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All About Decodable Text

Decodable text are not a new tool for intervention but they have increased in popularity and availability in the past few years. With the increase in popularity and availability comes questions and confusion. Here, we will answer some of the most common questions we see and hear about decodable text!

What is the purpose of decodable text?

Decodable text are passages, readers, and chapter books used for early reading instruction. Decodable text move progressively to add in words that reflect the letter-sound relationships that students have already been taught.

We like to compare decodable text to training wheels. The purpose of decodable text is to provide ample opportunity for practice.

Decodable text allow your phonics instruction to be put into practice. They offer practice in a particular orthographic pattern, skill, or concept, in a controlled reading format where students can achieve a high level of success and accuracy because they use skills that have already been taught.  

We don’t use training wheels forever and we don’t use decodable text forever. Just as training wheels are helpful for early bike riders, decodable text are helpful for early readers as they provide practice on specific skills while those readers ready themselves for traditional literature.

And again, just like with training wheels, the amount of time one child needs decodable text will vary based on his or her ability. 

How long should you use decodable text?

As we stated, decodable text are like training wheels, they are not a permanent fixture. They are a means of getting from point A to point B. How long a student needs them will vary by student, however we should always have an eye on the gradual release. 

Decodable text come in various stages beginning and the word level, followed by phrases, then sentences, and finally text. Based on length, skill, and stamina, some decodable text may be too easy or too hard for a particular student. 

Remember, we are working with human beings and each one is beautifully unique. There is no manual on how long to use decodable text that will work with each and every student. 

How do you know a child no longer needs decodable text?

One way to know that a child still needs to use decodables is if you see him or her reverting back to compensatory habits that were not taught by you and are not progressing him or her forward. For example, a child who still guesses based on the first letter of a word is not ready to be released from decodable text. This is a student who needs more repetition and practice with decodables. 

When a student is ready to move on from decodable text, they will have demonstrated mastery of the basic foundational skills in reading and spelling, like common syllable types and syllable division, digraphs, and blends.  

A typical reader may not need decodables past second grade. A student in intervention will likely need them for longer. 

Can decodable text be used to measure oral reading fluency?

When we’re measuring oral reading fluency we’re measuring based on benchmarks set in place for a grade level, age, or stage of reading. However, decodable text follow a progression or scope and sequence of a particular approach or program. So, using decodable text will not give an accurate measure of reading fluency. However, decodable text can be used to demonstrate progress, growth, and mastery.  

For our full conversation on decodable text, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!

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