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The Science Behind Decodable Books

Kindergarten students reading decodable books

I often get asked, “Do decodable books align with the Science of Reading?”

The answer to that is a resounding “yes!”

Teaching children to decode via explicit, systematic and cumulative phonics instruction is a key part of structured literacy practices, which align with the Science of Reading* (and the Science of Teaching Reading!). Decodable texts allow students to practice key phonics skills in a controlled manner so that sound-spellings can be reinforced and learned in connected text.

You may have heard that there aren’t many experimental research studies showing that decodable texts improve children’s decoding skills. There are many reasons for this. First, think of all the variables an experimenter would have to control for (other texts the student is exposed to, type of instruction, home literacy environment, etc.). One way to control for potential confounding variables is to conduct a randomized control trial (study) and randomly assign students to different text reading “conditions.” However, sometimes it is not viable, or even ethical, to experimentally assign a student to a particular “condition.” For example, if you knew a student was a struggling reader, it would not be ethical to withdraw or change their instruction for the sake of an experiment. Finally, it is important to remember that absence of evidence does not always mean evidence of absence. Put another way: just because we do not have rigorous experimental research yet, does not mean that decodable texts are not beneficial (I think this “state of the research” paper touches on that point nicely).

Even though we may not have an abundance of high-quality rigorous, experimental studies, there are several studies that have examined decodable texts and found benefits for students. Here’s a sampling of research that supports the use of decodable texts:

  • Decodable texts help children focus on letter-sound correspondences in text, and apply decoding strategies (Cheatham & Allor, 2012, Juel & Roper-Schneider, 1985).
  • Children who read from highly decodable text applied their knowledge of letter-sounds more frequently, were more accurate and relied on the teacher less for pronunciation than children who read from less decodable text (Mesmer, 2005).
  • Phonics instruction combined with decodable texts was better than phonics instruction alone for EFL students (Chu & Chen, 2014).

To learn about our new tools to support the teaching of phonics skills, read our blog post: 

Coming Early 2023: New K-2 Tools for Teachers

* At MetaMetrics, we know that the Science of Reading (and the Science of Teaching Reading) encompass a lot more than just decoding and phonics. In addition to our Lexile® Framework for Reading, we have new frameworks that address the full literacy construct.