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Beginning Reading Instruction – Information for Teachers

Teacher with a student

A tool for teaching reading

BRI decodable books focus on the ‘how to’ of reading. The programme consists of meticulously sequenced tales, with incremental introduction of the Alphabetic Code. Text in the first 88 stories is limited to single-syllable words, making the early steps of decoding/reading as straightforward as possible. A daily one-to-one or small group (maximum 3 pupils) 10-15 minute session with a TA or a volunteer, in addition to mainstream Synthetic Phonics teaching, will typically preclude the need for later reading intervention.

Why decoding?

Decoding is the most essential skill to develop in order to become a successful reader. It is the one fail-safe strategy that enables children to work out most words they've heard but have never seen in print, as well as sounding out words they are unfamiliar with. The ability to decode is the foundation upon which all other reading development – fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, morphology – is built. Children readily master this skill with BRI’s gentle pace of letter/sound introduction, varied repetition and stimulating stories.

Background information on BRI

A team of psychologists, linguists and psychometrists at the prestigious South West Regional Lab (SWRL) worked with hundreds of schools in the American West to create a foolproof system to enable even the most disadvantaged pupils to achieve literacy. The first researchers to map the Alphabetic Code, SWRL integrated this knowledge into over 200 code-based stories. Phonics instruction in BRI aligns with leading SSP programmes after a small percentage of sounds have been introduced.

Learning to read with BRI

Ease of instruction All that is needed for tutor and pupil alike is ‘Say the sounds and read the word.’ Bar immediate error correction, the less interference the better; BRI ensures that the child focuses on decoding-through-the-word. Lightening the cognitive load Learning is more effective when children aren’t grappling with too many confusing ideas (i.e. multi-cueing). ‘We have overcomplicated teaching’ – Jo Facer, ResearchEd 2016 Spaced repetition Information is better retained if it is studied for brief periods with new sound/letter correspondences repeated over time in different contexts. ‘The best way to help the brain to “remember” the code’s patterns with minimum effort is through controlled exposure and varied repetition’ – Professor Diane McGuinness, Early Reading Instruction Mixing related but distinct material BRI deals ingeniously with ‘variation’ (same sound represented by >1 spelling: e.g. me, meet) and ‘overlap’ (1 spelling representing >1 sound: e.g. on, no).

Meticulous attention to detail

Discreet Phonemes Trains children to ‘hear’ discreet phonemes through an emphasis on a ‘sound-through-the-word’ routine. For those with phonological difficulties, consistent instruction is particularly helpful. Blending made easy Careful selection of specific sounds in early books helps make the connection between sound and letter(s). For those who struggle to blend, the selection makes it easier to ‘hear’ each sound as they blend sounds into words. Juxtaposing look-alike words (e.g. sheet/shall/shell/shut/sell) means that attention must be paid to each grapheme within a word. This ensures that the ‘easy option’ – guessing – is discouraged.

Materials required for ‘Catch-Up’

BRI’s lively ‘no fuss’ programme represents excellent value for money. BRI Levels 1-3 should be completed by the end of Reception, whereupon the pupil can move on to its sister-programme ARI (Advanced Reading Instruction) – three more Levels, covering the Advanced Alphabetic Code (including, by the end of Level 2, all correspondences tested in the PSC). The Getting Started with BRI booklet includes word building, error correction, comprehension, small group teaching, assessments, whilst spelling and extended reading practice are included in Spelling with BRI and the website offers additional resources. No other materials are required.

Language and/or decoding deficits

Many young children arrive at school with impoverished language skills. Some will need both language enhancement and plentiful reading practice. As well as laying the foundations for a lifetime of literacy by carefully instilling decoding skills, BRI offers opportunities for children to develop spoken language. Each story includes several questions to open up discussion on everything from the plot to the personalities of the mischievous animal characters, including pompous Sam the Lion, cheeky Mat the Rat, vain Ann the Giraffe and a whole host of other idiosyncratic creatures, ready for scraps and scrapes.

Cognitive matters

All struggling readers, especially SEN children, benefit from decodable books informed by cognitive science. BRI unfolds very gently. ‘With too great a cognitive load children lose track of what they’re doing, make mistakes, they get lost, give up’ – Annie Murphy Paul, MindShift ‘Putting to-be-learned material in story format improves learning outcomes’ – Daniel Willingham BRI carefully introduces a minimum of Advanced Code correspondences, encouraging both sentence flow and language flexibility in tandem with an early alert to the conceptual structure of the code.

The value of learning to read through stories

Character-driven tales in BRI offer children the chance to become as immersed in the world of imagination as they are in phonics skills.

"The human brain seems to be set up specially for the retention of stories. They sink in and they stay in the mind more easily than anything else. Things that create an emotional reaction will be better remembered" Daniel Willingham

Why phonics is so important and why some children fail to master it

"English is an alphabetic language. We have 26 letters. These letters, in various combinations, represent the 44 sounds in our language. Teaching students the basic letter-sound combinations gives them access to sounding out approximately 84% of the words in English print… It takes mastery on each phonics skill and there is not enough review of repetition of skills so they "stick" and not enough application of skills to real texts. Systematic phonics means that students are exposed to each sound-letter pattern in the English language in turn" Wiley Blevins, International Literacy Association, 2019


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