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Decodable readers- a necessity for any literacy program

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Quite simply, decodable readers are texts that follow a systematic phonics code of gradually increasing difficulty. Their purpose if to support students’ reading fluency by providing opportunities for them to practise their decoding skills on texts containing phonics concepts they have ALREADY LEARNT. They are a supplementary phonics resource that should be used in conjunction with explicit and systematic phonics instruction. Decodable readers should be used to build decoding fluency – not to introduce new phonics concepts.

Why do students need to learn to decode?

It is important we teach students how to fluently decode using a systematic phonics program. This is because skilled readers are considered to have the required flexibility to be able to decode unfamiliar words using the phonological processing route (rather than the direct orthographic visual route).

Many teachers have fallen victim to the ‘sight word’ epidemic. I call it an epidemic because educators tend to spend too much time focusing on teaching students to visually memorise words, when most words are in fact decodable and follow a pattern (even the tricky ones!). I make a habit of only teaching high frequency words if they have irregular spelling patterns or contain phonics concepts that exceed the students’ phonics knowledge at that time (e.g. the, said, was).

It’s vital that educators are teaching decoding skills (sounding out and blending using phonics knowledge) and not relying on guessing strategies (such as the horrid SKIPPY FROG and EAGLE EYE strategies plastered all over Teachers Pay Teachers). In order to develop students’ decoding skills, emergent readers must have access to decodable texts. Many levelled readers that are currently scattered throughout Primary Schools in Australia are not based on a systematic phonics code and usually contain too many sight words, resulting in students guessing the words. These include the likes of PM readers, Rigby, Sails, Momentum etc. to name a few. Approach these levelled readers with CAUTION as they often encourage poor reading strategies. I primarily choose decodable texts for students who are still learning the phonics code.

How should decodable readers be used?

Decodable readers can be used in small groups (Tier 2 intervention) or with individual students (Tier 3 intervention). If using in a reading group with multiple students, it is imperative that each child reads the text. Daily readings of the same text (3-5 times) is ideal to build decoding fluency and consolidate phonic concepts prior to moving onto a new text.

What about comprehension?

Decodable readers are not designed to target comprehension skills. The primary focus when using decodable readers should be to teach sounding out and blending using students’ phonics/orthographic knowledge. Comprehension skills can be targeted during shared reading lessons using a range of different texts (e.g. non-fiction texts, articles, narratives, poetry etc.). Comprehension strategies can be explicitly taught through modelling and guided practice within these shared reading lessons.

When looking to purchase decodable readers, I encourage you to do your RESEARCH. Many companies claim that their texts are decodable, when in fact they contain many sight/high frequency words.

These are some of the decodable reader companies which I recommend:

Phonic Books: Available from their website directly or from Dyslexia SPELD Foundation (we purchased our sets directly from the DYSLEXIA SPELD WESTERN AUSTRALIA website).

Pros:

  • They follow the same phonics code as Letters and Sounds.
  • There are multiple series of books at the phonic level, providing a lot of reading material for emergent and remedial readers.
  • There is a free placement test on the Phonics Books website which you can use with students to identify which level to start them at.
  • They are available to download on iBooks at a reasonable price.
  • They have designed activity guides for each book set- a great resource for reading groups.
  • There are dictation guides based on books (linking reading/decoding to spelling/encoding).
  • They have developed a huge range of remedial reader series for older students. They have more age-appropriate content and themes. The kids LOVE the adventure series – Totem, Talisman, Magic Belt etc. as they are sequential and follow an interesting story the whole way through the series.

Cons:

  • Expensive…
  • They come in packs with only one copy of each text. If you want to use them for reading groups, you would need to buy multiple packs and put them together yourself (I had to do this and it was very time consuming for a large school!)

Verdict:

  • Dandelion Launchers are great for Pre-Primary
  • Dandelion Readers are great for Year One – Three.
  • If you can afford to purchase the remedial readers for older students (8 years old +) – DO IT! You will not regret it. The activity guides are also a valuable tool!

Decodable Readers Australia: Available directly from their website.

Pros:

  • They follow a very popular systematic phonics code.
  • The illustrations and Australian characters are beautiful! Very relatable for Aussie kids!
  • They are available to download on iBooks at a reasonable price- students have the option of listening to each story being read to them using the audio function or using each book to practice reading independently.
  • They are available to purchase in packs with multiple copies of each text- they have done the hard work for us so we can use them in reading groups!
  • The website (and Instagram page) contain videos showing great decoding and phonemic awareness activities.
  • Each book contains pre-reading activities and post-reading activities.

 Cons:

  • Expensive…but still reasonable.
  • Not as many texts at each level compared to the Phonic Books.
  • They do not have any remedial readers for older students.

Verdict:

  • I love them! Perfect for Australian classrooms! I also recommend the very reasonably priced Apps if you have access to iPADs.
  • Not ideal for older remedial readers due to pictures and themes.

SPELD South Australia Phonics Books: Available to download for FREE from their website

Pros:

  • They follow the same phonics code as Jolly Phonics.
  • They are FREE (but a donation to SPELD South Australia is appreciated).
  • Each book can either be printed as a booklet or downloaded as an interactive iBook (or using Flash).
  • There are videos available on the website demonstrating how to use the readers.
  • Each text has a number of worksheets which can be used during reading groups.

Cons:

  • The illustrations and photos are very simple and not particularly engaging.
  • Printing costs are high !

Verdict:

  • Not particularly engaging for the students, but very useful as home readers! A good option if you are on a very tight budget.

I will continue to update this list with reviews of decodable readers!

 

Other decodable readers texts I intend to review are:

  • Little Learner Love Literacy
  • PLD decodable readers
  • Pocket Rockets

 

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