I’m excited to release my revised short vowel books. The new version includes professional fun, magical pictures. Even though the pictures are darling, they do not cue the student. Thus, the short vowel books build decoding skills. I also edited the short vowel books with your feedback in mind. To see a sample, check out this short vowel story free printable:
In this post, I discuss:
- The revised short vowel series
- How to use the short vowel series
- Why decodable books develop valuable skills
- Why K-2 matters more than we think
Short vowel books that foster success
When I started a reading intervention service, I was disheartened to find very few systematic decodable books for struggling readers. Thus, I decided to create my own. I created the short vowel books first. In the series, kids learn one short vowel at a time. I’m thrilled that I’ve been able to go back and revise the short vowel series!
How to use the short vowel series
Kids learn to read short vowel words first. Thus, a beginning kindergartner first learns a_ as in apple and is prompted to read words like cat, man, rag, tad…etc. In the short vowel books, I introduce the vowels in the following order:
a_ as in apple (as in mat, cat, map)
i_ as in itch (as in sit, Tim, win)
o_ as in octopus (as in hop, pot, mop)
u_ as in umbrella (as in cut, hum, run)
e_ as in elephant (as in met, men, wet)
Short e is last, because kids with speech difficulties struggle to pronounce short e words. With letter sound and short vowel knowledge, your student can successfully read the first twenty books. Encourage sound-by-sound reading. When your student makes an error, highlight his miscue. Then, prompt him for the sound. Lastly, ask him to read the word again.
When a child reads a continuous sound like /s/, he should stretch out the sound for a long time: ssssss. When a child reads a stop sound like /d/, he should avoid saying “duh,” as he needs to clip off the “uh.” The books are extensive and allow kids to develop fluency.
I was quite embarrassed by the pictures in the first iteration, and I’m excited that I can offer short vowel books with higher quality pictures.
For those who are waiting, I’m working on getting out the long vowel series next.
Why use decodable books?
Decodable books contain phonics sounds that the student has already learned. For example, a child that has learned a_ as in apple can read a sentence like the following: Sam sat on the mat. Decodable books allow kids to practice and master phonics sounds. As a result, kids can build decoding skills.
Decoding skills are critical, because with them, kids can transfer their reading skills to the real world. For example, a child with decoding skills will begin to read words in other books, on signs, in magazines and other forms of print.
Additionally, a child with decoding skills has the ability to read words he’s never before seen in print. This includes words the child may have never heard. With decoding skills, kids can even read words that aren’t in their lexicon. It is truly remarkable that decoding skills allow kids to read uncommon words like sap, wade and bleak. How does a child read such uncommon words? He breaks the code sound-by-sound.
Decodable books build transferable skills
Decodable books build transferable skills, whereas guessable books don’t. It is baffling that guessable books have such a strong hold of the market. Guessable books include sentences like the following: A rabbit can jump. A frog can jump. A grasshopper can jump. A kangaroo can jump. In these guessable books, the picture also cues the student. When a child reads, “The grasshopper jumps,” he sees a picture of a grasshopper.
As if being guessable weren’t useless enough, the student is often told to read the book 3x in a row. Thus the child memorizes the book as well. On these books, kids begin to think reading is about guessing and memorization. But by definition, reading is the opposite. If you can only read “apple” in that one book about Johnny Appleseed, you can’t read “apple” at all. You’ve just memorized it’s location in one book, and will fail to recognize “apple” elsewhere, including in grandma’s apple pie recipe.
Intuitively, we know reading skills are transferable. We can read “heterogeneous” when it’s completely out of context. We can read all words out of context, including: refreshing, aromatic, agapanthus. If someone couldn’t read these words out of context, we’d call them functionally illiterate.
Reading skills are by definition transferable
So why in the world do we teach kids to memorize guessable books? Imagine if you could only read “stop” in the context of a stop sign or “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet” in Romeo and Juliet? You’d fail to recognize the words in this post. You couldn’t read anything new. You’d be a sham reader. In essence, kids who practice with guessable books, begin to realize their skills aren’t transferable. Ask them to read something else at their grade-level and they’ll blush, full well knowing they can’t.
When we give kids guessable books, we teach them reading is about guessing and memorizing. Then we go on and transfer our reading skills to totally new contexts that we haven’t memorized. We order new books on Amazon and enjoy them distinctly because they’re novel and we haven’t memorized them. Isn’t it baffling that some educators don’t see the contradiction?
We know we can read when we can pick up any book anywhere and decode the words. Phonics books put kids on the path to independent reading. They allow kids to develop transferable skills. Guessable books put many kids on the path of illiteracy.
Short vowel books set kids on the proper track. Kids are taught to analyze words. In the short vowel story free printable, kids can decode words sound-by-sound. Soon, even kids that struggle to learn to read, will begin transferring their skills to the real world.
K-2 matters more than we think
K-2 matters—tremendously. Contrary to popular thinking, k-2 is not about socializing kids into school, teaching them to sit in chairs, hold a pencil and stand in line. K-2 really is about teaching kids to read and spell.
K-2 are among the most important educational years of life. In his intriguing book, The Case Against Education, Bryan Caplan, an economist, calls into question the value of later educational years. While we may think trigonometry and history are when kids get a real education, it turns out, skills outside of literacy and numeracy may not provide economically valuable job skills.
Literacy is really economically valuable, and instruction in reading begins in Kindergarten! Caplan claims, “In the modern economy, literacy and numeracy are the only skills that almost all jobs require.” In an 80,000 hours podcast interview, Caplan says it’s likely we can have good economic gains if people would simply learn to read and write properly (2018).
Learning to read and write properly goes back to K-2. Cunningham and Stanovich (1998) assert, “Early success at reading acquisition is one of the keys that unlocks a lifetime of reading habits.” They site numerous studies that show that reading is a feedback loop—those who learn word recognition skills early read more, making them even better readers. In contrast, those who aren’t taught word recognition skills read less, making them even worse readers.
Cunningham and Stanovich (1998) found that first grade word recognition skills predicted eleventh grade reading volume. They write, “This is a stunning finding because it means that students who get off to a fast start in reading are more likely to read more over the years (p. 7).”
Short vowel books allow kids to develop word recognition skills. When those skills transfer to the real world, kids are delighted. They may want to read more. This lets them enter that coveted positive feedback loop—they get off to a good start in reading, and then they read more over their lifetimes.
Caplan, Bryan. (2018) The Case Against Education. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Cunningham, Anne E. & Stanovich, Keith E. (1998) What Reading Does for the Mind. American Educator/American Federation of Teachers.
Wiblin, Robert. (Producer). (2018, May 22). Bryan Caplan thinks education is mostly pointless showing off. We test the strength of his case. [Audio Podcast]. Retrieved from https://80000hours.org/podcast/episodes/bryan-caplan-case-for-and-against-education/