Decodable Texts: Helping or Hurting Early Readers?


Reading is a key skill for success in school as well as for existence in today’s society, casting its influence on education, employment, and social activities. However, for young children, taking the first step towards reading can feel like an uphill task. This is because a child might find it easy to recognize individual letters but combining them into sentences can be overwhelming in the beginning. Moreover, the process of reading requires the brain to juggle many tasks at once, such as recognizing letters, connecting them to sounds, and understanding the meaning of those sounds.

The English language poses unique additional challenges, as spellings are not always straightforward. The same combination of letters can produce different sounds (like "ough" in "though" and "bough"), and some sounds have multiple spellings ("see" and "sea"). This is where decodable texts come in.

Decodable texts are designed to help children improve their reading skills by focusing on transparent letter-sound relationships they have been taught. These texts assist beginning readers in decoding words by breaking them into familiar sounds and blending them together.

However, critics believe that decodable texts do not offer enough exposure to authentic reading material, potentially leading to a narrow focus on decoding rather than comprehension. To explore this issue, Professor Dennis Murphy Odo from Pusan National University conducted a meta-analysis to gather evidence on their effectiveness in facilitating reading. In his new study published in the journal Literacy, Odo analyzed how decodable texts impact early reading skills.

A Tool in the Teacher's Toolkit

The meta-analysis highlights how decodable texts can facilitate word reading and decoding to some degree, but they need to be used in combination with other reading instructional materials. “The small to moderate effect sized indicates that decodable texts can have a meaningful impact on reading skills, especially in decoding difficult words, which is crucial for phonemic awareness and later reading success,” said Odo.

Decodable texts can be a valuable asset in teachers' toolkit. Elaborating further, Odo added, "Decodable texts provide a structured and predictable way to introduce and practice reading skills systematically." They can also make learning to read more engaging for young students, fostering their confidence as they develop their reading abilities. Schools can incorporate decodable texts into their reading programs, providing young learners with access to effective instruction and a variety of resources to support their reading development. “However, research also indicates that decodable texts alone may not be sufficient to ensure overall reading success. Other factors, such as a child's background and the variety of teaching methods used, can also significantly impact reading development,” Odo added.

This study thus highlights the importance of a balanced approach to reading instruction. It also underscores the need for further studies to explore how decodable texts can be most effectively integrated into reading instruction. In summary, these findings have important implications for reading programs and educational policies. "Policymakers should take a broad approach to reading instruction, using different strategies and focusing on the overall development of the child," suggested Odo. "It's also crucial to invest in teacher training to ensure they can effectively use decodable texts and other helpful materials."

StepUp Note

This interesting research asks a useful question: how helpful is it to have “decodable text” in early reading instruction? A meta-analysis of many research articles shows that decoding is somewhat helpful, especially for early learners, but that a variety of levels of text gives the best reading outcomes. StepUp to Learn exercises give children fluency practice, another skill which researchers see is linked to more proficient learning in both language and math.

Note by Nancy W Rowe, MS, CCC/A

Reposted from Pusan National University



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