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Dear Katie,
I love reading your blog! I’ve used your free Zoo Keeper Writing Strategies with my kinder class and the children really related, always showing me “how many animals (i.e. sounds) they caught” in their words!

I’ve taught both 1st and 2nd grades for years, and now am in my seventh year of teaching kindergarten. As many of your letter pattern stories are, of course, geared toward 1st and 2nd, I was wondering if you had some that were more geared more toward kinder?

Also, at what point would you begin introducing the Secret Stories in kinder… after the majority know most of their letters?

You are such an inspiration—Thank you!

Gratefully,
Marian M.
Kindergarten Teacher

(Download the Free Zoo Keeper Strategy Pack and watch this video clip to see how it works!)
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Writing Strategy Pack— "Zoo Keepers and M&M Quizzes"
“Zoo Keeper and M&M Quizzes” for Early Grade Writing!

I love Marian’s question, as it goes right to the heart of why I created the Secret Stories® in the first place, which was to break down the grade level walls of phonics instruction that limit early learner-access to the code!

Before I answer it specifically, I want to prepare you for the paradigm shift we’re about to take when it comes to what kindergarten can do and when they can do it, and I think these links will help! So here are a couple of guest posts by kindergarten teacher, Kjersti Johnson (post 1 and post 2) along with a couple of eye-opening, kindergarten-related video clips here and here.

So let’s get started by opening up a can of worms about WHY we do WHAT we do WHEN we do it when it comes to the “code” that kids need for reading and writing! 

If you really think about it, what are kids supposed to do with just bits and pieces of the reading and writing code? How can you read OR write about your pet mouse with only a third, or even  two-thirds of the code? And that’s all most early grade level learners have to work with, given that it takes multiple grade level years to teach it all…. and that’s if they’re on grade level!

The individual letter sounds (which kindergartners spend an entire year learning) provide very little bang for the buck when it comes to using them to reading and writing, as they are actually the least likely sounds that the letters will make when they get together in real words! This makes the brain’s job as a “pattern-making” machine extremely difficult, as it seems that letters are never actually doing what they’re supposed to!

And simply adding the blends and a few digraphs to the mix in first grade doesn’t help all that much,  which is why kindergartners and first graders can barely read or write anything! At least not anything that hasn’t been “memorized” (ENTER SIGHT WORDS, STAGE RIGHT!)

sight word don't work

And the sight word-parade begins…

Sight words are the “go-to” teacher tools used to compensate for beginning readers’ gross lack of phonics skills in order to meet the required text-level assessments. Sight words are more of a necessity, rather than a choice when you consider that phonics skills are only divvied-out in small bits and pieces— from PreK to 2nd— which leaves kindergartners in the worst boat of all. As Dr. Richard Allington likes to say, “Three to four grade level years is just too long to make learners wait for the whole code!” 

But while teaching kids to memorize words instead of actually reading them might feel like a necessity for kindergartners and first graders, this rote memorization is far from the ideal— developmentally or from a brain-based perspective. (You can read more about this here or by clicking the link under the picture below.)
Secret Stories® Phonics— Stanford University Brain Study on Sight Words
Why Kids Shouldn’t Memorize What They Could READ!

Moreover, the less skills kids bring to the table, the less value they take away from daily reading and writing experiences (Er, um…I meant to say, “word calling” and “word copying” experiences!)

Imagine that you’re a Morse Code operator, just assigned to a naval ship. 

But there’s a problem.

You are only in the first year of a three year Morse Code training program, which means that you barely know even one-third of the code. Yet you are expected to send and receive messages on day one.

You think to yourself……
“How can I possibly be expected to accurately send and receive messages with not even one-third of the code? What about all of the sounds I haven’t learned yet? How will I be able to figure out what the incoming messages say? And worse still, how can I send messages if I don’t know the code for all of the words? Should I just leave those parts blank, or just fill up the page with the parts of the code that I do know? Or maybe I could just forgo what the captain wants me to send and just write what I can spell instead?”

     Dear Captain, 
     I like the sub.  It is big.  It is fun.  It is really fun.
     I like it so so much. I really really like the big fun sub a lot!

These are common strategies that beginning (and struggling) learners will also use in order to get around all of the parts of the code that they don’t know or haven’t yet been taught— of which there are many!

A scope and sequence cannot accurately predict which parts of the code learners will need to read their favorite book or to write the stories they want to tell. The /th/ digraph is considered a 1st grade skill by grade level scope and sequence standards, even though /th/ can be found on every line of every page in every book! In fact, kindergartners will encounter the /th/ pattern literally hundreds of times on their very first day! (And don’t even get me started on the letter /y/!) The bottom line is that just like with Morse Code, you need ALL of it to do ANYTHING with it!

Secret Stories® Phonics Brain Research
Click here to learn more

So the burning question is how to provide our earliest grade level learners with access to the “whole” code when it takes an entire for many kids to just learn the alphabet? The answer lies in the brain science. Brain science lights a path straight through the brain’s backdoor via the earlier developing, social and emotional “feeling” networks. By targeting phonics instruction to the affective learning domain, we can bypass areas of inherent early (and struggling) learner weakness (i.e. the higher level, executive processing centers) and tap into alternative areas of strength.

Secret Stories® does this in a variety of ways, beginning with channeling the individual letters and sounds through muscle memory (i.e. body intelligence) for accelerated mastery in just two weeks to two months— and that’s for kinder and PK! (And we’re not just talking the “basic” letter sounds, we’re talking every possible sound that a letter can make by itself, from hard and soft /c/ and /g/, to the long and short vowel sounds, to the positional sounds of /y/, and even /qu/…. and all while they eat their shoes and lick the carpet. (And if you actually teach preK or kinder, then you understand exactly what I mean— Lol!)

Individual Letter Sound Mastery in 2 weeks to 2 months!

During the two week-two month time frame while the individual letter sounds are seeping in via muscle memory, they are also learning about the letters’ “secrets”, (i.e. Secret Stories) which are what they do when they don’t do what they should! The Secrets explain all of the crazy sounds that letters make when they get together, and even some of the strange things they can do when they are by themselves!

Shared as short little stories that are easy to remember and understand, they are ready for immediate use in both reading and writing! And because Secret Stories® aligns letter behavior to learners’ own behavior (by way of already familiar “social and emotional” frameworks) they can easily predict their most and next most likely sound behaviors, just as they could predict the behavior of their own classmates.

Download the Free Secret Stories® Mini-Poster Sample Pack!

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack
FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sampler Pack
Our brains thrive on patterns and making things make sense, and the Secrets make letters make sense!And the earlier the grade level, the MORE they are needed, as they have virtually nothing else to read or write with! Kinder will naturally pick up and remember the Secrets BEFORE all of the individual letter sounds have taken hold, as the time frame for muscle memory to kick in is between two weeks to two months, whereas the Secrets are instant! Stories are easy for kids to remember because stories are HOW kids remember! And stories are developmentally harmless, so when they are ready to plug it in and use it, they can… but until that time, it’s simply a story!

Shifting early grade reading/ phonics instruction from brain-antagonistic to brain-compatible requires that we FEED the brain, not FIGHT it, and Secret Stories Stories® are its favorite treat! They can (and should!) be given all day long, throughout the entire instructional day—anytime and anywhere they are needed to help read or spell a word. Every Secret you give them is one more “tool” in their tool belt that they can bring to the reading and writing table, so as to bring more value away!

So to answer Marian’s questions…

The Secrets are not bound by the traditional “grade level walls” for phonics instruction that limits learner-access to the code. To share only certain Secrets at certain grade levels would presume that learners at lower grade levels don’t need them, and how could that be true if they are reading and writing across the instructional day beginning in kindergarten? Nor can we possibly say WHICH Secrets a learner will need to read the book he picks from the library or to write a word in a story he wants to tell.

Like the Morse Code operators, they need ALL of the code….so NEVER wait to share a Secret!

Share them simultaneously with the individual letter sounds, whenever and wherever they are needed, whether it’s on the morning calendar or on the lunch menu! Remember that to a Morse Code operator (or to a beginning reader/writer) a /th/ is going to come in a LOT more handy than a /t/, so never hold back the tools that you know kids need to read and write every day!
Why Wait If We Don’t Have To?!!
Why hold back what kids so desperately need every hour of every day in our classrooms when they are working with text? If the brain science provides a “secret” backdoor passage through which we can so easily sneak phonics skills, why wouldn’t we use it?
Secret Stories® Phonics — Sneaking Skills through the Brain's Backdoor!
A “Backdoor Delivery System” for Accelerated Skill Access
Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-) 
Katie Garner— Professional Development Literacy Consultant and Keynote Education Speaker
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Secret Stories® Makes PhonicsMake SENSE!
Secret Stories Phonics— Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® Mini-Sample Poster Pack!

 

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

 


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Comments:

  1. I can’t wait to play The Better Alphabet song with my students tomorrow. Thanks for sharing!

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    Katie GarnerApril 1, 2014 at 2:34 PM

      At this point in the year, you might want to ‘go all the way’ and try the “Letter Runs” with them! Here’s the link to that- https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iHUwuuXsh-0 ……….and don’t forget to try it BACKWARDS!!

     

  2. (you can also switch from ‘long’ to ‘short’ vowel sounds throughout to keep the challenge high :) as well as change the tune to: Happy Birthday, The Star Spangled Banner, etc…
    Looking forward to hearing how they do!

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  4. So many great ideas and a great song!!!! Definitely going to try this with my kids! Thanks!!!
    Julie

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  5. The Morse Code Operator is a great analogy! Thank you for this post. :)
    lorepuckett at gmail dot com

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  6. I subscribed!! I will be trying this with my kiddos as well!

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  7. I attended the Illinois Reading Conference last month and couldn’t get into either of your sessions! I couldn’t even get close to the doorway :(
    Folks were setting chairs out on both ends of the corridor to hear you, but unfortunately my ears are too old to hear from that far away so I gave up! I’m hoping to have better luck seeing you at the Natl Elementary Principals Conference this summer.

    You should know that your ‘Secrets’ are an ongoing topic of conversation at our school and have had an incredible impact on our student achievement this year. As a school administrator, it’s been truly amazing to witness the progress made at each grade level, especially by our most at-risk. I’m just in awe, as are our parents (which is always a good thing!)

    My teachers were so disappointed that I couldn’t get into your session, as they promised the kids that I would take a picture with you to show them. Apparently the teachers that came to your sessions last year tried, but it was too crowded and you had too many people around you afterwards. I told them that this year was even worse, given that I couldn’t even get through the door!

    Hopefully I’ll have better luck seeing you in July!

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  8.  

    I know… it was CRAZY! The committee tried to avoid the overcrowding problem that happened last year by putting both sessions in the ballroom but I think their overall attendance this year was just too high, which ultimately is a good thing (but understandably frustrating when you can’t get into what you want to see).

    I will most definitely be at the Principal’s Conference in July and I’ll even save a seat for you, just in case ;)

    Thanks for your kind email, and please let your teachers (and students) know how happy I am to hear of their progress (and we’ll definitely take that picture, as well!)

    Looking forward to meeting you in July,
    Katie

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  10. This is incredible. I appreciate the work that has been put into programs like this and the accessibility of them to other educators and parents. Thank you and well done.

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  11. Thank YOU and I’m so glad you found the post here on Mrs. Jump’s Blog!!

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  13. This was an amazing find. Thank you Deanna Jump for sharing this! I am purchasing the alphabet vertically as I write this. I am so inspired by this motor memory approach. Thank you!

     

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    So glad you found the post, and be sure to use the vertical alphabet for the “Letter Runs” too… they’re so much fun!! I put the link in the answer to the first comment at the top :)

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  16. I am so glad I am subscribed to your blog so that I can find and appreciate programs like this. As a first year teacher, this information makes me see things in a new perspective. I would love the opportunity to use this program in my classroom for my students. I would love the opportunity to share this approach with others given the scientific research that has gone into this. Thanks so much to the developer(s) of this program and the difference it is going to make in teaching.

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  18. You’re so welcome, and as a new teacher, you would probably get a better perspective/ context if you watch the VLOGS, starting with #1 here….https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ziT4bautiGk ……

    I am gearing up to make the next set before I have to leave town again for conference, with the focus being on “What to do when a “Secret” doesn’t work?!!” as that’s actually where the fun begins for learners with regard to their daily interactions with text becoming a virtual “playground” for critical thinking!!

    In the meantime, don’t hesitate to ask, should you have any questions, and thanks again for your comment!

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  19. I’m excited to have a song to share with my kiddos. I would love to win your kit as I am always looking for ways to reach my struggling readers.

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  21. I just discovered Secret Stories and the Better Alphabet Song today and I’m in love! I love how engaging it is and how it can meet so many different learning styles! I really like how you put so much thought into the position of the mouth when you did the action for short a on the you tube video. I’m always looking for new ways to make learning meaningful and fun for my kids (why I was on this blog) and feel like I have hit the jackpot with this find! I wish I could go back in time and could have done this with my class since day one. We review letter sounds and phonograms daily- and I’m embarrassed to admit but it b-o-r-i-n-g the way I’m doing it now and definitely something I want to improve on. This is just what I needed and will totally transform how I teach phonics. So excited to make something that was not so fun into something I know my kids will not only love doing but truly benefit from.

     

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    LoL…. I remember feeling the same way when I’d stumble upon something that would completely change the way I teach! I’d always feel SOOO badly for my previous classes, who I sometimes felt, learned ‘in spite’ of me….especially my very first year – ugh :(

    I remember wanting to buy my whole class t-shirts with- “I survived Mrs. Garner’s 1st Year Teaching!!” written across the front!! ;)

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  24. I think this sounds fabulous and I will be trying this out with my title students. I notice that my title students DO NOT know their alphabet-ever, nor their sounds. This should be the answer!

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  25.  

    It’s funny you mention this, as often readiness issues are more pervasive with Title I learners, for a variety of reasons.

    These ‘work-around’ strategies (i.e. motor/ muscle memory for individual letters and sounds; social/ emotive connections/ cues for complex pattern sound retrieval) are crucial for learners struggling with cognitive readiness.

    For these learners, in particular, the ability to GIVE these core reading and writing skills, rather than having to wait on ‘developmental readiness’ in order to TEACH them, truly makes all the difference!!

    So many of the problems that Title I learners face stem from the fact that in the first few years of school, they are ‘slaves’ to their own developmental readiness, resulting in their having to continually play on an uneven playing field!

    By using brain research findings to circumvent these pitfalls, we can actually avoid these deficit areas in the brain entirely, targeting the stronger, more capable areas instead!

    (Hope this makes sense…. have had glass of wine!!! :)

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  27. I think this sounds fabulous and I will be trying this out with my title students. I notice that my title students DO NOT know their alphabet-ever, nor their sounds. This should be the answer!

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  28. I am a HUGE Secret Stories fan….I use your very first Secret Stories set! Every year, my students amaze me with their writing and reading and they looove their “stories”.
    I am so glad to view your videos and your updates here. I learn something new everytime. Thanks so much !
    Denise

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  29.  

    Oh my! You HAVE been using them for a while then!!

    I’m so glad you found the videos and updated info on the Secret Stories website, as I’ve really been working hard to ‘flesh-out’ the basic strategy-base.

    I’m curious if you’ve been in the same grade level since you started using them or if you’ve moved around a bit?

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  31. I have only taught Kindergarten…30 years total. I can’t remember exactly how long I have had my set of Secret Stories…maybe since 2000/2001?? .they are just part of my routine. Like I said….my kids constantly amaze me with their progress.
    My best teacher friend went to your workshop …she was so impressed, she came back and told me all about this great new program. I was so excited I purchased the set with my own money and have been using it ever since.

     

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  33. I will be sharing this with my new teammates of next year’s Kindergarten. Soooo excited!

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  34. Hello. I have a question. Why don’t you do all three A sounds– A as in apple, A as in gate, and A as in about? I have a chant that I made up years ago with the sounds, but it has all three common A sounds that beginning readers come across in their reading. Just wondered why three Y sounds, but not three As. Thanks for letting me know. Kathleen
  35.  

    Great question! And the answer actually lies in the ‘rule-of-thumb’ I used when creating the “Secrets” in the first place, which was to “avoid having too many cooks in the kitchen” when it came to identifying the most useful phonics rules!!
    (and by useful, I mean ‘only what’s necessary to be able to read and write,’ given that the goal is to give learners at the earliest grade level EVERYTHING they need to jump into working with text…. both reading and writing!!

    Because the brain will require an explanation for anything encountered on a fairly frequent basis in text- there could be ‘no stone left unturned’ when it comes to accounting for the various letter patter sound possibilities. This, however, is different from teaching “rules for rules’ sake” (i.e. the less useful and/ or less frequently occurring phonics rules/ sound patterns).

    My rule of thumb was to account for only those patterns/ sounds that occurred ‘5 times or more’ in text, given their likelihood to be encountered often enough by learners to require an explanation.

    Patterns/ sounds occurring LESS than five times would are either put in “Word Jail” OR ‘rehabilitated’ …. so as to avoid having an ‘overcrowded prison system’ / overcrowded word wall, both of which are equally ineffective ;)

    As for your specific question regarding the letter a and providing the ‘uh’ or ‘schwa sound’ being taught/ included in the “Better Alphabet Song” as an additional sound option…. this would be an example having ‘too many cooks in the kitchen,’ in that there is too little value/ purpose in teaching it.

    What I mean by this is, if a beginning learner knows the SECRETS, he will attack a word like ‘about’ or ‘around’ with a ‘short a’ sound, as he knows that Mommy e isn’t ‘one letter away’ and thus can’t make a ‘say its name.’ Attacking these words with the short a sound will STILL result in learners (even lower level Kindergartners!!) still being able to ‘get the word.’ In other words, they will still recognize that the word is ‘about’ or ‘around,’ regardless of the fact that they attacked it with the short a sound …… The presumption is that learners can and will apply at least a “grain of common sense” in recognizing the word, and my experience with the ‘lowest of the low’ kindergartners proves this out!!

    By taking into account the differences between how words can sound, depending upon how they are sounded out, I was able to determine which required SECRETS and which were, for lack of a better term….”figure-out-able!!” LoL!

    With the Sneaky Y, all THREE sounds had to be accounted for, as they are all vastly different (y as in yellow, y as in July, and y as in mommy) ….. Each are entirely different sounds and thus, each must be accounted for with logical explanations as to what / why causes each to occur.

    Again, with the ultimate goal being to GIVE learners EVERYTHING they need to read and write at the EARLIEST grade level, so as to allow EXPERIENCE to be the best teacher….. it was necessary to think in terms of training “ER Doctors” ….. preparing them for what’s ‘most likely’ to roll through the door, while spending less time preparing them to handle the “plague” ;)

    I hope this helps to clarify the basis for the SECRETS, and I promise to get into more detail about exactly this in upcoming posts…. you’re just one step ahead with your great question!!!!

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  37. Thanks for this. I get the frequency point. We could never teach beginning readers all the sounds that letters CAN make in this isolated way– look at the VERY many sounds that ‘o’ can make when paired with ‘h’ when ‘ho’ comes at the beginning of a word! :) The only reason I added the ‘a’ sound heard at the beginning of words like around and about as a third sound in my chant, was because my guys weren’t getting that kind of word by knowing just the first two possible ‘a’ sounds… but maybe it was not the isolated sound that ‘a’ makes in that case that was the issue, but the fact that they were saying “ar…” as the beginning ‘sound’, instead of the necessary two syllable “a-r…” When they kept saying ‘ar, ar, ar” instead of ‘a’ when starting words like around, they got stuck. They seemed to get it better when they had that third ‘a’ sound to try. Thanks for sharing why you do it this way– always more food for thought– I can teach 100 years and I’ll still be growing my own brain :)

     

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  39. This sounds awesome! I’ve been looking for a way to help my kinder. Can’t wait to try it!
    Jada
    jadawtolbert@gmail.com

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  40. What a great idea! LOVE this and can’t wait to use it with my kinders! Thanks for sharing!

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  41. This article really intrigued me! As I was reading the “why” of certain discrepancies, I was picturing specific students I’ve had along the way. thanks for sharing

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    Getting learners to ask “why” is actually our goal,
    as the “WHY” equals “CRITICAL-THINKING!”
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  44. I LOVE secret Stories! My students Love hearing the stories behind each letter or letter pair.

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How To Teach Exceptions to Phonics Rules

Did you know that if you had a fever and cough, it could be the plague,
or pneumonia…
or maybe just the flu?
Actually, it could be a lot of things.
Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
Learn More About
“Thinking Like a Word Doctor”

Because doctors know that the plague is the least likely cause of your symptoms and that the flu is the most likely, they will probably go with the flu first, and then work their way through the alternative options, as needed.

As medicine is not an exact science, doctors must often work through a series of options to determine what treatment will be most effective with their patients. They make these decisions based on a hierarchy of likelihood to determine what is most likely, next most likely, and least likely to be successful.

Like medicine, the English language is not an exact science, and neither are the phonics rules, as there are many “so-called” exceptions. However, we can “treat” unknown “exception” words in much the same way that doctors treat their patients, and by doing so, a logical, thinking-construct begins to emerge— one that greatly empowers learners and their decision-making when working with unfamiliar text.

First, it’s important to realize that there are only so many different sounds that a letter or letter pattern can make, and their not random, even though they may sometimes appear so. Just like the saying, The apple won’t fall too far from the tree,” letters won’t stray too far from their sounds! For example, you will never see the letter q say “mmm,” or the letter k say “duh,” or the tion pattern say “ing!”

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

 

Contrary to popular belief, letters don’t just lose their little ‘letter-minds’ and run amok! All they do (and it’s usually the vowels that do it!) is make sounds that they are perfectly capable of making— but it just might be their next-most likely ones! Watch the video clip below to see what I mean!

 

When working with patients, doctors must ask themselves, “How many different ways can I look at this? How many different ways can I solve it?” Beginning and struggling readers must also employ this kind of diagnostic thinking when attempting to sound out unknown words, asking themselves, “What else can it be?….  What else could I try?” Engaging in this type of analytical, problem-solving is often referred to as “thinking outside the box,” and the key to doing it effectively is to first know what’s IN the box!

Thinking Outside the Box with “So-Called” Exception Words

phonics exceptions

This is why knowing the Secrets is so important for beginning and struggling readers, as the Secret Stories® equip them with everything that’s IN the box so that they are more easily able to think outside it— something that working with text demands!

The ou/ow Secret….

Ou ow play really rough and someone always gets hurt and says— “Oooowww!” 

(as in words like: our, round, how, now)

But, flying overhead is Superhero O, who happens to be o & w‘s all-time, favorite superhero, ever!

If ow ever spots Superhero O flying overhead, they stop dead in their tracks, and yell—

“O! O! O!” 

…which is why ow can also say O! (It’s “default” sound)

(as in words like: blow, flow, glow, mow)

 
Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

 

The Secret (and default sound for ow) makes sounding out most words with this common pattern easy, even for kinders, which means that words like: how, now, about, around, etc, commonly found on sight word need NOT be memorized! As with the Secret, kids can just READ them! Plus, kids can learn the ou/ow Secret in an instant, even if they haven’t mastered all of the individual letter sounds yet, as it still makes sense. Memorizing a sight word however, can take some students forever… especially those with little to no home support, as they are less likely to use it enough to make it stick. And even more importantly, knowing a sight word allows learners to read one word, whereas knowing a Secret empowers them to read and write thousands!

Now let’s consider a word like you

The ou isn’t doing what it should, according to the Secret. Still, the sound it IS making in the word hasn’t really strayed too far away… at least not so far that a good word doctor couldn’t easily figure it out! And here’s how…

A “Hierarchy of Likelihood” Approach to Decoding (a.k.a. Thinking Outside the Box)

1.  First, try the most likely Secret Stories sound for ou (as in house)….. NOPE, it didn’t work!

2.  Next, try the individual sounds for the letters and ….. BINGO!!! We got the word!!

In this case, we got it on the second try.

Now, had we not struck gold on our first “out-of-the-box” attempt, we could have worked our way further down the list of possible sound options and turned this puzzle into a sort of problem-solving/critical thinking game….

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
The OO Secret

3.  Try the sounds of other Secret Stories patterns with o or  u, like the Secrets for oo, oi/oy or ous. For example, in the word could, the ou is making the default-sound for oo (as in book) and kids who know the oo Secret might try that sound as one more possible option. And of course, you can also pull out the handy “Head-Bop” Trick in a pinch to figure out those “un-figure-outable” words! (You can read more about this trick here.)

 

 

4.  It’s the PLAGUE!  It requires a specialist! When we’ve exhausted all options and have no more tricks up our sleeve, we must surrender to the word, which means we have to memorize it!

Why Not Just Memorize Tricky Sight Words?

Here’s why— because it is within this “figuring-out,” (a.k.a. analytical/diagnostic thinking) process that true learning lies! Not just learning how to read, but learning how to think! Our brain is a pattern-making machine, and this patterning process of thinking-through all available options is its natural way of doing things. “If not this, then that…” Our brain is continually patterning-out the best  available options in everything that we do.

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
 

We think, “I’ll park in the front, but if I can’t find a space, I’ll try the back, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll try the next lot over. If I can’t find anything there, then I’m giving up and going home, as I’m too tired to walk that far.” We don’t think— “I’ll park in the front, but if I can’t find a space, then I don’t know what I’ll do!” (This is similar to the way in which kids often handle words that are exceptions, which is to throw their hands up in surrender the minute that letters don’t do exactly what they should in a word.)

Seth Godwin, author of Looking for Patterns (Where they don’t Exist! writes,

“Human beings are pattern-making machines. That’s a key to our survival instinct— we seek out patterns and use them to predict the future. Which is great, except when the pattern isn’t there, then our pattern-making machinery is busy picking things out that truly don’t matter.” 

The Brain is a Pattern-Making Machine

Our brains are hardwired to look for patterns, and the Secrets are patterns— not abstract letter patterns, but patterns of behavior that are designed to mimic learners’ own behavior.  The ability to classify incoming information quickly into categories (based on the patterns we know) means the brain can use easier rules to deal with the new input, which is less stressful than always having to deal with things that haven’t been seen before. Knowing the Secrets equips inexperienced beginning and struggling learners to identify the best course of action when sounding out new words, and not knowing the Secrets means having to say, “It just is… It just does… You just have to remember….” when they can’t read or spell a word.

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

Another benefit to reading words rather than just memorizing them is that it sparks more optimal brain circuitry, as evidenced by numerous studies, including a recent one by Stanford University Professor, Bruce McCandliss, which you can read more about here. 

 

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics— Stanford University Sight Word Brain Study
Stanford Brain Study on Sight Words Post

Just to be clear, some words are just better to memorize, as mentioned when discussing the word could, up above. But most are not, especially if they now the Secrets and can easily read them! Consider that every sight word that a learner memorizes is one less opportunity to reinforce their “sounding-out” (decoding) skills that you work so hard to teach, and more importantly, one less opportunity to flex their “critical thinking/problem solving” muscles!

Now before you read any further, watch this video.

It’s easy for teachers to empathize with Ricky’s struggle to read words like: boughs, through, rough, cough and enough. Like many students in our guided reading groups, Ricky diligently attempts to decode what seem to him to be ‘un-decodable’ words and becomes understandably frustrated in the process. Ultimately, Ricky just closes the book and gives up, convinced that the sounds letters make just don’t make sense. Many of our students feel the same way.

 

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

 

How To Think Like a “Word Doctor” to Decode Text

In the same way that a doctor works through various options to heal a patient, we can do the same to “heal” the words that are stumping Ricky…. or at least to help make them more  ‘figure-outable!’ ( I know it’s not a word, but I really like it!)

First, we need to know another Secret…

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
Click Here to Learn the gh Secret

The gh Secret

Gh will make different sounds, depending on where they are in line (i.e. in a word)

When they are at the FRONT, they’re glad!

There, they make the hard g sound, saying….

 “Gosh, this is Great!  We’re going to Get to Go first and Get in before anyone else Goes!” 

(ghost, ghoul, ghastly, etc…)

When they are in the MIDDLE, and surrounded by lots of other letters,

they are silent and are too afraid to say anything and make NO SOUND at all

(sight, thought, straight, etc…)

When they are at the END, they’re not at all happy and they always complain.

Here, they make the fff sound, saying….

“This is no ffun! We’re so ffar away it’ll take fforever ffor us to get to the ffront!”

(rough, enough, cough, etc…) 

Now let’s play “Word Doctor”….

A Reading/ Phonics Word Doctor

bough

No problem with the ou as it is doing just what it should (see ou/ow poster up above)

But gh is a different story, as it is not making the sound that it should, which is “fff.”  So let’s try one of the only TWO other sounds that it can make, and voila! We got it! The gh is silent! The gh Secret is everything that’s IN the box when it comes to all of the possible sounds that gh can make, making it easy for learners to deduce the next most likely options when it doesn’t do exactly what it should!

 

rough

Like in the word you (mentioned at the top of the post), ou is not making the sound that it should, but by simply trying the individual sounds for both and u, we can easily get the word! In this case, ou is making the short u sound. And thankfully, gh is doing exactly what it should when it’s at the end of a word!

cough

Just as with the word rough,  ou is not making the sound that it should, but is making one of their individual sounds, instead. This time, it’s the short o sound. And again, the gh is doing exactly what it should.

enough

Once more the ou is not making the sound that it should, but it IS doing the next most likely thing, based on our “hierarchy of likelihood” (way up above at top of post), just as it did in the words you, rough and cough.  In this case, it’s making the short u sound. And once again,  gh is doing what it should.

through

Now this one’s a little trickier— bordering between being “fun to figure out” and “just easier to memorize,”  I would probably go with the latter, but it is gratifying to know that with a little “out of the box” thinking, we CAN crack this word, should we chose to!

The ou is not making the sound that it should, nor is it making the o or u sound, but just like the word you that was mentioned at the top of this post, it is making the most likely sound of its “cousin” oo … and by cousin, I mean another similar Secret that looks like it could be a possible relative, as it shares a common relative, which is o.  (The sound for oo can be seen in the oo poster way up above.)

And then we have the same problem with gh that we had with a couple of the other words up above— nothing that a good word doctor can’t fix, as gh is just being difficult and refusing to talk, as is his prerogative. However, it does require an extra analytical step to crack the word, which may be one too many to make it worthwhile. Thus, it merits the time, energy and space in the brain that’s required memorize.

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics

This video clip shows a group of first graders playing “Word Doctor” and applying some critical analysis and diagnostic thinking to the word light. While they can already read the word, they bothered by the fact that i is bothering to say his name when there Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® in sight!


Patterning IS Thinking

Brain Based Reading

The following excerpt is taken from 12 Design Principles Based on Brain-based Learning Research by Jeffery Lackney, Ph. D.

Pattern making is pleasing to the brain. The brain takes great pleasure in taking random and chaotic information and ordering it. The implications for learning and instruction is that presenting a learner with random and unordered information provides the maximum opportunity for the brain to order this information and form meaningful patterns that will be remembered. Setting up a learning environment in this way mirrors real life that is often random and chaotic.

The brain, when allowed to express its pattern-making behavior, creates coherency and meaning. Learning is best accomplished when the learning activity is connected directly to physical experience. We remember best when facts and skills are embedded in natural, spatial memory, in real-life activity, in experiential learning. We learn by doing. facilitated in an environment of total immersion in a multitude of complex interactive experiences.


Hmmmm…. that sounds a lot like the class in the video!

 

The Vowels Are the “Heart” of Words

Secret Stories Phonics Posters

For a quick overview of the Superhero Vowels® and their “short & lazy” sound disguises, watch the video below.

And the last little doctor tool that I want to share before signing off is about the vowels, as they are the most likely culprits when words just won’t sound-out correctly! Vowels are the “eyes, ears, nose and throat” of a word, which is why good word doctors should always check them out first! They offer the best window into what’s most likely wrong. Sometimes it’s an issue with a Secret (as with the words we’ve seen in this post) but other times fixing the problem requires having a few “vowel-fixing” tricks up your sleeve— something that every good word should have!

decoding exception words
Learn more word doctor strategies, including, the “Thinking Vowels/Head-Bop” and the “Hungry Thing” to crack tricky vowel sounds here!

How to Read Words that are Exceptions

 

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics— Stanford University Sight Word Brain Study
Secret Stories® Classroom Kit (book, posters & CD)

And if you don’t have the Secret Stories® Classroom Set but would like to get started with the basic “meat and potatoes,” which are the vowels, I would suggest you start with Secrets of the Superhero Vowels Bundle® on TpT.  It’s a great place to start!  And if you are already using Secret Stories® in your classroom, this digital vowel pack is a super handy supplement, as it offers multiple sizes of the graphics for various uses within the classroom and at home!

Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
Secret Stories® Brain Based Phonics
Secret Stories Superhero Vowels® Digital Bundle

Until Next Time,
Katie Garner :-) 
Katie Garner— Professional Development Literacy Consultant and Keynote Education Speaker

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