How to choose a decodable text transcript

Rebecca McEwan: 

All right, so let's delve into the topic, and just to note that we are assuming some background knowledge of the ‘why’ about decodable texts for today's session so that we can get straight into that practical side of things. There's lots of information about why we use decodable texts on the spotlight section of the topic page.  

Really briefly, we use decodable texts because they contain specific letter–sound correspondences and controlled word complexity so that our students can have repeated and concentrated application of the phonics skills that they're learning through your explicit teaching. Using them builds those decoding muscles and it supports orthographic mapping, which is our brain's way of storing a map of the letters and sounds along with the pronunciation of words, and it's really important for fluency. They're a super-helpful tool and very much in line with the evidence towards how students learn to read.  

Do go back and read that spotlight section if you're wondering more about the ‘why’, but we will now delve into ‘how’ to choose a decodable text so that you can meet the needs of your students in terms of their knowledge and skill levels.  

When you're selecting a decodable text, it's really important to align that student knowledge and skills with the text content in the book. To tackle any decodable text, students will need the letter–sound correspondences to match the text and they'll need oral blending skill. A student needs to be able to say /p/, /i/, /g/, /p/-/i/-/g/, orally to be able to apply that when it comes to text.  

If you're looking to choose a specific book for a student or students, consider the following. Do the students have automatic recall of the letter–sound correspondences contained in the text? Does the word complexity in the text match the student's blending ability? Are they able to blend CVC words and is that what's represented in the text, or are they up to CVCC words, blending four phonemes, and that's what's represented in the text? Also, consider whether they have the knowledge to read the irregular words contained in the text.  

Now, the best way to know this, that your students have the skills for a particular text, is to have your progression and that matched to the decodables that you're using. If you don't have a progression yet for your classroom or your school, the Literacy Hub one is up on the screen now. You can see the number one and two for our first two phases. We'll share that link in the chat. That might be a good place for you to start if you don't have a progression yet. 

Using the progression, monitoring student progress through your explicit teaching, and then matching the decodables to what's being taught and what skills the students have shown is your best bet for choosing the right decodable text.  

I mentioned word complexity on the previous slide, so we'll delve into that a little bit more here. This is a resource that you can see onscreen that we created at the Literacy Hub, the Word and code complexity continuum. It's really important for teacher knowledge when considering what to teach and what kind of texts to provide students with. 

When we're choosing a decodable text for students to read, you can use this continuum to think about which step your students are up to. We'll have a look at the categories in just a moment. SSP, systematic synthetic phonics, is all about that systematic building of students' knowledge and skills and supporting to mastery along the way. That's exactly what we need to do when we're using decodables too.  

Also, if you're choosing a set of decodable books for your school or for your class, this is a resource that you can use to check against that set. Consider when you're looking at the set whether the set consistently and systematically follows a continuum of complexity. Are the new letter–sound correspondences and levels of word complexity introduced sequentially? A high-quality SSP program or progression or decodable set should approximately align with this continuum here, so you can use it as a reference to see whether that's happening in that resource.  

I promised we'd unpack those categories a little bit further. Remember, this is in your handouts as well, so you'll be able to have a better look after the session. When we talk about word complexity, we're talking about how many sounds need to be blended together to read a word or other word structures that add a  level of difficulty. 

When we're talking about code complexity, we're talking about those letter–sound correspondences that are referred to across the categories. For word complexity, we can look at the CVC words, the simple words with adjacent consonants, and then up to the middle we have the complex words with adjacent consonants. Each of these represents a step up in complexity in terms of how many sounds are being blended together, but also with those adjacent consonants. What we know is it's harder for students to blend consonant sounds together that are next to each other than it is to blend the consonant sound next to the vowel. Something to keep in mind.  

We also have morphology represented under that word complexity. And then finally, the multiple syllables, multisyllabic words that will bring in all of that knowledge from the rest of the continuum.  

Code-complexity-wise, we're looking at our consonant digraphs. We're looking at split vowel digraphs, vowel digraphs, trigraphs, and we have our r-controlled vowels represented. Of course, down in our CVC word categories, that's where students are just working with single letter–sound correspondences. Lots to take in there. 

If you choose a decodable set and a progression that aligns with this kind of a continuum - and certainly it won't be exact, each one has its own nuances – if you choose one that has a really clear continuum, then a lot of this work and a lot of this thinking is done for you when you have that resource.  

All right, we'll leave it there for now. Let's think about then, we're saying it’s really important to match your progression to your decodables. But if the decodable texts that you do have don't match your progression, there's also no need to panic. We can work with that as well.  

If it's not a reality to have that beautiful match between the progression and the decodables, if you have that mismatch, then you can map your progression with the decodables that you have available as best you can. You might use a table or a spreadsheet, write out your progression and fill in where those books match in with the progression as well. When you're thinking about matching them, you're considering letter–sound correspondences, word complexity, and those irregular words as well.  

SPELD New South Wales actually has done a lot of the work for us here. They have some decodable book selectors. We'll put the link in the chat for you now. They've mapped quite a few different progressions along with quite a few different decodable series. If you're lucky, they match what you have and you can pull that resource from SPELD New South Wales. 

If you can't quite get that match or you've got some gaps left when you're doing your mapping of progression and decodables, you can consider supplementing what you've already got in terms of decodables with some other sets of decodables to fill in those gaps in the sequence. We have something that might help there, and that's a list of free decodables that are available and we have that in our handouts. We'll also put the link in the chat for that one. That might go some way towards filling in those gaps. 

The other part of this puzzle is that if we do have some slight differences in terms of your instruction, you can certainly do some slight rearranging of some letters and sounds, or some of the books in the series that you have, to try to best match as much as possible. Do be careful that you align any word work with that as well. We're only giving students material with the letter–sound correspondences that we've taught. 

The other thing that you can do, if you do find that you're having to introduce a book that has a few of those letter–sound correspondences you haven't taught yet, or irregular words, you can give your students a really brief introduction to those at the beginning of the book. Make them aware, it's not something we've learned yet, I'll help you out with those. Throughout the book, don't let it be a distraction, but actually just tell the students if they come across it and need help so that they can still concentrate on the parts that they do know and they have learnt the code for.