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Decodable Books: 9 Myths & Misconceptions

Express Readers frog character questioning

Myth #1

A “decodable book” only contains words that can be sounded out.

This statement is conditional.

“Decodable” is based on the student who is reading the book.  A decodable book is only decodable FOR THAT STUDENT based on if they have learned the phonics that are required to decode that book.

words that can be sounded out
Examples of decodable text based on skills-learned

 

The classifying feature of decodable books is that they identify the skills and phonics included.  Decodable books contain a MAJORITY, and ideally a high percentage, of words composed of those skills and phonics.

Decodable books should also identify the words that are NOT decodable.  Words that are not decodable would be words that have irregular spellings or that cannot be decoded yet according to learned-phonics.

kindergarten phonics book for teaching reading
Separating out the words that are not decodable (yet) for a student who knows CVC words

Myth #2

Decodable books all follow the same scope and sequence.

Decodable books do need to have a scope and sequence, which is based on the publisher or the program that accompanies them.

Some series have a more general scope and sequence that allow them to be used with other programs, which is why it is important for teachers to be trained and educated on how to look for the skills their students need to practice.

One important assertion to mention here is that there is not enough research or scientific evidence to show that there is an exact order that needs to be followed.  What we do know is that an order of skills needs to be followed, explicitly and systematically.

The same goes for our decodable books.  Be intentional, follow the scope and sequence of what skills you are teaching, and scaffold (build on previous knowledge while reviewing/practicing learned skills).

Pro-Tip: Love a series that slightly strays from your scope and sequence?

Mark up those books!  I always thought we should never write in books, but by circling specific words or highlighting sound spellings, we can make a book fit the purpose our students need.  So, whether it is phonics or sight words (that have not been introduced), identify those elements by circling, highlighting, using stickers, etc.

 

Myth #3

Students will be able to read a decodable book that is composed of a set of phonics they have learned.

Proficiency in phonics is key to the foundation for reading; Students can sound out words using sound-spelling knowledge.  However, more factors are involved in reading than just identifying and repeating the sound-spellings for letters and phonics chunks.

For a student to actually read a word, the student needs to be able to attach meaning to blended sounds.  This requires background knowledge and vocabulary.

Long before students pick up a book, students hear words, have experiences and discussions, sing songs, listen to conversations, follow read-alouds, etc.

The language-building done before reading helps a student’s brain attach meaning to a word that has been decoded.  If there is not a meaning to attach to words, decoding just gives students a string of blended sounds.

Students also need to be able to blend those spoken sounds.

Blending might sound like an easy step, but in truth, many students struggle with blending (the auditory and oral meshing of spoken sounds into a word). Blending can be taught, practiced, and reviewed through phonemic awareness instruction and activities before students ever sit down with written text.

Students may know phonics, but without blending or background knowledge, they will not be able to read the words in a decodable book.

 

Myth #4

Decodable books are a great source for content knowledge.

Literacy is equity, so until proficient literacy is gained, students need equitable access to information and vocabulary.

Children have the capacity to acquire incredibly rich and advanced vocabulary in an oral manner.  Hearing bigger words and being exposed to higher-level topics is essential to expanding the vocabulary and language of our students.

Students will miss out on words they could be learning if they only use decodable books for content. Just because students cannot yet decode words with more complex phonics structures does not mean they should not hear and learn those words.

I’ll give you an example…

Let’s say we are talking to a kindergarten class about the water cycle.  We would want to use and discuss words like precipitation, humidity, evaporation, and condensation.  None of those words would be decodable based on the required skills of kinder curriculum.

 

kindergarten words
Higher-level vocabulary that cannot be decoded in kindergarten

 

Decodable books are an incredible practice source for learning to read and can also give supplemental practice for certain non-fiction topics.

However, non-fiction books used to learn content should maintain rich vocabulary and provide students with language introductions and exposure; this might mean being in a text that is not decodable at the phonics-level of the student.

When you are deciding how to convey information to your students, remember:

All kids deserve an equitable education, whether they can read or not.

 

Myth #5

Students should only read decodable books.

 

Decodable books have a role in classrooms.  The use or function of decodable books needs to be understood to explain this misconception.

Decodable books can be efficiently used as:

– a practice tool for phonics.

– a place to help students practice reading comprehension of text being read BY the student.

– an independent reading source for a student who is still learning to read.

All books can be perused, explored, and enjoyed. The biggest factor in deciding when decodable books are appropriate is to decide when students are required to read the words.

Students can enjoy looking through a book they cannot read yet.  Students can enjoy listened and learning from a book that is being read TO them.  Students can find information by looking through books and asking for help with words they cannot read, but…

…if a student needs to read the words independently as a requirement, the book required should be decodable.

 

Myth #6

The stilted language in decodable books will negatively affect students.

Decodable books occasionally use stilted language to make sentences agree or stories make sense while remaining decodable.

decodable books stilted language
An example of stilted language used in decodable books

Critics have said that students will learn to speak incorrectly by reading written, stilted language.  First, the use of such language changes is often minimal.  Secondly, if this is a concern, simply ask students about the sentence in question.

As the educator and facilitator of discussion, I might say,

“How else can you say the sentence ‘The bug did hop on the log’?”

The risk of a few sentences within practice books changing the way a child perceives spoken language is little to nil.  If it is a concern, then the professional needs to have those conversations with students.

 

Myth #7

Decodable books have predictable patterns.

Decodable books CAN occasionally have a predictable pattern, but the idea is to practice phonics, not to predict.  Predictable patterns often lead students to guess what word or words come next.

Predictable patterns are an element often used in many whole language early readers, such as leveled readers at the earliest levels.

“Predictable books are those which, by virtue of the book’s pattern, children can successfully anticipate the next word or next sentence.”Ready for Reading (Juvenile Parent/Teacher Resource Room – J 372.58 Bi)

In actuality, this repetitive pattern in text can lend to the ILLUSION that a child is reading. In truth, the child is using context clues and predictions to guess a word instead of attending to the letters and phonics composition.  Predicting without looking at the text is not reading, but a form of guessing.

Note: Predictable patterns and rhyming in books do have value, but they serve a different purpose than the practice of reading text.  If a child is not using the book to practice reading, these books have great value for:

– speech and language development

– auditory discrimination and identification of spoken words

– comprehension

– general enjoyment of books and stories

 

A decodable book might repeat certain words due to the minimal number of sound-spellings available for practice or use a pattern to help the story make sense.  In general, though, having a predictable pattern throughout decodable books is counterintuitive to the idea of attending to words without guessing.

 

Myth #8

Decodable Books are boring.

This was not always a myth.

When I first started writing decodable books, it was because of this reason.  I thought, “If I have to read another plotless text with a cat that sat with a rat on a mat, I’m going to lose my mind.”  I wanted children to laugh, to be excited to see what happened next, and to have the opportunity to read an actual story.

The good news? The pool of decodable book companies is rapidly growing.  Some of the stories are incredibly engaging and diverse, and children have the chance to find a series that personally engages them.

decodable books are engaging
Express Readers’ decodable book images

Need a list of decodable book sources?

Teach My Kid To Read (Decodable Book List)

The Reading League (Decodable Text Resources List)

 

Myth #9

All decodable books are the same.

Luckily, this is not true!

There are so many styles of decodable books these days, such as graphic novels, early comic books, decodable books with large font, decodable books with a look for older students (avoiding the connotation of “childish” books), books on a slew of topics with different kinds of characters, and more.

The only down-side is that this increasing selection does put more on the professional when considering which series to use.  Educators need to consider multiple factors when deciding which books fit their students.

Some of the considerations for educators will be:

– Scope and sequence of the skills being taught and practiced with the books (finding a series that compliments your instruction)

– Appropriate content and style for  student age and developmental level

– Format based on sensory or visual accommodations (spacing, font size, location of text on a pages)

choosing decodable books
Three important factors when deciding upon decodable books

No matter your choice of books, decodable books are an essential practice source for authentic practice of learned-skills.

 

The teachers at Express Readers know that choosing a series for your students can be a big decision, so please do not hesitate to reach out with questions or request a physical sample to review for yourself. 

Even if our series does not fit your needs, we appreciate your willingness to learn about decodable books and to find a series that will support your kiddos!

View the Express Readers’ Decodable Books

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Written by Elise Lovejoy

 

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