A Conversation with literacy expert and Schoolwide literacy consultant, Christine Lagatta
Schoolwide recently released our Grade K–2 Decodable Texts and Teaching Plans, and we’re thrilled to be getting them in our partners’ hands. To understand how teachers are thinking about using decodable texts with their students, we turned to Christine Lagatta, full-time kindergarten teacher and part-time literacy staff development consultant for Schoolwide. Christine brings invaluable expertise and perspective coming from years of experience in classrooms, as a teacher and consultant.
In a recent interview, we heard about Christine’s experience using Schoolwide’s newly launched Decodable Texts and Teaching Plans with her kindergarteners. Read what she had to say!
Q: What is your current role? And what is your teaching background?
A: Currently, I’m a kindergarten teacher at Compass Schoolhouse in Westfield, NJ, and I’m also a literacy staff developer for Schoolwide. So, I’m working alongside teachers to help increase their knowledge to teach more effectively, while also guiding my kindergarten classroom through their earliest experiences as readers.
My background is in reading and literacy instruction, and I’ve always had a very strong foundation in phonics. There is, of course, a big conversation going on in education right now about the importance of phonics in early literacy instruction, and it’s interesting to see how the pendulum is swinging back in this direction. Phonics is something I’ve always emphasized in my classrooms, along with many other important components of early literacy instruction.
Q: Talk to us about what Foundational Skills resources you used in your classroom this year.
A: We use Fundations in my classroom for our core phonics instruction, and I also have Schoolwide’s Foundational Skills resources, specifically, the shared reading lessons and interactive writing lessons. These, along with the decodables, provide a great bridge to real reading and writing experiences.
Towards the very end of the year, I used Schoolwide’s new Decodable Texts & Teaching Plans with a small group of students, as an intervention method. This was a testing ground for both my students and me since I had been using leveled texts previously. I learned some interesting things about my students, as well as how it would benefit them to introduce decodable texts much earlier in the year, and potentially, integrate them into different parts of my literacy block.
Q: What did you notice most about your students’ experience with the decodables? How did they respond?
A: For the group of students I was working with, this was their first-ever experience with a decodable text. To start, I gave the books to them completely cold. Unsurprisingly, it was very much a “fish out of water” response, since these were totally new books and they were challenging the kids in new ways. Up until this point, these students were used to using their familiar sight words and pictures for clues, and “tapping” in isolation. But with the decodables, there were no patterns and the books were longer, so they were really going to need to use their word power!
I found the Book Introduction in Schoolwide’s Decodable Texts Teaching Plans very helpful in preparing students for some of the word-reading skills they would be using in the decodable text. The During the Read prompts in the plans also got them focused on applying their decoding strategies. With these supportive scaffolds, my students were soon connecting the dots and I could see their confidence building. By the end, I could tell they felt really successful! It was such a unique and exciting experience for me to see my students experience success in this way; in fact, they loved the feeling so much that they almost immediately asked to take the books home with them!
Q: How do you see teachers using decodables in their literacy block? What about alongside their core phonics curriculum?
A: I think a lot of teachers, including myself, are still figuring this out. It’s both a challenge and an opportunity.
What I love about the decodables—and especially the way the Schoolwide collection is carefully curated and sequenced, alongside the detailed, easy-to-follow Teaching Plans—is I think they can go a very long way in supporting different types of teaching styles, as well as different students’ needs. That’s key for differentiation.
For readers who need more time developing the skills, the decodable texts are great for scaffolding and confidence-building opportunities in small-group settings. For stronger readers, the texts can help them build more “reading stamina” and encourage independence faster.
Looking ahead, I’m even starting to think about how I could use one of the decodable texts and/or the additional independent and partner practice Schoolwide decodables (found in the Optional Activities portion of the Teaching Plans) to introduce or reinforce a new phonics skill with my whole class. In this scenario, the process of learning the skills and applying them by reading connected texts becomes that much more interconnected and natural. I can also see more kindergarten teachers, like me, who typically don’t begin with small-group work until later in the year, bring it into the picture earlier because of the ease of use of Schoolwide’s texts and plans.
Q: What did you like most about Schoolwide’s Decodable Texts and Teaching Plans?
A: The collection of books is fantastic, in terms of how they’re organized to promote systematic phonics instruction and ensure students are progressing with their skills. They’re also engaging and very high-quality, which you don’t always see with decodables. There are real stories and characters, which keeps students interested and motivated, especially when they might be struggling at first.
The Teaching Plans are really a standout, for all levels of experience with phonics instruction. They provide extremely detailed before, during, and after the read guidance, including introductions of the books and associated skills, and helpful prompts to use during the read. From my perspective, they’re extremely supportive for teacher success and confidence, as well as for students’.
Schoolwide’s collection is also very flexible and can be used seamlessly with different Foundational Skills curricula.
Q: What advice do you have for teachers who are preparing to bring more phonics into their classrooms, or adopting new resources like decodable texts?
A: As with any change, it’s probably going to feel a little bumpy to start. But, for all the reasons I’ve mentioned, teachers should really embrace what resources like decodable texts can do for their students, in terms of building confidence and independence.
I would also encourage teachers to continue to expose students to many different types of books and reading experiences. We really need to remember that it’s our jobs to support the whole reader; and while decodables are excellent for strengthening the skills and seeing them come to life in books, we should continue to have robust classroom libraries and encourage kids to be curious and connect with different types of stories and texts.
Finally, I would say: build on the strength of what’s happening in your classroom. There isn’t one script or formula for every classroom or every child’s path to reading success, and each child brings unique experiences, knowledge, and life circumstances. Stay tapped into how your students are progressing and what their needs are. You might discover some interesting ways to integrate skills and reading experiences that work well for your students and for you.