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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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Katie Garner Secret Stories LinkedIN pageSecret Stories BlogSecret Stories Facebook PageSecret Stories Youtube PageSecret Stories TwitterSecret Stories PinterestSecret Stories Instagram
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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. 

 


Katie Garner Secret Stories Linkedin pageSecret Stories BlogSecret Stories Facebook PageSecret Stories Youtube PageSecret Stories TwitterSecret Stories PinterestSecret Stories Instagram
Secret Stories® Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!

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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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Shhhhhh! The "Grown-Up" Reading & Writing Phonics Secrets!
What letters DO when they DON’T do what they should!

Have you ever wondered WHY letters make all of the crazy sounds that they do? Or how you could possibly make them make sense to a five-year-old who just wants to play with their shoe and lick the carpet?

 

Letters are like kids. 

They behave beautifully and do just what they should (i.e. make their proper sounds) when they are separated and can’t get a hold of each other…. like, for example, when they’re up on the wall.
Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!'— Individual Letter Sound Mastery in 2 weeks- 2 months!

But when they get together, all bets are off and the bad behavior begins!

phonics poster
Secret Stories® Phonics— Brain Based Reading
You Can’t Think Outside the Box Unless You Know What’s IN It!

But like us, letters also have “Secrets!” And knowing their Secrets makes it easy to understand their behavior. These are the “grown-up” reading and writing Secrets!

Phonics Posters
CLICK FOR FREE SAMPLER PACK

Teachers who know the Secrets never have to say to their students, “It just is….It just does…You just have to remember” when telling them how to sound out or spell a word. They just tell them its Secret! 

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

However, these ‘grown-up’ reading and writing Secrets are SO big that students have to earn the right to hear them! (with creative/critical thinking, awesome answers, beautiful behavior, perfect patience, caring kindness, automatic attention, dynamic discussions, ready responsibility, keeping clean, collecting compliments, etc…)

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets!" — Brain Based Tools that Make Phonics Make SENSE!
Starting with the Secrets— An Introduction

Secret Stories®— An Introduction

When I used to teach kindergarten and first grade, I would often tell my kids that they were “too little” to hear the “BIG grown-up Secret” that they’d spotted in a word, and that if they ate lots of vegetables every night that week, then their brains might be big enough by Friday for me to tell them! Needless to say, the parents of my picky eaters (half my class) thought I was magic, as their kids never could explain clearly enough for them to understand why exactly they were gorging on vegetables every night! 

Secret Stories® Phonics — The "Grown-Up" Reading & Writing Secrets!
“What letters do when they don’t do what they should!”
By transforming letters and sounds from “skills they have to learn” into Secrets they want to know, we can align phonics instruction with learners “need-to-know” which marks the information for memory and prioritized learning in the brain. Doing so forges deeper learning connections for easier skill retrieval.
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Prompting "Need-to-Know" for Prioritized Learning in the Brain!
Sparking a ‘Need-to-Know’ for Prioritized Learning!
Within this learner-driven context, the instructional-tables are turned, as students beg their teachers for more and more pieces of the reading and writing code!
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Do YOUR kids know the "ph" Secret?
   Do YOUR kids know the “ph” Secret?

Shifting Phonics Instruction from Brain-Antagonistic to Brain-Compatible

And here begins the shift from “Brain Antagonistic” to “Brain-Compatible” instruction, allowing for twice the learning gain in half the time and with half the effort.

The result is an ongoing,  student-driven cycle of learning that is natural and seamless. Learners’ desire to know more Secrets catapults phonics skill introduction beyond traditional, grade level walls, empowering early learners with accelerated access to the “whole” reading and writing code.

Secret Stories® Phonics — Shifting Phonics Instruction from "Brain Antagonistic" to "Brain Compatible"
“Three to four grade level years is too long to make learners wait for access to the whole code.”
—Dr. Richard Allington

Breaking Down Grade Level Walls that Limit Learner Access to the Code





When I was teaching Kindergarten, I would always tell the Secret about au and aw on the very first day of school, during our first morning calendar time (and shortly after I’d finished calming my criers, yellers, screamers, and runners, etc..)

Phonics Posters
Click here to learn the au/aw Secret!
Au & aw have HUGE crushes on each other!
Whenever they have to stand right up against each, side-by-side in a word, 
they get so embarrassed that they always put their heads down and say—
 “Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh” 

 

After telling them the Secret, I would say— 

“Just look at all of the words that have this grown-up reading and writing Secret:Autumn, awful, awesome, Austin….  If you didn’t know the Secret, you wouldn’t be able to read these words, but now you know the grown-up reading & writing Secret!” 

 

Phonics Instruction
Admittedly, I taught this Secret knowing full well that virtually no one in my class knew the difference between a letter and a number and a squirrel, and most certainly wouldn’t have been able to recognize the letter A if it fell from the sky and landed on their head. (Fun Fact— I’ve actually had this happen before, as one day the letter A (from my wooden Pottery Barn Kids Alphabet Set) fell off the wall and hit a little guy on the top of his head, prompting him to yell, “Hey! That ‘number’ just hit me!” ;-)
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets

So what was my reasoning for teaching the au/aw “second-grade skill” on the very first day of Kindergarten?  That’s easy.  Because it came up! And because it would keep coming up every single day, throughout the entire month of August (not to mention in a bunch of other words, too!)

The word August was written in big, bold letters at the top of our morning calendar, which we would be reading and talking about on a daily basis. Moreover, had any of my little guys actually known the letter A sound,  not explaining it would have been like tossing a giant monkey wrench into their existing pattern (i.e. what they thought they knew about the letter a).

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— "Teaching the READER, not the Reading!"
Not accounting for this obvious discrepancy would not only make me look like the world’s biggest liar every time we sing our BETTER Alphabet Song, but it defy the brain’s system for learning as a pattern-making machine.
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— The Brain is a "Pattern-Making" Machine
Patterning is the brain’s way of doing things. It is the essence of how we learn.

The brain is always seeking-put patterns and creating new ones. This is the learning process.  It is critical thinking at its most basic level. Patterning is, in a nutshell, the brain’s way of doing things!

And this is yet another example of how we can use the brain science to inform and enhance our teaching practices as we shift phonics instruction from brain-antagonistic to brain-compatible!

And so, having told them that they were “big enough” to hear this very important and very grown-up Secret on the very first day of school….

Then two things that happened on our way to lunch….

 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Gifted Gus

1. A little boy named Gus (who had come to school with a note pinned to his shirt, by mom, telling me he was gifted) pointed to a sign above the fire doors and yelled, “Look! The letters that are in love are in that word! Aaahhh-to-maaa-tik…… aah-to-maa-tik…… AUTOMATIC!  Hey, I can read that word!!!!”

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Lu-Lu
2. A little girl (who thought her name was Lulu when it was actually Leslie) and had been playing with her shoes most of the morning) also yelled out, “Look teacher, look!” (pointing to the same sign above the fire doors) “Ahhhhhh…. ahhhhhhh…..We LOVE letters….ahhhhhh!” while simultaneously making the “in-love” gestures—arms to the side, head tilted, batting eyes—the whole works!

These two very different, yet equally awesome outbursts demonstrate why telling that particular Secret on that particular day was ABSOLUTELY the ideal, not to mention perfectly developmentally appropriate for both students— regardless upon which grade level scope and sequence the au/aw phonics skill officially falls.

High, medium or low…. the Secrets can be readily shared with ALL learners, with no harm and no fowl, as we’re not “teaching” skill, we’re giving them. It’s like food that’s been laid out on a buffet, ready for the taking, but without any expectations….just lots of modeling and use.

Both learners were “given” the same key to unlock text at the same time. One understands that it can be used to unlock words and one does not, but they both have the key, and that’s what counts! 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Accelerated Access to the WHOLE Reading & Writing Code!
Knowing the Secret gives Lu-Lu the same skill base that Gus has. She just doesn’t know quite what to do with it yet, which is why modeling of its use is key! Lower-level learners cannot afford to miss the bus and be left behind grade level skill for skill introduction,  as they need more time to incubate them, not less.

By giving Lu-Lu the same “keys” (i.e. Secrets) to unlock words that “Gifted Gus” has, we eliminate the learning curve and waiting time. That way, once her little light bulb pops on, she is ready to “hit the ground running” and start using the Secrets she already knows to read and to write.

Otherwise, learners like Lu-Lu often don’t acquire these critical pieces of the code to successfully cross over the instructional-hump that is learning to read in K-2, so as to be prepared to read to learn in 3rd and beyond.

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Accelerating Early Learner Access to the Code!
Note the “instructional-hump” so clearly depicted (mid-page, left) in these awesome sketch notes!

 

“Back Door” vs. “Front Door” Instruction

The brain develops back to front, with the earlier-developing, affective “feeling” networks more primed for learning than the slower developing, higher level, processing centers. It’s through these backdoor learning channels that the au/aw Secret is so easily acquired by both Lu-Lu and Johnny.  And whereas Johnny is ready to take the next step and use it for a purpose (i.e. reading and writing), Lu-Lu is not… but she owns the Secret!
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Do YOUR kids know the "au/aw" Secret?
“Awwwww, it’s Valentine’s Day!”

 

“It is literally neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care about. Deep understanding depends on making emotional connections between concepts. Emotion guides our learning. If something is emotionally stimulating, it is marked for memory and prioritized for learning in the brain.”

—Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang 
Mary Helen Immordino Yang
And if you really want really want to see what engagement can look like in an “impromptu” phonics discussion,  check out these first graders from  Mrs. Mac’s First Grade Class.  It’s one of my all-time favorites!

Channeling phonics skills through the brain’s backdoor via social-emotional “feeling” domain makes learning easy and effortless. By embedding high-leverage, phonics skill concepts (like Superhero Vowels®, Sneaky Y®, Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels®) into familiar, social and emotional “story-based” frameworks, inexperienced (and upper-grade, struggling learners) are easily able to predict the “most” and “next most” likely sound behaviors of letters in text— even in words they have never seen before.

Secret Stories Mommy E® and the Babysitter Vowels® for EASY decoding of BIG words!
Yep, it’s really THAT easy!!!
The Secret Stories Sneaky Y® Phonics Secret!
“The LIE About  Y”
Watch this quick clip to learn the Secretsof the Superhero Vowels®, Sneaky Y®, Mommy E® & the Babysitter Vowels® and start sharing them with YOUR class tomorrow!

Stories Put the Whole Brain to Work, and Act as “Memory-Enhancers” in the Brain

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Stories act as "memory enhancers" in the brain
Stories put the whole brain to work and are the most effective way to activate multiple areas of the brain simultaneously for enhanced, multi-sensory learning.
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Taking Advantage of "Learning Loopholes" in the Brain
That’s is not to say that all learners will immediately apply the Secrets they know to reading and writing, as doing so requires a certain level of developmental and cognitive readiness be attained, but like Lulu, learners can build the visual acuity needed to easily recognize the pattern (i.e. Secret) in text and the ability to instantly recall its sound. And these are the “keys” she will need to unlock text when she’s ready.
So don’t wait! The more tools that learners bring to the table each day, the more value they will be able to take away!

If you’re a kindergarten teacher, I bet I know what you’re thinking…
“Great! My kids will know the au/aw sound, but they still won’t be able to recognize the letter D!”  

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— Fast-Track Individual Letter Sound Mastery to 2 Weeks to 2 Months!
No worries, as that part is just as easy! We don’t even need any Secrets for the individual letter sounds, as when letters make the sounds that they’re supposed to, all is right with the world! That’s not to say that teaching the individual letters and sounds is easy—which is why we don’t teach them, we give them! Just like with the Secrets, we can follow the brain science to access a more easily-accessible “backdoor” route for skill mastery by way of muscle memory!

“How to Be More Interesting than a Shoe When Teaching Letters & Sounds”
The individual letters and sounds are easily acquired simultaneously with Secrets by tapping into muscle/motor memory via the BETTER Alphabet Song! For early (and ELL) learners, muscle memory is a far more reliable pathway for letter sound mastery than the traditional path of cognitive processing. Acquisition time is just two weeks to two months, and that’s for both preK AND kindergarten! And during this timeframe, you’re also tossing out Secrets (as they come up) throughout the instructional day—continually adding to learners’ ever-expanding reading and writing tool-boxes! Just watch the video below to see how it’s done!
“The BETTER Alphabet Song”
which is also used in the Letter Run video
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— The BETTER Alphabet "Vertical" Anchor
BETTER Alphabet “Vertical” Anchor 

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets— The BETTER Alphabet "Vertical" Anchor

And when you’re ready to take it up a notch, you can try your hand at the Letter Runs! They can be sung backward and forward, and to ANY tune to keep that bar high! Click on the link under the picture below to hear the Letter Runs sung, “Jedi-style!”
Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets—  Mimicking Decoding and Encoding with Music!
For more free musical brainteasers, click here!

And don’t forget to grab the FREE Secret Stories® Sampling and start sharing the Secrets in your classroom!  You can also grab the FREE Common Core Literacy Posters with Secret Stories® phonics graphics-supports, as well as the FREE “made-to-match” Science Posters… all of which are pictured, below.

 

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets Mini-Anchor Posters
FREE SECRET STORIES® MINI-POSTER SAMPLE ANCHORS

 

FREE Common Core Literacy Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
CLICK FOR FREE COMMON CORE LITERACY POSTERS
(“made-to-match” Math & Essential Questions sets also available)
FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE PRE/KINDER COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS

 

FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE FIRST GRADE COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS

 

FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE SECOND GRADE COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS
FREE Common Core Science Posters Sets for PK-3rd Grade
FREE THIRD GRADE COMMON CORE SCIENCE POSTERS

 

22 comments:

  1. My students refer to the Secret Stories posters constantly! They are BY FAR the most- used resource in my entire first grade classroom!! You and Deanna are both just so amazing!
    Thank you both so much…. what an inspiration this is!!!!!!
  2. Wow, thank you, that’s so wonderful to hear! And your students’ frequent and ongoing use of the SECRETS is actually a testament to YOUR teaching and the abundance of opportunities you obviously provide to engage with text!

    And the fact that your students DO take the time to reference the SECRETS when they read and write only further indicates that the literacy opportunities you provide are personally meaningful to them….. so congrats to you again!!!

  3.  

    Your stories are fabulous. I teach a group of 26 first graders with very diverse needs. Your program is both visual and auditory and the children “hook on” to the stories easily. They can imagine the t and the h that sticks out their tongues when they stand together because they have learned the story behind the sounds. My ESOL students love to retell the stories and feel excited to apply what they know when they are reading. Last year, I bought your program. I don’t have your new posters but they look great. Thank you for finding a method that reaches so many students.

     

     

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  5. And thank YOU for taking the time to post and let me know!!
    Building that excitement is more than half the battle so keep up the great work and definitely keep me posted here and/ or on the Secret Stories blog….. You might just be a monthly winner of a new Secret Stories kit!!! I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you!
    :)

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  7. I am so excited I just read your Secret Stories posting on Deanna Jump’s Blog! I can’t wait to get your program so I can use it in my Kindergarten classroom!! I’m always thrilled when I find one more piece to use in my room to add to the foundation of “bricks” they need while keeping them engaged and excited! Thank you to both of you!

     

     

  8.  

    I love the “foundation of bricks” analogy and you are so right!
    The SECRETS simply provide a way for learners to ‘own EVERYTHING yesterday’ when it comes to ALL that is necessary to read and write, thereby shifting focus to the REAL goal of the game….reading for meaning & writing for a purpose!

    Requiring learners to wait until the 3rd grade for comprehensive sound-skill ownership (especially when we’re requiring students to begin reading and writing in Kindergarten) just makes NO sense….. not if there’s a developmentally appropriate/ ‘backdoor-way’ for learners to own them all from the get-go!

    Prolonging introduction/ acquisition of these critical skills over a period of multiple YEARS is what causes learner-focus to remain on the ‘bricks’ rather than on getting ‘up and over the wall’ where the REAL fun begins!!!!!

    Okay, I’m jumping down from my soapbox now ;)

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  11. I teach preK (4 and 5 year old class) and my little guys just eat the Secrets up! I also used your Better Alphabet Song (from your CD) and honestly I was was blown away that the little ones were actually able to pick up the individual letter sounds so quickly! It’s just unbelievable what they can do with these and how much it changes everything you do in the way that you teach!

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  12. Sounds like you could write my next ‘Secret Session’ post!!
    That’s awesome to hear and I’m thrilled to hear that you’re using the SECRETS in preK, as so many times I will see preK teachers shy away everything but the music pieces on the CD and it just kills me!

    Telling SECRETS in preK & K is like taking your class to a buffet- those who are are hungry for them will eat them and those that aren’t will still enjoy going along for the ride, establishing a sort of “catcher’s mit in the brain” in preparation for future recognition & instruction!!

    Thanks so much again for posting and I hope you will share more about your experiences so as to inspire other preK teachers to take the leap in rethinking what’s possible at that level!

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  13. I have not seen your secrets before, but it looks like a wonderful way to teach how and why these blends make the sounds they do! I’ll certainly be using much of your intel! Thanks so much for sharing ~ I think my kids are really going to latch onto these tips and be much better readers for it!

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  14. I have not seen your secrets before, but it looks like a wonderful way to teach how and why these blends make the sounds they do! I’ll certainly be using much of your intel! Thanks so much for sharing ~ I think my kids are really going to latch onto these tips and be much better readers for it!

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  15. I have not seen your secrets before, but it looks like a wonderful way to teach how and why these blends make the sounds they do! I’ll certainly be using much of your intel! Thanks so much for sharing ~ I think my kids are really going to latch onto these tips and be much better readers for it!

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  16.  

    Thanks for the wonderful comment, and I hope you will keep in touch regarding use of what’s shared, as I would love feedback on your experience at your specific grade level in the classroom!! :)

     

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  18. I love this! What a great way to introduce/teach those pesky digraphs!

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      …. and vowel combos, and blends, etc..!! As we move forward with Secret Sessions I’ll be sharing the ‘secrets’ for EVERYTHING that happens in language at least ‘5 times or more’ so as to ensure learners have logical explanations for why letters do (or don’t!) make the sounds that they do… so stay tuned!

       

     

     

     

  19. So cute! All kids love secrets. Wonderful way for kids to remember this sound.

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  20.  

    Thanks for posting! Would love to know what grade level you teach and for how long you’ve been using them?

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  22. I found you through Deanna jump and I am very intrigued by this!

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  23. That’s great, I’m so glad to hear it!! Things will only get ‘more intriguing’ from here… I promise ;)
    LoL…. so many new things to see when you take learners through the brain’s ‘backdoor’ rather of the traditional front ;)

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