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Science of Reading: What Every Teacher Needs to Know

Updated: Jun 29, 2023

Teaching is all about buzz words- I have been in this career for over a decade and can't even begin to determine how many "buzz" words I have experienced. The newest buzzword in the teaching community is SoR or Science of Reading.

Science of Reading Practices
Science of Reading: What Every Teacher Needs to Know

I have spent the last few months researching and providing professional development around SoR. I have found that there is so much more to SoR than buzzy glamour- in fact, I believe that SoR is changing the way we teach reading.

So what exactly do teachers (and parents) need to know about the Science of Reading? Let's break it down...

Learning to Read is a COMPLEX Skill

Science of Reading

The Science of Reading brings to light decades of brain research around how language and literacy is developed. What does the research say?

  • Learning to read IS a complex skill

  • Learning to read is NOT natural

  • Learning to read requires EXPLICIT and intentional building of neuropathways

Learning to read requires multiple parts of the brain.

Learning to read requires skills in both word recognition and language knowledge.

When it comes to teaching kids to read, there are a lot of different skills and strategies that need to be in place. Students also need opportunities to practice these skills for mastery.

SoR is helping us understand these components so we can offer the best environment and practices to grow readers.

We Need to Teach Phonics Sounds, Patterns and Rules

How students gain knowledge about phonics, patterns, and rules has been a hot topic in teaching for decades. The "reading wars" are called just that, reading wars for a reason.

One of the biggest findings from SoR is how learners depend on explicit phonics knowledge to build their decoding skills. Research from SoR supports that in order to help our students understand, recall, and create automaticity in decoding, they need to be explicitly taught specific phonics sounds, patterns, and rules.

These patterns should be taught in a meaningful and systemic way. Teachers should start with simpler patterns, like CVC words, and then build into more complex patterns.

This idea is a huge shift from the Whole Language theory, the cueing method, and other popular methods that have been previously used to teach reading.

Vocabulary and Language Development Are (also) Essential

SoR has also highlighted that learning to read is not just about phonics, decoding, and word recognition.

Students also need language comprehension- vocabulary, syntax, and background knowledge to name a few. This learning has really been highlighted by Scarborough's Reading Rope.

Scarborough's Reading Rope
Photo Credit: Really Great Reading

Both word recognition and language comprehension are needed to build fluent readers. You cannot have instruction that focuses heavily on one component without the other and expect reading comprehension.

I love this graphic from the Colorado Department of Education.

Science of Reading
Photo Credit: Colorado Department of Education

It illustrates that without commitment and instruction to both word recognition and language comprehension then reading comprehension is incomplete -we only have half of the skills we need.

This also means that we can no longer live by "learning to read" in the primary grades and "reading to learn" in the intermediate grades- both skills need to be taught throughout all grades.

Building Pathways with Multisensory Approaches

My favorite part of SoR is the significant brain research that has come out about how students learn to read.

This infographic from EBA highlights the different ways our brains flex in order to read, comprehend, and respond to text. SoR has highlighted how this process is not natural. To build automaticity in the brain, we need to create intentional opportunities to practice specific skills, which in turn builds neuropathways. But how do we do that?

Multisensory Approaches...

  • pairing air writing letters as we practice sounds

  • adding textured tracing to letter/sound drills

  • cross-body movements

  • anchor gestures that pair with letter sounds or decoding motions

  • body movements during PA practice

These actions help students engage multiple areas of the brain when learning new reading skills, solidifying learning, and building neuropathways.

Science of Reading is a Body of Research, not a Curriculum (or fad)

As I mentioned at the beginning, education is notorious for buzzwords.

BUT, the Science of Reading is not simply a buzzword. The Science of Reading is based on YEARS of research and synthesis about how students learn to read. The research from SoR spans 5 decades and multiple languages.

The SoR is just that, it is research- meant to strengthen and evolve practices in education. It provides essential understanding and background knowledge for educators, curriculum writers, and parents so that we can improve literacy outcomes for students.

This also means that SoR is not a curriculum.

Can (and should) curriculums evolve to include components identified by SoR as key elements in literacy instruction- most definitely! Have many publishers started to reflect and revise their resources based on the research SoR provides? YES!

But, is SoR a "pull-out-of-the-box" and do program? No!

This also means that to implement SoR and implement it well- teachers and school districts have to continue to build their understanding of the research and implementation of SoR.

Science of Reading is meant to inform and guide our craft as educators. It is helping us understand the key components of literacy learning that we can embed into the magic we do every day in our classrooms!

Happy Teaching!

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Science of Reading: What Teachers Need to Know

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