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.