Recently, the Victorian Coalition promised $2.8m for “decodable readers” for schools if they win the upcoming election. The announcement added fuel to an ongoing debate over whether these resources will make a meaningful difference to students’ reading outcomes.
Supporters of decodable readers, such as the Victorian Coalition, Dyslexia Victoria and Dr Jennifer Buckingham from the Centre of Independent Studies (CIS) say decodable books allow children to practice their decoding skills in a methodical way.
However, others like renowned literacy consultant Di Snowball, THRASS co-founder Denyse Ritchie and award-winning associate professor, Misty Adoniou, claim decodable readers can actually be harmful to children’s reading outcomes.
Dr Jennifer Buckingham from the Centre for Independent Studies (CIS) said one factor muddying the waters of the debate is misinformation about decodable books and the way they are used.
“Decodable books do not replace other books. All children should have the opportunity to enjoy children’s literature,” Dr Buckingham told The Educator.
She said that while decodable books are often criticised for their contrived storylines, text analysis has shown that the levelled and predictable books used in most classrooms are equally and sometimes more limited in vocabulary.
“Contrary to claims that children find decodable books boring and turn them off reading, there is published research showing that children found decodable books enjoyable and motivating,” Dr Buckingham said.
In a 2013 study by academic Emma Capper, children reported enjoying reading decodable books and saw them “as a source of exciting stories which developed their reading confidence through practising their skills”.
“Importantly, literature reviews have found that children who had the opportunity to read decodable books were more likely to become accurate and fluent readers,” Dr Buckingham said.
Dr Buckingham pointed to other research (Cheatham and Allor, 2012) which examined seven high-quality peer-reviewed studies.
“This study found decodability to be a ‘critical characteristic of early reading text as it increases the likelihood that students will use a decoding strategy and results in immediate benefits, particularly in regard to accuracy’,” Dr Buckingham said.
“They also highlighted the need for students to apply phonics skills in connected text and found that decodable text positively impacts early reading progress.”