In the past, children were sent home with books that had many beautiful pictures, predictive patterns and what sometimes felt like random words. Students were encouraged to use the pictures to aid in understanding the meaning, the predictive patterns to make reading easier, and the random words that were included to figure it out on their own.
Many teachers and schools have shifted to “decodables”, which focuses on phonological and phonemic awareness. Each book focuses on a specific skill. There are few images in the book to promote the use of sounding things out. There can be some patterns in the book; however, they require students to decode them in order to find out the meaning. They are designed so that children can be successful in their reading. This is not to say that children should not have exposure to other books of interests. These books are merely a way for children to develop their foundational reading skills.
So why this shift to decodables? Phonemic awareness has been identified as a strong predictor of later reading success according to many studies. “Phonemic awareness is defined as the insight or awareness that every spoken word is composed of a sequence of phonemes or individual sounds. It is an entirely oral skill onto which phonetic skills are eventually mapped.” (ETFO, Literacy and the Young Child, page 17). Segmenting (splitting sounds up) and blending phonemes (saying the sounds smoothly together) have been found to be two of the most important skills contributing to reading development. (Effective early reading instruction: a guide for teachers). These skills have a greater presence in these decodable texts which is why they have been sent home for children to work through.
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