Many dedicated educators enter their classrooms every day without the tools, knowledge and practices to deliver evidence-aligned instruction to the students sitting in front of them. All educators care deeply about growth in literacy for ALL students, yet there are instructional practices used across the nation by adults who may have limited access to the convergent scientific evidence. Literacy is a civil right and providing educators with knowledge of proven assessment and instructional practices is a moral imperative. Data reveals that those who who do not become skilled readers are more likely to drop out of school, be unemployed, commit suicide, or end up in the criminal justice system. Now is the time to disrupt the status quo.
To align all stakeholders to the true findings of the science of reading, the Defining Movement Coalition (Defining Movement, 2021) defined the science of reading as a vast, interdisciplinary body of scientifically-based research about reading and issues related to reading and writing.
This research has been conducted over the last five decades across the world, and it is derived from thousands of studies from multiple fields of study and in multiple languages. The science of reading has culminated in a preponderance of evidence to inform how proficient reading and writing develop; why some have difficulty; and how we can most effectively assess and teach, and therefore improve student outcomes through prevention of and intervention for reading difficulties.
The science of reading is derived from both qualitative and quantitative research from multiple fields:
- cognitive psychology,
- communication sciences,
- developmental psychology,
- implementation science,
- school psychology
The science of reading is not an ideology or philosophy, a fad, trend, new idea, pendulum swing, political agenda, one-size-fits-all approach, program of instruction, or a single specific component of instruction such as phonics (Defining Movement, 2021). It is an ever-growing body of research demonstrating how the human brain learns to read. Even though many methods for teaching reading have developed over time, science is showing us that young students’ brains learn to read proficiently in a very consistent way. “It is simply not true that there are hundreds of ways to learn to read…when it comes to reading we all have roughly the same brain that imposes the same constraints and the same learning sequence” (Dehane, 2009). Embracing evidence-aligned practices leads to students who can read with accuracy, fluency, and understanding. They are prepared to move from “learning to read” to “reading to learn.”
Learning to read is not a natural process for which we have a pre-existing neural system. The science of reading shows that the human brain is not wired to learn to read when we are born. There is an identified pathway to develop a reading brain, and major regions of the brain must work together to achieve successful reading. The training of the brain (essentially its rewiring) requires stimulating synapses along specific neural pathways over and over through consistent reading instruction. These pathways are strengthened by instruction in language and speech-to-print connections rather than rote memorization, visual features of printed words, or guessing based on context or pictures.
When we align reading instruction with cognitive science, even our most vulnerable students can learn to read. In fact, research suggests nearly 95% of students can learn to read with systematic, sequential, explicit, and cumulative reading instruction aligned with the science of reading. Developing widespread knowledge of how to teach reading and using evidence-aligned teaching practices is essential for most students and beneficial for all.
Effective reading instruction applies reading science. The Simple View of Reading and Scarborough’s Reading Rope illustrate the importance of decoding and language comprehension skills that, together, result in reading comprehension. The Simple View of Reading (Gough & Tumner, 1986) explains that Decoding x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension.
Students need to be strong in both decoding and language comprehension, and reading instruction should focus on building both, as strength in one will not offset weakness in the other. Scarborough’s Reading Rope (Scarborough, 2001) is a representation of the elements of reading that intertwine and become increasingly strategic and automatic, resulting in skilled reading. Taken together, the Simple View of Reading and Scarborough’s Rope inform evidence-aligned reading instruction.
Word recognition must be accurate and automatic to result in reading comprehension. The path to reading with automaticity requires the ability to match sounds to syllables, which is achieved by deliberate, systematic, and explicit teaching of word recognition. This includes phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition. Skilled reading also requires an increasingly strategic ability to derive meaning from spoken words when they are part of a sentence, which is achieved by building language comprehension skills. Language comprehension includes background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literary knowledge. Scarborough’s Reading Rope illustrates that students can derive meaning from print with fluent execution and coordination of word recognition and language comprehension.
Literacy is a social justice and equity issue, and all educators and stakeholders play an important role in improving reading achievement. Learning trajectories change when reading instruction is aligned with the science of reading and students are given the opportunity to build general knowledge of the world. Focusing on phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension using an evidence-aligned, structured literacy approach to reading instruction, we CAN teach students to read regardless of their age, race, parents’ level of education, socioeconomic status, or disability. Student outcomes improve with the use of code-based reading interventions and evidence-aligned teaching with high-quality and culturally responsive instructional materials throughout daily reading instruction. The time is now to ensure instructional practices align with the science of reading.
It can be a challenge for educators to find opportunities for continuing education. The Big Dippers short course makes it easy for educators to learn about the science of reading on their own terms (time and pacing). This one-of-a-kind course was developed by a coalition of reading experts and allows teachers to learn about reading instruction at their own pace. The knowledge of evidence-aligned reading instruction learned can complement any curriculum, be applied in any elementary classroom, and help support struggling readers at all grade levels. Learn more about the course and contact us for more information.
Defining Movement. (2021, March 10). The science of reading. A defining guide. https://www.whatisthescienceofreading.org/science-of-reading-guide.
Gough, P. and Tunmer, W. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10
Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for research in early literacy (pp. 97–110). New York, NY: Guilford Press.