Why I changed my free 'Decodable Readers' Guide to the 'Code Level Readers' Guide.

I could never understand why certain books marketed themselves as 'decodable readers' when there were so many graphemes included in the books that most children would struggle to 'decode' them in the early stages, having not explored those graphemes within their systematic teaching order. Many of the words eg 'Inky' were not even 'regular' in the sense that the program selling them define 'regular'. As someone who Code Maps ALL words, and works with children who happily map the phonemes to graphemes in ANY words (they simply segment the spoken word into the smallest sound units and see how they map with the letters, with every letter having a role) I admit I don't embrace this idea of 'tricky words'. More importantly, however, is an understanding that the term 'decodable' actually relates to the child, not the book. Books that are 'decodable' to my brain box scientist sister are not 'decodable' to me:-) I may be able to figure out how the word might be pronounced, based on my code knowledge, but if I haven't seen or heard the word before (been exposed to it) and consciously mapped the phonemes to graphemes, the word is not 'decodable' to me. If a child is learning (and I use that term as opposed to 'being taught' - because there may not be any learning taking place) to recognise high frequency graphemes in a sequential and incremental manner, as the do within The Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach, then the readers chosen so that they can practise the blending of those graphemes, must align. This is our grapheme teaching order, with example word (because letters don't represent 'sounds' until they are in a word)

It is also important that the Code Level skills and concepts are clearly outlined, so that parents do not think what matter is 'learning the letter sounds' - thinking that this refers to looking at a grapheme and saying one associated phoneme, and that's phonics! There are 13 listed, just for the initial Green Code Level group of 6 graphemes s a t p i n

I went through over 500 books marketed as 'decodable' and analysed every word, to check the graphemes the children would be exposed to. I could, therefore, add in Dandelion Readers to the guide, even though the initial group of graphemes was not identical to ours. I was the first to do this as far as I know. I wanted schools to be able to use the 'decodable readers' they had, but ensure that they were appropriate for each child as they moved through the learning sequence. I prefer that books show the high frequency words included, so that children know which to explore, if necessary, beforehand. The DfE recently advised me to only introduce children to the high frequency words in the readers - however I think this is short sighted. The children need to be able to spell those words as they will use them during writing, even if not encountered within their reading books. The main thing is that what is included in the books is transparent.

Where the children see the Speech Sound Detective they are asked to figure out the new grapheme. As the other graphemes are known, and they can read the sentence - they can deduce the new Sound Pic (grapheme) This is achievable and not very challenging to be honest, but a skill I want them to develop. They need to be critical thinkers and problem solvers. If they do come across unfamiliar words and can figure out what they are, they can work backwards to figure out the mapping. I discussed this in a previous blog. We can't give them ONLY words with graphemes they are learning, or they are stuck when given any other texts. And let's face it, many children learn to read with little to no phonics instruction. All I am doing is adding in strategies that help them become exposed to more words in a structured way. Which child WOULDN'T work out what the /h/ represents here? And yet I was told that this was unacceptable by the DfE, if I want my programme 'validated'. That /h/ should not be there.

It's interesting though, as Letterland do this. Is the criteria different for different programmes?

I am unsure that this is the grapheme teaching order teachers would find helpful, and would prefer that children map phonemes to graphemes - using the smallest sound units. That is what 'phonics' means to me. So l/a/n/d/e/d ...the e represents the I or schwa ie lændɪd or lænəd depending on your accent. I use a split digraph to show ice i-e/c ....there is no grapheme /all/ (or qu) That blends are taught, rather than TO blend, is shocking to me. The number of struggling children I have been sent for 'remedial work' who thought /fr/ was 'a sound' and said that when the /r/ was removed from the word 'frog' the word must be /og/ etc. I consider them to be instructional casualties - and teaching 'blends' is one reason.

I could go on, but this is what the DfE has validated as an approved phonics programme for UK schools. (shakes head) Perhaps because they have a huge company behind them, pots of cash and there was some promising research relating to picture embedded mnemonics relating to the very (very) early stages - which I have also discussed, as the results may not be as promising as you would think. But how does this actually align, overall, with the Science of Reading? But this is not new. I've been talking about these issues, and 'decodable readers' for years. I remember ordering the Biff, Chip and Kipper books years ago and scratching my head- how are these 'decodable readers'? And this is when the penny dropped. Any books are decodable to the child if they know the graphemes - and the opposite is also true. So books should be classified according to the graphemes THAT CHILD is learning. THEIR 'Code Level'. But this would mean that the Jolly Phonics books aren't decodable, even to the children learning their grapheme teaching sequence. What does the grapheme /n/ here map to? Has that correspondence been taught? And what are 'silent letters'? Is this ok, according to the DfE? Are Jolly Phonics to be validated by the DfE too? I guess time will tell.

For more information about the Speech Sound Pics (SSP) Approach in the UK and to connect with others with a passion for early reading for pleasure (not a level) then please do join my Orthographic Mapping support group. Miss Emma MA Special Educational Needs (Dyslexia focus)

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