EDVIEW 360
Podcast Series

Boosting Beginning Reading: Strategic Reading Reinforcement

Susan Ebbers
Literacy Expert and Author of Power Readers, Supercharged Readers, and Vocabulary Through Morphemes
Susan Ebbers
Susan Ebbers

Susan Ebbers is a literacy expert and author of Power Readers, Supercharged Readers, and Vocabulary Through Morphemes, as well as the rhyming picture books, Jamie’s Journey: The Savannah and Jamie’s Journey: The Mountain. She has consulted across the country and continues to work to promote reading, focusing especially on vocabulary and morphological awareness. She served as a primary grade teacher for more than 10 years before moving on to work with adolescents striving to read. In doctoral studies, she focused on vocabulary development and morphological awareness. To learn more, visit, Vocabulogic at https://vocablog-plc.blogspot.com.

Learn more about Susan Ebbers
Release Date: Thursday, February 22, 2024

Join us for this interesting conversation with our guest Literacy Expert Susan Ebbers who will share the research and strategies surrounding learning to read.

Ebbers will illustrate how research supports the entwining of phonology, orthography, morphology, and vocabulary when teaching children to read, and to read more capably and with greater comprehension; and how this type of multidimensional approach is even more effective when integrated within the context of phrases, sentences, passages, and stories. Ebbers will also discuss the role self-efficacy plays in nurturing a motivation to read despite difficulties.

She will share ways to help students build skills systematically while also building confidence as well as strategies to:

  • Reinforce basic decoding and “sight word” recognition 
  • Reinforce phonics, including polysyllabic decoding, in context 
  • Develop vocabulary and basic morphological awareness  
  • Engage interest and boost self-efficacy within the context of reading

 

We hope you will join us for this important conversation.

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Transcript

Narrator:

Welcome to EDVIEW360.

Susan Ebbers:

The act of reading is laborious for these children. It's tiring. They feel probably very much like they have climbed a mountain, back to our mountain climbing analogy, or they've hiked through a dark cave or up a thicket or whatever. By the time they finish just a page, I mean it is hard work. I've seen children crying, parents crying. So, you want that success and you do that by giving them little pieces to read and to walk away from feeling good.

Narrator: 

You've just heard from Susan Ebbers, literacy expert and consultant and author of Power Readers. Ms. Ebbers is our guest today on EDVIEW360.

Pam Austin: 

Hello, this is Pam Austin. Welcome back to the EDVIEW360 podcast series. We are so excited to have you with us here today. I'm conducting today's podcast for my native New Orleans, LA. Today, we are excited to welcome a respected educator, researcher, and author who has dedicated her career to reading success for every child, Susan Ebbers. Let me tell you a little bit more about Ms. Ebbers before we get started with our conversation.

We are particularly proud and excited to talk to Susan Ebbers today, not only because of her impressive background in education and literacy, but also because she is the author of Power Readers and Supercharged Readers, both published by Voyager Sopris Learning®. She is also the author of Vocabulary Through Morphemes, as well as the rhyming picture books, Jamie's Journey: The Savannah and Jamie's Journey: The Mountain. She has consulted across the country and continues to work to promote reading, focusing especially on vocabulary and morphological awareness. She served as a primary grade teacher for more than 10 years before moving on to work with adolescents striving to read. In doctoral studies, she focused on vocabulary development and morphological awareness. OK, let's get started. Welcome, Susan. I'm so glad to be talking with you today.

SE:

Thank you so much, Pam. I'm excited to be here today.

PA:

Awesome, shall we get right into it? I've got lots and lots of questions and I'm sure you have lots and lots of answers here.

SE:

It's always an exciting topic.

PA:

You are well known for the work you've done over the years, especially as it relates to our younger students and how they learn to read. So, let's start there. Tell us about learning to read in broad terms. Could you briefly discuss the challenges children face in learning to read? Maybe tell us about the reading brain.

SE:

OK, well, learning to read is certainly an underestimated adventure. It's difficult. It's complex and it's not innate to the human mind. We're not born with the ability to pick up on reading the way we pick up on language, spoken language. So, really, there is no reading brain, there's no reading lobe, there's no literacy cortex. Humans will pick up speech patterns in spoken language almost by osmosis. Environmental language simply rubs off on us, doesn't it? So, we already know to be aware of that. We watch our language, especially around little minds. So, spoken language develops automatically, and humans have been telling stories around the campfire for eons, many thousands of years, before any sort of orthographic writing system came along. And, so, when we talk about reading, we're talking about a complex system that relies on many different sources of knowledge and pulls on various parts of the brain. We're also talking about a language itself that's complex.

The English language is a complex orthographic language. It may have been first born as a Germanic language, but it quickly acquired a lot of Norse and Scandinavian words, a lot of French and Latin and Greek, and nowadays, there's a lot of Spanish and a lot of Mandarin. And, well, this language is a sponge basically absorbing from all over the world and we don't tend to get rid of words, we keep them all. So, we have 50 ways to say “happy” and 50 ways to say “sad,” and we just kind of go along thinking that if you can understand all of that in oral language, then you should be able to read it too and understand it, or at least that's the fallacy. There's a huge gap between the two and its teachers' jobs to close that gap, so that what we understand in oral language, in discussions, in conversations, can also be accessed through printed language.

PA:

So, if I were to sum all of that up, lots of good information, Susan. So, we are born with a brain. We can call it a speaking brain. Oral language we can hear, we learn to speak whatever language we're immersed in, but literally we don't have a reading brain. We have to develop that as a skill. Would that be a good way to sum up what you said?

SE:

I would totally agree with you, and for some reason that's not totally understood, some children have a much more difficult time developing that reading brain than other children. Now, we do understand a lot about that, a lot more than we did 50 years ago or even 20 years ago, but there's still a long way to go. So, it's up to researchers, teachers, and all of the layers in between…the district professionals and the state education department professionals to close that gap and make that brain work for everyone in whatever way it takes to make it happen. One of the things we know that is most necessary is phonological processing and the ability to blend and segment sounds and hear the separate sounds and words and separate words out into separate sounds and take sounds out and put sounds in and rhyme and all of this. But definitely it is not as easy for some as it is for others.

I don't know if you paid any attention to the little blog post that went out, but I basically compare it for some children to a walk in the park and other children it's an uphill climb in the dark through a thicket. It's exhausting and it's frustrating. So, definitely no innate inborn reading brain, no anatomical or genetic part of the brain that is just born to read. But yet there is some evidence that genetics can play a role in reading difficulties. 

PA:

So, really understanding this complexity to meet the needs of all your students, those who can take the walk in the park and those who are going through that alternate route, through what looks like darkness, we can bring them to the light. All right, Susan?

SE:

Yeah. There you go. I like that. I like that. I think of it kind of like a cave system. The deeper you get into the cave system, the more you need that map and that flashlight and you need to sort of map out all the branches and separate tunnels and sections of the cave. It's the same with the English language. Map it out, go in with the flashlight, keep track of all of the different permutations from the different etymological origins of the language and of the words.

PA:

So, teachers have their work cut out for them, keeping that knowledge so that they know how to navigate that cave. Thank you so much for that analogy. So, we've already talked about the complexity of developing a student. So, when we think about the reading brain and what that means, when and how is it appropriate to start teaching vocabulary, morphology, and phonics? When is there a certain age? Is there a certain time? Is there a certain development that's going on in the child's brain when all of this is going to be most impactful to their ability for them to gain that skill of learning to read?

SE:

Wonderful question and I believe, and research would support, that it begins at birth, possibly even before birth. And by that I just mean that there's evidence that children pick up on the songs we sing and the conversations we have and our moods and our feelings while they're in the womb. But let's look beyond that to birth and afterward. As far as vocabulary, so much is learned in the home through the oral language that's used in the home, wherein the children are exposed to a word-rich environment and exposed to a variety, a plethora of synonyms for any given idea, wherein the family is not always using the same word for the same idea, but is really striving to expand on the idea that there are lots of ways, as I said earlier, to say “happy,” or “there's a pot on the stove,” but it could also be a pan, but it could be a kettle, or is it a cauldron. I mean just getting children aware of the joy of words, making them more conscious of words as each one being unique and individual. Whereas you think of words as well, I like to think of it as, like children are looking down into a stream, into a river bed, and maybe they see a ton of rocks and they see all these rocks at the bottom of the river and the waters flowing by and maybe they don't queue in on one rock being bigger or brighter or a funny shape, because it's just too much to look at and it's just water flowing by, which is what words can be. “Rah, rah, rah,” How does it go? Like the voices in Charlie Brown and Lucy. We could just be feeling like that.  

We want children to say look at that rock, I like that rock, whereas we might say look at that word, I like that word, I like that word, kettle better than pot or whatever it might be and for whatever reason. So, oral language in the home it all begins there. It begins with conversations around the dinner table, lap time conversations, lap time stories, bedtime stories, conversations at the grocery store. “Look at this, let's buy an avocado.” “What's an avocado, mommy?” And explaining it, talking about the texture, talking about the color and how it's green, but what shade of green and how green is it? And then bringing in those varieties of green, right? Army green or whatever it might be, lime green.

So, it begins at home and then it continues at school, and the more we do this, the more we have teachers and parents providing that rich language and that word-rich environment, including academic language, the more we prepare them for reading and for success at school. Teachers might say to the children line up at the door. But there's nothing new in that statement. Line up at the door means line up at the door. It always will and I'll always know what it means, so there's nothing new to learn there.

But if the teacher said, “OK, let's progress to the door. “Let's progress peacefully to the door.” Or maybe, “Let's progress to the portal,” then in everyday conversation, in the directions and instructions and everyday life of schooldom, children begin to pick up more vocabulary. So, instead of taking a pencil from the box, it might be, “We can obtain a pencil from this receptacle,” showing the receptacle, showing that it's a box. So, using oral language as much as possible to promote vocabulary, because when we have the vocabulary it makes decoding and word recognition that much easier. So, that was one of your questions, right? 


PA:

Right.


SE:

You also asked about morphology and phonics, and I feel like I'm going on a little too long. You touched on my sweet spot.

PA:

Well, there's so much to think about when we are trying to create an environment where there is a joy of words, of playing with words and understanding words. And that whole idea of word consciousness, I think, is so important. And you were latching on to the connection between understanding vocabulary and having that word within a student's backpack or lexicon that, hey, it's going to help with that decoding. So, go ahead and branch into the decoding part of it and touch on that morphological awareness, the morphology of words as well.

SE:

OK. Well, morphological awareness is more innate to the human brain than is reading printed words. Morphological awareness is linked to the part of the brain that learns how to speak and tell stories. Morphological awareness is all about building words that have meaning, based on a meaning you already know. So, if you know the word “hand,” you might build the word “handball” or “handlebar” or “handbasket” or whatever it might be. “Handyman,” he uses his hands, he's handy. And the same thing happens, by the way, with sign language. Once there's a sign for hand, then it's not that much of a stretch to use the same sign that you use for hand to model the sign for “handball.” So, morphological reasoning is more innate to the human brain than is actual reading of printed language, which is not any at all. So, drawing from the morphological awareness, building on it, bringing it up higher and higher to the surface of the brain, up above where the metaanalysis is, where metamorphological knowledge is, metalinguistic awareness is. Having students know what they know and know how they know it and use it then, and repurpose it even and rebuild new words. All of this is a rich resource for promoting reading at a young age. So, for instance, once the child knows how to decode using the sound symbol correspondences, for instance, if they can decode the word “Jack,” then maybe they can move from that to the morphologically related words “Jack,” “straw,” or “jumping jack,” “jumping jacks,” “jack to jacking.” Once they have that decoding, it is just a springboard to a wealth of related words in that same morphological family and all of a sudden they're going from I can decode “paint” to I can decode “painting” and “painter” and “painterly” and “paint box” and whatever it might be. It's very much a rich resource. Children at 1 and 2, 3 years of age are already starting to do this. They're starting to invent morphological words, partly because they're not sure what the right word is.

I remember one of my friend’s children. He was making rock candy with her at home and they were stirring it up. She was, I think, 3 or 4 and she said, “Daddy, is the candy rockening yet?” So, she was getting there and we use that, we use that, we build on that and there's so much research today to that point. We can discuss that a little later. But there's more and more research showing that morphology, morphological awareness, morphological knowledge is an integral part of actually learning how to read, not just reading well in middle school and high school, but at much younger. Then, the same thing with phonics. We want to do as much as we can in the home with that and in the early grades, just having the letters on the refrigerator, right? Having the letter puppets. Having the game, the songs, and the rhymes, and the jingles. It all is part of the process and it begins at home. 

PA:

Showing the fun in learning at that point. Often, we're familiar with the term word families and you brought up the morphological families and just from hearing you just expound upon that a bit that decoding in that meaning goes hand in hand. The morphological awareness and help with decoding them. These longer words and those morphological families can actually help with understanding the meanings of these words. It's just amazing where teachers can branch off to add those layers of understanding of words for both recognition and for meaning, right? I absolutely love it. So, we've been talking about vocabulary acquisition and we know that it's more than just exposure. We've been talking about when it begins really early on and the conversations do begin with that exposure. But think about your educators of early learners. How do they go beyond exposure? You started to give me some examples there. Would you add anything else to how we can help our early educators expose students a little bit more, go beyond exposure to help them build those morphological abilities, right? Build the vocabulary?

SE:

Exactly and early learners, both in the home and in preschool, and I think preschool, by the way, is an underutilized source of learning, to this day. I've been working with various preschool organizations, not right here in Bozeman, but earlier in California, and I just saw so many opportunities that were missed for building knowledge even before they ever make it to grade school. But preschool in the homes and in primary grades, kindergarten, first, second grades. It's really all about being quite clear with the children what it is. Being explicit. Some people call it Direct Instruction. Being clear, making it obvious what we're talking about, pointing out how one thing is similar to another, but different. Look at how the “M” is so much like the “W.” How are they different? Right? how is the “B” different from the “D?” Making things similar sound the same way. How are sounds similar, but how are they different? What do you hear in clap? What do you hear in claps? How is claps different from clasp? Clasp your hands. What about collapse? Oh, oh.

And it's like if we aren't starting to really focus in on the differences. Helping children focus in and find the differences, then we're not really helping them get a handle on this really large language. And I don't know if I mentioned it before, but English is one of the largest, if not the very largest language in the world. There's just so many words. Like I said, we don't get rid of any. So, the more we can be explicit and deliberate in the home and during elementary grades to be sequential, be creating sort of a pathway, a set of scaffolds that allow them to climb that mountain, you know, allow them to move upward. Keeping in mind what you've already taught them. Keeping a progression, a skills progression, so not being all over the board, but just kind of constantly building on it. And, so, they're starting to amass this wonderful toolkit, this wonderful wealth of knowledge and understanding that they can then bring to the task of reading when they're reading more complex texts.

PA:

And they're learning and not even realizing that they're learning. Oh, so much so. That's the beauty of it. So much so, yes.

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PA:

So, let's go a little bit beyond vocabulary and how children learn to read. How does research support this integration of phonology, orthography, morphology, and vocabulary? All of the “ologies” and vocabulary. Tell us more about that. This is all about when we're teaching our students to read.

SE:

So, the language components are phonology, which is the sounds of the language, how it sounds, the sounds of the words, the sounds of the letters and syllables and morphemes. The orthography, which is the written aspect of the language, the spelling, the syllables, the morphemes. Again, the vocabulary, the semantics, which is part of vocabulary, the syntax, the pragmatics and, of course, comprehension. It's all part of reading. Cutting-edge researchers explore this question more and more, looking to more clearly understand how the human mind makes sense of these various language components the phonology or sounds, the orthography, the syllables, morphemes, words, the meaning, the vocabulary, comprehension, as well as the morphological understanding, which is kind of a newer piece of the puzzle, although not as new as it was 25, 30 years ago. So, the act of reading requires this broad set of knowledge sources. The language systems or linguistic systems that I just talked about, the writing systems. And it also requires a general knowledge of the world. So, to go back to our earlier discussion about pots and kettles and cauldrons and pans, well, there's some general knowledge of the world right there. Or if in the home all we talk about is the “kitty cat” and we never use the word “feline.” Well then, when they read that word feline in text or even hear it in a spoken presentation, there's going to be a little gap there. So, we need to fill that in so they can draw upon their general knowledge of the world, as well as the language systems and writing systems within this multifaceted cognitive system, within the mind, to support reading comprehension.

And this is, as I mentioned before, not innate to the human brain. It's a makeshift process, if you will. We are basically making it happen. It's a fascinating repurposing of brain function, maximizing our brain's plasticity, its ability to kind of reshape itself for various purposes. We pull from various sections of the brain across the corpus callosum. So, this is not easy. This is walking and chewing gum on a grand scale, on an epic scale. It's a somewhat gerryrigged way to get the plane in the air, but it's all we have. And it's absolutely amazing that any one of us ever learns to read much less, to write. And, much less to read fluently and with comprehension, and to do it in our spare time for enjoyment. It's just a big deal that is so often taken for granted.

PA:

It's taken for granted that you should just learn to read, right? 


SE: 

Yes.


PA: 

And this is why it's a skill. 


SE: 

Yes, right. 


PA: 

This is why you create the reading brain. You're not born with this, so it can be created in the various parts of the brain. Awesome, OK, we've been talking about reading and integrating all of these various aspects that research has shown us. You're saying that it is a multilayered approach. So, when we go from reading words and building into phrases and sentences and passages and stories. All of it is about gaining meaning. Can you expound a little bit upon that multilayer approach? You began. Tell us a little bit more.

SE:

Well, the multilayer approach is basically. I'll point out Perfetti’s Reading System Framework for one example. It's one of those frameworks or theories or models for how children read that takes into account all these various aspects of language and the various aspects of the mind. Linnea Ehri also works with this. Spear-Swerling. Castles, Rastle, and Nation recently, in their “Ending the Reading Wars,” wrote a nice piece about it.

The report of the national reading panel in 2000 came out and said learning to read is going to require these five aspects: phonological awareness, the phonics or word recognition, sight words, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension instruction.

The piece that was missing then in 2000 was the morphological awareness piece. That was only because there wasn't enough research and that was a metaanalysis of quantitative, scientifically based reading research. So, there wasn't enough of that in the field of morphological awareness at the time, but there is much more today, since Levesque-Breadmore and Deakin's Morphological Pathways Framework for how children learn to read includes morphology. In other words, form and meaning. The relationship between words that share the same spelling to some degree and have a similar meaning, as in “quiet,” “quietly,” “quietude,” “quiet,” “quiet in quieting,” “unquiet.” This awareness of these sorts of relationships amongst morphologically related words is critical to literacy development, beginning at a very young age, beginning, if not from the word go from the letter B, right? So, this is backed up by work by Carlisle, Kearns, Castles et al, Duncan, Koo, Anderson, Berninger, and McBride. So many names. Nunes, Bryant, Pete Bowers, and Kirby. Lots of people have been exploring this question. 

PA:

With so many different researchers there that have given us the information that we need most recently, right? I know we were leading into just building from words to phrases, to sentences, but let us branch into engagement and motivation. You know these are critical factors for sure, when students are learning to read. How can educators nurture these? How can we make sure that students are engaged, they're motivated when they struggle? What can we do? What are some strategies that we could help students to gain that confidence as well?

SE;

Good question, an important question. Because motivation, engagement, interest, is really important when the task is difficult, and for some children the task of learning to read is monumental. What researchers like Paul Silvia found. The discussion is about how self-efficacy promotes interest and interest is a motivating factor. Paul Silvia discusses interest as being the curious emotion because it crosses the boundary between simple cognitive, factual knowledge, and emotions. If you're interested in something, you do have the cognitive piece going on. You're absorbed. You're paying attention. You're thinking, but you're also happy. You're interested. This is a happy thing.

So, all of these researchers have found a lot of different things that can promote interest and there’s situational interest in the moment, at the time, and also long-term interests. But all of them have found that one of the most powerful promoters of interest is success. When children or adults start to experience success in any new endeavor, in any new context, then they're willing to do it again and try again and take another step and pick up a harder piece of the puzzle and work with it some more and they get excited when they succeed. So much of this is directly linked with learning to read and one of the pieces I wanted to mention is that Mia Ronimus, Asko Tolvanen, Ritva Ketonen in 2022, studied first-graders, and they found that higher self-efficacy within the task of reading. So, a greater sense of, “I can do it, I can read,” for those first-graders predicted lower task avoidance. They weren't avoiding the act of reading, they weren't putting the books down and picking up the colors as much, which is why hey, the big deal, right? Higher fluency by the end of first grade. Now, this was a study with Finnish children, not English, but it's still an orthographic language and there's no reason to think it wouldn't overlap. So, the whole thing about motivation has a direct link with giving children pieces to read that they can be successful with, so they can start to feel that sense of, “Wow, I'm a reader.” They identify with it, they think of themselves as readers, “I can do it.”

PA:

When we talk about self-efficacy, we can say it's the “I can do it spirit, right? The joy and positive emotions that we have, success, breathing success. That's all so important for our students. Did I get that right? 


SE:

Yes. 


PA:

So, let's segue here and talk about the basic decoding. So, we're starting at the basic decoding and reading the decodable text, because students are feeling successful. But then let's talk about the next step, beyond that, including those polysyllabic words and those morphologically complex words. Reading those, not just listening and hearing them and understanding and playing with them, but decoding. Let's take that next step. What tools can an educator use to help students build these skills?

SE:

Well, I have, within this podcast, a link to a document people might want to open. Well, one of the tools…this is a decodable reader. It happens to be the one that I wrote, but there's many of them out there and there's a list of approved decodable readers at The Reading League website. These are published by Voyager Sopris Learning and these are the Power Readers, for this example. In this tool, you see that we are not taking anything for granted. We are starting with this little book, like Get Set. Ready. Go.

It's a game of tag and the children are learning the short ‘e’ sound, in words, “get” and “set” and “yes” and “yet,” and “make” and “add,” and “west” and whatnot. So, we start by teaching them with explicit, systematic, Direct Instruction, if you wish, the letters, the sounds, the sight words, and by sight words, I call them heart words in my program, but they're those high-fluency words that are the most commonly used words in the English language and that we just have to know by heart. We have to know them by sight. I call them heart words because we have to know them by heart, but I picked that up from Linda Farrell years ago.

There's work. We have to begin with work in phonological awareness and the sounds within. What is the sound of short “eh, eh?” And can you hear it in at the beginning of “elephant” or “egg” or whatever? And can you hear it in the middle of “yes” and “ten” and “pet?” And, so, working with the sounds on the sound stage and then looking at the vocabulary and working with the vocabulary, reading it several times till it's fluent. And, then, the stories and getting into the story so that children now can read the story, not presenting them with a story to read that they're not ready to read so they can walk away feeling frustrated and feeling like, “Well, I'm not a reader.” That's the last thing we want. Continued frustration is definitely going to diminish and reduce and even obliterate motivation to read and to be thinking of yourself as a reader. So, we don't want to go there.

PA:

So, you begin with the systematic explicit instruction?

SE:

Yes, and so there have been studies done where they've looked at decodable texts and looked to see if they make a difference to reading. Some studies show that they do and some are unclear. And one of the questions I haven't yet seen asked: Is do decodable readers do anything to promote interest, motivation, engagement?

And that's a whole different question. See, that's not the question of, Do they promote reading ability? Hopefully, the teacher has already taught the child how to read, taught them the sight words, the phonological pieces, the blending and segmenting of sounds, the phonics patterns. Hopefully, the teacher has already had them working with that, like they do at the beginning of Power Readers or any other decodable set, where the teacher just does it separately instead of within the context of the book itself. And, so, when they read the story, they're excited to read it, they're excited to show what they can do and, “Wow, I read it.” And then to read it again and, “Wow, this time I read it in seven minutes instead of 10.” And maybe a third time and, “Wow, I got this one done in five minutes.” So, there needs to be a study done where we look at the relationship between decodable readers that are written specifically to ensure success to the extent possible and the development of interest, engagement, and motivation for reading.

PA:

I can see that connection here. So, providing that systematic, explicit instruction can help all students. Students who maybe have dyslexia or have disinterest or have some type of learning challenge. What you're doing is just setting them up for success.

SE:

So true, and I can say this as someone who's written three different series. I believe it's the No. 1 goal of a decodable reader to change the way children think of themselves. And another thing I wanted to mention real quickly is that decodable readers are short. They tend to be six pages or 10 pages. Just a few words on a page, at least at the beginning. They gradually become longer and start to look more like authentic text. But at the beginning they're very short and that's because the act of reading is laborious for these children. It's tiring. They feel probably very much like they have climbed a mountain, back to our mountain climbing analogy, or they've hiked through a dark cave or up a thicket or whatever. By the time they finish just a page. I mean it is hard work. I've seen children crying, parents crying. So, you want that success and you do that by giving them little pieces to read and to walk away from feeling good.

PA:

You've given me a little insight here, but I want to ask if you can expound upon this just a little bit more. Right now, decodable texts they're having their moment. There's more interest there. There's more people thinking about the value of the decodable texts. It seems that more educators they're talking about that and more companies are publishing them as well. What have you or other researchers and literacy experts always known about using decodables for early readers?

SE:

Well, let me take you back to when I was first a teacher. I was first a teacher in Alabama and had my teaching certificate, had the children in front of me follow the directions in the teacher's guide. But the kindergarten teacher had given me the reading groups that she thought would work out best and I decided to start with her advice. This group comes to the little kidney-shaped reading table. OK, let's read this first story, just like the book says. And here's the words in. Let's practice the words. And now let's read the story. And everything went just like that, you know. Second group comes and they're just, they're blank. They're looking at me with these blank eyes. The difference between the first reading group and the second reading group was like a 10-year difference in development. It was incredible.

And, now, this was a private school. These kids were all from well-funded families. It wasn't about the parents not having the means to support the children. It wasn't about the parents maybe not having enough of vocabulary themselves or whatever. It was simply the difference that we talked about earlier with how various minds cope with the task of figuring out how to read. So, it was with those children and I was so pleased that our school had this little program called the Letter People and it got us a little closer to filling in those gaps. Here's the letter and these cute little songs and rhymes and jingles. And here's the letter and it makes these sounds and here's some words. And we had a really nice Lippincott program at the time. That's not in publication anymore, but it still wasn't enough.

So, I just started creating my own little decodable not even books, really, just a paragraph, a paragraph, a sentence, until finally they were reading longer and longer pieces, and I just felt at the time that was the bridge. I think Louisa Moats talks about decodables as being the bridge between learning to read and reading to learn, so between beginning texts and more authentic texts. And hopefully a decodable set will take the children through the various types of phonics patterns and the various types of morphological patterns which is more rare in decodable series, but it is part of my series until they are more comfortable with reading words from around the globe.

And of course the problem with decodable texts that some people argue against is that they're boring. Well, we do our best, but I have to admit some of them are boring. But the point of it is again, the joy comes from the, “I can do it.” “Look what I did.” Then, pull out the wonderful children's literature, the award-winning, Caldecott Award-winning books, and provide them with the more interesting books at the same time, in another setting, maybe in story time or some such thing.

PA:

So, I think the big question is what is the goal? What is the goal? The decodables have a purpose and that is to help students gain that knowledge, to help them feel joy when they read. I love the idea of the bridge. There's always a way to get from here to there.

SE:

Right, that's right. That's why I love it.

PA:

Now, we mentioned earlier that Voyager Sopris Learning recently published the second edition of your interactive beginner reading series Power Readers and Supercharged Readers. Tell us the difference between the two and what these series offer for educators? How do they help students learn to read and improve their reading skills?

SE:

OK. Well, the first edition of Power Readers and Supercharged Readers came out, boy 2007 maybe, and then Supercharged Readers a year or two later. They were just black-and-white line drawings. Now, the new editions that just came out this year are in color. Also, the first editions didn't have coaching tips at the bottom of each page. Now, these new editions do. So, in the handout that's part of this podcast, if you, for instance, look at the coaching tips at the bottom of page 11. They're reading the short e-story, the get set, go playing tag story, and the coaching tips at the bottom say, “Encourage beginning readers to run a finger beneath the word, as this action will help them focus on each letter. Reinforce the habit of sounding out words. Guessing based on pictures will eventually lead to errors.” These books were always written to help teachers who are too busy to spend forever planning a lesson. We all know what a basal reading teacher’s guide looks like. It's like a Bible. These were written for teachers to quickly cut to the chase, to give them to mentors and parent teachers and tutors and teachers' aides to help children. By adding the coaching tips, we just made that happen a little bit more.

PA:

Love the idea of coaching tips. These are supports for teachers that they will definitely value. I like to think of it as embedded professional learning.

SE:

That's exactly what it is. It's like, “OK, how can I say it in about two seconds.” At the bottom of a page in tiny print and yet, hopefully, some learning is coming out of that. While they're doing their work, it's embedded within it. 

And, the running the finger beneath it's also got that manipulative hands-on piece.

I'm always a little worried about trying to teach children to read just online, where they can't touch the book and hold the book and run their finger underneath the word as easily. Learning to read is a difficult process and the more we can make it physical and concrete for those little concrete learners with those little concrete minds, the better. Another thing that's different, or added to the second edition of the books, is even a greater focus on cultural relevancy. We could do that because we could put it in colors, we could make it global. All these different characters from all over, they’re in the Supercharged Readers. There's a story involving a little Korean family and they lose their bunny. It's called Lost and Found and the little girl loses her bunny and the whole neighborhood helps to find the lost bunny.

If you look at the handout that is part of this podcast and you scroll down to the fish tank, book 26, in the Power Readers. Now you see, by the way, in that book you see how the words are longer. Systematically, the children are reading longer words, two-syllable words in terms of words like “happy” or “fishy.” And, then, you see too that this is another opportunity to use the color to create children of all backgrounds, and I just love the idea that we could make these books more culturally relevant.

We've also made the books a little bit more morphologically relevant, adding a little bit more morphological study to the Power Readers. A little bit more of a focus on the “ED,” the “ING,” the “Y” at the end. If you look at Run Dizzy, book 21, here they're learning that suffix Y at the end with the twin consonants. So, you have “dizzy” and “yummy” and “happy” and “bunny” and “tummy,” and so this directly links in with the newer research we've been talking about, the research that says morphological awareness is also a part of the reading literacy puzzle, the early literacy puzzle, and let's not put it off until fourth grade. Let's start with it as soon as we can. But that doesn't mean right away.

PA:

Of course. We don’t want to put it off. Thank you so much for sharing those enhancements to support teaching and learning. It helps to create that self-efficacy right? That joy, that accomplishment of learning to read.

SE:

Well, and there is some evidence to support the idea that morphological awareness provides children who have dyslexia, who have a phonological processing concern, to access chunks of words another way, through the morphemes rather than through the sounds, even though we don't want to leave that out of the puzzle. But it just gives them another route, another means of accessing word recognition and, at the same time, making meaning, because morphologically related words are sharing meaning. 

PA:

Another tool to get to reading. Another tool to creating that reading brain. Thank you for joining us today, Ms. Ebbers. It's been inspiring and I know I speak for educators everywhere and I say we thank you for your dedication to literacy learning through appropriate reading instruction and intervention.

SE:

Well, thank you so much. I really enjoyed it, and I'm excited to see what's happening in the world. This is a bright new sunrise, I think, for literacy right now.

PA:

I agree, and please tell our listeners how they can learn more about you, your research, and the new editions of Power Readers.

SE:

Yes, well, I do still have the Vocabulogic website and I did put up a new post, oh boy, about a month or two ago, and I have access through my email, smebbers@gmail.com, so I think those are going to be the best ways or through the publisher, Voyager Sopris Learning.

PA:

Thank you once again. This is Pam Austin, bringing the best thought leaders in education directly to you. Please join us next month for another great EDVIEW360 podcast.

Narrator:

This has been an EDVIEW360 podcast. For additional thought-provoking discussions, sign up for our blog, webinar, and podcast series at voyagersopris.com/edview360. If you enjoyed the show, we'd love a five-star review wherever you listen to podcasts and to help other people like you find our show. Thank you.