*Note: Many of the following questions are addressed in more detail on Katie’s SECRET STORIES® BlogThey can be accessed by clicking on the text-links in each section, below.

1. What are the SECRET STORIES®? 
Simply put, the SECRET STORIES® are the reasons WHY the letters make the sounds that they do. Disguising critical phonemic skills as ‘grown-up’ reading and writing SECRETS prompts learners’ curiosity over observed inconsistencies in text, motivating them to discover WHY a letter/ letter pattern is not making the sound/sounds that it should.

2. How do the SECRET STORIES® differ from traditional phonics series and instruction?
The SECRET STORIES® is NOT a program, but rather, a brain based bag-of-tricks to underscore existing reading and writing instruction and accelerate critical phonemic skill acquisition so as to ensure a comprehensive skill base at even the earliest Kindergarten grade levels. It was designed as a brain based, phonics tool kit— one that provides teachers and students with what they need, when they need it!

The SECRET STORIES® is not a phonics program, nor does it rely on repetitious skill practice for acquisition. The SECRETS provide the logical and meaningful explanations that our brains crave for why letters “do what they do when they don’t do what they should.” In this way, rote memorization is replaced with genuine learner-understanding.

Presenting logical explanations for why the letters/letter patterns change the sounds that they make minimizes learner-reliance on rote memorization and sight recognition, and replaces isolated skill practice with skill reinforcement through authentic reading and writing activities that occur naturally throughout the entire instructional day. By introducing the SECRET STORIES® in context of existing curriculum and instruction, they can be shared the moment they are needed so as to empower students to take the lead in their own instruction!

3. Are there SECRET STORIES®  for every phonics pattern?
A ‘grown-up’ reading and writing SECRET has been created for any letter/ letter pattern that occurs approximately ‘five times or more’ in the English Language. This SECRET formula of ‘five times or more’ is based upon the idea that too many cooks in the kitchen spoils the pot’” (or at least, confuses the pot!) In other words, confusion is likely to occur when presenting learners with ‘too many rules’ serving ‘too little purpose’ with regard to the overall number of words in which they are found. Therefore, SECRETS were not created for phonemic patterns that either apply to only a small handful of words (five or less) or, that are unnecessary in order to successfully sound-out/ spell a word. Put another way, the SECRET STORIES® guarantees teachers and students the most “brain-bang” for the instructional-buck!

SECRET STORIES® patterns include:
Sneaky Y®
Superhero Vowels® (and their “short & lazy” sound disguises!)                                                 Mommy E®Babysitter Vowels®  (how to know whether a vowel will be long or short)
ce/ce/cy & ge/gi/gy
‘i’ Tries ‘e’ on for Size!                                                                                                                      The Blends

(Note that several of these have additional sound variations, or ‘default’ sound options, and these are also built into the SECRETS. This provides learners with a ‘hierarchy of likelihood’ for greater predictability in determining the ‘most-likely’ and ‘next-most-likely’ successful word attack or spelling, especially with unfamiliar text.)

Providing learners with these SECRETS throughout the course of ongoing, daily instruction promotes the development of a ‘construct for learning,’ or a phonemic-framework through which newly these introduced skills are made easily and immediately accessible to learners, thereby accelerating a comprehensive skill-base, critical to reading and writing success.

It is within this newly formed construct for learning that learners at even the early Kindergarten-level are able to build the same ‘arsenal of tools’ for reading and writing as intermediate grade students, which allows them to more fully engage in daily literacy activities. This is far more desirable than providing learners with only ‘bits and pieces’ of the code as they make their way from Kindergarten to second grade.

4. For what grade levels are the SECRET STORIES® most appropriate?
The SECRETS are not grade or age-specific, as the phonemic skills necessary to read and write effectively remain the same, whether a learner is six or sixty! While the text may change, the code the text consists of does not, and because the SECRET STORIES® are brain based rather than skill-based, they are equally effective in equipping learners at any age-level with the skills necessary to plow through unfamiliar text with ease.
Primary Grades (PreK-2nd): Use of the SECRET STORIES® allows learners to acquire BOTH individual letters, sounds, and phonemic patterns simultaneously, creating a comprehensive arsenal of tools, and ensuring learners have ‘what they need, when they need it’ to read and write!
Intermediate Grades (3rd-5th and ABOVE): The SECRET STORIES® provides a quick and effective means for catching-up below-grade level learners at the intermediate levels- ‘plugging the holes’ in their existing skill ability, as the SECRETS™ can be chewed up and swallowed down fast by ALL learners, and without impeding the momentum of ongoing, grade-level instruction. For intermediate learners on or above grade level or above, knowledge of the SECRETS serve to greatly enhance overall spelling ability, as well as strengthen accuracy in decoding more complex vocabulary in higher level/ advanced texts.

5. Are the SECRET STORIES® strategies aligned with research-based practices?
Yes! The SECRET STORIES® strategies are built upon the most current neural research showing how our brains actually learn best!
Through interpretation of phonemic patterns in simultaneous visual, auditory and kinesthetic formats, learners are provided with multiple pathways, or neural-connections to skills, allowing for both easier and more immediate retrieval. This multi-modal presentation transforms random and abstract letter/sound skills into a personally relevant and familiar, easily accessible learner skill base.

The result is an ideal learning framework through which phonemic patterns become easier to identify, and their sounds more predictable. As learners acquire and manipulate these skills within this already familiar, social-emotive thinking construct, skill acquisition is not only accelerated, but critical-thinking and diagnostic problem-solving capabilities are strengthened, as per their continuing and ongoing efforts working their way through unfamiliar text.

6. Are there SECRET STORIES® for the individual letters and sounds?
While the phonemic patterns are identified using the SECRETS, the individual letters and sounds are actually acquired through motor memory (a.k.a. “body intelligence”) using music and tapping into learners’ body intelligence, so as to provide the ideal, alternative route for effortless and accelerated sound-skill mastery! This is especially ideal for early learners whose cognitive and auditory capabilities are often limited, as they are still developing.

Unlike traditional letter sound instruction, acquisition of these sound skills using muscle-memory does not require the same level of cognitive readiness or processing capability on the part of the learner. For this reason, both Kindergarten and pre-K are able to acquire all of the individual letters and sounds in a period of just 2-weeks to 2-months! (“The Better Alphabet Song” 2x per day) 

Because the short vowel sounds are too similar in sound and production to rely on motor memory for their retention, they are acquired through simple dramatic action cues that connect learners with their corresponding sounds instantly. This is an especially effective technique for ELL/ ESL learners, whose native language is other than English and are therefore do not have these sounds in their own language.

7. How do the SECRET STORIES® impact student writing?
Research shows that “reading and writing are identical processes in the brain, up to the approximate age of seven, or, until these skills have become automatic.” This means that neurologically-speaking, each activity reinforces the other. This means that at the initial stages of reading and writing, learners should progress in both reading and writing at approximately the same rate, as these skills are acquired simultaneously in the brain, each naturally reinforcing of the other.

The inherent connection between the two is best observed when beginning learners are attempting to decode or encode unfamiliar text—either in their attempts to identify the symbol/symbols needed to denote the sound/sounds in words they are trying to write/spell, or determine the correct sound to make for the symbol/symbols they see in words, when reading. This naturally reciprocal ‘sound–to-symbol’/ ‘symbol-to-sound’ relationship is broken when rote memorization of sight words becomes the primary means through which a learner is able to engage with text, as they are no longer actively manipulating the sounds and symbols. As a result, learners whose literacy skill base consists mainly of memorized sight words derives minimal benefit from the reciprocal nature of these processes within the brain, as they are no longer a reinforcement of one another.

8. What is the purpose of the music, and why is it referred to as auditory practice?
Research shows that in order for a learner to truly own a skill, he must be able to manipulate it quickly and effortlessly (i.e “Twist it, turn it, flip it and flop it,…every which way to Sunday!”) so as to know that they know it!

The auditory exercises on the SECRET STORIES® CD are intended to serve this purpose, acting as musical brain-teasers and designed to bolster learner-automaticity of newly-acquired phonemic sound skills— from basic letter sounds to complex phonemic patterns. Learners are prompted through the musical exercises to quickly move from ‘sound to symbol’ and ‘symbol to sound’ so as to effectively mimic the decoding and encoding processes, thereby greatly accelerate learners’ overall abilities to both read and write quickly and effortlessly.

The musical exercises are rigorous musical puzzles that provide learners with a creative outlet for interacting with and manipulating the SECRET STORIES® skills, and unlike traditional skill-based practice songs, these exercises cannot be sung on auto-pilot with no thought required, as they are constantly changing entities- made to be continuously flipped and flopped, twisted and turned, challenging learners to think fast!

Utilizing music for the purpose of rigorous skill-manipulation is the key to increasing learners’ skill-automaticity, which is crucial in the successful transition from the initial goal of learning to READ, to ultimate goal of actually reading to LEARN!

9. How do the SECRET STORIES® address exceptions?
The typical exceptions in language pose little problem for learners who know the SECRETS because of their comprehensive skill base. Even the exceptions typically contain just enough letters that are “doing what they should,” so as to allow learners to effectively “work around” those that aren’t and still sound-out the word. In this way, learners who know the SECRETS are much less likely to be impeded in their decoding efforts, as compared to learners with only a partial knowledge of the patterns and sounds in language!’

There are a handful of words, however, that are not possible to decode, and these words are sent to Jail! The Word Jail is the SECRET STORIES® version of a Word Wall, and is the ideal place to keep tabs on words that cannot be sounded-out. These words are best identified by ‘sight’ and therefore, must be memorized. (i.e. the one-syllable, high frequency sight words: of, was, could, one, two, etc… )

Possessing the ability to make these types of distinctions empowers beginning and struggling learners as readers and writers, allowing them to take a more active and independent role in daily interactions with text. Knowing all of the letters’ “secrets” equips them to easily work through the various sound options for letters in text, so as to easily identify their most and next most likely sound behaviors with minimal effort. In this way, learners become empowered to actually read words, rather than just memorize them. Learners can’t be expected to think outside the box if they don’t know what’s in it, and the SECRET STORIES® are everything in the box! 

“It just is…It just does….You just have to remember,” is quickly replaced with, “What else could it be… What else can I try?” (The “Thinking Like a Doctor” section of the book addresses these and other critical thinking strategies learners can employ when working with the SECRETS in relation to text.) Through this higher-level thinking process, daily reading and writing instruction is transformed into a virtual playground of infinite critical thinking and diagnostic problem-solving opportunities!