With all the chatter around Science of Reading, there’s a lot of new vocabulary being thrown around. Two of the topics you may be hearing about a lot are decodable text and leveled readers. So what are decodable texts and leveled readers? How and when do you use them?
What Is Decodable Text?
True decodable text focuses on providing words that use the letter-sound correspondences that students have previously learned. Here are the basic criteria:
What Is Decodable Text Used For?
Decodable texts are used to practice reading words with spelling patterns that students have already learned and additional exposure to high-frequency words they have learned. The primary focus is accuracy. With decodable texts, sounding the word out is the strategy of choice for reading unfamiliar words.
The key thing with decodable texts is to remember that they are not for teaching. They are for practicing skills that students have been explicitly taught.
What’s the Difference Between Decodable and Leveled Texts?
Now that you know what a decodable text is, let’s talk about how that compares to leveled readers. Leveled readers are something you’re probably really familiar with. They focus on predictable sentence structures, pictures that support the text, and there are no constraints on the phonics patterns that are used.
Leveled readers teach students to read by exposure to words. These are the readers that are usually labeled A, B, C, D, etc. There’s a lot of predictability and repetition of words or phrases. In leveled readers, comprehension is more important than accuracy. Often, leveled readers can be used incorrectly. Students may be encouraged to use various guessing strategies for unfamiliar words. Or reading errors may not be corrected unless they affect the meaning of the text.
Why Should I Use Decodable Text?
Both types of text have their purposes. Leveled text can be great for teaching concepts of print, as class read alouds, or as a starting point for class discussions.
Decodable texts help students develop a habit of reading accurately and depending on letters before reading with fluency is expected. They are also a great way to assess whether your students can apply what they’ve learned in text. They also make it really easy to keep running records to keep track of accuracy and patterns that may need to be revisited.
How Do You Use Decodable Text in a Small Group?
Now that you know what decodable text is the next question is how are they used? First, try presenting decodable text without pictures! If you’re using the Phonics Mats fold the page in half so there are no images. Then try the following:
If you’re using a short decodable book you can assign students to read a page at a time. For more complex books or more advanced readers sections may be one or more paragraphs.
Finally, students read a decodable text until they can read it fluently, then they move on to another. If a student has to go sound by sound, that is not reading. You can follow up that kind of stilted reading with, “You got __ words right. You sounded out __ words.” Then instruct them to try again with some blending help. Give your students the time to go back and read their assigned section again so they get the experience and feeling of success that accompanies reading with increased accuracy.
Decodable texts should primarily be used during instruction. Give students the freedom to select their own good-fit books for free reading time. Decodable text can be useful for centers when students are beginning readers. Examples of this can be found in the Literacy Centers bundle.
But What About Comprehension?
In the paragraphs above it’s mentioned that decodable texts are about accuracy, not comprehension. That may be making you sweat. Where does comprehension come in?? Comprehension is taught through oral reading to students and discussion of the read-aloud books read by you. When you’re using decodable books, you may want to check for basic comprehension, but don’t feel the need to dive deep.
When Should You Stop Using Decodable Texts?
Decodable readers are not for teaching. They offer students the opportunity to apply the skills and patterns they have been practicing. Decodable text is generally recommended for early readers. Remember that early readers don’t necessarily need to be in early grades. An early reader can be any age. Once you notice that a student can decode new words, makes fewer errors, and is comprehending what they’re reading you can release them from decodable text.