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How to Teach Reading to English Language Learners in Mexico:
How I went from knowing nothing about phonics to a “code-cracking” expert, and helped my kids do the same!

A Guest-Post By Pre-K/Kindergarten Teacher, Ariana Curcó in Monterrey, Mexico

If you’re anything like me and/or if you’re here, reading this, it’s because you’re doing everything you can to be a better teacher, to acquire new tools to do a better job, to find new and interesting resources that will make your teacher-life easier, and to be the best version of yourself for them—your kids. My name is Ariana Curcó; I have been using the Secret Stories for 8 years with both pre-k and kindergarten English Language Learners in Mexico, and this is my story.

Teaching Phonics to ESOL Students

I live in Monterrey, México, and I work in a private school that teaches all-English. Yes, you read that correctly—ALL English…..in Mexico! We have about an hour a day of Spanish, but all of our reading, writing, science, math and just about any other subject you can think of is in English. If you’re wondering why this is, that’s an easy question to answer—opportunity. Proficiency in English provides the best chance to succeed in life; better jobs and a better future.

I live in a privileged area where kids are given the best education possible. Parents spend lots of money on private schools and want the best for their children. With that being said, they also want the best teachers and to see results, fast.

I was in my second year of teaching pre-k and wanted to learn as much as possible, and so I started watching YouTube videos about morning routines, guided reading, phonics…whatever I could think of that I could use, I would watch.

Professional Development for Teaching Reading

Every year, my school would send teachers to different education conferences in the US, especially those that focused on the needs of English Language Learners (ELL / ESL/ ESOL), as well as literacy and early education. Unfortunately, I wasn’t chosen by my school administrators to go, but was willing to pay my own expenses so that I could have what I’d always heard was an “amazing learning experience”. And so, I did.

I went to Orlando, Florida to the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children). I didn’t know what to expect. I was given several brochures during the registration process and that was it. I had to choose the sessions that I wanted to attend and take notes so that I could share with my colleagues back home. I was a newbie back then, and the teachers I went with were pros. I could see them reading the brochures and marking the sessions they would like to hear, and then making a schedule and finally having a plan. I had no plan, so I took the brochures back to the hotel, and when they went down for dinner, I stayed and studied and tried to make my “plan”.

As I was reading about all of the subjects, strategies and authors, I came across a sessions about phonics called “Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind: How to Sneak Phonics through the Brain’s Backdoor!” with Katie Garner. While the session wasn’t identified in the program as being for English Language Learners specifically, common sense told me that if I wanted to understand how kids learn to read and write, I needed to learn about letter sounds and phonics. I still remember clearly that this was the first session I wrote down on my “plan,” and I was excited.

The day came, I went in, and I sat down at the very back (I didn’t want anybody asking me to participate since I was a new teacher and felt I didn’t know what I was doing). Then I waited for the session to begin. Boy, did I regret sitting in the back.

As soon as Katie started speaking, I was hooked! I mean, who wouldn’t be? Besides her being awesome, knowledgeable, and a great speaker, the information and strategies she was sharing were incredible. I remember myself standing up and moving further to the front every time she turned around to change a slide, but I just couldn’t sit in the back; I needed to learn more, see more, and hear more about everything she was sharing. And just like that, everything clicked. It all just made so much sense, especially this part—

“The sounds that letters make when they get together is AS IMPORTANT as the sounds they make individually…..even for kindergartners!

Secret Stories® Phonics Letter Behavior

Teaching Kids the “Least Likely” Letter Sounds First

This was the first of many things that I heard which made me question everything I thought I knew about teaching reading. I mean, she was right. Both pre-k and kindergarten teachers dedicate themselves to focusing on the individual alphabet letters and sounds, but letters rarely make their individual sounds when they come together in words. Instead, they make completely different sounds that we never talk about, let alone teach! This means that when kids actually try to apply what we’re teaching them every day about letters and sounds to read real words, they will almost always be wrong.

In our daily alphabet song, we would sing “T says turtle, tuh-tuh-tuh,” but then every time we saw the letter /t/ in real words, it never actually made that sound, because of the frequency of word like: this, they, them, those, the, there, etc. Likewise, for the letter /y/, we would sing, “Y says yo-yo, yuh-yuh-yuh,” but then we’d move over a few inches on the rug to do morning calendar, and would see the letter /y/ in words like: Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, January, February, May, July, etc. We read big books that were “by” so and so author, and we would tell the kids to pay attention to the sign hanging above the “Boy’s Bathroom”…..not to mention that our favorite words to read and write were: mommy, daddy, candy, and Happy Birthday!

It’s no wonder I was having such a terrible time and was so confused!

sounds of y

Another “a-ha” moment for me was when I realized that I had been spending valuable instructional time focusing on teaching the reading, but not the reader. I was showing my kids words, but not giving them any of the tools they needed to actually read them— tools that would empower them to crack any word, not just the ones on a word wall.

I hadn’t given my kids the keys they needed to unlock words for themselves because no one had ever given them to me. As a native Spanish speaker and former English Language Learner myself, I simply didn’t know them and had never been taught. I realized that I needed to change my mindset and alter my teaching strategy right away, and I wasn’t going to wait. I started then and there.

When I returned to Monterrey, I talked to the homeroom teacher and told her everything I had learned. I shared all that Katie had given us in session to bring back and use in our classroom, and showed her some of Katie’s vlogs on YouTube. We started using some of the Secret reading strategies to see how we could apply them in our classroom without interfering with our required pre-k curriculum. This, it turned out, was a non-issue. The Secrets blended perfectly with everything we were already doing— storytelling, role play, music, singing, movement and dramatic play. It was a natural fit. Plus, all of the words in our environmental print that were displayed all around our classroom had Secrets in them!

Teaching Vowel Sounds to English Language Learners

The Superhero Vowels® at Play!

Phonics Stories Kids Already Know

Every Secret that we shared, the kids gobbled-up instantly. about the Secret Stories is that they are rooted in feelings that are universally familiar to all kids—regardless of their age, language background, or even whether or not they know the names of the letters. This is why they are so effective with very young children, and especially effective with English Language Learners. Kids just understand and connect with them instantly.

Everywhere around the world, kids are kids. They love Superheroes and know they must wear a disguise to keep from being recognized, like the Superhero Vowels®; they develop little crushes on each other, like au/aw; they sometimes play too rough and get hurt, like ou/ow; they stick their tongues when they don’t like someone, like th; they have to be quiet in the library, like sh; they like to play with balls, like al; they love to pretend they’re driving a car and slam on the brakes, like er/ir/ur; they know to do what they’re told if mom or a babysitter is around, like with Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels®; and they know that if you’re the line leader, you must be perfectly behaved, but when you’re at the end where no one can see you, not so much (lol!), like Sneaky Y®These are the stories that kids already know because they “live” them every day.

teaching digraphs - th

Familiar “Social-Emotional” Thinking Frameworks

It is within these already familiar, social-emotional frameworks that my pre-kindergartners began trying to figure out the sounds of letters in words all around us. I was in awe. For the first time, my little guys could really read. Sometimes, I couldn’t believe my own eyes. They were discovering so much so quickly, and every day, they begged to hear more Secrets. The power of Secret Stories instruction is incredible. I was constantly amazed by how engaged they were, even the ones who didn’t yet know all of their letters.

On that particular day in Orlando, by luck or by faith (call it what you wish), I happened to be in the perfect place at the perfect time, and I am so grateful.

Transitioning from Pre-K to Kindergarten

Having started my teaching career in pre-k, I moved on to kindergarten three years ago. My God, if I was amazed at what pre-K students could do, my kindergarteners  Blew. My. Mind.

Kindergarten ELL Phonics Instruction

So fast-forward 8 years, and here I am, still using Secret Stories. Our classroom test scores in reading and writing are always far above grade level, and our school actually tests students one grade level above—which means that in kindergarten, we are taking the FIRST GRADE end-of-year test. And just as a little reminder—English is their second language. (JAW DROP!)

Phonics Screeners / Reading Assessment

The snapshot below shows the end of year results from last year’s test, which is called CPAA. Our kindergartners took it in May, and it’s a Grade 1 test. I’m still amazed at how much they are able to learn and accomplish in kindergarten.

Kindergarten Assessment ELL Ariana's

The next picture is a snapshot from a kindergarten classroom at our school that, at the time, was not using Secret Stories. You can see the difference in the scores, especially in phonics and writing.

Kindergarten Assessment - ESOL 2

Below is a video of one of my kindergarten students reading back in December. She started the year knowing only a few letters, and by Christmas break, she was already reading above grade level—and remember, she’s is Mexican, so English is her second language!

I am so impressed with her achievements, and how quickly she was able to learn all of the individual letters sounds (with the Better Alphabet Song) and start applying them with the Secrets to read. I honestly cannot imagine teaching children to read without being able to tell them the Secrets. They are the single most important tool that I use to teach reading and writing. I am grateful for them EVERY. SINGLE. DAY.

Decoding Sight Words

We spot Secrets everywhere. All day long, kids will shout out, “I see Secrets!” and then they use them to try and sound out new words. They love finding them wherever they are hiding, especially in our new stories. They love finding them wherever they are hiding, especially in our new stories. They also love “catching” words that have Secrets in them throughout the day (and at home) and then adding them to our Secret chart.

Decoding Sight Words with Phonics

The short video clip below is of my kids going on a Secret Stories “hunt” in our new book.

Developing a “Deep-in-the-Gut” Phonics Skill Set for Teaching Reading

Throughout the years, I have seen many curriculums, phonics programs, and sadly, even many teachers come and go, but the only things that have remained constant are my precious Secret Stories book, CD and posters. Our curriculum offers wonderful opportunities for students to engage in reading and writing, but I am the one responsible for giving them the phonics skills they need to do it! I am so proud to say that I don’t have to rely on anything or anyone else, not even parent support. Secret Stories has given me a “deep-in-the-gut” level of skill-ownership that I can now impart to my students. That’s an empowering feeling!

There’s just one more video clip that I want to share. It’s actually of my own son just before he turned four. (Can you tell how much he loves the Secrets?!! :-)

Secret Stories makes complex phonics patterns simple, as well as the brain based process for teaching them. My wish is that by sharing my own journey and experience, my post here will become the “perfect time and place” for other teachers who needs to find their own power to teach reading, as well as to gain tools they need to do it.

Ariana Curcó
Kindergarten Teacher in Monterrey, Mexico

Phonics Instruction with English Language Learners


My Little “Rant” on Dual-Language & Bilingual Programs

dual language program english language learners

Remember what I said at the beginning of this post about opportunity? How we have to struggle to give our children the same chances as others because we are not native speakers or US citizens? Well, there’s something else that has been on my mind, and before I close,  I wanted to put it out there….

Last September, I had the chance to meet with Katie in Dallas. She was there for a series of ESC Region 11 phonics workshops, and I was glad to tag along (I think I might have actually begged a little!) She was kind enough to let me join her, and we had many interesting conversations. I was amazed at how differently we do things here in Mexico than in the US, particularly with regard to reading instruction for English Language Learners. I listened to what many of the Texas teachers who were at the workshop had to say and asked I many questions. I was surprised to hear that students in the US were experiencing similar disadvantages with regard to opportunity that we have here in Mexico.

It was so sad, scary, hard (I don’t know which word to choose) to hear that, in the US, English Language Learners were not given the same opportunities as the rest of the students. For example, did you know that in many schools, English Language Learners in Dual Language Schools receive only half as much reading instruction in English as native speakers, and that in Bilingual Schools, they may receive none at all….WHAAAAT?!? I felt confused. I think this is unfair, unreasonable and makes for great disadvantages in the future since they will be taking the same tests, applying for the same college spots, and vying for the same jobs. My thought of the “American Dream” was shattered.

Why? I still don’t understand the reason. Here, we are teaching them English so that they can have a chance, and there, you are cutting their time in half?

And just like that, I remember why I chose to become a teacher and take on the great responsibility that comes with it. We are here to give our students the best chances and opportunities, regardless of their gender, nationality, race, etc…. To make them feel that if they are willing to work hard, they can conquer the world……because, guess what? THEY CAN!

Even if it means that we, as teachers, have to work twice as hard to learn and acquire as many skills as we can to help them—we CAN do it all—and so can every single ELL learner! For teachers all over the world, our constant drumbeat is the same— “I believe in you; your teacher believes in you; and every single teacher—no matter where they are in the world—does, too! We are your teachers, and we will fight every single day to prepare you for what’s to come. We will never stop, because YOU are worth it!”

With Lots of Love to My Teacher Friends Around the World!
Ariana Curcó  

If you would like to leave any questions or comments for Ariana, feel free to do in the comments, below. You can also find Ariana on Instagram @AriCurco.

It Takes More Than Individual Letter Sounds to Read and Write!

phonics posters

I sneakily took this pic at the end of snack the other day….
These 6 kids were engrossed in telling the Secrets (and trying to figure out the ones we haven’t learned yet!) The little guy in the stripes has become our unofficial “Word Jail Warden!” He can spot an ‘Outlaw Word’ a mile away! We will start ‘paroling’ some of them soon!”
Kjersti Johnson- Kindergarten Teacher

Phonics on Steroids: “Warp-Speed” Access
to the Reading & Writing Code in Kindergarten!

A Guest Post by Kindergarten Teacher Kjersti Johnson
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Access to the Code in Kinder!

As teachers, I think we have all had that moment when we sit down with one of our students and they completely knock our socks off! This post is all about one of those moments.

Yesterday, I had just gotten my afternoon class of kindergartners settled into our Dailies….they were spread around the room, some reading, some writing, some listening to books on iPod shuffles, and a few shopping for new books.

I looked around to see who I would confer with (one of my favorite times of the day, by the way!) I started with Abel.

Now let me tell you about a little kindergartner named Abel.

He is one of the sweetest little guys I know. He has an amazing smile, and he is also VERY excited about learning!

He is an English Language Learner who entered kindergarten knowing 7 letters and 0 sounds. He worked SO hard the first weeks of school to learn his ABC’s and by October, he knew ALL 52 upper and lowercase letters! (the Better Alphabet Song was a huge success!)

So back to yesterday……
I sat down next to him and asked him to read to me. That’s when he pulled out Arthur’s Halloween.

I looked at him and said, “Oh, this looks like a great picture read. Can you tell me a story to go with the pictures?” This is kindergarten after all, and it’s a tough book! He gave me a strange look, and then…….He was READING it!

Later in the day, I had him read it again so that I could video it, and here he is reading Marc Brown’s Arthur’s Halloween.


ELL Kindergarten in October—”Spotting Secrets” in Arthur’s Halloween 


“Was” …..?

No problem with the “head-bop” trick!
Secret Stories® Phonics "Head-Bop" Trick— No More Sight Words!
Secret Stories® Phonics Head-Bop Trick for Fickle Vowels


“Night”
….with its tricky /gh/?
Got it!

Secret Stories® Phonics — The "gh" Secret!
Secret Stories Phonics Secret— Positional Sounds of gh

“Before” ….?
Didn’t stump him. He saw that Babysitter Vowel® o telling e to say its name!  He also spotted /o/ and /r/ who can “never make up their minds when they get together,” and read it like a pro!

“Family” ….?
That Sneaky y® didn’t trick him!

Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Secret!
Sneaky Y® Phonics Secret

Then we got to “making”…. and guess who was able to use the Babysitter Vowels® Secret to figure out whether /a/ would be long or short?!
He knew it wasn’t right when he first read it, but then he remembered the Secret! (and please excuse me telling another student, TWICE, to go color their work! ;-)

ELL Kindergarten in October—Arthur’s Halloween with Babysitter Vowels®
Kinders Decoding Multi-Syllabic Words with Secret Stories® Babysitter Vowels®!
Secret Stories Babysitter Vowels®— How to Know Whether a Vowel Will Be Long or Short?

 

“House”….?
Rough-housing /ou/ and /ow/ saying “Owwwww!” No worries.

Secret Stories® Phonics — The "ou/ow" Secret!
Secret Stories® Phonics ou/ow Secret!

 

“Look and spooky”….?
Knowing the Secret, he switched sounds for /oo/ like a pro!

Secret Stories® Phonics — The "ou/ow" Secret!
Secret Stories® Phonics /oo/ Secret

I was BLOWN away! And so I made poor Abel read that page to everyone I could find! I was so proud of him! (and by the way, he is determined to read the whole book now, and I have no doubt that he will!)

This morning, I shared the video with my principal, our Dean of Students, and our LAP teacher. The question of how and when I use the Secret Stories in my class came up, and I thought to myself, “When don’t I use them???”

The Secrets aren’t limited just to “reading” time. We use them ALL DAY LONG,  which in half-day kindergarten, is only about 2 hours and 40 minutes. (Oh, did I forget to mention that I teach half-day kinder?!) That’s not very long, which is why getting the most bang for the buck in the short amount of time we have is critical. Secret Stories® makes what used to seem impossible EASY! (It’s like phonics on steroids!)

Literally not a moment that goes by that the kids aren’t spotting Secrets.

We look for Secrets in our poems…..

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets — Spotting Secrets in Poems

We use yellow and blue for “popcorn” words. We “butter” the new ones and put blue dots under the ones that we already know. Then we use a green highlighter to find Secrets.

And honestly, I have to say, now that the kids know the Secrets, I spend almost no time at all on memorizing sight words, except for the small handful that really break the rules and have to go to jail, as most of the words the kids can just read.

We look for Secrets in Science….

How Secret Stories Babysitter Vowels® make reading BIG words EASY... even in kindergarten!

 

Look at the picture above to see how many variations of the word hibernate we found when reading our big book in our whole group Science lesson! One of the kids spotted the er Secret, then another spotted the /or/ and /ing/ Secrets, and we were off! Next came the Babysitter Vowels®, which they used to help them figure out whether the vowels would be long or short. Some students knew the Secret sounds immediately, and others had to check the posters first before sounding out each part, but they were all able to read all of the words— and write them!

No one was left out of the reading and writing fun because we all had one thing in common— we all knew the Secrets!  That day, we did more reading and writing in Science than in our designated reading and writing blocks, combined! What better way is there to show beginning learners what these Secret skills are actually for!

My favorite thing is what happened the following day when I was working with a small group and heard Abel yell from his seat across the room, “Mrs. Johnson! Mrs. Johnson! Look, I found the word hibernate in my book!”

And sure enough, he had.


Even for an ELL Kindergartner in October, sounding out the word hibernate with the Mommy E® was easy!

 

We use Secrets when we write…..

See the /ow/ and /ing/  in snowing and the /ou/ in mountains!

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets in Writing
We look for Secrets when we read the directions on our math papers.

 

Words like draw and count with the “letters who love each other” (au/aw) and the “letters who don’t” (ou/ow) can’t fool us!

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets in Math
Spotting Secret Stories® in Math!

 

My kids are OBSESSED with these Secret Stories! ......Secret Stories "ou/ow" Phonics Secret!
As usual, ou & ow are not getting along!
My kids are OBSESSED with these Secret Stories! ......Secret Stories "au/aw" Phonics Secret!
The “anniversary” of au & aw Valentine’s Day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I almost never have to read the math story problems to my kids anymore because they can do it all by themselves using our Secrets!

Secret Stories® has opened up so many possibilities…..there seems to be no limit to what my kindergartners can do. It has really changed everything.

And while I do still have kids that are just chugging along at their own pace, like sweet little Abel, they are ALL sucking up the Secrets— even those who are not always ready to apply them. And that’s okay, because I know they have the “keys” in their pocket that they will need to unlock the words they want when they are ready, just like Abel did.

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— "Secrets Make Things Important!"
Transforming letters and sounds from skills they have to learn
into Secrets they want to know!

Thank you, Kjersti!

I can’t thank Kjersti enough for that deep dive into all of the wonderful things that she’s doing in her kindergarten classroom. I will be doing a part 2 “follow-up” to Kjersti’s post, so stay tuned! (You can catch another post by Kjertsti here!)

And if you haven’t tried the Secrets but would like to try sharing then with YOUR kiddos, you can download this mini-poster “appetizer” anchor pack FREE! 

 

Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics— Mini-Poster "Appetizer" Anchor Pack!

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics— Mini-Poster "Appetizer" Anchor Pack!

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics— Mini-Poster "Appetizer" Anchor Pack!

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics— Mini-Poster "Appetizer" Anchor Pack!

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics— Mini-Poster "Appetizer" Anchor Pack!

 
 
 

 

 
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-)

Katie Garner— Keynote/Featured Education Speaker and Literacy Consultant

For a list of upcoming conferences, or for information on scheduling a school or district professional development workshop, click here.

 

Yes! It IS possible to teach those tricky long and short vowel sounds in just 5 minutes, if you know how to cheat the brain!

Secret Stories Superhero Vowels® and their Short & Lazy Sound Disguises!

Learn all about the “BETTER Alphabet Song” for fast-tracking individual letter sounds, plus the Superhero Vowels® (and their short & lazy sounds!) for easy retrieval of those hard short vowel sounds!

When memories are supported by greater coordination between different parts of the brain, it’s a sign that they are going to last longer. The greater the distribution of signaling, the stronger the memory takes hold in our brain. Secret Stories® triggers multiple areas of the brain to engage simultaneously, sparking what is referred to as “multi-layered” memories for deeper learning and easier skill retrieval.

Brain Based Reading Tricks!

What’s “Used Together Becomes Fused Together” in the Brain!

 

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— Loopholes for Learning!

This week, I am excited to welcome back Renee McAnulty (a.k.a. “Mrs. Mac”) who’s been kind enough to take time out of her busy “beginning of the year” schedule to do a guest blog post with her new crop of first graders as she starts with the Secrets!  (And in-conjunction with her post, I want to also dive more deeply into some “loopholes for learning” that brain science provides, so keep an eye out for brain-icon (shown on the left) with these red text-blurbs!

“But Mrs. Mac, we don’t have TIME to go home!”

A Guest Post By Renee McAnulty

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— Loopholes for Learning!
Mrs. Mac’s First Graders Discovering the Secrets!

Happy “New School Year” Folks! 
I hope this post finds you well and enjoying a great start to a brand new year with your own new munchkins! The title of this post is actually a quote from one of my adorable kiddos at the end of the first school day, following my announcement that it was time to go home. Feeling a bit overwhelmed by all there was to do in this brand new first grade classroom, one of my sweet little boys said, “….but Mrs. Mac, we don’t have time to go home!” Now while I might feel this way on a regular basis, hearing one of my little guys actually say it out loud just made my whole week… so of course, I wanted to share it here with you!

After a long summer, I was actually excited to come back and to meet my new class! And I was even more excited to start telling them the Secrets that would transform them into successful readers and writers! I was literally having “Secret Stories-withdraw!” I was actually thinking over the summer about what my next guest blog post should be, based on the feedback and questions I’d received from my last one,  and then it hit me! What is the one question I am constantly asked, “Where do I start?!?!” (And if you want to watch Katie talking about this, you can check out her official “How-To” for Starting with the Secrets here, or by clicking on the video, below.)

So with this in mind, I thought I would invite you to take a peek into our humble little classroom and meet my amazing new bunch of munchkins! They really are ADORABLE, and of my thirty new first graders, I currently have just two that have been identified as “readers.”
That said, my goal for this school year is to take you deeper into the process of using Secret Stories® from the very beginning of the year to the very end, as I share with you my students’ progress. I know that Katie has said this many times (and you will also see it said many times in my posts) that there is no “wrong way” to share the Secrets! They are simply the “tools” kids need to read and to write and are easily tailored to meet the needs of you and your students. Secrets are shared whenever and wherever they are needed—which at the primary grade levels will literally be ALL day long!
You will see what the Secrets look like, as well as how we use them in whole group and small group instruction, during Daily 5 and Cafe, and of course, during guided reading. Throughout our year together, we will be applying the Secrets to crack text in almost everything that we do! We will leave “no stone unturned” when it comes to all of the crazy sounds that letters can make, especially when they get together, as now we know the Secrets that explain their “misbehaviors!”

So sit back, relax…. and we will show you how we get started…..

The “Better Alphabet Song” for Individual Letter Sound Mastery

First up is the Better Alphabet Song, which you can watch my class doing, as well as hear Katie talk more about it in the video at the top of this post, as well as in the short video clip, below. One quick note though, IGNORE (read “Don’t do!) the Zoo Phonics hand motions, as these were a carry-over from earlier in the year before we started Secret Stories. Allowing the kids to do the motions with the Better Alphabet Song actually ended up hurting more than helping, as the key to fast-tracking the letter sounds with the Better Alphabet Song is for kids to have their eyes “glued” to the letters AS they are singing their sounds. It is this visual connection, in addition to the muscle memory retrieval of the sounds that cements skill transfer for reading and writing. The random animal motions/gestures from Zoo Phonics actually distracted their visual focus on the letters as I was pointing to them, which disrupted the “sound to symbol/ symbol to sound” connection that they needed to use the letters to read and write words. Plus, they didn’t need them anyway, as they were no longer having to think about the sounds the letters made, as they were already in their muscle memory! The only exception is with the Superhero Vowels and their short & lazy sound-cues/gestures, as those ARE actually important, as they immediately prompt the otherwise “vague” sounds of the short vowels and make them super easy for kids to get!
With our  Zoo Phonics Song, it could take up to one year for some kids to acquire all of the individual letter sounds, whereas with the Better Alphabet Song, it took LESS THAN ONE MONTH! But, the secret is in the “eye glue” and “muscle mouth!” Kids have to always “SEE what you SING, and SING what they SEE” so that they are ready for use in reading and writing! Katie talks about the importance of this “See It/Say It” connection in the video below, as she describes how the Better Alphabet uses muscle memory to fast-track individual letter sound mastery to 2-weeks to 2-months. 
What’s great about Secret Stories® is that you can use it with literally anything that’s already in place. It just makes whatever you’re already using that much MORE effective….  like times TEN!! (Secret Stories® ultimately eliminated a lot of the “stuff” that was no longer needed, as my kids didn’t have to “practice” what they could already read… which leaves more time for the FUN stuff, like actually using the Secrets to read and to write!) 

Click here for more Superhero Vowels® “Door-Decor!”

Secret Stories Superhero Vowels


 The Superhero Vowels® and their ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguises 

Stories Act as Strong “Memory-Holding” Templates in the Brain


Superhero A and His ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguise

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— The Superhero Vowels®
 Superhero Vowels® “a”
(and his “short & lazy” sound!)
Secret Stories® Guided Reader— My Classmates

Superhero E and His ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguise


Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— The Superhero Vowels®

Superhero E 
(and her “short & lazy” sound!)
Secret Stories “Fun & Funky” Posters

Superhero I and His ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguise

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— The BETTER Alphabet Anchors
Superhero I
(and his “short & lazy” sound!)

Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Anchor

Superhero U and His ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguise

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— The Superhero Vowels®
Superhero U
(and his “short & lazy” sound!)
Secret Stories Superhero Vowels® & More! 

Superhero O and His ‘Short & Lazy’ Sound-Disguise

Secret Stories Superhero Vowels® Headbands
Superhero O
(and her “short & lazy” sound!)
Secret Stories Superhero Vowels® Headbands

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— Loopholes for Learning

Secret Stories® targets the earlier-developing and more readily accessible affective (feeling) networks for short vowel sound mastery by engaging learners in dramatic actions/feelings-based cues/gestures that literally “land” them in the sounds! In this way, it becomes possible to bypass areas of inherent early (and struggling, upper-grade/ELL) learner weakness (i.e. auditory processing, articulation, language delays etc…) and tap into alternative areas of strength. 

This “backdoor-to-the-brain” approach to skill mastery is a hallmark of Secret Stories® and is just one of the ways that it accelerates early learner-access to the code, starting in PreK!



One of the great things about encouraging the kids to tell and retell the Secrets is that doing so provides continuous opportunities for everyone—high, medium and low-level learners— to pick them up and start using them at their own pace. While my more experienced students immediately
“get” the short vowel sounds by simply retelling the story (some of which are literal 
dissertations!) my slower (and non-native English speakers) are actually accessing the short vowel sounds from a different place, relying more strongly on the visuals (posters) and dramatic action cues/gestures to retrieve the sounds.

The bottom line?  
ALL of my babies get the sounds!
The Secrets are like little “bridges” that all of my little ones can easily and effortlessly find their way across— regardless of developmental readiness issues, academic level, language background or past experience… and that’s why they’re so AMAZING!!! The kids never tire of telling the Secrets and literally talk about them all day long…. which is actually one of the reasons I love Secret Stories® so much, as like most first grade classes at the beginning of the school year, my kids are academically “all over the map!” I am also in a very transient area where students are moving in and out throughout the school year, making it extremely difficult to catch them up on all of the reading/phonics skills they don’t have/missed. Using the Secrets have made this a non-issue, as any skills (i.e. Secrets)they missed will continue to be shared and re-shared throughout the year, as we use them to crack text every day!

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— Loopholes for Learning
“What’s used together is fused together in the brain!” Secret Stories® multi-sensory approach to phonics skill instruction activates auditory (story), visual (graphics),  physical/kinesthetic (cues/gestures) and affective (feeling-based) learning channels to forge deeper connections between otherwise meaningless skill concepts. 
 
Secret Stories® activates multiple areas of the brain simultaneously,  triggering the formation of multi-layered memories, which are supported in different parts of the brains and naturally easier to retrieve. Research shows the “greater the distribution of signaling between different parts of the brain, the stronger the memory takes hold,” which is why each time they tell a Secret,  it becomes more deeply embedded within them!
Prompting Formation of Multi-Layered Memories with Multi-Sensory Instruction 

Mommy E® (a.k.a. Silent E)

For me, the Mommy E® Secret has been gift from God, as my biggest challenge as a first grade teacher has always been trying to teach the kids to differentiate between long and short vowels in their writing—  a challenge that I am sure many of you can relate to, as well!
After teaching them the long vowel sounds with silent e, my kids would add a silent e to everything, ALL THE TIME, which drove me absolutely crazy! But now that they know the Mommy E® Secret, this is no longer a problem, as now it just makes SENSE!
Secret Stories® Mommy E® Secret— Loopholes for Learning!
Secret Stories Mommy E® Digital Pack on TpT

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Book Version 2.0!
Secret Stories® Book Version 2.0!
Kids can relate to the idea that “When the cats away, the mice will play”….. or in Secret Stories terms, “when Mommy E® is away, the vowels will play,” which means that they will be “short and lazy,” rather than stand up tall and say their name! (You can watch Katie explain the Mommy E® Secret here, and then watch my little ones share their version, just below!)

FREE Secret Stories® Common Core Literacy Posters for PreK-3rd!
Secret Stories Mommy E®-support in the FREE Common Core Literacy 
Poster Sets for Grades PreK-3rd 

Phonics Transfer to Writing

Using Writing as a “Window” into the Mind of a Reader

One trick that we use all the time that I want to share is how we transfer the Secrets into our writingApplying the Secrets in writing from the very beginning really helps the kids grasp the inherent connection between reading and writing— one that beginning readers don’t naturally perceive.

My little trick is called “Chin-In” and the kids love it! The process is simple…
I ask students to draw three lines (on individual white boards, paper, etc…) and then I give them a three-letter word, like cut.  I then ask them to segment-out and write each of the letter sounds they hear on a different line, reminding“there are three letters in the word and that is why we made three lines.” After the kids have finished writing the sounds they hear on the lines, they cover their word so no one else sees it. Then, when I say “Chin it!” they all hold up their words so that I can see them. This allows me to see right away who understands how to apply the Secret and who doesn’t.

Quick, easy, and to the point! All I have to do is make some quick notes, and BAM!  I know with whom and on what I can work in small groups!

Secret Stories Phonics Mommy E® "Secret!"
“Chinning-It!”

When I teach the Mommy E® Secret, I have the kids draw FOUR lines, telling them, “The last line is for Mommy!” They know when Mommy E® is at the end of a word (or one letter away from another vowel, where she can easily reach it!) she will always make the vowel do what it should and say its name!

Secret Stories Phonics Mommy E® "Secret!"

The four lines for Mommy E® words serve as a visual reminder that there can be letters in words that you don’t hear. This is a tremendous help, especially with  ELL and non-readers, as they all LOVE to draw the arrow from the Mommy E® to the vowel that she’s telling to say its name!

As a super bonus, Katie includes a list of words in the back of the Secret Stories book for each Secret sound/letter pattern. These lists are great! Not only for measuring student proficiency with specific Secrets in guided group, but also as a sort of Secret Word Bank from which you can quickly pull words for targeted activities or instruction, like the Mommy E one with my class, above.

Secret Stories Phonics Book Version 2.0— Mommy E® Secret Words!
Secret Stories® Book Version 2.0! 
Although I always try to use examples from the words around our classroom and in text that we read, the lists in the back of Secret Stories® book do come in super-handy when my mind draws a blank and I’m unable to think of words to reinforce a specific Secret!  

Secret Stories Phonics Mommy E® "Secret!"

Babysitter Vowels® (a.k.a. “Open Syllable vs. Closed Syllable”)

The most beautiful thing about this logical learning process is that I get to see these babies grow so quickly from writing and spelling simple three and four-letter words, to writing multi-syllabic words with “10 letters-plus” in a matter of only a few months!

And I waste no time in extending the Secret they know about Mommy E® with the one about the Babysitter Vowels®, which catapults their reading and writing to a whole new level! Kids in kindergarten understand the Babysitter Vowels® just as easily as they do Mommy E® because they are both based on the same “Do what mommy (or the babysitter) says!” …..even if they aren’t yet ready to understand it in “V-C-V / V-C-C-V” terms!

The Superhero Vowels®, Mommy E®, Babysitter Vowels® (and Sneaky Y®, which I didn’t talk about, but you can read about here!) are what Katie refers to in her sessions as “high-leverage” Secrets, as they provide beginning readers and writers with SO much bang for the instructional-buck! You can watch her speak about these in the video clip below and then start playing around with these in your classroom, too!

And thanks to Katie’s ongoing invitation to post here throughout this school year, I’ll have the chance  to share our amazing transformation into “grown-up” readers, writers and spellers with all of you!

Thanks so much for reading, and I look forward to answering your questions, so please post them!!!
Sincerely,
Mrs. Mac

The Secret Stories® "BETTER" Alphabet Mini-Mats
This is me with my “BETTER Alphabet” Mini-Mat! LoL!
 
I want to thank Mrs. Mac SO MUCH for sharing so many of the wonderful things that she does in her classroom, and I can’t wait to watch how her class grows as readers and writers over the course of the year! 
 
And for all those who don’t have the Secret Stories® but would like to try them, you can download the mini-poster sample pack free by clicking on the picture below.
Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories
FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Poster Sample Pack
You can also check out the Secrets of the Superhero Vowels® & MORE! Bundle on TpT, which includes all of the Superhero Vowels® graphics in multiple size options, as well as Mommy E®,  Sneaky Y® and the Babysitter Vowels®—all of which impact the sounds that the vowels make in words.
Secret Stories® "SECRETS of the Superhero Vowels® & More!" Bundle
The Secret Stories “Superhero Vowels® & MORE!” Digital Bundle
The “bundled-pack” even includes all of the anchors that are contained in the Beethoven Blends “Blender Pack” so as to provide additional practice by incorporating the blends with the changing vowel sounds. 
The Superhero Vowels® & MORE Bundle is the best way to get started with the Secrets, and it’s also a great way to supplement the Secret Stories® Classroom Kit for those already using them! Like all of the digital Secret Stories® pieces on TpT, the graphics can be reproduced in various size options for use as needed, both in and outside of the classroom—from centers to home use/practice!
Secret Stories® Phonics "Fun & Funky" Classroom Kit
Secret Stories Phonics Classroom Kit (“Funk & Funky” style)

Once you start telling Secrets, there will be no turning back— for you OR your students! They will start questioning EVERYTHING about letters and the sounds that they make…. because they know that you have  ALL their Secrets! Whenever and wherever your students spot letters not doing what they should, they will demand to know its “secret”..so be prepared!

Just after finishing this post, I received the following from Mrs. Mac….

A “Post-Script” from Mrs. Mac

Katie,

I had to share!
Today was the first day that the Secret Stories showed up in their writing INDEPENDENTLY!!!! 
I had three different students raise their hand as if it were an emergency— one had discovered a Sneaky Y while writing the word tricky, and the other two heard and identified the “er” and “ir” Secrets when writing the words dirty and number ……. And sooooo it begins….(insert evil laugh here) ;) 

And this is exactly why I love Mrs. Mac…. she gets AS excited as her kiddos! She is truly their biggest cheerleader and her enthusiasm for reading and writing is contagious!!!!
Until Next Time,
Katie :-)
Katie Garner — Education Speaker and Literacy Consultant

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Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets

 

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

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