Decodable Texts and Other Reading Programs? What is the difference?

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More and more we are hearing about decodable texts in our early primary classrooms.

What are they?

Decodable series of books will usually follow a phonics scope and sequence. Decodable texts are considered appropriate for early readers as they support learning to decode through the practice of sound-letter correspondences that have already been explicitly taught in the classroom. Some of the features of Decodables can include:

  • Basic story lines
  • Simple sentences
  • High-frequency words
  • Common sound-letter correspondences
  • Carefully controlled text
  • Students practice what they have been explicitly taught

Also:

  • Students only read according to their phonological ability
  • Students are not expected to infer words from the contexts or syntax
  • They can be used for formatively assessment of sound-letter knowledge

There is some research that some students benefit from decodables, as some explicit phonological and letter-sound support learning how to decode, which some students need more explicit instruction in.

How are decodable texts different than other types of readers?

Other reading sets can differ according to the formulas that have been written to determine text difficulty. Levelled readers can provide reading opportunities to support students at a relatively systematic instructional level. They are usually based on word complexity, sentence complexity, and look at the number of words and word frequencies. Lexiles are one type of formula that difficulty might be calculated with.

There are downsides for both types of readers.

Some have expressed the real concern that decodables are too contrived, not all that interesting or engaging, and as a rule don’t support much meaning making. Due to the fact that they only work with the sound-letter correspondences and spelling patterns that students have already been explicity taught, there are no opportunities to infer meanings of words. There also might be evidence that suggests that decodables do not result in as much fluency as other types of texts. All of which are also essential to learning how to read.

Further, there is a great deal of support for teaching topic related vocabulary as that helps students read more complex texts, and texts that promote skills of making inferences, and reading for comprehension.

Other types of reading sets, including various levelled readers also have different kind of problems depending on the formulas they were based on. Most formulas are based on a one-size-fits-all approach as well. They are not guaranteed to be truly decodable. Often, the patterns of words and text are very predictable, and use highly predictable visuals.

What is the answer?

It is not really an either/or proposition for our students, and there are other authentic texts that students should be working with.

It really is so important for educators to be responsive to the needs of students, and ensure that those who need extra support in mapping sounds to letters and learning orthographic patterns (spelling patterns), have that opportunity daily in the classroom. But that ALL students have access to books that promote comprehension and meaning including, though not limited to daily purposeful Read-Alouds.

All students need daily reading opportunities to make inferences, work with vocabulary, and read for comprehension. sense of texts as well. Too much emphasis on decoding can be detrimental to reading success as well. It is absolutely essential that all students always have access to opportunities to make meaning from text.

The answer? There are no pat, easy to implement answers. Use the high quality evidence-based resources that are available to you, including authentic texts. Assess often. Learn about your students, and meet them where they are at, and challenge them each day.

(And if you are looking for high-quality decodables (you should- and not all decodables are created equally) definitely check out the excellent FREE texts offered through Flyleaf Publishing for the 2021-2022 school year!)

Beyond Decodables is also an excellent site with free and research-based texts that are connected to content, highly decodable, have high-frequency words, natural syntax and language, repeated words and word parts, and are familiar, meaningful and relevant!

What are your thoughts?

Should reading be more about comprehension of an author’s meaning? Or more of a process of recognizing letter strings in words?

Any questions? Please feel free to ask! If we don’t know, we will research the best answers we can find!

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