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schoolWhat is the science of reading?

What is the science of reading?

Teaching children to read unlocks the world of learning for them, and it can be one of the most rewarding parts of teaching. But how exactly do students learn to read, and what can educators do to support them? This is where the science of reading can help. 

Over the last few years, the phrase “science of reading” has made its way through educational circles, caught substantial media attention, and found its way into legislation. So what does this phrase really mean, and how can you use it to inform your instruction? In this post, we share an overview of this rich subject to give you a jumping off point for your science of reading journey.

What is the science of reading?

The science of reading refers to the instructional practices that interdisciplinary, scientific research repeatedly demonstrates are effective for teaching students to read. In other words, the science of reading is not a single study, nor is it a single, silver bullet instructional approach. Rather, it refers to decades of research into what strategies are most effective for literacy instruction. While the concepts behind the science of reading aren’t new, its growing popularity is progressing our understanding of what’s required to teach children to read.

Is the science of reading just phonics?

A common misconception about the science of reading is that it’s mostly about phonics. While explicit phonics instruction is a key aspect of the science of reading, it’s far from the only component. The science of reading also supports building vocabulary, background knowledge, and much more in order to develop proficient readers.

Two frameworks aligned with the science of reading can help us understand the various components of skilled reading: the simple view of reading and Scarborough’s rope. According to the simple view of reading, reading comprehension is the product of decoding and language comprehension. In other words, for a student to understand what they’re reading, they must be able to read the words on the page and make sense of what they say. 

Scarborough’s rope takes the simple view of reading a step further. Scarborough’s rope visually represents how the components of word recognition and language comprehension work together like strands in a rope. As students become increasingly automatic with their word recognition and increasingly strategic in their language comprehension, they become more skilled in their reading. As you can see in this model, phonics and decoding are just pieces of a much larger puzzle.

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. New York: Guilford Press.

How do you teach the science of reading? 

Now that we understand the many components that make up skilled reading, how can you use the science of reading to inform your literacy instruction? The National Reading Panel’s 2000 report provides a helpful guide. According to their report, effective reading instruction should include the following five pillars:

  • Phonemic awareness: Teaching that words are composed of sounds and how to manipulate those sounds.
  • Phonics: Teaching the connection between letters and sounds, specifically in an explicit and systematic way.
  • Fluency: Teaching students how to read smoothly, accurately, and with expression.
  • Vocabulary: Improving student vocabulary through explicit instruction as well as language-rich discussions and read-alouds.
  • Comprehension: Teaching students how to understand and interpret what they read. Reading rich texts, practicing metacognition, and supporting knowledge building are a few essential tools for developing comprehension skills.

This overview is just a starting point. Within each of these pillars are numerous research-based instructional strategies to uncover and hone. Whether you feel excited or nervous to dive deeper into these practices, remember to take it one step at a time and have patience with yourself as you learn. Taking on the science of reading is an ambitious endeavor, but it’s one that can have a significant impact on student learning outcomes. For support along the way, check out the science of reading resources other educators have created on TPT.

Additional science of reading resources

Here are a few additional resources to help you continue on your science of reading journey.

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