Structured Literacy & Decodable Books

Teach My Kid to Read: Strategies for Community Literacy Initiatives

The Road to Decode

What if public libraries could effect educational change by learning about, then offering evidence-based resources that enable all children to learn to read? In the spring of 2019, Teach My Kid to Read (TMKTR) decided to find out. We launched The Road to Decode to enlist libraries as partners in bridging the gap between school and community. Our goal was to invite fifty libraries in the state of New York to learn about how we learn to read and then act on that knowledge. We asked libraries to display decodable and dyslexia-themed books for the month of October, Dyslexia Awareness Month. The hope was that libraries would create permanent sections of decodable books.

Why focus on libraries? For years we’ve been discussing whether libraries could stock decodable books, and whether librarians could be resources for families of struggling readers. Then we had an opportunity to participate in a legislative meeting about connecting the dots between schools and the community. (The dots made a stop at the library on the way.) Our final impetus to launch came when board member Faith Borkowsky wrote to a library that had created a dyslexia section. She explained how decodable books help all children learn to read. The library renamed their section “Decodable Books.” Someone was listening; would there be more?

To reach more individual libraries, TMKTR worked through New York’s library systems. There are twenty-three library systems throughout the state, and each system includes between twenty and fifty libraries. Connecting with youth and children’s librarians at the system level was critical to garnering support at the individual libraries in each system so they would get on The Road to Decode. We presented our stories, an overview of the process of how we learn to read, and where the different resources fit. TMKTR created an infographic poster on how The Road to Decode works, we offered an online course on dyslexia through collaborator Glean Education so librarians could learn more about reading issues like dyslexia, and we conducted surveys to gather data from partner libraries.

Parents who learned more about resources that they can use to help their children said that it was life-changing and that they felt they now had options besides tutors they couldn’t always afford. Librarians said they were better able to serve their communities. One hundred percent of all libraries that participated in The Road to Decode said they were likely or highly likely to learn about or stock decodable texts.

Why Access to Decodable Book is Essential

Decodable books are the training wheels that enable children to apply reading skills they have recently learned to additional text so that they can read independently. Decodable books are systematic and cumulative, and as children progress they encounter longer passages that offer increased opportunities for development of language, vocabulary, and comprehension. Decodable books can help all learners achieve reading proficiency, although children with learning differences like dyslexia need even more practice with decodable books.

Many schools include a phonics component in their reading instruction, but most still lack adequate access to matching decodable books. This practice leaves these students stranded in leveled readers that aren’t matched to their phonics skills, and reading instruction becomes fragmented. Children with learning differences like dyslexia need a structured-literacy approach to learn to read, and libraries can support this approach by stocking decodable books.

Structured literacy and decodable books are a hand-in-glove connection. Without decodable books, children have minimal opportunities to practice reading books that match their skill set. Libraries are open to all members of the community, so all children can have access to resources that help them become skilled readers. Once librarians understand how we learn to read and where decodable books fit, they can support more of the community.

Why Libraries and Community Solutions are Necessary

We know from decades of reading research that ninety-five percent of all children have the cognitive ability to become skilled readers. Yet, two-third of all fourth graders are not reading proficiently. All children benefit when they learn to read using a structured-literacy approach based on the science of reading. Children with learning differences like dyslexia must learn to read using a structured-literacy approach.

Unfortunately, school districts have been slow to embrace instructional approaches based on the science of reading. The majority of schools use balanced-literacy approaches that leave many students behind in reading skills. Getting evidence-based practices that are rooted in cognitive science implemented in classrooms and training teachers to use these methods is an ongoing struggle.

Why The Road to Decode Supports The Science of Reading

Now more than ever we see that all kids need to be able to read, and more members of our communities need a basic understanding of the processes and resources that enable reading. Literacy rates directly correlate to public health, socio-emotional well-being, academic success, and future economic independence. Moreover, the educational landscape is undeniably changed, and further changes throughout the educational system seem inescapable and unpredictable. Parents and concerned stakeholders in each community also have unique concerns. Parents in particular are shouldering more responsibility as schools reimagine what the upcoming school year will look like. We must prepare for all potential variables. Even in this environment, libraries can serve as community hubs and make access to decodable books, structured-literacy-based materials, and dyslexia resources available online to empower all stakeholders.

Signing up for The Road to Decode

Many libraries were closed in 2020, so The Road to Decode has pivoted online and expanded beyond New York for October 2020. The Road to Decode provides librarians with program materials, information about decodable books, social-media kits, incentives from collaborators, and virtual and online events. In October we will offer a free minicourse for professional development. Literacy expert Faith Borkowsky will lead an early-literacy train-the-trainer program that offers libraries additional information that they can then to give parents or caregivers to support their children’s literacy development. Look for more information over the next few months.

Let’s get The Road to Decode in all our libraries and provide effective, equitable solutions that enable all children learn to read! Sign up as a volunteer for The Road to Decode and encourage or help a local library to create change!


This article was originally published in The Dyslexia Initiative Quarterly Newsletter, July 2020, Issue 3. Click here to subscribe to The Dyslexia Initiative newsletter and to receive more information about this important organization.

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