‘Everybody loves a good story…But stories are not just fun. There are important cognitive consequences of the story format. Psychologists have therefore referred to stories as “psychologically privileged,” meaning that our minds treat stories differently than other types of material. People find stories interesting, easy to understand, and easy to remember.’
Daniel T. Willingham
One of BRI’s great achievements lies in shaping the phonics sequence of its books within stories brimming with humour and personality: stories that promote rigorous decoding/encoding and also offer copious practice in blending and segmenting. The first three BRI books contain just five sounds, yet miraculously manage to weave ingenious little stories that carry the storyline through the illustrations (no guessing!). A cast of bubbly, mischievous characters stir the curiosity of children, with their warm friendships, albeit accompanied by occasional spats and bursts of jealousy. At once, the animals engage empathy and understanding and act as a trigger for meaningful conversations and for extending word knowledge. This is vitally important for children with poor understanding and meagre vocabulary.
Here we meet –
Sam the Lion:
As befits the King of the Jungle, Sam is somewhat pompous and self-regarding. He is also rather lazy and gets mightily irritated when disturbed by friends in search of fun. He is, however, as quick to forgive as he is to anger. He perhaps isn’t quite as brave as one might expect of a lion. Hobbies include reading, dressing up, canoeing, lurking in caves, surfing and driving a bus.
Mat the Rat:
A lively little fellow, Mat is never afraid to bite off more than he can chew. The over-excitable Rat loves hats, reading, painting, baseball, scuba-diving and frolicking with his friends – irrespective of whether or not they’re in the mood. He’s smarter than he looks, often taking the initiative to solve problems that mystify his larger friends, and fancies himself as a bit of a teacher. He is, sadly, not above framing others for his own misdemeanours.
Mit the Chimp:
Underneath Mit’s cheery exterior lurks a surprisingly Machiavellian character. This is, after all, the guy who cunningly disguises himself as Sam the Lion, traumatises his friends with a pair of stilts, and literally ties Sis the Snake in knots. He enjoys lurking in trees and – slightly less traditionally for a member of the great ape family – creating kites and snowmen.
Sis the Snake:
Sis makes up in warmth and enthusiasm what she lacks in size. Naturally, she shares an apple-obsession with her biblical ancestor. She’s prone to hypochondria and falling down wells.
…And a whole cast of their friends and acquaintances.
All twenty-two characters in the BRI ‘family’ make their appearance on the fold-out A3 poster of our updated BRI & ARI leaflet – a stimulating visual prompt for conversations about the animals’ habits and personalities. The poster also presents a daily opportunity for beginner readers to practice sounding out and blending cvc words – Tut, Lil, Dash, Will and the rest of the gang (only Snap is accorded the honour of a 4-sound ccvc name!)
‘One of the great strengths of the BRI decodable stories is that they lend themselves to many of these “prediction” activities so well. The child can follow the illustrations and “predict” where the story is going: “Sam is holding that book up in front of his face! Look, he is going to fall into that big hole!” Having the child verbalize what is happening, and what WILL happen, makes the simple decoding meaningful in the context (on the next several pages, there are only a couple of words, as Sam’s friend anxiously calls his name and Sam’s voice floats up from the depths of the pit), with an opportunity to put prosody and attention to punctuation to work. Moreover, this “prediction” activity helps build the child’s narrative sense, a fundamental foundation language skill, which incorporates sequence, relationship, cause and effect and other variables as well. Prediction is also useful for discriminating word meanings: if the children are reading a story about farm animals, they can confidently “predict” that the word duck in the story will refer to the quacking biped, not to the action of leaning to enter a low doorway.’
Palisade. Yahoo Forum Beginning-Reading-Instruction
Development of the BRI Beginner Reading Programme
The intelligent, well-thought-out BRI beginner readers were developed by a distinguished team of educational psychologists and psychometricians over a number of years. The programme underwent trials in 4,000 classes in around 2000 schools – undergoing a number of adjustments along way. The resultant programme ensured:
- Robust, clear and straightforward instruction
- Minimum of teacher/TA preparation
- Maximum ease of learning with copious cvc practice within stories
- Low cost and easy to implement under all school conditions
- Careful choice of words to prevent guessing
- Illustrations that carry the storyline with no clues for the ‘guesser’
The flexible nature of BRI stories, used in conjunction with Systematic Synthetic Phonics programmes, accommodates brief one-to-one, group sessions and differentiation.
(It is also highly recommended to reread previous books from time to time and not to move on too fast. A minority of children may need many readings of a book to gain fluency.)
‘When we talk of closing the word gap, we actually mean something much bigger than that unassuming phrase implies. We mean welcoming a child into a world of new ideas, insights and emotions, into a world that we, the word-rich, take for granted, and which we will routinely guarantee for our own children.’
Geoff Barton, General Secretary, the Association of School & College Leaders