First off, let’s start with… “What is decodable text?”
Books are books, right?
There are tons of really great books out there, some that even claim to be “Phonics” books, “Early Reader” books, “Level 1” books…but an early reader should be practicing their skills while reading books containing decodable text. Decodable text is simply words within text that can be sounded out. Many teachers are sending home leveled books (you might see a “Level C” or basically any letter A-Z on the back) for your child to practice reading at home. These books are engaging, might have fun characters, and can be good for comprehension but they’re not helping your child learn to read. In fact, they’re actually encouraging bad reading habits! Don’t even get me started.. more on those later!
So, why decodable readers instead? Here are 3 reasons why…
Good decodable books follow a systematic progression of targeted skills. Book set 1 may cover all of the short vowels, set 2 may cover long vowel sounds, and so on. If your beginning reader is learning their short vowel sounds, the appropriate decodable book will contain words specifically written to practice that skill. The phonics skills are presented in a systematic, deliberate way, without any irregular spelling patterns or phonics skills that have not been introduced. Television characters and fun graphics may lure your child into reading other books, but the text within those books are not helping your child learn to read.
So should we do away with those books? Absolutely not! We do want our children to love books so let’s use these as books we read to our children.
When we explicitly teach children to read, we introduce phonics skills in isolation. Once we’ve discussed that particular skill, practiced reading words, phrases, and sentences containing it, we then use it within text (in a decodable reader). The use of carefully chosen decodable text forces the reader to practice their decoding skills previously taught without running into irregular or untaught phonics patterns that can create uncertainty.
As your child begins applying his/her new knowledge while reading text, a sense of ownership and confidence will blanket your beginning reader. We’re not throwing any curveballs at our children. We’re simply teaching and practicing skills, then allowing them to soar with confidence as those particular skills are present in text.
Sight words don’t have to be memorized and often follow predictable spelling patterns (ex. at, it, can, had, get). When these words are presented as targeted phonics skills in text, then repeated often within text that follows, your child will begin recognizing them instantly and effortlessly on “sight.” This process of repeated exposures of consistent and frequent spelling patterns builds their sight word inventory.
Now that we’ve discussed some of the reasons why we should have decodable readers available for our beginning readers to practice with, where do we find them? Luckily, I’ve got a great list in my Amazon Storefront labeled “Beginning Reader Favorites.” You can find it here.
Be careful though! After digging through a lot of resources with “decodable” in their description on Amazon, they’re actually not all decodable. I’m thinking that publishers are using that term as a selling point, so beware!
Created by teacher and tutor, Tavia Young, Young Learning Education provides online phonics instruction to help your child learn to read and spell. The ultimate goal is to build your child's confidence and equip them with the tools they need for reading mastery and automaticity.