How to target decoding practice at point of need transcript

Elaine Stanley: 

Before students can read a decodable text, a number of key things need to be in place first, in order for students to be able to access the text they're going to read and really focus on decoding the words, which is what you are aiming for. That's your ultimate goal with a decodable. And so, we'll just talk for a minute about those areas that you can focus on in the very early stages of instruction to prepare your students and set them up for success before you dive into using a decodable text with them. 

The first thing students really need to have is that letter–sound correspondence knowledge. They need to be taught explicitly during your phonics lessons and reviewed regularly to keep that connection between letters and sounds really strong and automatic for students. That's the first thing. 

Previously learnt letter–sound correspondences are often practised daily, reviewed daily, through flashcards or maybe on a big screen for students to practise as part of each lesson each day or part of a daily review. And also, if you are using a decodable text, often the letter–sound correspondences that are going to be in that book, are at the front of the book for you to practise and review as well with students. That's the very first thing to really have in place. 

Also, written word blending practice can begin as soon as students really learn the first few letter–sound correspondences in a progression, which is why high-quality phonics progressions introduce a few consonants plus a couple of vowels very early on because you can start pretty quickly to make those VC and CVC words. 

The next thing that needs to be in place before you dive into a decodable text is building students' oral blending skills. Ideally, this is taught alongside the introduction of those first few letter–sound correspondences. And back in topic two, we spoke about that in the early stages of instruction in your phonics lesson, that phonological and phonemic awareness aspect being a really big part of your instruction at that stage. Students take time to grasp the concept of oral blending, and initially when you are asking them to blend sounds to produce spoken words, they will look at you like you've landed from Mars and they've got no idea what you're talking about. But with repeated practice and lots of guidance and lots of modelling, they will start to join in and get the idea and join in with you and then it doesn't take long for them to start to do it independently. 

On this slide you can see some examples of activities you can do to build that oral blending, those oral blending skills, popping out sounds, blending to make a word, or you give them the sounds, they tell you what the word is and which picture it is, and those sorts of activities can be found in our phonological and phonemic awareness lesson activities. We'll put the link in the chat for you now, but if you haven't seen those, go back to topic one of our series because that's when we really unpack the importance of that area of instruction and also those resources for you. 

What's important to note at this stage is that students cannot blend sounds in written words if they cannot blend them orally. So, to lift a word off the page, identify the letters and the sounds, and then lift that word off the page and know what that word is, they have to be able to blend those sounds orally in their head. If you haven't got that in place, you can't start with written words, basically. 

Rebecca McEwan: 

It's not fair to give them text to read if they can't do that yet. 

Elaine Stanley: 

No, they can't read if they can't orally blend the sounds. Some of your teacher focus groups at this stage for reading or in your literacy block might just be working on letter-sound correspondences and oral blending in your small-group teaching time. And that's okay. That is still part of your reading instruction or your literacy instruction because you've got to build those skills and this is where the focus really needs to be at the beginning. 

The next thing that needs to happen is instructing students on how the process of blending works within a written word. They've got their letter–sound correspondences, they're building their skills of oral blending. Now you're introducing written words and asking them to learn how to blend those. 

At this stage, there are two methods of teaching word blending. You've got additive blending and continuous blending. For additive blending, you're blending sounds and adding on sounds as you go. For example, in this word, students would identify what the sounds are /s/, /a/, /t/, and then they'll add the first two, blend the first two, /s/-/a/ and add on the last one, /t/, /s/-/a/-/t/. In continuous blending, they identify the sounds, /s/, /a/, /t/, and they're going to continuously blend through the word, /s/-/a/-/t/.  

Both of those methods work really well. Often it's just which one suits you and your students, which one feels most comfortable. It depends on your students as well, where they need that support. For some students having difficulty with the continuous blending, often going back to that, just blending the first two sounds and adding the last one on, can be helpful. You'll work out what's working for you and your students there. 

One thing to note is that students find it easier, especially in the beginning stages, with blending continuous sounds. They're ones that you can really stretch as you say them. For example, /s/, /m/, /l/, you can stretch them out so you're able to stretch it to add it onto the next one, as opposed to stopped sounds. They're sounds such as /b/, /p/, /c/. Once you've made the sound, you can't stretch it. It's good to be aware when you're teaching at this stage of blending that all vowels are continuous sounds. You can really stretch out those vowel sounds. And that's where the focus of the stretching needs to be for students. For example, again, if I do /s/, /a/, /t/, /s/-/a/-/t/, you can hear me stretch that vowel sound. 

Again, only work on written word blending with letter–sound correspondences that are really automatic for students because otherwise they won't be able to identify the letter quickly enough to focus on the blending. They'll have difficulty with that. And again, some of your teacher focus group time might be working on the skills involved in blending single written words for some students, especially at the start of the year, and again, that's okay. If you're just working at the single word level in your teacher focus groups, that's fine because that's where students are at. You don't want to go too fast through these stages because if you race through these stages and students haven't really got it, they're going to fall down when they get to a text. 

Rebecca McEwan: 

That's right. 

Elaine Stanley: 

So, go slow to go fast. Go slow early to go fast later on is the mantra. 

Rebecca McEwan: 

You can see how much goes into that, so it's good to sit there for a while. 

Elaine Stanley: 

For students who have letter–sound correspondences, who can orally blend and who are working on their written word blending, it's time to build their skills of decoding at that word level using a range, all the range of letter–sound correspondences they've already learned. So, lots of work at that single word level with all the letter–sound correspondences they know. Repeated practice at this word level is what's going to really build their decoding muscles and facilitate the orthographic mapping process where they begin to map words that they decode often, so they recognise them quickly. 

At this stage, students will just be given single words to decode. They may be using a decodable text, which can have just a single word on each page, often they do at the beginning. Or they might be using other resources. On the screen here, you can see a snip from our decodable words and sentences resource that we are giving in the handouts. But also, we'll put the link in the chat now. What we've done for each phase of our literacy hub progression, we've made a list of decodable words with all the letters and sounds that students know up to that point, including the new one they're learning, and a list of decodable sentences. These are really useful to use when you're planning your phonics lessons. But also, you can use these to create resources for extra decoding practice for students. 

For example, here I've got a word ring. [Elaine shows an example of a word ring.] Students might be using these as their decodable text they're reading at the moment if they're working at that single-word level, so they can segment and blend, blending to read each word in their ring. They can also, you might get them to, do that work to read each word, but then put the words down and segment the sounds and write the word and then double check they match. They can do that work with this as well. You can even have students work in pairs to practise that decoding. These are really useful for teachers to supplement what you've got in decodable texts as well, because it's really at that word level, which is what students need. 

Rebecca McEwan: 

And we hope these resources really save you some time in terms of having to come up with words and sentences. 

Elaine Stanley: 

I think this is gold hopefully. 

Rebecca McEwan: 

I wish someone had given this to me earlier. 

Elaine Stanley: 

Similarly, we can do the same at the sentence level. Once students can decode at the word level, they then move on to decoding at the sentence level, and we can see the same thing again, where they can practise on their sentence ring, practising their sentences. [Elaine shows an example of a sentence ring.] 

At this stage, you're really moving into fluency, re-reading for fluency, to really hold onto that whole  sentence, and as I say, make your reading sound like talking, so the sentence flows. Again, building those decoding muscles, but now at the sentence level and facilitating orthographic mapping because students start to map those words they read often. 

These resources [word ring and sentence ring] can just be used for extra decoding practice, as I said. But also, some schools like to use them to supplement, if they haven't got a big resource of decodables, these can be used to supplement your decodables until you're able to purchase or find more that you can use as well for students. 

Rebecca McEwan: 

Yeah, absolutely.