Not only do decodable texts support reading comprehension, they can actually increase comprehension!
We hear it all the time. “The purpose of reading is comprehension and focusing on code gets in the way of that.” We beg to differ. Let me tell you a true story.
“Why can’t I make pictures in my head?” she asked.
I was working with a bright 2nd grade student. She had a great oral vocabulary and lots of enriching experiences that led to a depth of background knowledge, but decoding was a struggle for her. One day, I asked her to read a passage silently and while she was doing so, to make pictures in her mind of what was happening. She paused and said, “How do you do that? How do you read and make pictures in your mind at the same time? I have a hard time doing that.”
A teachable moment at its best!
I explained to her about the energy in our brain. Here is my response:
“Our brains only have a certain amount of energy. When we are learning to read, if we spend most of that energy on trying to figure out words, we don’t have much energy left in our brain to make pictures and concentrate on what the story is about. That’s why we’ve been working so hard on recognizing patterns of words. When our brain recognizes those patterns automatically, it doesn’t use up a lot of energy on reading the words so there is a lot more energy left to think about the story and make pictures.”
In other words, I was saying to her that decodable texts support reading comprehension.
What happened next?
I referred her back to the controlled decodable passage. “In this story, almost all of the words have the patterns that we’ve been practicing. Your brain already recognizes these patterns. So try reading the story and pay attention to what is going on. When you are finished, I’m going to ask you to tell me what happened in the story.”
She read the story silently and when she was finished, she gave a near perfect retell, recalling almost all of the important details in sequence.
What did I learn from this experience?
- Cognitive Reading Scientists have it right! Stanislas Dehaene is one of our favorites!
- Kids need to know the science too.
- The use of decodable texts enhances rather than depletes comprehension.