In defence of decodable reading books - but raising some thoughts about this topic

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Debbie_Hepplewhite
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In defence of decodable reading books - but raising some thoughts about this topic

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon May 16, 2022 12:45 pm

At the time of posting this piece by Dr Jennifer Buckingham, the topic of 'decodable phonics reading books' has developed into a truly hot topic internationally.

As more teachers are made aware about the findings of decades of research on reading instruction, this is often referred to as the 'Science of Reading' - SOR.

Contributory to this growing adoption of the SOR is the awareness of the helpfulness of cumulative, decodable reading books - different from 'predictable' or 'repetitive' reading books, or 'levelled readers'. This 'what is best to provide for children's reading diet' is particularly with reference to beginner readers.

Predictably, however, there is a backlash from those who do not uphold to reading books being designed to run alongside the systematic introduction of the letter/s-sound correspondences of the English alphabetic code. Those who challenge reading books designed to complement (or even be part of actual phonics programmes) are putting forward their arguments in papers and presentations - and then this is followed by further responses.

Jennifer provides one such response here:

A defence of decodable books: Response to a recent systematic review


https://fivefromfive.com.au/uncategoriz ... x38gtzyNJo


Well before the sparkling new Australian Curriculum 9.0 endorsed replacing predictable texts with decodable texts in early years classrooms, demand had begun to grow for decodable books. They are called ‘decodable books’ because almost all of the words are decodable for beginning readers who have just started to learn the alphabetic code. They are written specifically to provide a scaffolded way for students to practice reading words using the phonics knowledge and skills they are learning. They are closely aligned with a phonics scope and sequence so, as a child’s knowledge of phonics grows, the number and complexity of words they can decode also grows. Used properly, high quality decodable books also draw students’ attention to the meaning of what they are reading. Decodable books are best viewed as an instructional tool that is used for a limited time. Eventually, all books are decodable but not at the start of instruction.

Decodable books are never recommended as a replacement for shared reading of storybooks and picture books in all stages of learning. Shared reading means hearing the text and looking at the text as well as the pictures and other features – not just listening to it. Storybooks and picture books (and non-fiction) are important for oral language, vocabulary, comprehension, and the sheer delight of books. However, in an evidence-based approach to reading instruction, where students are always encouraged to decode unfamiliar words using phonics as a first strategy, decodable texts are recommended to replace predictable texts for reading practice. Predictable texts are designed to encourage students to use the inefficient and inaccurate ‘three-cueing method’ for reading unfamiliar words, which in practice means guessing what the word is using context and picture clues. They contain many words that beginning readers would only be able to work out by guessing.

There is a detailed comparison of decodable and predictable books, and a summary of the evidence supporting the use of decodable books, is in an earlier post that can be read here.


Do read the whole piece which includes links to more information.
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Debbie_Hepplewhite
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Re: In defence of decodable reading books

Postby Debbie_Hepplewhite » Mon May 16, 2022 1:08 pm

I've picked out something Jennifer notes right at the beginning of her response, note:


Decodable books are never recommended as a replacement for shared reading of storybooks and picture books in all stages of learning. Shared reading means hearing the text and looking at the text as well as the pictures and other features – not just listening to it. Storybooks and picture books (and non-fiction) are important for oral language, vocabulary, comprehension, and the sheer delight of books.


This is a really important point because in another paper written by Professor Jonathan Solity, he raises (and queries) the difference between children being read TO - as in, not seeing the text within the storybooks when they are beginners. Solity and colleagues identify a minimum number of letter/s-sound correspondences to teach explicitly and systematically but along with a specific list of high frequency words and for children to practise with 'real' books rather than reading books designed to match, or run alongside, the phonics code knowledge introduced to the children.

Solity's paper analysing the evidence underpinning the UK government’s policies & recommended practice in teaching reading since the NLS in 1998 has just been published in a special edition of Review of Education and can be accessed here:

Instructional Psychology and Teaching Reading: An analysis and the evidence underpinning government policy and practice


https://bera-journals.onlinelibrary.wil ... /rev3.3349

I agree with some of Solity's comments in his paper and not others (understandably you may think) but I certainly see the need for the DfE to be accountable for the guidance and specific programmes it promotes. Although official guidance is rightly based on long-standing international findings and classroom findings, the degree to which the DfE is micro-managing, validating and funding specific programmes and practices suggests that the DfE ALSO needs to implement some high-quality studies of the validated programmes and practices. Instead, the DfE has initiated and funded 34 English Hubs in England which are supposedly 'impartial' but which are not at all impartial and which, arguably, are not at all ambitious or transparent. As the DfE has been flooded with phonics programme publishers' applications to become 'validated', now is the time to stop this practice or at least to show accountability for the efficacy of these programmes and practices in a professional and transparent way.

Teachers need clarification about their provision of literature for children as beginners. This is something that has worried me in England's context.

One could suggest that England is the world-leader in mandating the need for 'systematic synthetic phonics' provision with no multi-cueing word-guessing. The Department for Education is in the throes of 'validating' systematic synthetic phonics programmes which either include 'phonics decodable reading books' as part of the programmes, or the programme submissions specifically identify reading book schemes that 'match' the code systematically introduced in the phonics programme.

There are signs, however, that the Department for Education (DfE) is out of its depth with its validation process - over-reaching with the degree of micro-managing phonics programmes and reading book schemes.

The whole process of 'validation' and additional funding for these systematic synthetic phonics programmes and any specific reading book schemes is leading to much fearfulness of teachers - and much misunderstanding and misinterpretation (and even manipulation and exploitation) amongst some advisors and inspectors - including, I suggest, inadequate understanding and capability of the DfE officials and their 'validating panel' members themselves.

Along with Abigail Steel, I have provided webinars based on an approach to reading books which we refer to as 'too purist' because that is the direction of travel we are observing in England's context.

It's so ironic as we observe teachers in America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand fighting a corner for the need for decodable reading content for beginners - whilst in England this has become, arguably, overly prescriptive and prone to misunderstanding.

I am an early proponent of the need for cumulative words, sentences, texts, books consisting of the actual code (the letter/s-sound correspondences) for children to be able to apply their code knowledge and practise their decoding skill to build up their confidence, expertise and fluency. But this should, arguably, never be at the expense of exposure to wider literature - and not, as Jonathan Solity highlights, only 'hearing' stories being read to them rather than 'seeing' the printed words on the pages.

Here is a recorded webinar raising these points which are especially pertinent to England's context - but could be a warning for an overly purist approach to beginners in other countries and contexts:

Micromanaging Matched Reading Books Webinar


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sWqlujD-m-c&t=229s

I've also provided a short piece about this issue here:


Set for Variability, Self-Teaching, or simply put: ‘Tweaking’ or Modifying Pronunciation for decoding/reading purposes


https://phonicsinternational.com/wp-con ... bility.pdf

As a consequence of the first webinar Abi and I provided, Ann Sullivan approached me with a graphic she had started to create based on the contents of the webinar. I then worked with her and together we devised this graphic to put forward the 'parallel' approach to providing a wide range of literature for children even when they are beginners:

Reading Purpose and Choice of Texts for Beginning and Developing Readers

A parallel approach based on the Simple View of Reading - Children experience all four strands at the same time


https://phonicsinternational.com/wp-con ... r-2021.pdf

Then we were approached by Lynne Moody asking us to provide a variation of the above graphic for parents and carers of beginner readers, so collaboratively we devised this:

https://phonicsinternational.com/wp-con ... rsion-.pdf

Further, I've provided an approach to phonics provision which is 'two-pronged systematic AND incidental phonics provision' and urge teachers to use their common sense based on their knowledge of their children's needs with their allocation of reading material and support for reading and writing in the wider curriculum and with wider reading and writing:

https://phonicsinternational.com/wp-con ... gramme.pdf

I hope this provides some food for thought and wider conversations about reading instruction and provision of literature for children - but also draws attention to the fact that children ARE still individuals who make different rates of progress with their reading (and writing).

It is essential that teachers are fully informed about the Science of Reading (findings), the importance of the Simple View of Reading (model) and the advantages for systematic synthetic phonics provision which INCLUDES matched texts and reading books - but does not preclude wider reading experiences and code instruction beyond the planned phonics programmes' content.

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