First-Grade Reading Gains Following Enrichment: Phonics Plus Decodable Texts Compared to Authentic Literature Read Aloud

By Beverly, Brenda L.; Giles, Rebecca M. et al. | Reading Improvement, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview

First-Grade Reading Gains Following Enrichment: Phonics Plus Decodable Texts Compared to Authentic Literature Read Aloud


Beverly, Brenda L., Giles, Rebecca M., Buck, Keri L., Reading Improvement


Purpose: Phonics instruction with decodable texts reading practice was compared to alternate reading enrichments.

Method: Thirty-two first-graders participated. One group practiced reading decodable texts after phonics instruction. Another group heard authentic literature read aloud, and the third group participated in phonics combined with authentic literature. Additionally an untreated classroom was compared to a treated classroom for a school-based reading measure, DIBELS.

Results: Significant gains on DIBELS were found for the treated classroom compared to an untreated classroom following the semester of the enrichment. All treatment groups showed measurable reading gains, but the effect of the treatment text varied by reading level. Below-average readers demonstrated greater comprehension increases than average readers given phonics plus decodable texts, but average readers had greater improvements following authentic literature read aloud.

Conclusions: Explicit phonics instruction and reading practice with decodable texts can be a prerequisite to successful comprehension for beginning readers; however, as readers advance, they are more likely to benefit from challenging and meaningful literature.

Key Words: beginning reading, decodable texts, authentic literature, phonics, struggling readers

Introduction

Two chief classroom influences on first-grade reading ability are the methods of reading instruction and the texts used for word recognition practice. While systematic phonics instruction is considered an essential reading component, particularly for beginning and struggling readers (Adams, 1990: Briggs & Clark, 1997; National Reading Panel, 2000), the best type of text for beginning and struggling readers continues to be debated (Hiebert, 1999; Hoffman, Sailors, & Patterson, 2002; National Reading Panel, 2000). A broad range of options--including decodable texts, basals, easy readers, authentic children's literature, and nonfiction--have been championed (see for example, Brown, 1999/2000).

Decodable texts often accompany programs of systematic phonics instruction to assist children in applying phonetic knowledge (Brown, 1999/2000; Jenkins, Peyton, Sanders, & Vadasy, 2004; Juel & Roper/Schneider, 1985; Mesmer, 1999; National Reading Panel, 2000). Decodability, however, is a matter of degree (Beck & Juel, 1995). No text is entirely decodable because high frequency function words (e.g., is, are, the) and phonetically irregular content words (e.g., said, mountain) are included. Other types of decodable texts emphasize a lesson-to-text match, or the use of letter-sound correspondences that have been presented in prior reading lessons (Jenkins et al., 2004). In general, decodable texts are characterized by controlled text emphasizing letter-sound correspondences, spelling patterns, and high frequency irregular sight words embedded in simple sentences, basic storylines, and limited information per page (Brown 1999/2000).

Endorsement of decodable texts spans the past 20 years (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, & Wilkinson, 1985; Beck & Juel, 1995; Jenkins, Vadasy, Peyton, & Sanders, 2003; Mesmer, 1999; Stahl, Duffy-Hester, & Stahl, 1998) with recent advocacy by state policy makers (e.g, California Department of Education, 2000; Denton, 1997). Foorman, Fletcher, and Francis (1997) have taken one of the strongest positions in favor of decodable texts stating that, "To immerse children in a print environment without instruction in letter-sound correspondences and practice in decodable text is to doom a large percentage of children to reading failure" (p. 16). Supporters posit that regular reading practice using decodable texts reinforces students' alphabetic knowledge, resulting in increased word identification, phonemic awareness, spelling proficiency, and reading fluency.

Despite these claims, a lack of research regarding the usefulness of decodable texts in teaching reading was reported by the National Reading Panel (2000). …

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