These days I’ve been doing a lot of research into how our brains learn to read.
In doing that, I’ve made a shift in how approach beginning reading.
I used to ascribe to the three-cueing-systems model. It’s the idea that kids solve unfamiliar words by using three cues: what looks right (phonics), what sounds right (syntax) and what makes sense (semantics).
Here’s the problem with the three-cueing approach.
Researchers are telling us that for kids to read and remember words, they need to connect the sounds of the letters to the words on the page. When we bypass that (by first encouraging kids to use picture or context clues), we’re actually preventing them from doing this important work.
(That important work is called orthographic mapping, but we’ll save that for another post!)
This means that as I’m teaching my youngest to read (he just turned five), we’re focusing much more on decodable books than on the sight word and leveled books I used with his older siblings.
(Want to follow me on my science of reading journey? This podcast episode will get you started.)
Here’s what’s hard about this phonics-first approach.
It feels slow. Painfully slow.
When kids read predictable text and leveled books, they read very quickly and fluently. That’s because they memorize the pattern and then use the picture to fill in the last word. Technically, they’re not really reading at all.
But it feels like they are. And it looks like they’re making fast progress. (Until you ask them to read those words without the picture clues and predictable text.)
So how do we make the shift to more decodable text for beginning readers? Especially when it feels so slow.
Well, the first thing to remember is that we build up to sentences, books, and passages.
My little guy is in preschool. He has been reading CVC words for a couple of months now. About a month ago we started reading decodable books (Flyleaf are our absolute favorite so far), and now I’m starting to do passages with him.
Here’s the thing about decodable passages.
You need to expect that they’re going to be work, and that it’s okay. But you don’t want to overwhelm beginning readers.
Here’s a video of my little guy’s first try at reading one of these passages.
To build fluency with decoding, he’ll need to reread this passage. But one reading was enough for the first time!
Here’s the “why” behind the passages:
- The top of each passage includes three words to sound out. The dots and arrows provide guidance for blending practice.
- Each story is just a few lines on purpose. Trust me, this will feel plenty long to new readers who have to sound out nearly every word!
- I do include words that are either temporarily or permanently phonically irregular. In other words, the reader may not be ready (or able) to sound them out. This is intentional. It keeps the texts readable and allows them to sound the way we speak.
- The comprehension question encourages the reader to think about what s/he just read.
- The spelling exercise at the bottom is important! It helps kids with the process of orthographic mapping: making these words a permanent part of their sight word vocabulary.
Get your free phonics passages here!
Get the full set of passages!
Decodable Passages: CVC Words
You’ll get all 23 short vowel passages in this inexpensive bundle.