Need to Know
- Decodable books allow students to connect knowledge with real-time application
- In order to be effective, decodable books need to align with your phonics instruction
- Leveled books are different than decodable books and are not intended for independent reading or as a tool for students to learn how to read
A Closer Look
Teaching every child to read is vital, and yet, many commercially supported approaches have failed students. According to The National Association of Education Progress, 32% of fourth graders and 24% of eighth graders are not reading at a basic level, and fewer than 40% are at a proficient or advanced level.
So, how do we ensure reading instruction is effective and yields success for our students?
You may be familiar with the 5 pillars of early literacy defined by the National Reading Panel as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The first two pillars, phonemic awareness and phonics, are essential to reading success. Phonemic awareness teaches children that words are made up of spoken sounds and helps early readers to understand that letters represent those sounds, which allows for the phonics connection. Phonics teaches sound-spelling correlation so students can sound out or decode words in text.
Decades of research has shown that teaching systematic phonics is in fact the most effective approach to help students learn to read. However, many teacher preparation programs and professional development fall short on teaching them how to deliver this instruction. As a result, many states are implementing policy priority around the “science of reading,” an evidence-based approach to reading instruction. Many of which are putting laws in place to expand on this evidence-based approach to early literacy.
So, what’s all the buzz about? Why is this approach so important? The science of reading hones in on foundational reading skills and the cognitive science that allows children to decipher text, all aimed at teaching reading the way students learn.
Why Decodable Books?
In order for phonics instruction to be effective, students need real-time application. Insert decodable books. Decodable books, like those from Express Readers, are essential in connecting the learned material in phonics with actual application, resulting in mastery. These books allow students to move from surface level knowledge to embedding knowledge for mastery. However, decodable books are just one piece of the puzzle and are not the only books to be used in supporting the 5 pillars. Decodable books are for students to read, whereas, students need rich read-alouds and literature to support language acquisition, vocabulary, reading comprehension skills and more.
Leveled Readers are not for teaching how to read.
Since decodable books are designed to be read at the current level of a student's phonics instruction, they are based on what students have learned. Leveled readers, on the other hand, are not leveled based on a child’s skills, rather they are leveled at the discretion of the company publishing the book. Because of this, this leveling doesn’t always correlate with a book’s decodability and can present frustrating obstacles for students, especially when presented as a tool for them to practice decoding or independent reading.
However, leveled readers can be used in the classroom for other purposes:
- Modeling how to read (i.e., reading from left to right, pausing on periods or end marks, using intonation in voice)
- Practicing oral storytelling and retelling a summary in students’ own words
- Reviewing and teaching book traits
- As a place for word finds or sound finds
- Searching for specific sight words and identify how many times they appear in a book
- Discussing story elements such as sequence, problem and solution, and characters
Selecting the Right Decodable Books for Your Students
In order to assess if a book is the right fit to use for decodable reading, you should consider if it meets three key elements:
- Decodability: What percentage of the words in a book are decodable words? (The sweet spot is between 60-75%. Decodability will also depend on the scope and sequence of the phonics being taught to the student.)
- Depth: Does the book have a complete storyline? Does it add value to the learning experience? Can it be used for more than a space to practice decoding and word accuracy?
- Delight: Is the book interesting and engaging? Does it give students an intrinsic push to want to read more?