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The Dorbooks, Inc. Newsletter
by Dolores G. Hiskes, President
Volume 6, June 2003

This article by Dolores Hiskes, published on her web site, discusses decodable reading practice, why it is an important adjunct to teaching reading, and when it should be introduced.


Some experts believe that it is not necessary to have practice decodable reading as an adjunct to teaching reading, if all the sound/syllable relationships are taught first. They feel students should then be ready to read almost anything once this technical skill of reading is mastered.

While some students can indeed learn and remember all of this material prior to "real reading", it is very difficult for many students to remember and assimilate all of this information first without ongoing practice with decodable text to reinforce and cement these skills as they are learned, one at a time.

It is my experience that decodable reading is vital to learning sound/ symbol relationships, and that it should be introduced right away: two- letter blends when learning short-vowel and consonant sounds, and as soon as a child can read three-letter words reinforced with practice words, phrases, and sentences as each new sound or spelling is learned. This text can be simply a list of phrases and sentences (as with Phonics Pathways) or very short stories, but the important thing is that to be effective it should only be comprised of skills they have learned so far.

For example, when we learn how to dance a simple step is learned first, and reinforced with practice before more dance steps are learned. We do not learn a complex dance routine right away, stunning spectators with our grace and expertise as we whirl and leap through the air!

Memory experts have long known that hooking something we are trying to learn with something already known will help cement it in our memory. For example, if we hook the short sound of "A" (a new concept) into the word "ant" (which we already know how to say and has this sound) it will help us remember it.

(Sometimes when educators refer to "decodable reading" they include sight words if they are introduced prior to reading the story, but to me that's a misuse of the term. By "decodable reading" I mean only words containing sounds and spellings that have been learned so far--not counting any sight words! Premature reading which includes a large number of sight words is the equivalent of inserting a stick into the spokes of a moving bicycle and can do far more harm than good.)

This kind of practice can be difficult to find. But here is a list of little decodable readers that follow a similar teaching pattern to Phonics Pathways. They are systematic, progressive, and have a very minimum of sight words:

BOB BOOKS (Scholastic)
The Bob Books, available almost anywhere, are especially good with very young children just beginning to read. Many people have used them with great success. Small half-sized books, with very simple stylized black and white drawings on every page.

FUN PHONICS (Sizzy Books)
www.funphonics.com 1-888-886-7323
These little Sizzy books are similar to the Bob Books, with line drawings on every page, but have three questions at the end of each booklet to check for comprehension. (Also on the last page is a state map with the capitol, state flower, & tree on it. There is a different state for every booklet.) Emphasis is on short-vowel words. After that it moves faster--for example, all long-vowel sounds are grouped together.

www.learningpyramid.com 1-800-386-3386
Similar to the above but emphasizing all of the phonograms equally-- short-vowels, long-vowels, digraphs, etc. These booklets have separate worksheets for comprehension.

www.sopriswest.com 1-800-547-6747
These booklets are also as progressively decodable as the above, but with stories appealing to older children (baseball, roller-skating, etc.) as well as beginning readers. As such, very nice for older remedial readers. Contains more stories than the above--several short stories in each booklet. Small, with black and white drawings. Comprehension questions at the end of each reader.

Contact author Susan Ebbers ebbers@sbcglobal.net Written to follow the sequence of sounds in Phonics Pathways, these little books each contain a short cleverly-illustrated story, comprehension questions, and a section on phonetic concepts including word lists and a sound chart. There are 15 short vowel books in the first set which is now ready, covering skills through double-consonant endings. Includes such lovable characters from Phonics Pathways as Gus the pig, Ben his intrepid owner, as well as others.

Power Readers were written by Susan Ebbers, M. Ed, after nearly 20 years in the field of education (including 14 years as a primary reading teacher). Susan is joint author of K12's Phonics Works curriculum and has just completed a middle school vocabulary curriculum based on Greek, Latin, and Anglo-Saxon roots for Sopris West.

PYRAMID (Dorbooks)
www.dorbooks.com 1-800-852-4890
Not truly readers, these reading exercises develop reading skills and fluency by controlled and progressive practice, presented in the same order as Phonics Pathways. Strengthens eye tracking and increases eye span. Bridges the gap between reading phonograms and "real readers."

Other readers we've looked at are beautiful with colored illustrations, but move ahead faster and have many more sight words. These are the readers I am familiar with that are systematic, progressive, and have a minimum of sight words. They will be posted on my website, and I will add to them as I find more.

To see articles on the same topic, click the links below the name of the author at the top of this page.