Are decodable readers the latest educational fad, or are they grounded in the science of reading? The answer is they are grounded in the science of reading. Leveled readers (F&P, A-Z) focus on children memorizing the word by shape and meaning. This causes children to read with areas on the right side of the brain, and to not use the more efficient sounding out area (left side). This is why US and world-wide English reading scores are so low. We are not using the brain science to teach English reading in a logial, systematic way that utilizes the most efficient areas of the brain for reading.

Stanislas Dehaene, author of “Reading in the Brain, the New Science of How We Read” states that words are learned and stored in the left-side, phonological processing area of the brain (he named it the letterbox), and it is based upon us rapidly processing words using sound-to-symbol knowledge. Decodable texts and phonological processing programs like Heggerty and Kilpatrick, stimulate that area of the brain, and create the neuropathways that young readers need to become rapid readers who can decode with fluency and thus understand text.

The most effective way for children to practice early reading skills that build strong neuropathways to the letterbox is decodable texts. Decodable texts allow practice sounding out simple words like CVC (consonant-vowel-consonant) words, and then build up to more sounds per word, and different syllable types (short vowel sound words to silent-e words). Decodable texts not only reinforce reading, they reinforce spelling patterns at the same time. They teach the logic of English, because they teach the systematic pattern of English words for reading and spelling. In decodable texts, simple word patterns are practiced before more difficult, non-decodable words are added. As children master simple word patterns, they learn additional word patterns in a systematic format so they can use previously learned skills to master new skills. In non-decodable texts, words are taught to be memorized by how they look, and by their shape, and several concepts are taught at once (all the spellings for the long-a sound in one lesson: day, they, straight, rain, cake, vein, neighbor). Decodable texts teach short vowel sounds in a CVC pattern, then progress to CVCC, then to CCVCC building phonological memory that builds on previously learned concepts. When the short-vowel reading and spelling pattern is mastered, a new syllable type such as silent-e or r-controlled vowels are introduced.

Decodable text:
Viv and Val chat with Nick and Seth. It is so hot! We can not dash! We can not play tag! Let us get wet, let us get cups from the deck. We can fill them with water. Then we can chill!”

All text is 2-3 sounds per word, CVC, with the majority of words using the short vowel sound. The major exceptions are the words we, so, water, from.

Non-Decodable Text:
The busy hen built a nest from straw to gently hatch her eggs that November night.

Here the text is chosen for vocabulary, interest and to create a visual picture. While interesting, it does not allow for practice of crucial beginning reading skills using words that can not be sounded out like busy, built, gently, night, and November.

Sadly, the US curriculum companies have chosen to make books that are entertaining for teachers to teach, but do not focus on early reading skills that are critical for our young children to master reading (Hard Words – Why Kids Aren’t Being Taught to Read by Emily Hanford) Leveled readers are based upon number of words per text, pictures and vocabulary. The emphasis is on comprehension of the story, less on reading accuracy, and nothing is built on spelling patterns or the logic of the English language.

Decodable books give children the ability to use the early reading skills they need for practice, which is literally using letter-sound knowledge to sound out and decode the words in the story. Decodable texts focus on two, three and four-letter words where 5-7-year-old children can use their phonics knowledge to read, thus building the phonological area of the brain and using the letterbox “muscle.” They stay away from words like night, through, giraffe, alpaca, and beautiful, and focus on words like gal, chap, cat, went, and simple names like Seth, Val, and Nick. These words build the phonological processing area of the brain and teach it to use the letters in words logically. Later when simple skills are mastered, teachers can begin teaching the more complex nuances of our language like igh, eigh, ough, etc.

For downloadable decodable texts, check out these inexpensive stories from Teachers Pay Teachers!

Can students only use decodable readers? According to researcher and curriculum designer, Linda Farrell, decodable readers should be used for instruction and practice, but no child should ever be discouraged from picking up any book they want to look at and try to read. Decodable readers are for “training in the gym” and all books are for the daily act of living.

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