Top 5 Tips to Maximise Reading Success – Part 3

Tip no 3 – Don’t ask children to read things that they don’t know the sounds for

So far in this series I have explored two tips to maximise reading success. In Part 1, I discussed the importance of explicit teaching. In Part 2 I presented some possible options for teaching to a sequence in reading and writing.  This week I am going to be a little controversial and talk about the idea of not asking children to read things that they do not know the sounds for.

You may wonder why this idea is controversial. By asking you to take on this aspect of reading instruction I am asking you to do away with what is a cornerstone of most school’s reading  program – leveled texts. 

There are two types of texts available for children to read as part of their early reading instruction.

  • Decodable texts increase in difficulty, however texts contain words that are controlled by the graphemes that they contain and follow a set progression as new sounds are introduced. They also contained limited high frequency words so that children are never reading texts that they can’t confidently read.  Popular series include Dandelion, Decodable Readers Australia, Little Learners Love Literacy, Sounds Write, Read Write Inc Bag of Books, Get Reading Right Decodable Texts and Fitzroy Readers.  These texts often accompany a phonics program and form an important part of reading instruction.
  • Predictable texts or level readers are texts which have a repetitive story where children are presented with words that contain a range of sounds and high frequency words that they have not yet been explicitly taught about.  These texts have accompanying pictures to ‘support’ a child’s decoding and increase in complexity as the levels become higher.  Children are often taught multi-cuing when attempting to decode leveled texts, a practice that has been shown to hinder the development of effective decoding skills. Popular series include PM, Sunshine, Red Rocket Readers and Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading texts. These texts are not a recommended part of an evidence based reading program.

Using predictable or leveled texts means that you are putting children into the impossible situation of not having appropriate strategies to decode the texts in front of them.  A small number of children will be ok with this, but for most, this results in confusion and guessing. Teaching systematic synthetic phonics and then giving children leveled texts to read is like eating vegetables for dinner and then five chocolate bars for dessert. One counteracts the other in a very negative way.

So, if leveled texts are out, what do we give children to read?

In a previous post I wrote about how to use decodable texts well. You can learn more here.

Getting your school to make the switch from levelled to decodable texts is no easy task.   Schools have usually invested significant sums of money on what amounts to ineffective practice.  Unless your school leadership understands the evidence around replacing levelled texts with decodables, you may be on your own.

So, what to do?  Chances are that you don’t have a spare thousand dollars to buy your own comprehensive library of decodable texts. 

Here are some sources of printable decodable texts that are affordable for teachers and families. If you can, gradually build up your library of decodables for classroom use. You might not want to send them home, but you will know that you are giving your students the very best.

Phonics International

Reading A – Z


Fantastic Phonics

Decodable texts ensure that children can learn to read with the security of knowing that they will always be successful because they know the sounds and high frequency words contained in the books. Children will quickly come to love the certainty that comes with reading these texts and you will enjoy watching them succeed.

Are you searching for affordable professional learning or coaching about literacy instruction? Looking to support those students in your class who aren’t making the progress you’d like, but you aren’t sure how? Click the button on the right to get in touch and let me know how I can help (Coaching, webinars or online courses). Support and PL tailored to your needs.

My next tip to maximise reading success is: 
“Ditch the Sight Words”

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