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  • Una Malcolm

Cracking the Code with Decodable Text

Updated: Nov 4, 2019

"My child gets so frustrated when reading at home with me."

This statement is one of the most prevalent comments from parents. While there may be many factors at play that contribute to a child's frustration, text choice can be a significant one.

In intervention sessions, children who are developing decoding skills mainly work with decodable text - this is text that is controlled to focus only on phonics patterns the child has learned.

The brilliance of decodable text is that the complexity develops in tune with a child's reading skills. A beginning reader would encounter short, simple sentences composed only of basic short vowel sounds ("Pam has a bag"), while a child with more phonics instruction under his or her belt might see more complex sentences with multiple long vowel patterns and multisyllabic words.

Why decodable text? There are three main benefits:

1. Reading decodable text gives a struggling reader targeted practice with the letter-sound patterns he or she has learned - this allows the child to apply developing phonics skills to real reading.

2. Decodable text is a huge confidence boost for struggling readers, since a child can read every single word in a book. The importance of this can't be overstated, since it can help re-frame reading as a positive, enjoyable experience for a struggling reader.

3. When children read decodable text, they are able to decode words without having to develop inefficient compensatory strategies. These strategies might include using the picture or guessing unknown words using context.

Let's dive into that last point. See below for an example of a Guided Reading text (the approach typically used in most schools). This is a text geared toward the kindergarten/grade one level. Take a look - how many different letter-sound links do you notice that involve the letter e?

Let's take stock. Here are five different phoneme-grapheme links in this text:

1. Consonant-le syllable pattern in "little"

2. Vowel-consonant-e in "likes" and "stripes" that represents the long e sound

3. Short e sound represented by "ea" in "feathers"

4. Long e sound represented by "ee" in "deer"

5. Long e sound represented by "ea" in "ears"

A child faced with this type of text, especially as a kindergarten or grade one student, would likely be required to develop other strategies to "read" this text. The combination of the predictable structure, plus the pictures, are necessary for a child to "read."

But is this reading? By asking a child to read this story, we are asking them to do the exact opposite of the skills young readers need to develop - decoding! We are asking a child to read words without giving them the skills they need to do so. Decodable text is key, so children are reading words composed only of sounds they have learned.

Feel free to ask us for decodable text recommendations for your child!