BRI Beginning Reading Instruction
BRI (Beginning Reading Instruction). This series of decodable readers is designed to be a tool for teaching the ‘how to’ of reading. The programme consists of meticulously sequenced books. Incremental introduction of the Alphabetic Code is based on painstaking research including widespread school trials. Text in the books is limited to single-syllable words, making the early steps of reading as easy as possible to enable learners to read ALL the words in the story.
The books are used by teachers in mainstream Reception and Y1 and in special schools. They are particularly beneficial for struggling readers; a daily 5-15 minute session with a TA or a volunteer, in addition to mainstream synthetic phonics teaching, will normally preclude the need for later reading intervention.
How Children Learn to Read
1. Clear, brief, easy-to-use instruction
BRI instruction is spare and unambiguous. By consistently focusing on decoding-through-the-word, the books avoid the ‘mixed strategies’ which confuse many children.
“Truth is ever to be found in the simplicity and not in the multiplicity and confusion of things.” – Isaac Newton
2. Preventing memory overload
Only five graphemes and three words are introduced in the early storybooks. Children with poor short-term memory gain confidence by narrowing the focus of their attention and by learning new material at their own pace.
“Approximately 70% of children with learning difficulties in reading obtain very low scores on tests of working memory that are rare in children with no special educational needs.” – Gathercole & Alloway, Working Memory and Learning: A Practical Guide for Teachers
3. Lightening the cognitive load
Children learn best when they aren’t grappling with too many confusing ideas (i.e. multi-cueing). Complexity is detrimental to Alphabetic Code understanding.
“We have overcomplicated teaching.” – Jo Facer, ResearchEd 2016
4. Building memory
Words and correspondences are regularly revisited.
“Learning requires long-term memory retention, and what most aids retention is frequent retrieval practice.” – Joe Kirby, Pragmatic Education
5. Spaced repetition
Information is better retained if it is studied for brief periods, spread over a few days or weeks, rather than intensively in a single period. All new sound/letter correspondences are repeated many times in each short book and in subsequent books.
6. Multiple exposures
BRI’s beginning to read stories provide examples of ‘controlled’ words and sound/letter correspondences repeated in the same, and also in different, contexts.
“The best way to help the brain to ‘remember’ the code’s patterns with minimum effort is through ‘controlled exposure and varied repetition.'” – Diane McGuinness, Early Reading Instruction
7. Interleaving (mixing related but distinct material)
As they progress through the early books, children learn how to deal with ‘variation’ in the code (same sound represented in more than one spelling: e.g. me, meet) and ‘overlap’ (the same spelling representing more than one sound: e.g. on, no).
“The mixing of items, skills, or concepts during practice, over the longer term, seems to help us to not only see the distinctions between them but also to achieve a clearer grasp of each one individually.” – Benedict Carey, How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where and Why it Happens
8. Phonemic awareness
Training children to ‘hear’ discreet phonemes is particularly helpful for those with phonological difficulties.
“We learn phonemic awareness THROUGH learning to read.” – Professor Usha Goswani
9. Blending made easy
Careful selection of specific sounds in the early books helps children to make the connection between sound and letter. For children with SEN and those who struggle to blend, the selection makes it easier for them to ‘hear’ each sound as they blend sounds into words. The introduction of ‘plosive’ sounds, e.g. /p/, are delayed and words which contain an /ə/ (schwa) sound are introduced later still.
10. Visually similar words
Juxtaposing look-alike words (e.g. sheet/shall/shell/shut/sell) means that attention has to be paid to each grapheme within a word. This ensures that the ‘easy option’ – guessing – is discouraged.
11. Connected text
Essential decoding/reading practice is incorporated within lively, expressive stories.
“Arya & Maul provide fresh evidence that putting to-be-learned material in a story format improves learning outcomes.” – Daniel T. Willingham
12. Oral language
The most important predictor of progress in the early years is oral language. BRI stimulates childrens’ development of oral language and comprehension by encouraging dialogue about the antics, behaviour and relationships of the BRI animal characters.
13. Speech development
‘Sound-through-the-word’ instruction focuses on sound and aids phonological awareness and speech development. When we articulate a sound a sensory and motor reference is created in the brain.
BRI’s 78 storybooks encourage a habit of sustained reading which leads to new vocabulary.
“After the age of 5, we acquire most new vocabulary through reading. But if we don’t read, we don’t acquire it.” – David Didau
15. Language concepts
BRI builds on the questions What? Why? Where? Who? and emphasises prepositions such as under, over, on, behind, helping children to build language structure and understanding.
16. Story context
BRI stories centre on lively animals with thinking, feeling and reactive personalities. Character-driven stories encourage children to immerse themselves in the reading process from the very first book as they learn to decode/read.
“John Hattie and Daniel Willingham argue that learning is much more effective if it is contextualised.” – John Walker, The Literacy Blog
17. Fostering a love of reading
BRI stories immediately engage children with the multi-layered world of storytelling that helps to foster a love of reading.
“Reading creates empathy. In reading we project ourselves into others’ experiences.” – Horatio Speaks
18. Visual Supports
Lively, engaging illustrations act as visual supports, helping children to understand narrative. The illustrations – which never aid guessing – are of crucial help to those with Speech Language and Communication (SLC) and those with Speech Language Impairment (SLI) difficulties. Puppets of the main characters also aid communication and understanding.
“Children with SLI need lots of visual support systems to help with understanding.” – I CAN, SLI Handbook
By encouraging children to talk about what is happening and what may happen, the storybooks encourage comprehension whilst honing decoding skills.
“The activity of ‘prediction’ helps build children’s narrative sense, a fundamental foundation language skill, incorporating sequence, relationship, cause and effect and other variables as well…” – ‘Palisadesk’, Beginning-Reading-Instruction Forum
20. Rereading stories
Rereading the short BRI decodable books embeds skills, enhances comprehension, encourages expression, and helps to boost confidence.
“On rereading a book the adult can ‘scaffold’ the child’s learning, asking questions, providing guidance, helping the child make new connections or draw on past experiences. Indeed, the adult can support not only the learning of educational material, but also the ‘soft skills’ necessary to succeed: focus, patience, persistence, resilience…” – Annie Murphy Paul, The Brilliant Blog