Do Your Decodable Books Limit Vocabulary?
They don't have to.
A famous study from 1966 found that English is really very consistent. We just don't teach the patterns that already exist in our language. No conspiracy here. Modern phonics has only been around since the early 1900's (a short time compared to the age of English) and there is still room for lots of improvements.
Decodable books/text/vocabulary are based on a really valuable and simple idea: Don't confuse your kids when they are reading.
Decodable words fit this description: Letters make the same sound all the time - predictably and consistently.
Using standard phonics, this definition leaves out 1/4 to 1/2 of English.
Here is how to put the rest of our words back into every book without making heads spin. The 1966 findings, called the Hanna Study, said that you can predict the sound letters will make if you notice how they are used in a word.
For instance, the difference between "y" making the first sound in yes instead of the E or I sound (as in baby or by) is its position in a word. When "y" is used as the first letter in a word it says the first sound in yes or yellow. The E and the I sounds are made when "y" is the last letter in a word.
In our research and developement (more accurately termed 6 years of trial and error or cut and paste!) we found even more predictability. You can tell when "y" at the end of a word will make the I or E sound based on word length most of the time. At the end of 2 or 3 letter words "y" says I. At the end of words with 4 or more letters it says E.
yellow, yes, yet, you, your, young
by, try, cry, my, fly, (key is an exception)
lady, baby, funny, honey
More Proof: First, at the beginning of this century the Abbott study, confirmed the accuracy of English as described by the Hannas back in 1966. Second, after we put together a system of phonics that was built around how letters were used in a word we tested it.
We found two things that made us ecstatic about our phonics program.
- In 95% of our phonics rules 1 letter = 1 sound
- In the first 5 chapters of Proverbs in the New American Standard English translation, 95% of the words work using our phonics rules.
That means only very few lessons in our phonics require a reader to "try a few sounds to see which one makes sense". It also means that for 95 out of 100 words our phonics tells a reader exactly how to pronounce a word.
Now, for the big breakthrough: By definition, English is 95% decodable and has been all along. You don't have to confuse your young readers. Nor do you have to narrow their reading horizons.
Again, we did not change any part of our language. We did not come up with new patterns of letters that are used together (these patterns are often called phonemes or phonograms). We just observed and used patterns that were already there.
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