In the last post I described how to tell the difference between a balanced literacy and phonics-based reading program. The difference is in the texts that the students read. In balanced literacy programs, predictable texts are used. In phonics-based programs, decodable texts are used.
Someone requested an example, and before I had a chance to provide one, a teacher who goes by the handle PalisadesK provided not only a great example, but further elaborated on my point. Here's what she wrote.
Here are two examples from the Reading A-Z site, which offers both “leveled” books (balanced literacy approach – sight words and “predicting” from pictures and the first letter) and “decodable” stories, based on letter-sound correspondences that have been taught. In decodable stories, children should be able to work out the words even if they have not seen that exact word before, providing they have learned the letter/sound association, and learned the skill of blending sounds into words.
Both these are from the Kindergarten level, roughly partway through K:
(Fountas and Pinnell Guided Reading Level A)
Maria Counts Pumpkins
(each sentence is on a page by itself, with a detailed illustration)
Maria has one pumpkin. Maria has two pumpkins…. (etc.) up to Maria has seven pumpkins. Maria has too many pumpkins!
Note that most of these words are not “decodable” by the beginning kindergarten student, who would not have learned diphthongs (ou), or how to sound out two-syllable and three-syllable words like “Maria” and pumpkins” and “many.” The number words would have been taught as sight words, and can also be inferred from the pictures. “has” can be decoded, but might also have been taught as a sight word. Many K students learn letter names, but are not taught to decode words, left-to-right, saying the sounds. They are told to use the first letter sound as a “cue” to guess the word.
Now here’s a decodable story which would be appropriate for a child who had learned most of the single consonant sounds and the short vowel sounds (plus the long vowel digraph ay and final y and i-consonant-e as a long I sound)), and been taught to blend them together. Programs like “Jolly Phonics” teach these to four and five year olds in one school term, with a lot of practice in blending new words and spelling by sounds.
My Pug Has Fun
(format is the same, but there are several sentences on each page and a detailed drawing. The drawing would help the child confirm that he decoded correctly )
My pug Bud and I like to play. We like to tug on the rug. We like to get a bug. We like to sit on a rug in the sun. (New page, shows pug digging in a sandbox, holding a coffee mug in his jaws, while child takes a nap on a blanket or mat) My pug likes to tug my mug. He dug a pit. He put my mug in a pit.
There are a couple more pages about things the pug and boy do together. It’s not deathless literature, but it’s cute. The child can read it independently.
Many of the “leveled books” at the early stages (you can see some free samples on readinga-z.com) are quite contrived and boring. It’s hard to imagine any kid staying up with a flashlight to read these things under the covers! Although balanced literacy proponents make a big deal about exposing children to “authentic literature,” it is a sad fact that most of the “literature” the students read is contrived and far from authentic – or interesting.
Decodable stories are no prose masterpieces, either, but they do provide children with a chance to consolidate an important skill. Moreover, children who master decoding early and fluently will soon be reading that “authentic literature” that “whole language” enthusiasts love.