What is a decodable reader? Why are decodable books important?

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There are so many beautiful books on library and classroom walls that are designed for emergent readers. Sadly, very few of them contain a cumulative phonic progression that allows every student to actually read them. This is the value of a decodable reader.

Decodable Books For Measurable and Pleasurable Progress

A decodable reader or novel is one where the phonic rules and patterns of the English language are pre-learned and introduced sequentially. These rules and words build upon each other as the levels ascend and progress can be both measurable and pleasurable! When a student uses fully decodable texts, the reading process should give power and confidence to that reader, and a sense of predicable accomplishment.

Going back to those beautiful books I mentioned above, many of those don’t have this progression. They do often have beautiful pictures and interesting typeface designed to engage emergent readers but they fail for many students because they introduce sounds and words a child hasn’t yet been taught.

Essential For Learners With Dyslexia, ADHD, ASD

For some learners this is okay and they muddle along with a splattering of phonics and many more of what schools often incorrectly term ‘sight words’. However, this is not the optimum way to learn to read. For the 10% of the population who are dyslexic learners or who have other specific learning difficulties like ADHD and ASD, this is disastrous.

A student with dyslexia who struggles with phonemic and phonological awareness, working memory and/ or RAN (rapid automatic naming) issues will very quickly begin to flounder and fail in a system where sequential phonics is not taught explicitly. They will create false mythologies about the rules of reading based on their own observations and not based on the rules so they often won’t progress to reading fluency. All of this is bad enough but, for me, the real catastrophes are the multiple anxiety-related conditions that these learners can often subsequently be diagnosed with as a result of this avoidable failure.

Teach the Code, Gain Confidence, Repeat

When a student begins to read they should be taught the code. We would never ask a child to take part in a competitive sport without first making sure they have the correct equipment and know the rules that they will need for that particular level of competition. It is the same for reading. Decodable books allow students to read using the level of phonic code they already know. This brings confidence. When confidence is gained, more code is explicitly taught and new books are introduced. This pattern of explicit teaching and appropriately introduced texts is the key to confident and empowered readers who, when ready, will be able to read any book they might desire!

Feature image by Sasin Tipchai (sasint on Pixabay.com).  Used under Creative Commons License CC0.

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