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Too Many Phonics Rules, Too Little Time

Secret Stories® Phonics "oo" Secret!
Dear Katie,
I have been a Reading Specialist for thirty years, as well as an adjunct university professor. I have enjoyed great success with the Secret Stories, and my kindergarten through fifth grade students have had such an easy time mastering them and their reading levels have soared! Have you ever thought about adding more Secrets? For example, what about for these patterns, below?
—dge (as in edge)
—tch (as in catch)
—que (as in question)
—old (as in hold)
—ost (as in most)
—ind (as in kind)
—ink (as in link)
—ild (as in wild)
—ture (as in adventure)
—one (as in honk)
—unk (as in trunk)
—olt (as in bolt)
—stle (as in whistle)
—ank (as in bank)
—ive (as in give)
And finally, what are some good books and/or materials to use with, as well as to reinforce the Secret Stories? 
Best,
Laura B., Reading Specialist
Laura also send a little note from Ella, who asked me to write more stories, and also let me know that her favorite Secret Story was the secret about /th/, which is just too cute!
We had fun learning the Secret Stories.
Can you write (more) stories? My favorite is TH!”
From Ella 
I LOVE questions like these, so thank you to Laura and Ella for reaching out to ask them! Questions like this provide the perfect opportunity for me to open up a big can of worms when it comes to the way we traditionally think about phonics and reading instruction, in general.

Secret Stories® is not like traditional phonics, nor is it like any phonics program. The Secrets simply put meaning where there would otherwise be none, so as to shift instruction from brain antagonistic to brain compatible!

Secret Stories Phonics — Accelerated Access to the Phonics Code

Our brain is a pattern-making machine, and Secret Stories® feeds its craving to make sense of letter sound behavior in a way that very young (and upper grade, struggling) readers can easily understand. The rule of thumb when creating the Secrets was not to align them with traditional phonics rules, but with the brain science. The Secrets are tools, not rules, which means that they are designed for the sole purpose of helping kids crack words apart (decoding/reading) and put them back together (encoding/writing.) 

Secret Stories® Phonics— The Brain is a Pattern-Making Machine!

How to Predict the Most Likely Sounds of Letters in Unknown Words

Take -le,  for example, as in words like little or middle. There is no Secret for the —le sound because it’s not necessary in to read the words— not if learners know that the e at the end won’t talk anyway (as Mommy e® only tells the vowel she can reach to say its name, but she has no sound!) Likewise, if a phonics pattern is so rare that it would be of minimal use to elementary grade level readers, then it is not addressed with a Secret. In such cases, experience is the best teacher, so the key is to get enough real skills under learners’ belts so that they can get up and running with text, and allow text experience to fine-tune learners’ skills. An example of this would be the silent t in words containing the -st or -stle pattern, as in whistle or listen. This sound spelling applies to so few words that it doesn’t merit the time and space it would take up in beginning or struggling readers’ brains. Moreover, learners how know just enough Secrets to read the rest of such words would likely be able to make the adustment to figure out the word.

The key to being able to successfully give beginning grade learners everything they need is not to burden them with anything they don’t need. (Sorry for the double negative, but hopefully you get the drift!) In simpler terms, don’t get caught up in the minutia. Focus on what really matters and allow text experience do the rest. It is a far better teacher than either you or I will ever be!

 

In addition to providing the logical explanations for letter sound behavior that the brain craves, Secret Stories® also account for the common “default” sounds of letters in text— all of which are embedded into the graphics anchor sound posters. Because these defaults follow the same social emotional “feeling” based logic that drives learners’ own behavior, even inexperienced, beginning (and upper grade, struggling) readers are can think-through the alternative sound behaviors of letters in text, rather than always having to memorize  them as “exceptions.” Filtering out the fringe and streamlining the most common letter sound behaviors serves to foster an “if not this, than that” hierarchy of likelihood, helping navigate learner decision-making with unfamiliar text.

So before I specifically address the potential new Secrets requested, it is important to understand that just as the apple won’t fall too far from the tree, the letters won’t stray too far from their sounds! This handy saying can be used to help both students and teachers, alike to convey the flexible thinking needed when working through various sound options of letters in text.

Secret Stories® Phonics— Thinking OUTSIDE the Box About Letter Behavior!

Working with text requires learners to think “outside the box,” something they cannot do if they don’t first know what’s IN it. The Secrets ensure that learners know everything that’s IN the box so that they can easily think outside of it, something that working with text, demands. Students as young as kindergarten are easily able to identify the most and next-most likely sounds of letters in words they’ve never seen— stretching their analytical thinking and problem solving capabilities far beyond just the Secrets!

This critical analysis and diagnostic thinking game takes the form of “What else can it be? What else can we try?”….. much like the deductive reasoning process that doctors must employ when attempting to diagnose symptoms that don’t always “present” in the way that they should.

Activating Social-Emotional Learning Channels for Higher Level Thinking

When learners are equipped with Secrets, they actually enjoy engaging with text in this way, which transforms daily reading and writing into a virtual playground for critical thinking and deep literacy learning!

exceptions to phonics rules

By anchoring abstract letter sound and phonics skills into social and emotional frameworks that are already deeply entrenched within the learner, they become personally meaningful and relevant.

Secret Stories® Phonics— GH "Thinking OUT of the BOX!" (No more sight words!)

Now, let’s attack that list of potential “new” Secrets and see if we really do need to “add a few more cooks” to our phonics kitchen!

-dge  (as in ridge, sludge, budget, etc…)

Secret Stories® Phonics— C E, CI CY/ GE, GI, GY
Secret Stories® CE, CI, CY/ GE, GI, GY

If kids know the ce, ci, cy/ ge, gi, gy Secret then the addition of the letter d should pose no problem when sounding out the word. Even if they include the d sound, they would still be able to “get” (recognize) the word. Additionally, the e at the end would also cause no worry, as kids who know the Secrets know that Mommy E® can only tell the vowel to say its name if she’s one letter away, close enough to reach it!

Therefore, creating a new Secret for the dge pattern is unnecessary and would only result in our having “one too many” cooks in our kitchen! That’s not to say that knowledge of -dge as a spelling pattern wouldn’t be useful to upper grade learners, abut the primary goal is to get kids reading.  All of the research shows that reading is by far the best teacher for fine-tuning spelling, and kids who know the Secrets will be able to that experience, tenfold!

Next up— 
-tch (as in: scratch, itch, crutch, etc…)
Same as above.  

If learners know the ch Secret, then initially attacking it with the t sound before the ch won’t interfere with a reader’s ability to ultimately decode the word, even for kindergartners.

-que (as in: question, delinquents, frequency, queen, etc…)
Secret Stories® Phonics— QU
Secret Stories® QU

Knowing the qu Secret is all that is needed here, along with recognizing that as with -dge, the e at the end makes no sound. And keep in mind that when working with words not of English origin, Secret Stories® will get you close, but not all the way, as the same rules don’t apply, as with words like: bouquet, applique, etc… 

-ive (as in: dive, give, active, lives, etc…)

The first word, dive poses no problem at all, as Mommy E® is doing just what she should, which is  in telling i (who’s one letter away) to say his name! However, in the other words— give, active and live — Mommy E® is just “too tired to care,” as sometimes mommies are! Which is why sometimes,  she’ll just sit back and let the vowels do whatever they want… because even moms aren’t perfect! It’s words like these that require kids to put on their “Dr. Hat” and think-through to the next most likely sound!

decoding exception words

-old (as in: bold, cold, mold, etc…)

This one’s easy, with the only possible glitch being that the letter o is making its long (Superhero) sound instead of the short and lazy one it’s supposed to when Mommy E® or the Babysitter Vowels®´aren’t around. Even still, simply encouraging learners to “think like doctors” and trying the next most likely sound for o will enable them to get the word.

Learn the “Secrets” about Mommy E® and Babysitter Vowels® in the video below.

-olt (as in: bolt, molten, revolt, etc..)

Same as above.  

-ank (as in: bank, sank, ankle, etc…)
Same as above.  

Secret Stories® Phonics— Superhero Vowels®
Superhero O and his “short and lazy” disguise!

-ost (as in: cost, post, lost, most, etc…)
Same as above, as o should short and lazy, since there is no Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® in sight, so again, learners need to “think like doctors” and try both sounds to be sure, just like any good word doctor would do.

-ind (as in: kind, windy, find, Indian, etc…)
Same as above.  

-ild (as in: mild, wild, child, build, mildew, etc…)
Same as above.  

-onk (as in: honk, bonkers, donkey, monkey, etc..)
This is like those above, with the exception of words like monkey, in which the short o can sound more like short u. Rather than having to “hire another cook” for our kitchen,  there is actually a handy trick called “Thinking Vowels—Head-Bop” that takes care of this, as well as other seemingly non-decodable sight words, like: come, of, was, love, some, does, above, etc... You can read  about it here!

Secret Stories® Phonics— "Head-Bop" Trick for Fickle Vowels/ Easy Sight Word Reading
Click here to learn the “Thinking Vowels/Head-Bop” Trick for Fickle Vowels

While we have a trick for the words above, every now and then,  kids will need to use a little more elbow grease to “bend” the letter sounds and “get” the word. Practicing is very helpful and can actually be a lot of fun, and a great way to do it is to read the books Hungry Thing and Hungry Thing Returns by Jan Slepian and Ann Seidler “What else could it be? What else can I try?” 

How to Read Words that are Exceptions

-unk (as in: bunk, chunk, dunk, etc…)
No secrets needed, as the letters are doing exactly what they should!

-ink (as in: sink, blink, drink, etc…)
One of my favorite Secrets is I tries E on for Size, and it’s all that’s needed to explain why i will sometimes make e’s sound instead of his own!

Secret Stories® Phonics— "I tries E on for size"
Secret Stories® “I tries E on for Size”
-ture (as in: future, mature, lecture, etc…)
This one’s easily taken care of with the ER, IR & UR- Secret, as the t just makes its regular sound, and like some of the other patterns above, Mommy E® is just hanging out at the end, doing nothing!
Secret Stories® Phonics— ER IR UR
Secret Stories® ER, IR, UR
It’s so easy that not only can kindergartners do it, they can TEACH it!

-stle (as in: wrestle, castle, jostle, listless, etc…)

Reading Hard Words Can Be Easy, If You Know the “Secrets”

As mentioned earlier in this post, this pattern occurs too infrequently to mandate having another cook in our kitchen.  And even though Mommy E® is at the end, she isn’t interfering with how the word is sounded out, as she’s too far away to reach the vowel and make it say its name, anyway. And as for the silent t, even if learners did include it when sounding out the word, they should still be able to “get” (recognize) the word. It really doesn’t take much deductive reasoning (even for kinders!) to sound out a word like castle (with the t-sound) and be able to figure out that the word is actually castle (without the t sound)

Fostering this fluid and flexible thinking about letters and the sounds they make is what helps to  transform daily reading and writing into a playground of critical thinking and deep learning opportunities! And while the kids enjoy seeing the Secrets work, they have much MORE fun playing word doctor when they don’t— trying to figure out what else the letters might are doing and how best to tackle them! And as the more they engage, the more powerful they feel when working with text, and the more their confidence grows across the instructional day! they  over text grows by the day,

This is easy to see when watching these first graders at work, trying to account for why the i is long in words like light, right and fight, when there is no Mommy E® or Babysitter Vowel® there to make it say its name!  (This clip of Mrs. Mac’s class is one of my favorites!)

Former early grade teacher turned Harvard University Neuroscientist, Dr. Mary Helen Immordino-Yang sums up what is evident in the short video clip above, which is that, “It is neurobiologically impossible to think deeply about things you don’t care about.”  These kids really care! Not about long and short vowels, but about mommies, babysitters, vacations, the behavior of other kids, etc… all of which are woven into the Secret that they are passionately debating in the word light.  
Secret Stories® Phonics— Apathy to Engagement
Now for the final part of Laura’s question regarding what books are best to use with Secret Stories®. That one’s easy— anything and everything! Books, magazines, posters, road signs, cafeteria menus, logos, etc…. literally everything with text is fair game!
The daily course of your instruction will dictate much of what kids are reading and writing each day, as Secrets are introduced in context of daily instruction across the course of the entire instructional day— whenever and wherever they are needed! From hallway signs to cafeteria menus to math books, Secrets are everywhere, just waiting to be discovered!
Secrets are easily introduced and reinforced with any text, and are especially helpful during guided reading. I have created a limited set of Secret Stories® Guided Readers to help teachers when working with guided groups and helping learners use the Secrets to decode text. These are especially helpful as they include an additional version with the Secrets in the text to help build learners’ visual acuity for easier pattern recognition, as well as teacher notes for added insights (similar to those made in this post) to help guide teachers through the process of helping learners when decoding trickier words.  It’s as if I were sitting right beside you and your students at the guided reading table! :-)
Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Readers
Access the Complete Set in the Guided Reader Description 
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
and see the difference they make!
Click to Download the FREE Secret Stories® “Appetizer” Anchor Phonics Posters!

Free Phonics Posters by Secret Stories

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

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The Home School Connection

Letting Parents in on the “Secrets!”

“Last year, a lot of parents in my class were asking about the Secret Stories® and how they could use them at home to support what their child was learning in school. I want to respect the copyright, but I also love that parents want to know! 
 
Do you have suggestions on how to share the stories with parents? I noticed you’d suggested in another post that teachers could make a big book to send home using their older posters, but I don’t have the old posters.  I only have the smaller, cut-apart set that I use in small group to work with my kids?”
 
As soon as I received this question, I wanted to answer it here!

So here are some Do’s AND Don’ts for sharing the Secrets with your parents!

DO devote some time during Open House to let parents know about the Secrets (i.e. what they are, how kids use them to read/spell words, etc..) and be sure to send home a copy of the “Parent-Share” page (found in the white section of your Secret Stories® book). As time at Open House is short, the “Parent-Share” page is key, as it allows them to “dig deeper” later by accessing the Secret Stories® website,  YouTube Channel and even get information on the Parent/Home Version for acceleration or remediation at home.

Secret Stories® Phonics Book “Parent Share” Page

At our school, Open House was usually a couple of weeks into the school year, so news of the Secrets had already started to make its way home to many of the parents in my classroom.Some parents, however had no idea that the “secrets” their kids kept talking about were actually about the sounds of the letters! That’s why it’s important to let parents in on the Secrets as early in the year as possible. That way, parents know how to support reading and writing efforts at home by asking their child, “Do you see any Secrets? (when reading) and “Do you hear any Secret sounds?” (when writing). Parents don’t have to “know” all of the Secrets in order to remind their child to look and listen for them in words.

DO include the kids in sharing the Secrets! Whether at Open House or sometime in the first few weeks of school (or both!) you can let the kids “act-out” some Secret Stories® for their parents! It’s a great way to reinforce them with students while introducing them to parents, plus there’s NO learning curve! With the Secrets, everyone (students and parents, both!) just “get” them!

Below is a teacher dramatization of a Secret (you can find more on the Secret Stories® Youtube Channel here!)

 

Students as the Secret Stories Superhero Vowels®
Kids acting out the Superhero Vowels® and their “short & lazy” sounds!

—DO tell parents about new Secrets that were shared in the newsletter!

Open-ended questions are best, allowing kids to take full-ownership of the story, so anything along the lines of those below will do:
—”Ask Johnny to tell you the Secret we learned about au/aw!” 
—”See if Johnny can tell you some words that have the au/aw Secret!” 
—”Over the weekend, see how many words with the au/aw Secret Johnny can spot!”

Kids will take great pride in the Secrets that they know, as each new Secret represents their ever-growing power over text! It’s a mistake to assume that without including the actual story, kids won’t be able to tell parents the Secret. The more responsibility students are given, have,  the nore they will show, plus the Secrets are stored in the same social-emotional “feeling” based centers that keep track of “who got in trouble” and “who got to be the line leader,” so they’re not likely to forget them!

Now that’s not to say that there won’t be times when a little clarification might be needed. Like the time one of my kinders went home and told his mother…

“Mrs. Garner told us about this guy who’s married, but he has a girlfriend too, and he loves them both so much that he says “ahhhhhhhhh” with both of them! She talks about them every day and even has their picture up on the wall….”  

Secret Stories® Phonics AU & AW Secret
Secret Stories® Phonics Secret au/aw

He was talking about au/aw, but it took his mom (who came in first thing the following morning!) and I a good while to actually figure that out! And even though the Secret didn’t quite make it home completely intact, that same little guy could still put to immediate use to crack words like: August, awful, awesome or awful! 

—DO consider purchasing the Secret Stories® Porta-Pics ($2.50 per student, sold in sets of 25) for your class to use in the classroom and at home. They are cheaper than a Scholastic Book Order and can be used with multi-grade level siblings at home.

Secret Stories Phonics Porta-Pics for Take-Home Use
Providing the Porta-Pics for home use is also a great way to satisfy a common component of many School Improvement Plans, which is to foster connections between home and school learning and parent involvement. Many schools will offer a “Secret” Parent Night where they are given free to those parents who attend!

Secret Stories® Phonics Porta-Pics
SECRET STORIES® Porta-Pics

Secret Stories® Phonics Open House/ Parent-Share Night with Porta-Pics
A “Secret” Parent Night with Parent Resource hosted by PTA to familiarize parents with the Secrets!

—DO send home the reproducible Secret sheets (in the back of the Secret Stories® book) as they are mastered in guided group, and alert parents to look for them to come home regularly. Kids not only love earning a Secret “star” with each sheet mastered and moving on to the next Secret group, but sending them home is also a great way to keep parents informed and create a perfect summer review packet of all the Secrets!

Like the Secret sheets (which kids work-through in guided reading alongside actual text), the Secret Stories® Guided Readers provide another great way for parents to support and practice Secrets at home, as does Spotting Secretswhich includes thumbnail-sized graphics for many of the more common digraph-Secrets (th, ch, wh, sh, ph, gh, etc….).

Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Readers
Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Readers
(See individual reader links in product description.)
Secret Stories® Phonics Guided Reader— My Classmates
Secret Stories® Phonics Reader — My Classmates
Secret Stories® Phonics "Spotting Secrets!" (The Digraph Secrets)
Secret Stories® Spotting Secrets
Secret Stories® Phonics "Spotting Secrets!" (The Digraph Secrets—TH)
Secret Stories® Spotting Secrets  
 
In addition to the shown above, there are some other Secret Stories® supplements on TpT that offer reproducible options for easy home-sharing and practice, including the Secret Stories® Alphabet Mini-Mats (made to match the Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Anchor, below) and SECRETS of the Superhero Vowels®, both which contain several core Secret graphics.

-DO consider using your “old” Secret Stories® posters (for those who have them) to create “take-home” Secret Stories® big book that students can take home on a rotating basis. I explained more about this in a previous post that you can read here. This is a great idea for all those who have purchased the newly updated and expanded Secret Stories® edition, Version 2.0 with the new Fun & Funky, Original or Space Saver posters.

Secret Stories® Phonics "Fun & Funky" Posters Teacher Kit
Secret Stories® with “Fun & Funky” Posters
Secret Stories® Phonics "Original Posters" Teacher Kit
Secret Stories® with “Original” Posters

—DON’T copy the Secret Stories® graphics (posters, book or “cut-apart” cards) or any of the copy written text. Not only is it infringing on the copyrights and trademarks, but at just $2.50 a student, the Porta-Pics are a much cheaper way to send all of the Secrets home with kids than paying to make illegal color copies….plus they won’t land you in hot water with your school or district!

I had to mention this one because oftentimes, as teachers, we are provided with adopted, reading series material that we ARE allowed to copy and distribute to our students, as per the licensing agreement when purchased. With Secret Stories® however, this is not the case, which is why the Porta-Pics were created— to provide teachers with an easy and inexpensive way to send the Secrets home to parents.

—DON’T make copies of the Porta-Pics either— Lol! ;-)

DON’T RE-produce, RE-type, RE-write, or RE-word the story text or graphics in handouts, class newsletters, class websites, Weeblys, Google docs, Prezis, Promethean/Smart Board documents, etc…

You wouldn’t believe some of the unusual “Secret” things that I’ve have found (and that folks kind folks have discovered and sent to me) online! By far, the absolute strangest was the way that someone had attempted to “share” the Secret Storie® was by uploading to Google Docs a 200+ page PDF file  of the Secret Stories® book, held in her hand, one page at a time… from cover to cover! (The funniest part was that she was holding it up, as if she were reading it to the class, which meant that her fingers were prominently featured in every shot!) I cannot even imagine how long the entire process of photographing every single pari of pages— from cover to cover— must have taken her…. or how she was able to find someone to actually take all of those pictures!!! In her defense though, the Porta-Pics hadn’t been available at that time! ;-)

PS  Just in case you hadn’t found them yet, you can download FREE PreK-3rd Common Core Literacy Posters w/Secret Stories® graphic-supports here, as well as FREE made-to-match Common Core Science Posters (see individual grade level links, below.)
FREE Second Grade (2nd Grade) Common Core Science Posters
FREE Science Common Core Posters for 2nd Grade
FREE Third Grade (3rd Grade) Common Core Science Posters
FREE Science Common Core Posters for 3rd Grade
“Made-to-Match” Literacy & Math Combo Sets, Essential Questions and Social Studies poster sets are also available.
PreK-3rd Common Core Literacy & Math Poster Combo Sets
“Made-to-Match” PreK-3rd Common Core Literacy & Math Combo
PreK-3rd Common Core Essential Questions Posters
“Made-to-Match” PreK-3rd Common Core Essential Questions Posters 
PreK-3rd Common Core Social Studies Posters
“Made-to-Match” PreK-3rd Common Core Social Studies Posters 
Until Next Time,
Katie 

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Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!
Katie Garner Education Keynote Speaker and Literacy Consultant
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Secret Stories® Phonics Posters, Book & CD
Try a “taste” of the Secrets with YOUR class 
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Secret Stories® Phonics— Cracking the Reading Code with the Brain in Mind!

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“But NINE other people were doing it too!”

As September draws to a close, that initial excitement over “going back to school” begins to wear off.

Most students by now have become acclimated to their new routine and the increased learning and behavior expectations in their new classroom.  But for those who haven’t, the behavior and/ or progress notes continue to be sent home, prompting conversations like the one below…
“But NINE other people were doing it too!”

This is my younger daughter, Emma (when in first grade) doing her best to stand up to my “teacher-mommy” grilling about her red behavior note, sent home at around this same time of year.  It was so hard to keep a straight face! I gave her a big hug at the end (although it’s cut off) for finally coming clean about what had really happened, and I’m happy to say that she never again hid a behavior note! (though it would be several more weeks before she finally stopped earning them! :)

Aside from showing that it’s harder to justify your behavior note when your mom is a teacher,  this video also demonstrates the importance of trust between teacher and parent, specifically in regard to the feedback provided regarding concerns about their child’s progress in the classroom.

It always seems that it’s around this time that the honeymoon-stage comes to an end, prompting bubbles to burst, and tempers to flare.

This is why it’s so very important that we continue to reinforce to our parents (especially at the early grades) that we truly are all in this together and that either everybody wins or everybody loses.

Even the most experienced teachers can feel frustrated when the “thoughtfully written, time-consuming, and well-intentioned” note sent home, detailing a student’s behavior or academic progress, is met with an accusatory response or angry rebuttal.

Parents don’t always realize that it takes a tremendous amount of time for teachers to provide them with detailed, written accounts of situations regarding their child, (like the one received from my daughter’s teacher, above) especially on an ongoing basis, but as teachers, we know that these communications are critical to student success.

Even our most well-intentioned correspondence, however, is likely to be met with animosity until trust has been established.

Secret Stories® Phonics — Notes Home

So here are just a couple of simple tips that I’ve found work wonders to build and maintain parent-trust!

Give parents your personal phone number! 

While this may seem counter-intuitive, it’s actually a powerful show of trust, and one that parents who haven’t yet gotten to know you (especially at the earliest grade levels) truly appreciate.

And don’t worry…..most of your parents won’t even use it!  Knowing that they have it is enough.

For those parents who do call, they are the ones who would have otherwise “stewed all day and night” over something that is easily clarified or handled!  Their being able to call you immediately means that you (or your administrator!) will not be dealing with a gigantic mess the following school day!

Implement an “open-door” policy when it comes to your parent volunteers in your classroom!

Most classroom teachers have designated days and times each week during which parents may sign-up in advance to come and volunteer in their classroom.

My policy was a little simpler… “Anyone, anytime, any day!” 

While this may sound like a nightmare waiting to happen, it’s actually just the opposite!
The natural concern is that when given the option, the most difficult parents may never leave! 

Surprisingly, those are the parents that rarely, if ever, actually come!
Presumably, because they can, which means that there are no “hidden secrets” for them to find out.

And those who do come, even for just for a few minutes here or there, can actually play a huge role in increasing student-momentum in both reading and writing!

My parents knew they were welcome in our classroom any time to volunteer, which most often involved their working with individual students or small groups on instructional-level text.

My volunteer corner was set up as an extension of our guided reading groups, with each student’s group reading material contained in a folder with their name, and marked by color to indicate the “like-level” student groupings.  As student reading levels continued to advance at varying rates, the groups were flexible and constantly changing.

Volunteers were able to walk in and without direction, pull either single students or groups (depending on who was available and what our class was doing at the time) with which to work.  It was easy to keep track of “with whom and when” each student had last worked with a simple sign-in/ tracking-sheet that volunteers would fill-out each time they came.

Using parent volunteers as an extension of daily guided group reading ensured that student folders were always ready to go and up-to-date, with each student’s most current level reading material already in place!

Secret Stories® Phonics— Volunteers for Reading Group

And speaking of “increasing student-momentum in reading and writing” …

In my last post, I shared some video clips of a first-grade class who’d just begun using the Secrets,  and doing their best impressions of the Superhero Vowels® & Mommy e®, so to wrap up today’s post, I want to share this clip of the same group of first graders, who have now progressed to identifying the Secrets!

Mrs. Mac’s first-graders singing”Where Is” from the SECRET STORIES CD 
(using Secret Stories® Porta-Pics for individual student reference & easy home use!)
 
Secret Stories® Phonics "Porta-Pics" for Individual Student Reference & Home Use
 
The SECRET STORIES® Musical Brainteasers are designed to mimic the decoding and encoding processes, as students must rapidly sing from ‘sound to symbol’  and ‘symbol to sound” via a variety of progressively difficult and constantly-changing song manipulations.

 

….and here’s a group of Kinder-Intervention students singing the ‘short & lazy’ vowel sounds!
CLICK HERE TO WATCH

 

Until Next Time,
Katie :-)

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Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!

FREE Secret Stories® Phonics Mini-Poster Sample Anchors
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!

 

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

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

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

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

Brain Based Reading Tricks!

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

 

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

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

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

A Guest Post By Renee McAnulty

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

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

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

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

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

The “Better Alphabet Song” for Individual Letter Sound Mastery

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

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

Secret Stories Superhero Vowels


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

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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Secret Stories® BETTER Alphabet Anchor

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

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

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

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

Secret Stories® Phonics "Secrets"— Loopholes for Learning

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

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



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

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

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

Mommy E® (a.k.a. Silent E)

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

 

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

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

Phonics Transfer to Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

Secret Stories Phonics Mommy E® "Secret!"

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

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

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

Secret Stories Phonics Mommy E® "Secret!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A “Post-Script” from Mrs. Mac

Katie,

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

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

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Secret Stories® Makes Phonics Make SENSE!

Secret Stories® Phonics Secrets

 

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

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