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Decodable text is simply text matched to the correspondence knowledge of readers. The words in decodable text (except for a limited number of high frequency function words) are restricted to spelling patterns that the reader can decode given his or her existing correspondence knowledge. This means that a crucial factor in determining the decodability of text is the reader’s current knowledge of correspondences. Even so simple a text as A Cat Nap (Educational Insights) is not decodable for prealphabetic children. A text featuring long a patterns, such as Jane and Babe (Educational Insights), is not decodable for children who have only worked with short vowels. On the other hand, Frog and Toad Are Friends (Lobel, 1970) is decodable for children who have worked with the major vowel digraphs and who have acquired enough sight vocabulary to read at a first-grade instructional level. For skilled readers like ourselves, virtually any English text is decodable.
The question about decodable text, then, is whether or not we should give children texts matched to their correspondence knowledge. If children have no available correspondences, no text is decodable for them. They do have the alternative of predictable texts, which are fun to read and excellent instructional texts for teaching print concepts and meaning vocabulary. Shared reading (i.e., cued recitation) with predictable texts may provide opportunities to teach common function words by rote, supplying necessary words for reading any text. However, cued recitation does not provide the spelling analysis of decoding, and therefore we cannot expect children to learn the identities of the words in predictable texts.
For children who have learned some correspondences, restricting the vocabulary of texts to words they can decode has great benefits. With decodable texts, the strategy of identifying words by sounding out and blending works better than available alternatives (guessing from phonetic cues, text memorization, using illustrations, memorizing spellings by rote, etc.). Because decoding works, children will rely on a decoding strategy. Decoding makes learning sight words roughly nine times easier than rote memorization; children can learn about nine sight words by decoding with the same effort it takes to learn a single word by rote (Gates, 1931; Reitsma, 1983).
Juel and Roper/Schneider (1985) provided some evidence that using decodable text induces a decoding strategy. They found that children who had only been taught short-vowel correspondences but who had worked in decodable text were able to use long-vowel correspondences in decoding unfamiliar words. Juel and Roper/Schneider surmised that the type of words in texts may be as powerful as the method of instruction. Phonics without decodable text is isolated–it works only with words, not with stories. If phonics works to decode text, phonics is integrated. Beginning readers appreciate and remember correspondences because they work in constructing the meaning of texts; e.g., when they learn the oa correspondence, they can read the next story, “The Boat Made of Soap.” This in turn motivates the extensive and difficult work of phonics.
Teachers are also willing to invest more effort in explicit phonics instruction when learning a new correspondence enables children to read stories successfully. Their children’s success motivates their teaching efforts. Well-crafted phonics instruction provides children with the tools they need to identify the words and construct the meaning of stories, but only if children read carefully matched decodable texts.
NEW: Learn about the Reading Genie decodable books for beginning readers–and read a sample book online.
High Noon Books (Best source for decodable chapter books)
20 Commercial Blvd, Novato CA 94949-6191
Available at most major bookstores
Books to Remember
Flyleaf Publishing Co.
P.O. Box 185, Lyme NH 03768
J and J Readers
Sopris West Educational Services
4185 Salazar Way, Frederick, CO 80504
Children’s Research and Development Co.
216 9th Ave, Haddon Heights NJ 08037
The Wright Skills Decodable Books
The Wright Group
19201 120th Ave NE, Bothell WA 98011
Margaret Hillert Books
Phonics Practice Readers
Modern Curriculum Press
P.O. Box 2649, Columbus OH 43216
SRA, a division of McGraw-Hill
220 E Danieldale Rd, DeSoto TX 75115-2490
A gold mine of decodables, with printable downloads and e-books.
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Last modified: March 22, 2019