Don't let a scope and sequence dictate your decodable book choice!

Like everything in education, the pendulum swings; this time, it brings to light decodable readers' importance. For better or worse, I am on a few FaceBook pages about the Science of Reading and, of course, Orton Gillingham. I see everyone who has dipped their toe into the SoR or OG is clambering for a decodable book series that aligns precisely to their scope and sequence. I think most people who have been doing this type of teaching for a long time will agree that you will need far more than just one publisher's series. All books are different, as are your students; you will need the book that best fits their needs. 

I was trained long ago, when we would go to the IDA conference and OGA conferences to scour the vendors in hopes of finding more controlled readers. New decodable book series were few and far between. We never checked their scope and sequences; we just paged through the books hoping it indeed was decodable to the skills it claimed were in the book. I would see a book stating it was short a. At this early stage in reading, I do not want blends or consonant digraphs. Authors would often include words with <all> in a short <a> book, too. All of these discoveries eliminated the possibility of purchasing them. When we would find a good publisher that was truly decodable, we would scoop up all the books we could find! 

These new books were treasures. We didn’t care what order the publisher suggested! We knew we could use them in the order we wanted. I created a decodable section of our center’s well-stocked library. The books were categorized in neatly organized, labeled magazine files, such as “short a CVC.” We paged through each book, determining the main concept. If it were a short <a> book with a sprinkle of other concepts, it would go in the short <a> CVC box; however, we knew it wouldn’t be appropriate for all our students. We labeled the back of the book to be refiled easily. 

Although Orton Gillingham does not have a specific scope and sequence, Anna did have recommendations with the order for young children with initial consonants and short vowel introduction; in addition, she has a section on suggested introduction for working with older students. Interestingly she also had a group of phonemes for reading only. But after that, she mentions the order is not important; I think this is important to note. 

Knowing Orton and Gillingham made their recommendations almost 100 years ago, many people, including myself, can connect their lineage to either Anna’s or Dr. Orton’s teaching. The Gillingham Manual has morphed through several reprintings. The trainings of the Fellows vary depending on what branch their trainer came from; in turn, we see the differences in our lesson plans when talking to others across the country.   

So why did I mention Orton and Gillingham? I did so we can stop and think about where OG is now. Years ago, you were trained only under a Fellow’s program.  Thirty or more years ago, Fellows like Arlene Sonday, Barbara Wilson, and others wrote curricula that refected their lesson plan and scope, and sequence. It made it easier for people who didn’t have OG training to give a solid structured literacy lesson with a little background. These programs have their own scope and sequence, as do some training Fellows. You can’t go to FB without seeing the latest and greatest training or book that will allow you to do OG. I say buyer beware. I know how long and hard Arlene and Karen Sonday have worked on the Sonday System. Developing a solid product takes years of tweaking, and they and other curricula continue to improve and build on their product. 

There is a new scope and sequence to go with every new training. Trying to match an established publisher like High Noon to your scope and sequence is challenging but not impossible. They have been around a long time and have wonderful books. The same is true for other publishers. Don’t discredit their books only because it doesn’t “match”. And certainly don’t teach to a publisher's scope and sequence unless a knowledgeable person developed that sequence. Why? Well, for starters, when teaching a student, we move at their pace. Will you be reading the same small book every session if you are stuck on short a for what might seem like forever? You need a lot of books! Don’t rule out a series yet! Look it through, and see how you can use it in your practice!  

Decodable books are a crucial part of the Orton Gillingham lesson. Let’s face it; if students can only write or read short <a> words, they can only read a decodable short <a> book! Authentic? For them, yes! If you have ever worked with a student who has never been able to read a book, you know the sparkle you see in their eye when they read the book from cover to cover on their own. It is a beautiful feeling! You will know when your student is ready to step away from decodables. But until then, shop around and fill up your library.

Happy decoding!

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Debbie Meyer - August 31, 2022

Always think about offering a book for a kid to read either independently, with support (those story words or others they haven’t learned the code for) or a read aloud. If you can’t support a kid, make sure they can be successful. Remind them that if there is a word you don’t know the strategy for, ask for help.
Laughing Ogre Press replied:
Yes! We always need to think about the success of the student. I send books home with my students so they can “show off” to their parents (secretly I am having them hone their oral reading skills). It is always so rewarding to watch a parent’s face light up when their child is reading a book on their own with little or no help.

Heather Doolittle - July 17, 2022

I think this is a good reminder for many that there is more than just scope and sequence to consider. Students and their specific needs and supports can also be considered when choosing books and how decodable they need to be. It is important to understand what SoR does and doesn’t say about book choice for reading practice. Maybe as research continues, we will have more answers to help us fine-tune decodable book choice.

Laughing Ogre Press replied:
Heather, thanks for leaving a comment! Agreed, there is so much to take into consideration as we choose our decodable book for each individual student. By the way…Your adventure decodable books are a lot of fun! I love seeing how creative everyone is with weaving the limited amount of words we have (in the focused concepts) into enjoyable stories!

Pamela Brooke’s - July 17, 2022

When I was first writing my DOG ON A LOG decodable chapter book series, I was very worried that my Scope and Sequence would not match the sequence of every OG or structured literacy program. I’d started writing them for my daughter who had quickly memorized every early decodable book that I could find. (Most were used books because they were out of publication. They weren’t very long and I wasn’t finding enough combined content for her to have enough unique text for her to read.) Once I started writing her multiple chapter books with just the skills she was practicing, her reading finally started taking off. At last she had more content than she could memorize before mastering the skills. I wanted to offer that to other children, but I couldn’t see a way to match every Scope and Sequence. I expressed my concerns to her tutor. Her tutor has a PhD in Learning Disabilities and Reading as well as decades of experience as an OG instructor. She said OG tutors would make it work. They would just be grateful to have so many decodable chapter books. This blog post reinforces what our tutor told me just a few years ago.

Fortunately there are now many decodable series with somewhat different sequences. Classroom teachers are starting to realize explicit systematic phonics and decodables help every student, not just struggling students, learn to read.

68% of US 8th graders test as not proficient readers. For most of them this is probably because they were not taught to read with evidence-based reading methods. Slowly more and more teachers and schools are starting to teach with explicit systematic phonics beginning with phonological awareness. Of course, new readers will also need instruction on vocabulary, comprehension, and fluency. However, learning to decode, or sound out, words then sentences by reading decodable books is a key component to reading success.
Laughing Ogre Press replied:
Hi Pamela, Thanks for taking the time to comment. I think it’s great we are adding to the quality decodable books for teachers and tutors to use with their struggling readers. Here is a shout-out for your chapter books, too! I had a third grader that loved the fact she could carry around a “big book” even though her skills were low, she felt the same as the other kids in her class with the “big book” as she called it! Pam

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