that they hear in each word, they know which Secrets make each sound, and can refer to the posters to see how to write it, or just to self-check. Each student also has a Porta-Pic in in their desk folders for easy access that they can refer to anytime they are reading or writing. Kids can take them home for reading and writing there (since they won’t have access to the posters) as well as to their resource/pull-out classrooms (for those who go).
The following video clips show our Writers Workshop time at the beginning of the school, as well as midway through the year. You will notice that at the beginning of the year, students focus more on drawing the pictures and just trying to get some letters down on the page, whereas by the end of the year, they are writing books.
Kindergarten Writing Workshop – Fall
Kindergarten Writing Workshop – Winter
Play-Based Learning & Phonics Fun
During center choice time, my students love to use the puppets and pretend to be the teacher teaching the Secrets. Recently, one student asked if we could make Superhero Vowel puppets. This led to an entire STEAM lesson, and ended with our making puppets for all of the Secrets, and even putting on our own puppet shows!
I divided students into groups of four, and each group had to design and create their own puppets using supplies from our classroom, and then create a skit. Once they made their puppets, they worked with their partners to rehearse their skits. Then each group presented their puppet show to the class. Once all of the skits were finished, students sat and shared their puppets and the sounds that they made.
Play-based, cooperative learning is so much more valuable than any scripted lesson, not to mention a lot more fun! With the Secrets, kids already own the skills, so the real learning lies in their discovery of how to use them. In early grade classrooms, there are endless opportunities to “play” as readers and writers! And I believe that this is why the kids love learning the Secrets so much—because they give them more to play with! They associate the Secrets with fun, play, and stories!
Here are some short clips from our Secret Stories puppet-play—
/ch/ and /ed/
Short and Long Vowel Sounds (a.k.a. Superhero Vowels & their ‘Short & Lazy’ Sounds)
The 3 Sounds for Y (a.k.a. Sneaky Y®)
Reading fluency is key as phonics skills become second nature, and one way to encourage it is through song! We love to read, write and SING our way to fluency! First, we read a book about our favorite animal, then we write about it, and then we sing about it! Check out this talented little one sharing her “All About Animals” writing about raccoons, to the tune of “Party in the USA!” It’s adorable!!
As a teacher in a Primary K-1 building for over 13 years, when students would leave, I wouldn’t get to see them again unless they come back to visit. When they did, I would always ask them to read to us, and then I would let my little ones ask them questions. Once question that they always ask is, “What did you learn that helped you the most?” and the response is almost always, “Secret Stories.” I love knowing that I have given them a gift that continues to help them grow as readers and writers, long after they leave my classroom.
Teacher Expertise in Phonics Secret Stories
The best way to start Secret Stories is to jump right in and don’t overthink it!
Secret Stories give beginning grade learners easy access to all of the code they need to read and write long-before they will be formally introduced by your reading series or phonics program (as per traditional grade level scope and sequences). THIS IS NOT A PROBLEM—it’s a gift!
All you have to do is tell the story and then plug in its sound (for reading) or the letter patterns (for spelling/writing). Telling a Secret to explain strange letter behavior will never (I repeat, NEVER!) conflict with anything else you are doing—no matter what reading series or even phonics “program” you are using! It’s simply giving meaning to letters and sounds that would otherwise have none—and thus, would need to be repeatedly practiced as “skills” (instead of stories).
While Secret Stories is systematic and explicit with introduction of “most-needed” (highest-frequency) first, you can also share and use Secrets as you need them throughout the instructional day! Never limit them to just language arts time, because remember, they’re not a “program,” they’re tools for both you and your students! Secrets should never be taught in isolation, but immersed into everything that you do, and talked about everywhere you go (which kids will naturally do anyway whenever they see words!)
Remember to take advantage of every opportunity to make your students’ learning authentic, but don’t wait too long to introduce all the Secrets. And to all my fellow kindergarten teachers out there, DO NOT WAIT for kids to know the individual letter sounds before you start telling them Secrets! That’s like waiting for kids to learn Bob’s name before introducing them to Tabitha, just because her name has a /th/ in it!
And most important of all, GET EXCITED! If you’re excited, then your kids will be excited! (This is actually the easiest part, as you won’t be able to help yourself!)
Children are like sponges, soaking up everything around them to grow. And my little sponges grew beyond my wildest expectations! All I had to do was feed them the Secrets, and then watch them grow into real-life readers and writers!
How to Teach First Graders About Persuasive Writing
Teaching persuasive writing is not easy, and getting kids excited about doing it — especially first graders — is even harder! But not when there are leprechauns involved….
Now you might be thinking, “This lady is crazy! Look at that mess! Why would anyone purposely ransack their own classroom for the sake of a persuasive writing lesson?” And maybe you’re right. But in our little first grade classroom, reading and writing activities provide the perfect “playground” for adventures like these! Knowing the Secrets empowers my kiddos (many of whom are ELL) to read what they love and write the stories that they want to tell! And unlike average first graders midyear, they aren’t the least bit reliant on sight words to read and write, as they OWN the code!
My name is Renee McAnulty, and I am a first grade teacher at Cottonwood Elementary School in Hesperia California, and you may remember me from previous guest posts on Katie’s Blog.
Increasing Student Engagement with Persuasive Writing
I am that teacher who is constantly trying to come up with creative ways to get my kids completely engaged in our lessons. When it comes to teaching beginning readers and writers, the first (and most important) step is to ensure that they have the tools they need to read write with! And that’s not easy, given how little of the code (i.e. phonics skills) the average first grader has of the code at this point in first grade, as per the grade level scope and sequence in our reading series.
Add to that the constant pressure of trying to compete with video gaming, YouTube, high energy tv shows, etc., focusing students’ attention on reading and writing tasks can be challenging! My special recipe includes the “4C’s” — Creativity, Critical thinking, Collaboration, and Communication….along with a “sprinkling” of Secrets! Combining all of these ingredients has completely transformed what reading and writing looks like in our classroom. We have actually become so strong in our abilities, that we sometimes have to use writing to get ourselves out of sticky situations, like the one that happened last week.
Before I explain the chaos, keep in mind that we are first graders, and as such, we have very BIG imaginations!
—We believe in magic. —We believe in fairies (and actually have one living in our classroom at the moment) —We believe in elves (and host an Elf-exchange program with the North Pole each December) —And we believe in leprechauns.
In fact, did you know that leprechauns are responsible for messing up classrooms all over the world? If you don’t believe me, Google it, as their mayhem is well-documented. This is why I had my munchkins create leprechaun traps. We even put on a “leprechaun exhibit” for the entire school to show off our creative traps, and to encourage others to do the same.
So, after making and setting our traps, we left them out overnight. When we returned to our classroom the next morning, it was pure chaos! The leprechauns had not only escaped from our traps, but they trashed our room, leaving us to clean up their mess…..and it was a BIG mess!
Still in shock, but with a full day of learning ahead of us and no time to waste, my little munchkins started cleaning the giant mess as fast as they could. Then, without any warnings, our principal entered the room (which I will admit, “may” have been pre-planned! ;-)
His face showed his shock….and his disappointment. How could these precious first graders, who love their school, treat their classroom like this? He was speechless. The kids immediately tried to explain what had happened, “We didn’t do it! It was the leprechauns!”
The look on his face said he was not buying it. (Our principal had some theatre training and is a very good actor!) The kids could tell that he was thinking, that WE really did this! They tried their best to explain, but to no avail.
Our principal is a very busy man, and he just doesn’t have time to listen to nonsense. However, despite his busy schedule, he is also very reasonable and very fair. So, he gives the kids their most important assignment to date, to explain to him, IN WRITING, why they are not responsible for the mess. If they can prove that the leprechauns were the real culprits by citing evidence and research, as well as the reasons that they believe that it was them who did this, then he might be convinced to believe us.
The kids wasted no time. They thanked him and then went to work cleaning the classroom. They un-flipped the tables, sharpened the pencils, and began writing.
Not Your Typical First Grade Writing
Now was not the time for, “How do you spell Leprechaun?”
Our reputation was on the line! It’s moments likes this when basic kid-writing simply with simple sight words just will not do. We were not going to be able to convince our principal that we were innocent with: “I like leprechauns.” “Leprechauns are cool!” “I really really really like them.” “Leprechauns are fun!”
Thankfully, we were armed with our Secret Stories and could write exactly what we wanted, no needed to say!
How incredible is that? We know how to write! In fact, our writing is being requested by our principal! Why? Because he can read it!
One of the many perks of kids knowing the letters’ “Secrets” is that they can not only read almost anything, they can write almost anything too! And so without any hesitation at all, the kids started to write….and write….and write.
Why did they write so much?
Because they could, and because it was fun!
This awesome (albeit messy) writing adventure was the perfect mixture of play, passion and skills! It wasn’t just fun, it was exciting! Who would think that words like these would ever be used to describe a first grade writing assignment?!!
Our First Grade Persuasive Writing
When the last of the writers finished up, I sent our class reps to the office to schedule a meeting with Mr. Mauger so that we could read our letters and plead our case. It was just after lunch that he called us in. The kids gave him their letters and showed him some of the research they had done online.
Then he read all of our letters.
After some persuasive conversation, our principal finally said that he believed us. The kids were so relieved, and so very proud that they had once again written their way out of another sticky situation! (You can read about our trauma over Rocky, the school mascot, here!)
When we got back to our classroom, we sat down and chatted about everything that had happened. I told them how proud I was of them. “Munchkins, because you are officially readers and writers! You wrote exactly what you wanted to say, and didn’t even have to ask me how to spell anything! You had the power and the confidence to write your own thoughts down on paper!” (A quick side note here— If you use Secret Stories, but don’t know about/use the “Zoo Keepers & M&M” strategy, you need to watch this and then download it NOW! It’s free, and really help kids understand that they must “capture” as many letters (and Secrets!) that they hear in the words they are trying to write. It’s a great tool for ensuring Secret Stories skill-transfer to writing. It also makes beginning writing much easier to read, and to enjoy! You can read more about writing with Secret Stories here.)
You might be thinking that such a huge production for a silly little writing lesson is unnecessary. And sure, I could have just passed out a worksheet with a couple of leprechauns on it and a few lines for writing, while listening to the sighs and moans as I explained what the writing topic was and how many sentences they “had to write” in order to be “done.”
The whole lesson probably would have taken no more than twenty minutes and then we could have moved on to something else….all the while keeping our classroom neat and clean! But where is the fun in that?
The truth is that by next year, these kids won’t even remember learning to read and write, just like they don’t remember how they learned to walk and talk. These are tasks that they perform automatically with no effort at all.
Reading and Writing Fluency
And this is my goal for them as readers and writers—that every day, they will become more fluent! They may not recall the actual learning process, but they will never forget the day that a crazed group of leprechauns tore up their classroom, and how they had to rely on their writing abilities to persuade the principal that they were innocent of the crime!
The Importance of Play in Learning
I hope you enjoyed this peek into our first grade persuasive writing adventure, and I hope it inspires you to infuse more “play” into reading and writing activities in your own classroom!
Secret Stories is the missing piece to our “1,000 piece” puzzle!
Weaving “play” into literacy learning is so critical at the early grade levels, and Secret Stories transforms every reading and writing experience into a virtual playground! The Secrets are are play as far as kids are concerned! They can’t stop talking about them and actively “hunt” for them in words throughout the day. They role-play their sound behaviors to get the sounds/spellings they need to read/write.
This may sound odd to those who don’t use the Secrets, but it almost feels like my class and I are on an endless vacation of reading and writing adventures! I say “vacation” because we’ve long since surpassed all of our “required” first grade reading level objectives—with most of the kids reading (and writing) far above grade level, and those who would normally struggle, performing strongly on-grade level.
When kids know the Secrets, they “own the code” and have everything they need to read and write what they want. And this is so important, as standard curriculum leaves so many holes. Before I started using Secret Stories, my first graders struggled to read and write anything, aside from the sight words they had memorized.
Teachers need tools, and so do kids! It drives me crazy when I hear teachers who are struggling to teach their kids their kids to read that they “don’t have time for one more thing!”
The Secrets aren’t one more thing. They are EVERYTHING that kids need to read and write, and everything that teachers need to teach them how to do it. They answer all of the questions about why letters make the sounds that they do when “jump off our alphabet chart and into the real words” that we see every day.
Kids can’t help but ask “Why?” anytime they spot Secrets in a word they cannot read. They literally “beg” to hear them, and this is when you realize that you are no longer driving the learning train. The kids are. They have taken over and are seated squarely in the driver’s seat and leading the way in their own learning!
We have time to relax and take literacy lessons to new heights that were never possible before in first grade. I know I sound like a broken record when I say that I cannot imagine teaching in a world without Secret Stories, and when I look back, I honestly have no idea how I ever did.
(a.k.a.”Mrs. Mac’s Munchkins”)
PS I wanted to share a quick “techie-tool” that we use to tie in our technology component, called Flipgrid. The kids recorded themselves reading their letters to Mr. Mauger, and then he recorded his response. The kids love it, and we can even share the links with our parents!
And here is a rough screen recording of one of my littles reading her letter to Mr. Mauger along with his response. (The sound isn’t great, as the kids were all recording at the same time and so there is a lot of background noise.)
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/IMG_9965.jpeg20481536Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2019-03-18 19:56:042021-03-12 17:48:06How to Teach Persuasive Writing in First Grade
And if you tuned in for, what was supposed to be “Rewind Wednesday,” which was supposed to be a replay of Sunday’s episode on Facebook Live, but with me “chatting” live in the comments section throughout, then you know that was a complete debacle. Ugh!
Well, not a total debacle….at least, not once everyone from the THREE live groups (yes, I accidentally streamed three at the same time) all found their way into the one that I was actually in. But from that point on, it was smooth sailing! :-)
And finally, the UNPLANNED and totally IMPROVISED "Wednesday Rewind!”…..3rd time’s a charm! Lol 😊
So, if you’re up for a challenge, try and join me this weekend for the second episode of Secret Sunday LIVE at 5pm on YouTube for “Cheating the Brain for Easy & Early Access to Hard Phonics Skills!” You will discover the “secret” ingredients to cooking-up a powerful, brain-based phonics “stew” in your classroom! In this short 30 minute timeframe, you will learn how to align core tenets of brain based learning with your existing phonics instruction to accelerate access to the WHOLE code that kids need to read AND to write!
PS And YAY! I actually did it!!! I gave you a “heads-up” more than an hour in advance! Lol ;-)
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/secret-stories-phonics-program-converstation-station-6.jpg19112048Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2018-12-15 18:53:022020-03-03 14:25:47“Secret Sundays” with Katie Garner LIVE on YouTube 5pm EST | Brain-Based Phonics for Accelerated Reading and Writing
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.
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.
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.
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!)
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!”
“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!
We decided to add a twist to our Secret Stories® fun! When learning about different sounds, we receive a mysterious letter from “Detective McLetters,” who is always on the hunt for letters and the sounds they make!
We play the “Mission Impossible” music, and the kids know that there is a letter hidden somewhere in our room! Then we read the letter to learn the Secret Story that Detective McLetters has discovered! Today, we were introduced to the ‘two cool dudes,’ AY & EY! We also learned who Fonzie was as well for reference.👍🏽 —Brandie Kennedy
I hope to be able to share more from Brandie soon!
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Program-Detectives.jpg363401Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2018-11-03 10:01:062020-10-04 14:42:53Transforming Phonics Instruction: Becoming a “Secret Agent” of Change in Your School!
Fast-Tracking the “Too-Slow” Pace of Traditional Phonics Skill Instruction
If you’re frustrated with your reading program and the intractably SLOW pace of phonics skill instruction, or, if you are feeling overwhelmed by all of the sight words that kids have to memorize because they can’t read them, then you are in for a real treat!
I want to introduce you to one of my favorite teacher friends, Tara Settle, who just happens to teach in my home state of West Virginia, and who I met while doing a phonics workshop for the Wood County School District in Parkersburg, WV. If you follow me on Facebook Page, Instagram, or Twitter, the name might sound familiar, as I often share peeks into Tara’s classroom.
I love sharing insight from Tara’s classroom because she really “paints a picture” of not only of WHAT she does, but HOW and WHY she does it….and teachers really need all three if they are to make strategies their own!
For who are teaching first grade and using the Journeys Reading Series, you are really in luck, as that’s the catalyst for Tara’s post, below. For everyone else, regardless of whether you teach kindergarten, first or second grade, and no matter the reading series (or phonics program) you use, you will see that Tara’s situation likely mirrors your own. The reading “programs” don’t give kids at the early grade levels access to the phonics skills they need to read most of the words that are in them! However, your reading series IS the perfect “playground” for your kids to enjoy flexing their reading and writing muscles with the Secrets!
And so, it is my pleasure to introduce you to Tara, who has not one, but TWO sets of Secret Stories® Flashcards! (You will see why as you read on!)
(From this point on, Tara’s words are in black, and my commentary will appear in red.)
My name is Tara Settle, and as Katie said, I live in Parkersburg, West Virginia, and have taught for a total of 29 years. Having had the privilege of being a stay-at-home mother for my four children, I chose to educate them through homeschooling. It was a wonderful adventure for all of us! Both of my two sons had reading disabilities, and I searched high and low for ways to help them become more proficient in this overwhelming process. We persisted, they overcame, and today they are successful readers.
Fast forward to teaching first grade in a 90% low-socioeconomic status, Title 1 school. I encountered so many of the same struggling readers as my sons. And so I began my online search one summer, determined that there had to be something “out there” that could help my students.
The Secrets have changed my teaching career and the reading lives of all my students, who often come from homes with no previous help or reading “lap” time. The first year I used Secret Stories, I realized that it wasn’t your typical “phonics program,” as it worked like nothing I’d ever seen before. When my students understood that Sneaky Y® made 3 sounds, they were able to read words at the beginning of the year that my previous year’s class struggled with until the end. I was convinced that this multi-sensory, neuroscience based way of “cracking the reading code” was exactly what I had been searching for my entire teaching career. Every year, Secret Stories proves to be an approach that truly works for all readers!
One more thing…if you use Journey’s Reading Program and have found the online interactive “Settle On In” Blog for your students, that’s me! I created this free resource for teachers to use with their classes, so be sure to search for your weekly story there for free and safe resources for your class.
Journeys Reading Series/ Phonics Program
Week 1- Sight Words: play, the, with
I borrowed your ladies sunglasses idea that was posted on the Secret Stories Facebook Page yesterday when introducing “ey/ay” with our Journey’s Reading Series/Phonics Program, week 1 sight word, play. I sent the pig picture out to all my parents in a platform called Seesaw so they could have a (fingers crossed) dinner time conversation about our new Secret. I wouldn’t normally include a picture of the Secret, as per copyright, but I thought this might be a good way to introduce Secret Stories to my parents, as usually I will say, “Ask your child to tell you the Secret about ay/ey that we learned today, and see if they can tell you some words that it’s in.” (I thought that this one should be okay since it has a cute pig in front of the picture— Lol!)
I love the way Tara includes her parents by letting them know to ask to hear a Secret! This is a great way to keep parents in the learning-loop while at the same time, establishing kids’ “ownership” of the Secrets. And while you can’t copy or reproduce any of the Secret graphics or text to send home, you can use the Porta-Pics to give kids access to the Secrets at-home, as well as for individual use in the classroom. They are a little over $2 a piece, and when laminated, they should last 2-3 years, so they can be checked out to each new class. You can also get more ideas on how to share Secrets with parents here.
I got out my apron so that I was ready to greet my class today. They have to tell me the Secrets and read the words to enter our classroom! Luckily, they all remember the Secrets!!
The small cards seen in Tara’s apron (which she had specially made) are the cut-apart cards from the back of the Secret Stories® Book, although she also uses flashcards in the top pocket, which you will see a bit further down.
Journeys Reading Series/ Phonics Program
Week 2- Sight Words: no, find, sing, funny, they, do
Below is a pic of my sight word review/follow up for today. These are words from our first grade Journeys reading series.
It’s ironic that Journeys scope and sequence for first grade (like most all other reading series/phonics programs) doesn’t introduce the phonics patterns that are needed to actually read these words until the end of first and/or second grade! And yet, when using brain science as a road map to tap into the backdoor learning channels, kids can have them in preK! Don’t believe it? Click here!
Here is a picture of today’s sight word review. These are words from the our Journeys series. Knowing the Secrets means that we don’t have to waste time memorizing sight words, as we can just read them. Note that the words find and do require kids to think like word doctors, which you can read more about here.
Journeys Reading Series/ Phonics Program
Week 3- Level B Reader, Curious George
Curious George is the Journeys Lesson 3, Level B Reader, and it contained 17 words that my students couldn’t read without Secret Stories. Without these Secrets, they wouldn’t have even been able to decode the title! When you stop and think about it, it truly is mind-boggling, and it makes me so mad on behalf of these struggling students! I seriously wonder how other Journeys first grade teachers in Title 1 schools or with ELL learners use this series without Secret Stories.
It is ironic that the reading series requires that learners be able to read words that contain phonics skills not yet taught. Nor will they be for what is often another one or two more grade level years.
The kids also had to sing this Secret to me to enter the room, since you can’t read “George” without it! I used the 6×6 flash cards on my apron (instead of the smaller cards from the back of the book that I usually use) so that they could see the letters better.
The picture I am sending is of the words from the two leveled B and C readers that I will be reviewing today so that the students continue to see the connection between Secrets and the words in our stories. As an aside, I love having the extra set of space-saver posters, as they are just the right size to put up on my magnetic board next to the words they are in!
Below is a picture that I posted on Facebook that combines the two pics above. I love how Tara is constantly modeling how to use the Secrets to unlock the words they are reading, not just in these stories, but in text experiences throughout the entire instructional day— from math to social studies. In the hallways, on bulletin boards, even on the lunch menu in the cafeteria, Secrets are always there….always teaching. (As one little first grader in Mrs. Mac’s Class said, “I can’t turn it off! The Secrets are EVERYWHERE…. and I just keep reading them!!!!!”)
Journeys Reading Series/ Phonics Program
Week 4- Level C Reader, Lucia’s Neighborhood
All of the following are from our Journeys level C reader, Lucia’s Neighborhood. They had to read the word fire on my apron when entering the room this morning. This will be my introduction to the word “firehouse” in my level C vocabulary reader for guided reading this morning. (Not to mention the word firefighter, which is also in this story, and yet without the Secrets, would be virtually impossible for most beginning first graders to read!)
A word like fire requires knowledge of the phonics rule about silent e….. or, in Secret Stories-terms, the Mommy E® Secret! (If you don’t know it, it’s super-easy, as is Babysitter Vowels® which explains what happens when “mommy just has to get out of the house!” to read/spell multi-syllabic words like making, motor, etc… You can them both here!)
In order to read the word Lucia where /a/ is making the schwa (“uhhh”) sound, I remind the kids about the “Thinking Vowels” who can’t make up their minds whether to be long or short, and so they bop themselves on the head as they say, “Uhhhhhh?” You will see that I code “thinking vowels” with a dot for where they smacked their head. (I usually ask the kids to look for the Secrets they see in the words and then underline them.) Once again, just look at how many Secrets are in the title! I truly have no idea how I used to teach reading before Secret Stories!
When teachers say that Secret Stories® “changed the way they teach,” or that they “couldn’t go back to teaching without them,” it’s because things that used to be “so hard” are now so easy! Like, for example, helping beginning readers figure out the words in the title of this book—especially when the reading series or phonics program hasn’t yet introduced the skills they need to do it! Many of these patterns aren’t “supposed” to be taught until second grade, which is way too long to wait, especially if you need them to read and write beginning in kinder! Just think how many reading and writing opportunities are lost on kids who don’t know the Secrets, from kindergarten to second grade. And yet, they’re so easy, you can share them with pre-schoolers!
Below are the Secrets they need to read the sight words in this lesson. Notice that like in the word Lucia, we can use the same “Thinking Vowels” trick that we used to read Lucia to read the sight word does.
Teaching Reading & Writing Connections with Secret Stories
My team teacher, Mrs. Buckley, did a word work writing activity with our first grade enrichment group. We split our classes so as to better meet the needs of each or our groups. You will see more from Mrs. Buckley further down, below.
I love the way Tara and Lisa model use of the Secrets by “twisting and turning” them for both reading AND writing. This is so important in helping beginning grade learners understand the inherent reading and writing connection. Many early grade learners don’t realize that the same letter sounds that help them read words are equally powerful in writing them. Adding Secrets to the mix accelerates this otherwise slow learning curve, as the Secrets give them something beyond just individual letter sounds to read and write with!
Journeys Reading Series/ Phonics Program
End of Week 4
So far, these are all of the Secrets that I have introduced by the end of today, beginning of Week 4, Journeys program. I teach the Secrets, as we need them, to read the words that we encounter, not only in our reading series, but throughout the instructional day.
Here is what I have on the board for Monday next week, which is from Journeys Lesson 5, Gus Takes The Train. I will also be introducing /ation/ for station. We pretend to pull the train whistle while saying the /a/ and then do the /tion/ motions on the card.
This will occur when someone uses the vocabulary word “station” during the week. Singing the song “Down by the Station” also reinforces this Secret Story. I also teach them the song “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.” After singing it throughout the week, they will be given a copy of the text to highlight the Secret Stories they find in it. Then we read it together and sing it together from their highlighted page. They love it!
As in previous lessons, we first look for the Secrets we need to read the title, which you can see in the first picture below.
We used the train sound today and /ation/ because we had to say “train station” in our read-aloud! Woo-hoo!!!! The class helped me make this track and we now enter and leave the room to the /ch/ sound, and then as we gain speed, it becomes the /tion/ sound. Of course, we have to pull the train whistle for /a-tion/ too! (Notice the “partially pink” railroad track? That’s because we ran out of black tape— Lol!)
Now we find the Secrets that help us read the sight words introduced in Journeys Reading Program, Lesson 5.
It’s so much fun to go on Secret Stories “hunts,” which is where kids try and see who can find the most Secrets on a page or in a book! This is fun to do in whole or small group, and is also a great way to increase learners’ visual acuity for quicker pattern recognition in text. They kids love spotting Secrets! And every time we find one, I reinforce how knowing the Secret helps us to figure out the word.
Of course, we are always discovering new Secrets in words from our read-alouds, discussions, and writing blocks. One of the reasons that I put Secrets up with the text is to reinforce the connection between Secret Stories and reading. Students need to understand that the Secrets are the keys they need to unlock words. Secrets are power—the more they know, the more they can read and write! And they are everywhere, in all of the words that we come across each day.
I know this sounds like it should be an easy concept for my class to comprehend, but some can take longer to connect the dots than others. All of the kids know the Secrets, but it can take some longer than others to start applying them, which is why I take every opportunity to model using them whenever and wherever we are working with text.
I plan on introducing the /ch/ Secret this week with our story about trains.It seems appropriate, especially since its “default” sound is depicted as a “conductor” on the Secret Story poster! I’m not sure what word will trigger our “discovery” but am sure it will occur during this week.
And for those who don’t know the /ch/ Secret, check out the story as shown on the reverse side of the new Secret Stories® Flashcards, shown below. They have the Secret graphic on one side and the story text on the back.
And for those who don’t know the /ch/ Secret, check out the story as shown on the reverse side of the new Secret Stories® Flashcards, shown below. They have the Secret graphic on one side and the story text on the back.
My teacher friends wanted you to see how excited they are to gets the flash cards! ❤️
Hands-On Learning with the Secrets
I also wanted to point out that this is the first year I have been able to have the Secrets right beside our sight words on the whiteboard. The new phonics flashcards put the Secrets right into our hands! They are no longer just on our walls in the big poster size, but have now “come down” to interact with us during our learning discussions.We have them in our hands at stations, during guided reading groups, intervention groups, on the board beside the text, in line playing games while waiting, and so much more. Between the new flashcards and the Dual-Use Placards (which I bought at the end of last year) the Secrets are now both on AND off the walls and interacting with our daily learning!
I also wanted also share this quick parent video that made and send to parents using SeeSaw. It’s a great way to keep parents in the “Secret” learning loop!
And here is one that I sent home about our upcoming sight words.
Reading Intervention Isn’t Just for Struggling Readers
Lisa Buckley- First Grade Teacher (at Tara’s school)
How can the “Secrets” help more capable readers? In our district, reading intervention can refer to higher-level students who need more challenging reading opportunities, as well as to those who struggle.
Even capable readers get curious at times about why the letters do what they do. In my enrichment group we’ve pondered questions such as, “Why does /eigh/ say “ā” and why isn’t it spelled /ay/?”
We also discuss words like sleigh vs. slay, and how the Secrets help us attack these words in both spelling and reading. These kids know most, if not all of the Secrets, however, they are still curious about the connection to sounds that can represent different spellings. So, we have been using the Secrets intensively to study multi-syllabic words, while looking for multiple Secrets in the words. This helps with both fluency and comprehension when reading more difficult text.
In addition to the Curious George “word work” pictures from my enrichment group shown higher up above, you can see in the pics below how many words the kids found that had the Secrets about /ous/ and /i tries e on for size/.
My immense thanks to Tara, as well as her teammate, Lisa Buckley, for taking the time to share how Secret Stories® phonics instruction amplifies their reading/phonics program and gives kids “warp-speed” access to the tools they need to read and write! I can tell you that when I last left their school, these two were in the process of creating a “green room” in which to film a Secret Stories® Yoga video (I kid you not!) that kids could do during literacy center rotations. I can’t even imagine what this would look like, but I promise to let you know as soon as I find out!
In the meantime, I want to share this picture of Tara in her famous apron, as it’s one of my favorites because in it, I describe how she literally turns herself into a “walking, talking, AND singing Secret Story every morning!
In closing, I want to let you know that I will be spotlighting different teachers for different reasons in upcoming posts, and hopefully, adding some good stuff to your “Secret” bag of teaching tools and tricks!
And on that note, I also wanted to highlight Melissa Snyder for her “creative cutting” of the Secret Stories® Original Posters as she seems to have started a trend! (That is, for teachers who are artistic enough to trust themselves with the scissors—not me!)
Check out her clever-cutting of the Secret poster for eu/ew (mouse ears!) as well as /”i tries e on for size!”/ below. I also loved her Sneaky Y® and the Superhero Vowels®! If you don’t already know all of these Secrets—including Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels®— you can learn them all here!
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-)
https://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/sample_er_ur_ir_color.gif502600Katie Garnerhttps://www.thesecretstories.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Secret-Stories-Phonics-Method-Logo-1-copy.pngKatie Garner2018-10-01 17:57:162020-03-03 14:26:12Boost Your Existing Reading Program with Brain Based Phonics Instruction!