I have been working in conjunction with Tools 4 Reading’s founder, Dr. Mary Dahlgren, on a new series for second grade readers. Called Venture Town Readers, this bright, kind, and colorful set of readers is set in the world of Venture Town, a place where fun and friendship lead the way while kids share their stories, cultures, and feelings. The kids of Venture Town play and learn together within engaging stories designed to motivate and capture the imagination of developing readers. As students get to know the Venture Town kids, they will identify with them, attach to them, and want to share in their adventures along the way. Students’ attachment to the characters will enhance their motivation to read from one story to the next and, while doing so, they consolidate their reading skills and develop into more automatic and effortless readers!
How Venture Town Readers go “beyond decodable”
When teachers provide students with books that emphasize a systematic and sequential progression of skills and give them a chance to pause and have opportunities to develop automaticity with those reading skills, they are providing a powerful tool in the progression from novice readers to developing readers, and finally to fluent, effortless readers.
The Simple View of Reading (Word Recognition x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension, Gough and Tunmer 1986), helps us understand that decodable books offer support for the Word Recognition part of the Simple View of Reading formula. One of the arguments against decodable books is that they have such simple stories that we cannot use them to develop language comprehension skills.
Venture Town Readers have addressed that concern by going “beyond decodables”; they have enough controlled vocabulary in the text to enable them to be used for decoding practice. However, in going beyond the typical decodable text, the teacher will also build language skills and knowledge of the world. Venture Town Readers address both sides of the Simple View of Reading and create the greatest possibility for successful reading comprehension.
Orthographic Mapping and Venture Town Readers
Orthographic mapping relates to the connection of letters and sounds which, when made often enough, can glue them to the spellings and the meanings of words held in the reader’s phonological lexicon. This process enables words to be stored in memory in the brain, becoming automatic words. As students move through the phases of reading development, these connections improve until the units of connection represent full, conventional orthographic representations of single to multisyllabic words, including morphemes (Ehri, 2005). Orthographic mapping is enabled and enhanced by phonemic awareness and phoneme-grapheme knowledge.
As students read the Venture Town stories, they encounter similar words and patterns. This repetition helps the bonding of phonemic knowledge, spelling and meaning, enabling the reader to store and easily retrieve learned words. Readers will move from the Full Alphabetic Phase and transition successfully into the Consolidated Phase of Ehri’s Phases of Word Recognition (Ehri,1996), in which they gain automaticity and become pattern seekers and self-teachers of new patterns.
Venture Town Readers Include Social and Emotional Learning
Social and Emotional Learning is the process through which all young people and adults acquire and apply the knowledge, skills, and attitudes to develop healthy identities; manage emotions and achieve personal and collective goals; feel and show empathy for others; establish and maintain supportive relationships; and make responsible and caring decisions (CASEL, 2021).
Our students come to us with varying degrees of social-emotional strength and need. Books can touch both a student’s mind as well as their heart. It is our hope that students will fall in love with Dom, Izzy, Billy, and their friends and relatives as they join them on their adventures in Venture Town. As readers attach to these delightful children, they will identify with their own hopes, dreams, and fears. We are confident these stories will serve as touchstones for students to help spark discussions that will help them navigate a path through their own emotions and develop strength to believe in their own hopes and dreams, as they read and enhance their emotional literacy.
English Language Learners and Venture Town Readers
Our second language learners have so much experience and depth to bring to the Venture Town Readers experience. Although these books are not at the basic phonics level, they will be perfect for students who have reached a developmental level in their reading skills that allows them to access these books. The clear and explicit lesson plans contain daily phonemic awareness and phonics practice, combined with vocabulary and language development, connections, information about knowledge of the world, direct work with sentence construction which will build grammatical sensitivity and writing extensions that are the product extensive oral rehearsal.
I am excited about sharing how we can enhance our reading instruction by teaching both sides of the Simple View of Reading as we approach literacy instruction with developing readers. Research tells us that just as word recognition can facilitate language learning, so too, language learning can facilitate word learning.
I hope this overview of Venture Town Readers is helpful and can help you consider embarking on this unique approach to teaching your developing readers – going beyond decodables and creating comprehensive reading instruction that can stimulate language, enhance comprehension and deepen engagement. Check out the Venture Town Readers page for more information.