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The influence of decodability in early reading text on reading achievement: A review of the evidence

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Abstract

The purpose of this review is to synthesize the existing research on decodability as a text characteristic examining how reading decodable text impacts students’ reading performance and growth. The results are organized into two sections based on the research designs of the studies: (1) studies that described student performance when reading texts of varying decodability levels, and (2) studies that compared the reading performance of students after participation in a treatment that manipulated decodable text as an independent variable. Collectively the results indicate that decodability is a critical characteristic of early reading text as it increases the likelihood that students will use a decoding strategy and results in immediate benefits, particularly with regard to accuracy. The studies point to the need for multiple-criteria text with decodability being one key characteristic in ensuring that students develop the alphabetic principle that is necessary for successful reading, rather than text developed based on the single criterion of decodability.

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... Le caractère déchiffrable d'un texte dépend d'une part de la présence de mots irréguliers que la seule maitrise des CGP ne permet pas d'identiier (ex : le mot « femme » en français) et d'autre part des correspondances graphophonémiques qui ont été explicitement enseignées à l'élève (Mesmer, 2001). Il n'y a néanmoins aucun consensus sur un degré de déchiffrabilité optimal (Cheatham et Allor, 2012), pas plus que sur la pertinence d'utiliser des textes entièrement déchiffrables pour enseigner la lecture-écriture au CP. En 2000, le National Reading Panel souligne le petit nombre de recherches portant sur ce sujet : ...
... Depuis, quelques recherches ont exploré cette question. Plusieurs d'entre elles font état d'une plus grande utilisation des procédures de décodage graphophonologique lors de la lecture de textes déchiffrables, ainsi que d'un effet de facilitation de la lecture pour certains élèves (Cheatham et Allor, 2012). Plusieurs dispositifs d'aide aux élèves en dificulté dont l'eficacité a été validée par la recherche utilisent des textes entièrement ou largement déchiffrables. ...
... Toutefois, les résultats des élèves ayant travaillé à partir de textes décodables ne différaient pas signiicativement de ceux ayant travaillé avec des textes non décodables. PourCheatham et Allor (2012), le caractère intensif et individuel du soutien apporté par un tuteur formé peut avoir neutralisé l'effet des caractéristiques du texte. En effet, les élèves bénéiciaient d'un feedback systématique, d'une correction de chacune de leurs erreurs de décodage et d'une aide permanente, un ensemble de caractéristiques du dispositif qui semble avoir sufi à améliorer substantiellement les 8. « Systematic phonics programs vary in the percentage of decodable words in 1st-grade stories and in the percentage of sight words introduced holistically to make a good story. ...
... I found two research reviews on the effectiveness of decodable texts: Mesmer (2000) and Cheatham and Allor (2012); that included a total of five studies. (1985) found that at the end of first grade, the students using decodable texts did no better than those in a control group on reading comprehension and vocabulary (Iowa Test of Basic Skills) (Phonics Group: 78.5th percentile, Basel Group: 78.8th percentile). ...
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Several researchers have advocated the use of "decodable texts" for beginning reading instruction in English. This brief research review examines the evidence on the impact of decodable texts on reading comprehension and decoding ability in English. I conclude that the research does not support using these materials in early reading instruction.
... Generations of scholars, beginning with Jeanne Chall (1967), have looked into this topic, asking which types of texts are best for beginning readers, but they've arrived at few definitive conclusions (e.g., Cheatham & Allor, 2012). And because researchers have focused so much of their attention on early reading instruction, they've reached even fewer conclusions about the features of text -such as complexity, text type (i.e., narrative or informational), format, and diversity of perspectives -that support readers who've moved beyond a beginning level of proficiency. ...
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Much of the attention given to literacy, of late, has focused on ensuring that students can read, without consideration to what they are given to read. Kristin Conradi Smith & Elfrieda H. Hiebert discuss four general aspects of the texts used in elementary classrooms – text complexity, text type (narrative versus informational), text format (paper versus screen), and diversity of people presented in the text. They review recent research on each of these text characteristics and then make suggestions for how to apply the research in the classroom.
... A paucity of research also exists for the decodable texts that are currently advocated as foundational to successful reading acquisition (Reading League, 2020; Reading Rockets, 2019). Cheatham and Allor (2012), in the only existing review of decodable texts, concluded that there is very little evidence of a long-term impact on reading growth resulting from practice with decodable texts. They based this conclusion on the two studies that have directly addressed the effects of decodable texts relative to another text type with the same instructional routine (Jenkins et al., 2004;Juel & Roper/ Schneider, 1985), not studies where decodable texts were used as part of interventions with different instructional components (e.g., Foorman et al., 1998;Mathes et al., 2005). ...
... Teachers select decodable texts for Pink, Blue, and Green lessons. Using decodable texts at the early stages of reading development is thought to increase students' use of decoding strategies and improve accuracy (Cheatham & Allor, 2012). TRI uses commercially available decodable texts (Now I'm Reading! series by Nora Gaydos) chosen for their appealing illustrations and story lines. ...
Article
This article describes four key principles from Targeted Reading Instruction (TRI, formerly called Targeted Reading Intervention), an evidence‐based early reading intervention and professional development program. Focused on accelerating the growth of students not yet meeting grade‐level expectations, one‐on‐one 15‐minute daily TRI lessons engage students in developing phonemic awareness, phonics knowledge, decoding, fluency, vocabulary, and beginning reading comprehension. Four key principles guide TRI, which can be applied to classroom reading instruction. First, all work is done in the context of real words and connected text, placing meaning at the heart of instruction. Second, lessons keep it moving, as they follow a consistent structure, use activities to achieve multiple objectives, and make use of all available resources. Third, TRI teachers let the student do the work, engaging students in productive struggle. Fourth, explicit teaching of skills such as blending provides students with unique strategies to become confident independent readers.
... There is no evidence that all letter-sound patterns in words need to be taught, that simply providing a lesson on a pattern results in children's acquisition of that pattern, or that numerous exemplars of a pattern are better than repetition of one or two key words with the pattern (Cheatham & Allor, 2012). Indeed, evidence points to children's self-teaching of patterns to the contrary of these assumptions evident in decodable texts (Ricketts, Bishop, Pimperton, & Nation, 2011). ...
... This is reading as reinforcement for synthetic phonics teaching. Yet, there is little research evidence for the benefits of restricting reading in this way (Cheatham and Allor, 2012). Indeed, there are risks that decodable texts may limit comprehension through the contorted syntax they deploy in order to meet their lexical constraints ((Price-Mohr and Price, 2020)). ...
Article
This article considers the distinctive contribution that sociological perspectives have made to understanding reading as a profoundly social and cultural activity, differentiated by the specifics of time and place. Literacy researchers, using a social lens, have sought to explore, explain and redress inequalities in access to and uses of literacy in its different forms. This has often meant championing pedagogies premised on dialogue and connection. Yet this may conflict with an emphasis in current policy on children mastering a relatively narrow skills-based definition of literacy as they begin to learn to read. The article explores how the tension points in the literacy curriculum, intensified in test-based accountability systems, can be navigated in this light.
... Referring to the ability of decoding, it has been claimed that typically grown students need to have the phonological awareness skill, namely the ability to recognize the relation between sounds and matching letters and the rapid naming skill to acquire it (Soltani & Roslan, 2013). Decoding is a crucial skill for the inexperienced or weak readers since they could enter and study a decodable text (Cheatham & Allor, 2012). Researchers suggest that despite their difficulties in knowledge growth students with ID can acquire decoding skills. ...
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This article examines whether students with intellectual disability (ID) can respond to a teaching tasks with multiple reading skills in the secondary education. Research methodology is mixed with qualitative and quantitative data. We exploited the methodology of observation and the methodology of intervention in a student with moderate ID who was studying at a class of general middle school in region of Peloponnese, Greece. The program used for the student was the Targeted, Individual, Structured, and Integrated Program for Students with Special Educational Needs (TISIPfSENs). A questionnaire was also used, which was distributed to 103 adults. The results of the survey revealed that the student with ID was able to respond to word decoding skills and comprehension skills. Still, adults seemed to have a positive attitude towards use of TISIPfSENs. In the conclusions, it was emphasized that the TISIPFfSENs can support multiple reading skills for students with ID.
... A review of the research conducted in 2012 (Cheatham and Allor 2012), found only seven studies where text type was the sole independent variable, of which only three were intervention studies. Their conclusions were that results: were inconsistent and inconclusive across the studies; demonstrated that levelled and predictable texts were read more fluently than decodable text; and that the use of decodable text aids readers in grasping the alphabetic principles. ...
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We report a study where we investigated the effect of low or high phonically-decodable texts on young children learning to read. Two parallel series of 12 instructional reading books were used with 36 children in three schools. These books were purposely created so that each parallel book, in sequence, introduced the same number of new words. Children were randomly assigned to a condition in each classroom using a split-cluster design. Prior to reading the books, children played associated games to introduce the new vocabulary. Children were assessed at pre and post-intervention using standardised measures of word reading and comprehension. Our results demonstrate a statistically significant difference and large effect size for reading comprehension in favour of the low phonically-decodable texts. The findings challenge the assumption that children find highly decodable text easier to read, and may have implications for reading policies and classroom practice.
... At best, this is highly confusing for teachers. More research is needed in this area, but there is mounting evidence that decodable texts are more useful in the beginning stages of learning to read than are predictable books (Mesmer, 2005;Cheatham & Allor, 2012). What is not debatable is that phonics is the most direct route to skilled reading, as explained earlier. ...
Chapter
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This chapter explains how beginning readers are taught the alphabetic principle using systematic and explicit phonics instruction in the first few years of school. The purpose of this type of instruction is to teach all beginning readers how to decode and recognise words accurately, independently and automatically. This is achieved by directly and systematically teaching children letter–sound correspondence in a planned sequence. Word recognition is described as one component of skilled reading alongside comprehension, but it is the component that represents the foundation of future reading success.
... Estas dos características hacen que los libros decodificables sean un andamiaje en el uso contextualizado del principio alfabético mientras se aprende a leer y escribir (Cheatham & Allor, 2012)and (2, favoreciendo no solo la automatización lectora, sino los procesos de comprensión lectora desde el inicio de la alfabetización. ...
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Este proyecto diseñó una metodología para la creación de libros decodificables que serían utilizados como herramienta de práctica de la lectura inicial de los estudiantes del proyecto Leer en la República Dominicana. El artículo2 presenta los fundamentos teóricos en los que se basa la creación y el uso de este tipo de material, así como evidencia empírica a través de levantamientos de datos para confirmar que las decisiones técnicas tomadas durante la actividad fueran las más apropiadas. Como resultado, se crearon 18 libros originales categorizados en 6 etapas decodificables, una guía estandarizada sobre la redacción de este tipo de material y plantillas electrónicas mediante el uso del programa de computadora BLOOM para su diagramación y producción en masa. Esta actividad innovadora es un ejemplo de la toma de decisiones educativas basadas en la evidencia, ya que parte de una necesidad previamente identificada, además de que su desarrollo fue sistematizado y evaluado. Tiene un componente multiplicador de importancia, pues fomenta que otros actores, fuera del proyecto y de la República Dominicana, tengan no solo acceso al material, sino también la oportunidad de producir y compartir sus propios libros decodificables con la comunidad educativa.
... Ayisha-those learning to decode twosyllable or multisyllabic words-often benefit from learning syllabication strategies and structural analysis. Struggling decoders also must apply their developing decoding skills in oral reading of text that provides a reasonable match to their word-reading skills, with teacher guidance and feedback (Cheatham & Allor, 2012;Vadasy, Sanders, & Peyton, 2005). ...
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Patterns of reading difficulty provide an educationally useful way to think about different kinds of reading problems, whether those problems are mainly experiential in nature (e.g., those common among English learners) or associated with disabilities (e.g., those typical of children with dyslexia). This article reviews research on three common patterns of poor reading: specific word-reading difficulties, specific reading-comprehension difficulties, and mixed reading difficulties. The purpose of the article is to explain how teachers can use assessments to identify individual struggling readers’ patterns of reading difficulties, and how this information is valuable in differentiating classroom instruction and planning interventions.
... If these students are not far behind grade level in reading, they might be able to function reasonably well reading grade-appropriate texts with teacher scaffolding and support or with accommodations such as extended time. However, children with SWRD must have opportunities to apply their developing decoding skills in texts that provide a reasonable match to the word recognition and decoding skills they have learned (Cheatham & Allor, 2012;Ehri, 2004;Vadasy, Sanders, & Peyton, 2005). If the text contains many words that children cannot decode, then this mismatch may discourage their application of decoding strategies when reading text and impede their development of reading fluency. ...
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This study examined first graders' accuracy and reading rate in highly decodable and qualitatively leveled texts. The study inspected accuracy and rate by different levels of practice (practiced vs. unpracticed) and at different times of the year (October, January, and May). Seventy-four first graders read both leveled and decodable texts with and without practice and then reread the same texts throughout the year. The accuracy results were inconclusive, favoring decodable texts in one analysis and leveled texts in another analysis. However, participants were significantly more fluent (words per minute) in practiced readings of leveled texts. Across the first-grade year, first graders were also more fluent in leveled texts although differences diminished throughout the year. Specific text features that facilitated fluency in leveled texts are discussed.
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erhaps the most important responsibility of educators in the primary grades is to ensure that all students become competent readers. The degree of success in be-coming a competent reader typically is established in the early grades (Francis, Shaywitz, Stuebing, Shaywitz, & Fletcher, 1996; Juel, 1988; Torgesen & Burgess, 1998). Unless effective instructional practices are used in this critical period, the inequities that commonly divide our students are likely to continue (Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998).
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A lthough written English displays three types of units that make contact with readers' knowledge of language, letters, words, and sentences, read-ers' eyes come to favor words as the units that are most easily processed (Rayner & Pollatsek, 1989). The advantage of words over sentences is that words can be assimilated in one glance. The advantage of words over letters is that writ-ten words correspond more reliably to spoken words than letters correspond to phonemes. Many years ago, Cattell (1886) found that readers could recognize a whole word more readily than a single letter. More recent studies have verified the word-superiority effect (Reicher, 1969; Wheeler, 1970). Various ways to read words can be distinguished: by sight, by decoding (also called phonological recoding), 1 by analogizing, by processing spelling patterns, and by contextual guessing. When people read words by sight, they ac-cess information stored in their lexicons (mental dictionaries) from previous ex-periences reading those words. On seeing a familiar written word, readers access the word's identities, including its pronunciation, meaning, syntactic identity (its typical grammatical role in sentences), and orthographic identity (information about its spelling) (Ehri, 1978, 1980). Words appearing frequently in text are more apt to be read by sight than words appearing infrequently because some practice is needed to form access routes into lexical memory for specific words. Several behaviors indicate sight-word reading: when words are read as whole units without any pauses between phonemes or syllables; when words are read rapidly, faster than nonsense words having comparable spelling patterns; when irregularly spelled words are pronounced correctly rather than decoded phoneti-cally (reading recipe as /re ˘-s∂-pe -/ rather than /re --sı -p) 2 (Adams & Huggins, 1985); when correct spellings are distinguished from homophonous spellings (rain vs. rane; sword vs. sord; pear vs. pair; write vs. right) (Olson, 1985; Stanovich & West, 1989).
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This study investigated the effects of highly decodable text and coordinated phonics instruction on first graders' word recognition strategies. The quantitative study sought to examine the validity of a major claim about highly decodable text—that it enables readers to apply phonics instruction to a greater extent than less decodable text. All participants received the same fourteen-day phonics instruction. However, participants read either highly decodable or less decodable text following the instruction. Treatment participants reading highly decodable text were found to apply letter/sound knowledge to a greater extent than control participants. They also were more accurate and relied on examiners less for assistance. Treatment and control participants did not differ in self-correction rates. As a replication of an earlier study, this work suggested that readers with knowledge of the alphabetic principle, given the same phonics instruction, will apply it more in a highly decodable context.
Article
In this study, we investigated the reliability of two current approaches for estimating text difficulty at the firstgrade level: the Scale for Text Accessibility and Support (STAS-1) and the Fountas/Pinnell system. We analyzed the performance of 105 first-grade students in texts leveled using these systems in the areas of rate, accuracy, and fluency. Students read these texts under three support conditions: sight reading, read-aloud (modeled), and previewed. The predictive validity of the two rating scales was supported by the performance data. Statistically significant effects were found for the various support conditions. Further, our analysis suggests potential benchmarks for first-grade performance: 95% accuracy; 80 words per minute; and a fluency rating of 3 (on a 1–5 scale).
Article
The program of research on reading sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) is one important source of information for practitioners choosing best practices for early literacy instruction. On the basis of evidence from both normal and disabled readers, this research indicates that multiple factors are critical to early literacy success and that phonological knowledge and skill is one such element. The utility of this body of research was called into question by Allington and Woodside-Jiron in a November 1999 Educational Researcher article titled "The Politics of Literacy Teaching: How 'Research' Shaped Educational Policy." This response to that article is written to examine policymaking activities that are misrepresented, to correct mistakes made by Allington and Woodside-Jiron about the range and utility of NICHD research, to correct possible misperceptions of the NICHD-supported research effort that might arise in the minds of those who read the Allington and Woodside-Jiron article, and to present new evidence that clarifies the utility of much of this research.
Article
This study examined the role of various word features (e.g., versatile letter combinations) and basal text factors (e.g., word repetitions) in the developing word recognition skills of 93 first-grade students. The relative influence of the word characteristics in two different types of basal series on the acquisition of word identification skills was evaluated several times during the first-grade year. Results indicate that the text children are exposed to early in first grade may differentially shape their word identification strategies. /// [French] Cette étude a examiné le rôle de diverses caractéristiques de mots (ex: combinaisons de lettres versatiles) et les facteurs de textes de base (ex: répétitions de mots) dans le développement des compétences de reconnaissance de mots parmi 93 élèves de cours préparatoire. On a evalué plusieurs fois durant l'année de cours l'influence relative des caractéristiques de mots dans deux types différents de séries de base sur l'acquisition de compétences d'identification de mots. Les résultats ont indiqué que le texte auquel on expose les enfants tôt en cours préparatoire peut former de manière différentielle leurs stratégies d'identification de mots. /// [Spanish] Este estudio examinó la función de varias características de palabras (v.g.: combinaciones versátiles de letras) y de factores de texto básico (v.g.: repeticiones de palabras) en el desarrollo de las destrezas de reconocimiento de palabras de 93 alumnos de primer grado. La influencia relativa de las características de palabras en 2 diferentes series de textos básicos sobre la adquisición de destrezas de identificación de palabras, fue evaluada varias veces durante el año de primer grado. Los resultados indican que el texto al que son expuestos los alumnos a principios del primer grado, puede diferenciar el desarrollo de las estrategias de identificación de palabras.
Article
This article reviews the literature on decodable text, instructional material containing words with phonically regular relationships that the reader has been taught. In doing so the work establishes a definition for decodability by consolidating previous quantitative and qualitative analyses of words in text and by examining other word features. In addition, the theoretical purposes of decodable text are inspected, as are the very few studies that specifically examine the effects of text decodability on readers. The findings of this review are synthesized into a theoretical model that suggests a specific developmental juncture in which decodable text may be useful. In suggesting future research the work concludes that additional analyses of words in text are not necessary. Instead research should focus on the following: 1) experimental examinations of readers’ interactions with decodable text; 2) inspection of readers’ behavior as they read text with varying degrees of decodability; and 3) operation of text decodability with readers of varying abilities.
Article
At-risk 1st graders were randomly assigned to tutoring in more or less decodable texts, and instruction in the same phonics program. The more decodable group (n = 39) read storybooks that were consistent with the phonics program. The less decodable group (n = 40) read storybooks written without phonetic control. During the first 30 lessons, storybook decodability was 85% versus 11% for the 2 groups. Tutoring occurred 4 days per week for 25 weeks. A control group did not receive tutoring in phonics or story reading. Both tutored groups significantly surpassed the control on an array of decoding, word reading, passage reading, and comprehension measures. However, the more and less decodable text groups did not differ on any posttest.
Article
When students attain reading skill, they learn to read words in several ways. Familiar words are read by sight. Unfamiliar words are read by decoding, by analogy to known words, or by prediction from graphophonic and contextual cues. Five phases of development are identified to distinguish the course of word reading; each phase is characterized by students’ working knowledge of the alphabetic system, which is central for acquiring word reading skill. The phases are: pre‐alphabetic, partial alphabic, full alphabetic, consolidated alphabetic, and automatic alphabetic. The usefulness of this information for teachers of problem readers is explained.
Article
Reading words may take several forms. Readers may utilize decoding, analogizing, or predicting to read unfamiliar words. Readers read familiar words by accessing them in memory, called sight word reading. With practice, all words come to be read automatically by sight, which is the most efficient, unobtrusive way to read words in text. The process of learning sight words involves forming connections between graphemes and phonemes to bond spellings of the words to their pronunciations and meanings in memory. The process is enabled by phonemic awareness and by knowl-edge of the alphabetic system, which functions as a powerful mnemonic to secure spellings in memory. Recent studies show that alphabetic knowledge enhances chil-dren's learning of new vocabulary words, and it influences their memory for doubled letters in words. Four phases characterize the course of development of sight word learning. The phases are distinguished according to the type of alphabetic knowledge used to form connections: pre-alphabetic, partial, full, and consolidated alphabetic phases. These processes appear to portray sight word learning in transparent as well as opaque writing systems. Life is indeed exciting but demanding these days for researchers who study read-ing. Because many educators are seeking evidence as the basis for decisions about reading instruction, there is great interest in scientific studies of reading processes and instruction. My studies over the years have focused on how beginners learn to read words. My plan is to review what I think we know about learning to read words, particularly sight words; to present some new findings that involve chil-dren's vocabulary learning and memory for orthographic structure; and to point out some issues that linger. An issue of special interest is whether this research in English is relevant for more transparent orthographies.
The purpose of this study was to investigate the relationship between different text-leveling systems and reading accuracy and fluency in second-grade students with and without decoding difficulties. Two-hundred-forty-eight second-grade students, 44 identified as low achieving (LA) and 204 identified as average achieving (AA) in decoding skill, participated in the 15-week study. During the study teachers collected data weekly on students' text-reading accuracy and fluency using curriculum-based measurement (CBM) techniques. Text attributes such as readability, decodability, percentage of high frequency words, average words per sentence, and percentage of multisyllabic words were estimated for each passage. Results using the entire sample of children indicated that accuracy of text reading was uniquely predicted by the percentage of high frequency words in the passages, whereas both the percentage of high frequency words and passage decodability made unique contributions to variance in passage-reading fluency. Moreover, results suggested that the relationship between text-leveling variables and reading performance was similar in the LA and AA groups, with only a slight trend favoring a stronger relationship between passage decodability and measures of text-reading performance in the AA group compared to the LA group.
Qualitative reading inventory New York: HarperCollins. The influence of decodability
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Leslie, L., & Caldwell, J. (1990). Qualitative reading inventory. New York: HarperCollins. The influence of decodability Mathes, P. G., Denton, C. A., Fletcher, J. M., Anthony, J. L., Francis, D. J., & Schatschneider, C. (2005).
First-grade reading gains following enrichment: Phonics plus decodable texts compared to authentic literature read aloud. Reading Improvement
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Text matters: Readers who learn with decodable texts
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So what’s new in the “new” basals
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Literature anthologies: The task for first grade readers Ann Arbor, MI: Center for the Improvement of Early Reading Achievement
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Decodable text: A review of what we know. Reading Research and Instruction
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Development of the ability to read words
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