Emergent and Beginning Readers Benefit from Decodable Texts
Emergent and beginning readers benefit from decodable texts, or phonetic readers, in several ways. But first, let us explain that decodable books are just one of three types of books to which young readers should have access. In addition to decodable texts, emergent and beginning readers should also have opportunities to read patterned texts and exposure to ‘authentic texts’ or literature. Each of these types of texts serve an important role in developing successful readers. The focus of today’s blog is decodable texts. Here are three critical ways that decodable texts help young readers.
The use of decodable texts helps young readers become confident in their reading abilities. When provided the opportunity to apply their phonetic skills to connected text, young readers become less dependent on others to word solve.
A well-respected reading guru, and a favorite of ours, Wiley Blevins conducted a reading research study to examine the effectiveness of decodable texts in early literacy skills as well as the impact it has on reading attitudes. He found the following:
“The percentage of students in the decodable controlled text group who reported a dislike of reading decreased during the study from 14% in September to only 3% in February.” He attributes this to, “…their growing sense of confidence and control in their reading.”
Furthermore, Blevins found, “…the percentage of students in the trade literature group who reported a dislike of reading actually increased during the study from 6% in September to 11% in February.” He concludes, “Already students realize something isn’t working and we are beginning to lose them.”
Wiley Blevins, A Fresh Look at Phonics: Common Causes of Failure and 7 Ingredients for Success, pages 165-166
Reinforces and Solidifies Their Understanding of Phonics
When given a text that contains decodable words at a rate of 50% – 85%, young readers learn that both the alphabetic principle and phonics work. This knowledge can help unlock the world of books. If students receive explicit, systematic phonics instruction, but it is followed up with texts that have limited connection to the same skills, we run the risk of reinforcing the wrong idea: that phonics is random and has little to do with reading. Instead, if explicit, systematic phonics instruction is followed up with decodable text in which 50%-85% of the text contains the phonetic elements taught thus far, students develop an understanding that words can be decoded.
Builds Neuronal Pathways
For emergent readers, the opportunity for repeated practice helps build critical pathways in the brain.
“When the brain encounters a word repeatedly, it builds neural networks for the spelling, pronunciation, and the meaning of the word. Scientists believe that a model of this word that includes the information in all of these networks will eventually be formed and stored in the area of the brain referred to as the word form area…It is through explicit phonics instruction that these word form networks are created.” Marilee Sprenger, Wiring the Brain for Reading: Brain Based Strategies For Teaching Literacy, pages 106-107.
For all of these reasons (and more), decodable texts are a powerful tool for beginning and struggling readers!