What do the DfE and Ofsted say about books for beginning readers to read independently?
2019. The ‘Ofsted School Inspection Handbook’:
Inspectors will look to see that, ”the sequence of reading books shows a cumulative progression in phonics knowledge that is matched closely to the school’s phonics programme. Teachers give pupils sufficient practice in reading and re-reading books that match the grapheme-phoneme correspondences they know, both at school and at home”
2021. The DfE’s new ‘Essential Core Criteria’ for phonics programmes includes the following note re. texts and books in Reception and KS1:
”The texts and books children are asked to read independently should be fully decodable for them at every stage of the programme. This means they must be composed almost entirely of words made up of grapheme-phoneme correspondences that a child has learned up to that point. The only exceptions should be a small number of common exception words that the child has learned as part of the programme up to that point. In the early stages, even these should be kept to a minimum. Practising with such decodable texts will help to make sure children experience success and learn to rely on phonic strategies”
What are decodable books and why are they important for beginning readers?
”Fluency (Meyer et al. 1999) is the ability to read connected text ‘rapidly, smoothly, effortlessly, and automatically with little conscious attention to the mechanics of reading, such as decoding”. You can’t get to that without being able to decode and decodables assist that process”
(Quoted by John Walker)
What is a decodable book?
“Decodability thus describes how well a book/text matches its reader’s decoding skills. It gives us a proper, objective way of identifying a just-right book, by ensuring lesson-to-text match.”
”A central point of decodable texts is that they don’t need to be predictable because children…(wait for it…) *decode* them” (Prof. Pamela Snow. Twitter)
”When teachers poo poo decodable readers I remind them that they are not for them, they can read. Rather, they are for their students who are learning to read and they serve an important purpose: to enable students to practice decoding and reach early automaticity with the code”
(Dr. Lorraine Hammond)
”Spelling alternatives for each phoneme can be mastered through controlled exposure and varied repetition” (D. McGuinness ERI p59) and reading ”specially designed stories” (decodable books) is one way to provide that exposure and repetition.
”Decodable readers are a must. Like all children, those with special educational needs must learn phonics, there’s no better way to learn to ‘lift the words from the page’. Phonics should and can be made accessible to all children, including those with more than mild SEND.”
(Ann Sullivan. SEND tutor)
Decodable Books Only?
Please note that it’s a myth that teachers who use high-quality phonics exclude so-called real books from their classrooms; phonics for decoding is taught discretely as part of a broad and balanced, language-rich curriculum. Beginning readers, in classrooms where high-quality phonics is taught, will have plenty of access to real books, both fiction and non-fiction. When doing a shared reading of a ‘real’ book, the teacher (or parent if it is a home book) takes responsibility for reading any as yet untaught GPCs or words with tricky spellings so no multi-cueing (guessing) or whole word memorisation is necessary.
”Send home four books a week, 2 decodables (one on the current unit and one for revision) and 2 books for parents to read to them. Therefore home practice is supporting both strands of the reading rope (decoding + comprehension)”
(James Lyra. DSF conference 2019)
ALL books become ‘decodable’ once you’ve learnt the Alphabet Code!
Decodable Books Research:
”(A) review of research on the influence of decodable texts on reading achievement found that decodability is a ‘critical characteristic’ of early reading text.[footnote 56] The research reviewed suggests that decodability increases the likelihood that children will use a decoding strategy, and may also improve accuracy.[footnote 57] It seems reasonable to presume that successful use of decoding is motivating for children.”
(2022. Ofsted Research Review Series. English)
The influence of decodability in early reading text on reading achievement: A review of the evidence
”Collectively the results indicate that decodability is a critical characteristic of early reading text as it increases the likelihood that students will use a decoding strategy & results in immediate benefits, particularly with regard to accuracy”
”Both Foorman et al (1998) & Juel & Minden-Cupp (2000) found that explicit instruction and opportunities for extended practice with phonemically decodable texts were particularly beneficial for children at risk for reading failure”
‘’The selection of text used very early in first grade may, at least in part, determine the strategies and cues children learn to use, and persist in using, in subsequent word identification…. In particular, emphasis on a phonics method seems to make little sense if children are given initial texts to read where the words do not follow regular letter-sound correspondence generalizations. Results of the current study suggest that the types of words which appear in beginning reading texts may well exert a more powerful influence in shaping children’s word identification strategies than the method of reading instruction”
(Juel and Roper/Schneider. Reading Research Quarterly 18)
”Students tend to perceive words in the way they are taught to perceive them. This appears to be the case whether or not they are taught in a transparent orthography (Cardoso-Martins 2001)”
(Rice & Brooks p34)
2019. A Research Study on the Effects of Using Decodable Texts v Predictable/Repetitive Texts.
Moving from Decodables into Mainstream Reading Books:
”It’s the question to the problem of when we can make the transition from tightly controlled texts which align closely with the phonics approach being taught formally in class, towards texts which contain sound-spelling correspondences that are not so restrictive.”
Moving on from decodable books.
Phonic Books: Amber Guardians. This series is designed to bridge the gap between decodables and mainstream reading, with a high ratio of text to illustration.
Hi-Lo books: for example, Barrington Stoke https://www.barringtonstoke.co.uk/ These books are suitable for developing newly independent readers’ fluency and confidence but should be used late into or on completion of a phonics (intervention) programme. Caution -do not use solely for ‘silent reading’. It is essential that newly independent readers are regularly heard reading text aloud to ensure that they are still decoding accurately and not skipping or substituting words.
Free-Choice Silent Reading Time?
”Free-choice [silent] reading time — SSR, DEAR, SQUIRT — ranges from having no effect on learning to having very tiny effects” (Prof. Timothy Shanahan)
”Where she is more wary is about classroom initiatives such as Everybody Reading in Class (ERIC) and DEAR. McGeown would like to see a stronger evidence base to support such activities”
David Didau suggests switching DEAR to DEAL (From Drop Everything and Read to Drop Everything and Listen).
”Children who struggle when reading texts aloud do not become good readers if left to read silently; their dysfluency merely becomes inaudible”
(Prof. Seidenberg. Language at the Speed of Sight p130)
Book Levelling / Banding Schemes:
How reliable are readability formulas for levelling/banding books?
”So (excepting the Dale-Chall), this study offers no evidence that standard readability formulas provide reliable information for teachers as they select appropriate texts for their students”
On porcupines and predictable text: What are predictable texts and why are they a problem?
Reading Recovery’s Book Bands, Pearson’s Rigby Star Independent & Guided readers, Scholastic’s PM readers, Cliff Moon’s Individualised Reading, Hatcher’s Graded booklist and the Catch Up Literacy booklist are all commercial book levelling schemes based on the whole language notion of early reading – that is, beginners, or those requiring intervention, use globally memorised sight words, initial letter/s, picture and context clues to ‘read’. In these schemes, books are levelled according to the number of words on a line, the number of lines on a page or the number of high-frequency words used and the degree of repetition, NOT on the phonics decodability of the text. For example, books in Pink Book Band (recommended for children aged 4-5), ”usually have no more than 10 pages with up to 5 words on a page” (Reading Chest/Book Bands). Typically, these books will be described as containing ”predictable text, utilising rhyme, repetition, and supportive illustrations”.
As only the most transparent GPCs are directly taught in a ‘balanced word reading approach’ and levelled predictable books or ‘real’ books are used from the very start, sounding out GPC by GPC all-through-the-written-word, one of the central tenets of synthetic phonics teaching with beginning readers, will fail as a strategy and is therefore discouraged:
– ”Sounding out a word is a cumbersome, time-consuming, and unnecessary activity. By using context, we can identify words with only minimal attention to grapho/phonemic cues.”
(Weaver. Reading process & practice: From socio-psycholinguistics to whole language)
– ”Many ways of teaching reading rely on children learning to ‘sound out’ words they don’t know, but in Reading Recovery we are sceptical of the usefulness of this approach.”
(RR’s newsletter Running Record. Dec. ’04 p8)
Why Book Bands block children’s reading progress
‘Who sank the (reading) boat? A sad tale of academic misrepresentation of the role of decodable texts for beginning readers’ http://pamelasnow.blogspot.com/2018/11/who-sank-reading-boat-sad-tale-of.html