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Decodable Books or Levelled Texts?

What do the DfE and Ofsted say about books for beginning readers?

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.”

”The Key Takeaway: If using ‘phonic controlled’ books/texts/readers, it is important that the child is taught in a systematic manner the code sequence to match the books. Otherwise, the child’s reading accuracy may be reduced which could lead to frustration and other issues”

”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)

Parents: Top Tips for Reading with Beginners

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 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:

”Research on the effectiveness of decodable texts is sparse. However, 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”
(Prof. Torgesen)

‘’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)

*Cardoso-Martins, C. (2001). The reading abilities of beginning readers of Brazilian Portuguese: Implications for a theory of reading acquisition 

”Treatment participants reading highly decodable text were found to apply letter-sound knowledge to a greater extent than control participants. They also were more accurate and relied on examiners less for assistance”

Books for beginning readers should use short words so children can register all the letters in a single fixation. p58.

Experiments on the effects of including illustrations in beginning reading materials: to improve reading proficiency use plain text or only use illustrations that provide no direct clues to the words in the text.

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”

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 Schemes:

Book Bands and Levelled Readers Should be Abandoned

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”.

The 4th edition of Reading Recovery’s ‘Book Bands for Guided Reading’ (2007) states in the introduction that, ”We have banded only those series produced by publishers specifically for Guided Reading. This excludes books intended for shared or independent use, and also series designed to provide practice with the decoding of certain phoneme-grapheme correspondences, and therefore more suited to a daily, discrete programme of phonic work”.

Is My Kid Learning How to Read? Part 1: Purple Challenge.
”As an assessment, my child was recorded online reading an F&P level D book. She nailed it — or so it seemed”

Levelled books for guided reading – uses PM readers as an example.

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