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Teach students to decode words, analyze word parts, and write and recognize words: SIPPS and IES/WWC Instruction (Part 1)

The IES: What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guide Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade includes four basic evidence-based principles for early literacy instruction. The suggestions for best practice are in line with the results-based instruction found in all three levels of SIPPS (Systematic Instruction in Phonological Awareness, Phonics, and Sight Words) Levels – Recommendation 3: Teach students to decode words, analyze word parts, and write and recognize words through three increasingly sophisticated levels.

The WWC panel and staff assigned a strong level of evidence to Recommendation 3 based on the positive impacts of teaching students to decode words, analyze word parts, and write words. The positive effects of the practices were observable with diverse students.

As students encounter more and more challenging text, they must be able to read with accuracy and automaticity, prosody, and comprehension. Being able to recognize words quickly allows students to focus more on meaning, which ultimately supports reading comprehension. To read with automaticity, students must learn to:

  • Apply their letter-sound knowledge to decode and read words both in isolation and in connected texts
  • Segment and read multi-syllable words by breaking down the word using word parts and syllables
  • Recognize letter patterns and word parts, and understand that sounds relate to letters in predictable and unpredictable patterns
  • Immediately recognize high-frequency words (especially those with irregular, unpredictable spellings)

How might we meet the decoding needs of students? The panel identifies six instructional components:

  • Teach students to blend letter sounds and sound-spelling patterns from left to right within a word to produce a recognizable pronunciation.
  • Instruct students in common sound-spelling patterns.
  • Teach students to recognize common word parts.
  • Have students read decodable words in isolation and in text.
  • Teach regular and irregular high-frequency words so that students can recognize them efficiently.
  • Introduce non-decodable words that are essential to the meaning of the text as whole words.

In this blog, I’ll address the ways the SIPPS Levels supports the first three components.

Teach students to blend letter sounds and sound-spelling patterns from left to right within a word to produce a recognizable pronunciation.

  • SIPPS Beginning Level has clear instructional routines that support students in learning consonant and short vowel spelling-sounds by pronouncing pure, undistorted continuous and stop sounds.

  • Continuous blending is a powerful technique to teach students to blend from left to right. In continuous blending, there is no pause between the sounds in a word: /mmmaaannn/ rather than /m/ /a/ /n/.
  • The “Guided Spelling and Segmentation” routine supports students as they use segmentation skills to encode CVC words by sound.

Instruct students in common sound-spelling patterns

After learning and practicing single spelling-sound correspondences, students must go on to understand more complex spellings, such as complex vowels and consonant blends. They also begin to learn common standard syllable types.

  • SIPPS Extension Level (and SIPPS Plus, a decoding intervention for older students) addresses the spelling-pattern stage of the reading. Spelling patterns beyond consonants and short vowels are taught in explicit lessons.
  • Students are introduced to new spelling patterns and review previously introduced patterns.
  • Students use their growing knowledge of spelling patterns during the Read a Mixed List routine in daily lessons. The words in the list are a mixture of newly introduced and previously introduced spellings.
  • The Guided Spelling routine is never a spelling test. It is an opportunity to develop segmentation skills and to apply and reinforce decoding through encoding. The Guided Spelling rationale and description in the SIPPS Teacher’s Manual provide a full explanation of this important practice.
  • The Guided Spelling routine also teaches students to “think ahead” when there is more than one way to represent a sound (e.g., the long a sound can be represented in three common ways: a_e, ai, and ay). The guiding approach teaches students to be thoughtful spellers; moving away from the mindset of “I know how to spell this word” or “I don’t know how to spell this word” to “what are the ways this word might be spelled?”, an approach that is applicable to any words the student may want to spell.

Teach students to recognize common word parts

The panel recommends that students learn to analyze common word parts using base words and affixes.

  • SIPPS Extension Level (and SIPPS Plus) and SIPPS Challenge Level start the process of adding inflectional endings to base words that have short vowel spellings, final-e spellings, and complex vowel patterns. New knowledge is applied to reading and to guided spelling.
  • Explicit instructional routines include specific correction routines that support students’ thinking when they are uncertain about a pronunciation. Correction routines train the students’ brains to think carefully about a word they are unfamiliar with.

  • SIPPS Extension Level (and SIPPS Plus) supports students as they begin to read syllable by syllable; this process is extended fully in SIPPS Challenge Level. The instruction and practice give students the tools they need to unlock unfamiliar words. SIPPS Extension Level provides structured support for reading polysyllabic words in three steps:
    • In lessons 17-25, the teacher frames each syllable to guide the students to look at each word part.
    • In lessons 26-31, the students learn to recognize and read consonant-l-e syllables.
    • In lessons 32-40, the students read polysyllabic words that have a VCCV pattern. For more information, see the Reading VCCV Words routine in the Routines Appendix of the Extension Level Teacher’s Manual.
  • Polysyllabic decoding beginning in SIPPS Extension Level gives first- and second-grade students the tools they need to meet the reading demands of grade-level text.
  • SIPPS Challenge Level continues the deeper work of morphology by providing daily instruction and consistent experience with base and root word with various affixes. For example:
    • produce
    • produced
    • producing
    • production
    • The work with morphology increases students’ ability to decode polysyllabic words, but it also supports comprehension of words with connected meanings.

My next blog will feature the final three instructional components of Recommendation 3: Teach students to decode words, analyze word parts, and write and recognize words through three increasingly sophisticated levels.

To learn more about the first two recommendations in the report, see Part 1 and Part 2 of this blog series.