“These are just books kids can read!”

My new favourite thing is an interview with US mum Jennifer Ose-MacDonald, about how she worked with her local library to create a collection of decodable books. It’s on the excellent Teach My Kid To Read YouTube channel.

Jennifer took action after she discovered that her local libraries only had books for beginners and strugglers full of too-hard “bomb words” which deflate their reading confidence. Bomb words. A term we need, I’ll be using it a lot. Brilliant.

Jennifer says (just after the 10 minute mark, if you don’t have time to watch the whole 15 minutes) “there’s a lack of understanding in the general population about what a decodable is, because it has a name, people think that it’s special, or that it’s only for a select group of people, and that’s a misunderstanding of what they are. So I think my new role is helping people understand that THESE ARE JUST BOOKS KIDS CAN READ! That’s all they are, they’re books kids can read. And if you want kids to read books, why don’t you look at these? And you’ll see that if you pick the books that are at the right skill level, they can get through a page without having to stop and get frustrated over a word that shouldn’t be there in the first place”.

This is the first in what looks like a series of videos, so I look forward to the next one.

We all want children to experience the joy of reading. Typical books for beginners offer joy and hope, but that hope is too often dashed. Decodable books offer joy and confidence.

Thanks to Heidi from Dyslexia Victoria Support for pointing out this video, and to the people at Teach My Kid To Read for making it. It made my day, I hope it made yours too.

9 thoughts on ““These are just books kids can read!”

  1. Anna Somos-Feliz

    All premier reading challenges, readathons, book fairs, days should include accessible reading options for everyone! including decodables. If the love of reading is truly what we wish to share, let’s make it real.
    Decodables are books kids can read!

    Reply
  2. Tracey Sheikh

    Hi Alison,

    Wouldn’t it be good if all libraries were to be alerted to this and had a dedicated section of decodables in all of them for emerging, beginning and struggling readers right through to High Schoolies!

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      I agree and I’m hoping that lots of people will decide to follow Jennifer’s Brillant Example, and approach their local libraries.

      Reply
  3. Denyse

    Interesting, but research suggests that Decodables are written with the intent to reinforce specific phonics teaching of particular GPC’s and should be used for a short time for this specific purpose along with authentic text. If this is correct, how does the library or child choose the appropriate ‘Decodable’ with the taught GPC’s?

    One would also hope that all books & children’s books are decodable… using regular orthography, otherwise we would need ‘decodable and non decodable’ sections in our libraries . No real point point in having a library with non decodable books.

    Also discriminatory and demeaning to learners who are directed to use the ‘decodable section’.

    Reply
    1. Beth

      Speaking as the Librarian of a very small, rural library, we are definitely concerned about the need to not make the decodables appear to be “baby books” to those who use our library. We currently have hi-lo readers tagged as Young Adult because the content is middle school/high school while the lexile is much lower. The standard labeling isn’t adequate for our needs and we’re revamping it. If you have any ideas about how you’d like to see it labeled, please share!! Thank you!

      Reply
      1. alison Post author

        Thanks so much for this question, I’m not a librarian so I’m probably not the best person to ask about this. Can you watch the video where the librarians of Wildwood library talk about creating a library of decodable books? They are here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0pysdhU58hs and https://youtu.be/QCI04_zpz6M?t=2. Maybe they would also be willing to answer your questions, and contactable via Teach My Kid To Read? They are at https://teachmykidtoread.org/

        Reply
    2. alison Post author

      Yes, decodables should be used for a short period as the reading practice activities for beginners and strugglers while they master our complex spelling code. At the same time, adults should be reading authentic texts to them, to build vocabulary and other language skills and allow them to enjoy fiction and nonfiction of interest that they can’t decode yet themselves. If you have a close look at high-quality phonics teaching sequences, you’ll see that they teach the GPCs in a similar order, here are two comparison charts:

      https://fivefromfive.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/GRR-Five-from-Five-Phonics-Company-Table-1.pdf
      https://dsf.net.au/CMSPages/GetFile.aspx?guid=7ce6a8da-6f3e-418c-ac2f-13e7a86dc44a

      Most of these books clearly state the PGC teaching sequence they follow, and where each book fits into it, so people borrowing the books can decide whether their child has learnt the relevant patterns, and once libraries open up again, children can try them in the library before deciding what to borrow. More librarians are understanding the importance of these sequences and books, so they will increasingly also be able to assist, I must put more information targeting librarians available, thanks for this prompt to do so.

      There will always be a few words kids need help with even in well-selected decodables, but these books tend to list them upfront as tricky words to be pre-taught. A book in which a child can read ~90-95% of the words independently is suitable for them to read aloud to an adult, and one in which they know more than ~95% of the words is suitable for them to read independently. Imagine if you had to read a book in which you couldn’t decode or recognise every tenth or twentieth word. You’d soon give up in frustration.

      How odd that you consider it more discriminatory and demeaning to learners for libraries help them find books they can read and actually build their skills, instead of leaving them wandering in a wilderness of books they can’t read. There is nothing wrong with a person who is struggling to learn to read, the problem is that they haven’t been taught properly, often because their schools are using ‘balanced literacy’ programs with only initial, analytic or overwhelming-dogs-breakfast phonics which lacks a proper teaching sequence.

      Reply
  4. Denyse

    The role of the school library is to build a love of books for the purpose for knowledge and pleasure. It is different to the class reading library which is geared to build reading skills. Allowing children to choose a book that interests them is so important to build a love of books and reading. I have seen many children forlornly wander around a library after they have been told a book is to hard for them, because they really wanted to borrow that particular book. If a child loves dinosaurs or sharks, space, cats, unicorns, llamas etc, choosing a library book with this theme to satisfy their curiosity is so important. – The library book should not be reliant on a parent who can read the book to them – but is a personal choice of what interest the child. That is how you develop a love of books.

    Sadly many children don’t ever have people around them, other than a teacher, who can read to them or share ‘authentic text’ to build vocab and other reading/language skills. They rely on classroom teachers for authentic text beyond the reading book. For these learners being able to choose a book for their specific interest even if they struggle to read it is so important for them. Many children don’t have access to books other than the school library.

    Libraries do have age/ability appropriate sections and many of the books in these sections are simple but authentic texts written with common orthographic (phonics) patterned words, restricted vocab to the text and good illustration references.

    The phonics sequences you past are specific programs classroom/intervention sequence for class teaching of reading skills and applicable reading books from the class reading book library.
    .

    Reply
    1. alison Post author

      Interesting ideas, Denyse. ALIA says, “The role of the school library is to support learning and teaching”, it doesn’t mention love. I work all day with kids who were allowed to wander freely in libraries and choose books they couldn’t read, and I can assure you they didn’t develop a love of reading, or the ability to read, that way. I agree that kids should be able to find out about topics of interest from books, but if the books are too hard for them, adults should be reading them aloud. And yes, that will only happen at school for some kids, there are plenty of kids whose parents can’t read, including kids whose home language is English. I agree that there should be class sets of the decodables which follow the school’s phonics teaching sequence in every early years classroom, plus these and other books with simplified text on a range of topics in the library. We are building just such a library here so we can provide our clients with relevant reading, and help teachers implement really great phonics teaching, and dump overwhelming-dogs-breakfast type phonics that lacks the backbone of a clear phoneme-grapheme correspondence or morpheme teaching sequence.

      Reply

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