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(This post was originally posted on I Teach What’s Your Super Power Blog, and excerpts pertaining to the Secret Stories® have been shared here, with permission from the author.)

Struggling Readers and the Phonics Divide

I had never heard of the Secret Stories until a teacher I thought highly of at a previous school swore by it with her first graders.  It sounded interesting, but it was an “in one ear out the other” kind of thing, and I didn’t think about it again.

Fast forward to January of this year, and there was a CLEAR phonics divide in my second grade classroom between the “haves” and the “have-nots.” While some of my second graders were rocking and rolling with their sound knowledge, picking it up easily from the lessons embedded in our literacy block; others were still struggling with short /a/.

Phonics Posters

Enter Secret Stories…..
So here’s the quick version of  Secret Stories: (not an affiliate link, I just love it!)

1. The Secret Stories have stories and posters for all of the different phonics skills and sounds.
For example, instead of teaching the r-controlled vowels as a phonics “skill,” I can tell my kids the secret about how er, ir, ur are terrible, awful, horrible, no-good drivers, and always have to slam on their breaks and say “Eerrrrrrrrrrrr!”  (like in the words: her, turn, bird, curve, etc…). Then we connect the sound with the action to engage the full body and anchor the sound-symbol connection into their muscle memory for easy retrieval.

2. The Better Alphabet Song– We sang this daily, twice a day, EVERY day for at least two weeks. Instead of singing the name of the letters, you sing, “A says- ah ah ah ah ah ah ah ah, but it can also say- ay ay ay ay ay ay ay ay.” It keeps going through all the letters and literally ALL of the sounds each can make individually, including the short and long vowel sounds (known as the Superhero Vowels®), the hard and soft sounds for /c/ and /g/, the combined /qu/ sound, and even all three sounds for /y/ (known as Sneaky Y®). There is a CD (or musical download) included so you’re not on your own with this.

3.  Because the Secret Stories isn’t a grade level “program,” it fits into what you’re already using. You DO NOT wait to introduce one sound (or Secret) a week, but instead, you give kids the Secrets they need to read and write words throughout the day. So you’re always looking for opportunities to use the Secrets they know while sharing more. (The ongoing constant use and reinforcement quickly establishes a deep level of skill-ownership.) The author’s point was, “Why should kids wait until February to learn about r-controlled vowels when they need them NOW?!!” Agreed.

Sounds of Y Phonics Poster

Small Group Intervention for Struggling Readers

My initial intention was to use the Secret Stories specifically with my struggling readers who had significant phonetic weaknesses as an intervention. However, my “small” group got waaaaay bigger than I planned because the majority of my students wanted to join in!  Some of my strongest readers were strategically placing themselves around my group of struggling readers on the rug while pretending to read a book, just so they could listen in! Eventually, I invited anyone that wanted to join in, and I consistently had 12-15 kids in our “intervention” group.

Our reading intervention time consisted of reviewing previously introduced Secrets, introducing new ones, and them practicing them both orally and on white boards. On Fridays, we would “collect” all of the words with Secret Stories phonics patterns in them, which helped me know which ones I needed to reinforce. Incorrect answers are as informative as correct answers! If we had an extra minute or two during our morning messages, we would play “word detectives” and look for the Secrets in it!

I would ask things like,“Find a word with these two friends who are all about the balls….” or
“Find a two-syllable word with a bad driver in it….” or “Find a word with that has a sneaky letter in it….” etc…..

Phonics Stories

Even though we didn’t start the Secrets until mid-year, I absolutely saw a 100% difference in both their reading and spelling. Next year, I will be starting with the Secrets week one!

As Secret Stories is not available as a “digital” download, it’s more expensive (about $100 for the book, posters and CD). But I was in a full on panic over having so many struggling readers in my classroom, and so I was more than willing to spend the money to make my life easier. If you don’t have the $100 to buy it personally and you can’t get your school or PTA to buy it for you, it would definitely be worth setting up a Donor’s Choose project.

Secret Stories allows me to quickly introduce a significant number of phonics skills in a short amount of time, and in a way that all of my students could easily remember and understand.  Knowing the Secrets also gave us a common language that we could use when talking about the letters and sounds. “I’m looking for Secrets,” became one of our most-used print strategies!

Secret Stories is one of my favorite teacher-things, not only because of the growth that I saw with my students, but because of how much they love them and enjoy using them!

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Secret Stories Guided Reading

A guest post by second grade teacher, Kelli Gunkle.

Struggling Readers + Failing School = No Time for “Cute”

My name is Kelli Gunkle and I am a second grade teacher in Daytona Beach, Florida. I have been teaching for 5 years in a low-income, DDD, turn-around school with many struggling readers. If you are not familiar with a school climate like the one I teach in, you may have some questions about what all of that means.

In a nutshell, 90% of our students are on free and reduced lunch. We have been a D status for 3 years which placed us in “turn-around” status. This simply means that if we do not earn a C or better we will be taken over, closed down, or turned into a charter school. I tell you this to paint a tiny picture of the environment that I truly have the pleasure of working in.

read to self secret stories

People often look at statistics and status’ and use those as reasons not to be somewhere. I look at statistics a little differently. All of what I told you above is why I teach at my school. It’s why I get up everyday and teach my heart out. It’s why I don’t have time for the cute stuff.

In my first year teaching, I was like most teachers, and very aware of the “perfect” classrooms. Don’t get me wrong, I love anything that is aesthetically pleasing….who doesn’t?! More and more though, I was seeing too many “cute” activities and too little rigor. Activities that would get people to “pin, pin, pin” or “like, like, like,” but none that had much substance to move our struggling readers.

I am lucky enough to work for one of the best principals in our county, and under her training, I have learned a lot about choosing rigor over looks. The experience of working for this amazing woman taught me how to properly vet materials for quality before giving them over to my students. I don’t choose the craftivity; I rarely, if ever, even do them. Instead, I choose what I know is going to give my students the maximum instructional value, because our school just doesn’t have the time to “fluff” anything up.

Filling the Phonics Gaps for Reading

This past fall, I was looking for something — anything that could help fill the gaps in phonics with my struggling readers, who were at least a grade level behind in reading. I was given the opportunity to loop to third grade with my class, and so I was well aware of the gaps that they had. I went into this year knowing the holes that would need to be filled, but not knowing HOW I was going to fill them.

Enter Secret Stories
Through countless search attempts, I stumbled upon the Secret Stories website and started reading all of the reviews. I was hooked. The minute I read that students were ASKING to learn about letter sounds and phonics patterns, I knew it was what I needed for my kids. And while the Secrets may be cute, they are all “meat” and no fluff! And so, unbeknownst to anyone at my school, I ordered the kit, put up the posters, and let the magic unfold! I call it magic because that’s the only way to describe what happens once you let the “genie” out of the bottle and start telling the Secrets.

With the current status of our school, we are a revolving door of district, state, and management company personnel going in and out of our rooms on a weekly to monthly basis. We have extra trainings, new strategies, brand-new curriculum, and countless other responsibilities that all teachers have. I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to learn one more routine, strategy, or program to implement in my classroom. My kids don’t have the ability to take anything else in. THAT is why I love Secret Stories so much. It runs itself!

The minute I told my students the first Secret, and that NO ONE could know what I was about to tell them— especially all of those people in suits that kept coming in and out of our classroom—they were hooked! They have been begging for more phonics Secrets ever since!

If you were to come into my classroom, you would be welcomed by one of my favorite sights—our Secret Stories phonics posters! My classroom is all pastel colors, so this set was perfect. My kids use these posters ALL DAY LONG to reference how to both sound-out AND spell words words. (Ignore the feet in the first pic, as it was a long day! ;-)

Weaving Phonics Skill Instruction into Reading & Writing Across the Instructional Day

I wanted my kids to be thinking about the Secret phonics patterns outside of reading block as well, so we started “catching” the Secret sounds wherever and whenever we came across them throughout the day! This could be during a math lesson, during I-Ready lessons, or during our read-to-self time. Whenever they find a Secret, they can “catch” it and add it to our collection.

Phonics Games Word Work

phonics for reading

I bought a shoe rack, added the Secret Stories cards from the back of the book to each pocket, and on the side, placed a container for half-sized index cards and markers. This gives them everything they need to catch Secret phonics patterns and sounds during centers, small group, etc.

Word Work Word Study Secret Stories

Word Study Word Work

Watch the video below to see how we use this to “catch” Secrets!

Secret Stories Sneaky Y

Small Group Reading Instruction and Assessment Prep

I also use the Secrets heavily during small group time. As I mentioned above, our school is in “turn-around” status, so it is incredibly important to fill as many gaps as possible in the primary grades before students move on to 3rd-5th. In small group, we have learning targets and success criteria for the skills we are working on. The success criteria helps my struggling readers to see what steps they need to take in order to master their “I can” targets.

guided reading group

They know that they must achieve these smaller goals in order to obtain their greater goal. To that end, they rely on the Secrets when reading their word lists, as well as whatever they are reading for their weekly text.

Teaching Vowels Sounds

When practicing test-taking strategies, we use the Secrets to help identify the phonics patterns and figure out new words in the text. This helps them to become more familiar with the text before they read it.

secret stories reading test assessment

That way, when they are taking tests, they know to look for phonics patterns in unfamiliar words to help them. This makes them feel more comfortable when they working with more complex text, especially my struggling readers.

Secret Stories Sneaky Y®

To see how we use Thinking Maps with Secret Stories, watch the video below.

Secret Stories Mommy E / Silent E

The Secrets have changed the way I teach phonics and, if I’m being honest, I will never go back to phonics-based routines in order to teach my students how to read. They do not need to memorize; they need to WANT to READ!

Love of Reading with Secret Stories

The Secrets have given my students a “need to know” the sounds, rather than me having to force them to learn them. Now, they are ASKING me to teach them….they want to know ALL of the Secrets!!

In a profession where we have no time for the cute stuff, the Secrets have found a way to be adorable AND rigorous. What an amazing accomplishment!

If you have any questions, or would like to reach out, you can find me in the Secret Stories® Support Group on Facebook, as well as on  and

Happy New Year!
Kelli

From Learning to Read, to Reading to Learn: A Third Grade Update

HELLO SECRET STORIES ……AND HELLO THIRD GRADE!  🙌🏻😍🙌🏻

Teachers Phonics Posters

I had been going into my classroom with my teammate to get things set up. While we didn’t know what this year will look like, setting up our classrooms has brought a much needed peace.  Just getting my Secret Stories Sound Wall up felt 👏🏻 so 👏🏻 good 👏🏻!

The Secret Stories are the keys to our reading, and they mean everything to me as a teacher. After using them for the first time last year, I will never go back! It is the best investment I’ve ever made for my classroom and my students’ learning💗 ….. not to mention my own learning as a teacher of reading.

Since last year’s blog post, I have looped on to third grade with my class. I am happy to say that, due to my students’ success in reading last year, there are now other teachers at my school who have caught “Secret Stories-fever” and are now using the Secrets with their students, as well.

The older kids get, the more they want you to just tell them how to spell words. Having not been with my class for six months, given our early release last spring due to Covid and summer vacation, I’ve had to to remind them to use the Secrets they know to spell words. For reading, this is a non-issue, as they just look at the Secret sound wall to decode the words, but for spelling, they often have to choose between two or three different ways to spell the sound.

In late September, I asked my students to take notes on a story, focusing on the main character, their feelings, their motivations, and their actions. Each student wrote what they thought the character was feeling, and what they believed had motivated their actions.

When I looked at this particular student’s paper, I was absolutely ELATED!

She had written the words “geelous,” and I knew immediately which Secrets she’d used to figure out that spelling! She clearly had command of the ge/gi/gy and /ous/ Secrets. And while she didn’t spell the word jealous exactly right, her ability to “build” that word demonstrated her ownership of the phonics skills that were in it — skills that could be easily used to read ANY words with these Secrets in them!

After telling me the word that she’d written, I commended her for using the Secrets she knew to spell it. Then we made a comparison of “geelous” and “jealous” on the board. Seeing her use the /ge/ Secret for the /j/ sound, and then correctly spell the ending with the /ous/ Secret just made my teacher-heart explode!❤️

And it’s still September….phonics for writing

Before I close, I want to share something that Katie and I worked on together to help students notice and use the Secrets to read and spell in remote learning lessons (as well as in literacy centers, whole group, and small group classroom instruction in the physical classroom next school year). They are “universal” task cards that work with any text and any grade level and can be used over and over again, making it easy to target specific skills/ Secrets on an individual, whole, or small group level. They are also helpful for differentiation, given that they can be paired with any text – from guided readers, to poems on the board, to math directions — they will get your kids  searching for Secrets, no matter what they are reading!

Here is little sample batch that you can download and try, so you can see how they work. There is also a video down below that shows the complete set, which are available here. 

Secret Stories Phonics Task Cards

digital phonics task cards

For the complete set of Secret Stories® “Universal” Task Cards, click here.

Dyslexia, Reading, Phonics & the Brain

Decoding in Reading - The Dyslexic Brain

Dyslexia

So what is dyslexia? Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is often genetic, and that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language. Dyslexic learners find it difficult to recognize and process letters and sounds accurately and automatically, and can also struggle with paired associate memory and/or orthographic memory. (For more on dyslexia, what it is, and what it isn’t, click here.)  It’s a neurological, often genetic disorder that makes

Some researchers in the field, however, believe that dyslexia is not always organic, but the result of ineffective reading instruction and a lack of phonics skill acquisition at the earliest grade levels. Regardless, the specific learning challenges, deficits and observed behaviors are very similar, as is the need for instruction to circumvent the inherent areas of learner-weakness and tap into alternative areas of strength. And these learners have many areas of strength! Dyslexia does not affect intelligence, as most students with dyslexia are of average or even above-average intelligence.

Dyslexic children, as well as dyslexic adults, are often the quintessential “backdoor” learners—looking for effective “work-arounds” to solve problems, and often exhibiting high levels of creativity in doing so. For dyslexics, the “front” door might be closed, but the backdoor is WIDE open!

They may not move from “A” to “B” to “C” as per the traditional learning path, but they somehow find a way….even if it means having to skip “B” entirely, circle “F” twice, and then work they way back around to “C!”  Traveling these unconventional paths allows them to observe more, think differently, be creative and build tenacity.

The key to helping dyslexic learners struggling to read is to provide them with an easily accessible, backdoor approach, so as to accelerate access to the phonics skills needed to read and write, and from the earliest possible grade levels.

The answers lie in the brain science.
(Before reading on, learn more about “backdoor” skill-access for struggling readers, here.)

Phonics for Dyslexia

Reading Intervention for Dyslexic Learners

Beth Guadagni M.A., a Learning Specialist at The Yellin Center for Mind, Brain, and Education, explains how dyslexic children can make great progress with reading when they’re given appropriate, intensive, and high quality intervention early. The following is an excerpt from her original post, which can be found here.


There are lots of good interventions that can be very effective in improving reading decoding. Remember that early intervention is critical, so if you suspect your child may have real reading problems, it’s best to consult an expert without delay.
  • Multi-sensory instruction and teaching techniques that recruit a child’s sense of touch, as well as their eyes and ears, is one of the most effective methods for teaching letter-sound pairings to children with weak phonemic awareness or paired associate memory. Similarly, kids with weak orthographic memory may respond better to multi-sensory methods, like tracing sight words on a textured surface, rather than simply drilling with flashcards. Multi-sensory teaching allows students to absorb information through different channels and can be extremely effective. For very intensive multi-sensory instruction, look for specialists or centers that teach using Orton-Gillingham or Linda Mood-Bell’s curricula. 
  • For teachers and parents, one of our favorite interventions for students who struggle with weak paired associate memories (i.e. difficulty connecting the phonics patterns to their sounds) is Secret Stories by Katie Garner.  It pairs pictures of letters and letter combinations with stories that explain “why” the letters make the sounds they do. Our favorite is the explanation of the au/aw sound (They have crushes on each other, so whenever they’re together, they say, “Awww!”). This clever technique helps kids understand the “logic” behind letter sounds, instead of simply having to memorize information. Context, especially when it’s fun and already familiar, really help kids with poor paired associate memory learn quickly.

phonics for dyslexia paired associate memory

  • Many children with decoding difficulties, regardless of the cause, can comprehend more sophisticated material than they are able to read independently. It is important to give these students access to reading material that is at their intellectual level. Reading aloud while the child follows along is one way to do this. It also provides the added benefit of repeated exposures to words paired with correct pronunciation. Over time, this will help strengthen their weak paired associate or orthographic memories and improve their skills. For busy parents or kids who want a bit more independence, audiobooks are fantastic for kids to practice this on their own, as long as they can follow along with the text as they are listening.

 

  • Finally, practice, practice, practice! Accurate, fluent reading is the result of hundreds of hours spent with written words, so as to become automatic with letter patterns. We encourage lots of practice reading at home, but with a few cautionary notes. First, be aware that continued drilling without results can be very frustrating for your child, and may even be futile if the method he’s using isn’t one that’s best for his kind of mind. If he’s reading as often as his classmates, but falling further and further behind, ask his teacher or a reading specialist what other techniques he should try. Secondly, remember that reading, particularly for younger kids, should be a fun! Try to strike a balance: kids should not forgo reading because it’s hard, but reading shouldn’t feel like a grueling obligation either.

I had the pleasure of being interviewed by Elisheva Schwartz on the Dyslexia Quest Podcast (links to broadcasts, below). I first became aware of this popular podcast on Dyslexia after listening to an interview with Harvard-trained neuroscientist and researcher, Dr. Mary-Helen Immordino-Yang, whose research on learning and the brain is incorporated into the Secret Stories “backdoor” approach to accelerate phonics for reading and writing.

In the two-part podcast interview with Elisheva shared below, we discuss learning issues that are associated with dyslexia, and why the Secret Stories® are often referred to as “Phonics for Dyslexics”.  To play, click the arrow under each of the descriptions, and for additional podcasts on the topic, visit www.elishevaschwartz.com. You can also access Secret Stories® free video library by subscribing on YouTube.


The Dyslexic Brain: A Backdoor Approach to Phonics for Reading – Pt. 1

Phonics for Dyslexics

      CLICK THE ARROW (ON LEFT) TO PLAY PT. 1

The Dyslexic Brain: A Backdoor Approach to Phonics for Reading – Pt. 2

Phonics for Dyslexia

      CLICK THE ARROW (ON LEFT) TO PLAY PT. 2

Finally, I wanted to share this review that I stumbled upon online. I am always so grateful when parents take the time to reach out and share their child’s struggles and successes, and while this one wasn’t sent to me directly, it was filled with some good information and helpful insight that I thought I would share.

How I Helped My Dyslexic Child Learn to Read

This book changed our life. I’ve taught my dyslexic daughter to read using the Secret Stories®.

After trying the regular phonics “programs,” Secret Stories was recommended by our homeschool support group. With the Secrets, we didn’t have to give up learning phonetically, despite my daughter having auditory processing problems.

We sat down with a print out copy of the first McGuffey Reader, and when we came to a Secret Story (i.e. letters not making the sound that they should) we looked it up its “secret” the book. The pictures that went with each Secret made them so easy for her to remember, not just the phonics pattern, but the sound/sounds. The Secrets helped her brain easily retain the phonics patterns and sounds that before she could never get, no matter what we tried or how many times we practiced them.

I’ve also begun using Secret Stories with my severely language-compromised son, and he giggles as we “make” the Secrets he knows out of his Theraputty (another great product) and make the words come alive! I’ve also used the Secret Stories in a fun way at our homeschool group—I made little capes with the Superhero Vowels® sewn onto the back to wear when the vowels “say their names!”

Seeing my daughter now want to read and write ALL the time is such a blessing, as it’s been a long road to get here! If she hadn’t learned the Secrets, I don’t think we would have ever made it to where we are now.

I wish every school would use Secret Stories along with their reading curriculum, as it’s so easy, and it covers all of the learning bases: kinesthetic, visual, auditory, and even emotion. It can help everyone, but especially those who don’t learn the “normal” way.

phonics for dyslexia


Learn more about how Secret Stories® can help struggling readers access critical phonics skills for reading and writing.

Phonics Stories - TH

 

phonics stories

phonics stories for reading

 

Phonics Stories

Learn the “secret” phonics stories that go with the pictures here!
…..and never miss a Secret (or a Secret-freebie surprise!) by subscribing to the Secret email blast here!