5 things you need to know about the science of reading


Key points:

While high-quality literacy instruction has remained a cornerstone of education leaders’ priorities, this year, the science of reading has dominated classrooms and discussions around instructional strategies.

In short, according to the National Center on Improving Literacy, the science of reading is “research, over time, from multiple fields of study using methods that confirm and disconfirm theories on how children best learn to read.”

Teaching based on this research includes phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. It is not a specific program or intervention or phonics-based programs that drill phonics skills. And, as with all research, the science of reading is evolving–there is much more to be learned.

Here’s a look at some of the latest research, thoughts, and strategies, directly from classroom experts and industry veterans:

In districts across the country, educators are continuing to support students with post-pandemic learning recovery. Many students are still reading below the level appropriate for their grade–roughly one-third of fourth graders in the United States read at or below what’s considered the basic level. And unfortunately, even before the pandemic, reading achievement has been low over the past several decades. Here are 4 simple steps to help educators begin implementing the science of reading.

Conversations about the science of reading are happening primarily with elementary and early childhood educators. Those conversations are preventing further literacy injustice and disenfranchisement. But how are we addressing the ways that the system has failed our secondary students when they first learned to read? Here’s how a middle school ELA teacher is learning to support the students in her class who were passed along without receiving the literacy instruction they needed.

Maryland’s Prince George’s County Public Schools is supporting all K-3 teachers with science of reading resources and practices. Educators are diving into the integration of the science of reading and the teaching of science using digital resources. This work, which was started through conversations with the Mississippi Department of Education, was recently presented to the district’s PreK- 3 teachers. Prince George’s County K-3 teachers are exploring three instructional ideas: Using video segments to build understanding of science concepts, using science words for phonological awareness and phonics activities, and developing digital activities to integrate background knowledge building and literacy skills. Learn more about the district’s work.

Educators across the country have been discussing the science of reading and working to align their materials and practices to this research into how students learn to read. In the coming year, that broad trend will continue, with a shift to looking beyond knowledge building as schools, districts, and states begin improving capacity and creating systems aligned to the science of reading. Here, Kari Kurto, National Science of Reading Project Director at the Reading League, takes a look at a few specific predictions about what that could look like in 2024 for policymakers, schools and districts, educators, and publishers. At the state level, policymakers and decision-makers will continue to develop guidance around the science of reading and evidence-aligned practices. Many states that have recently begun this work start with initiatives focused on building knowledge, which is a great first step. In the new year, more administrators and other educators will focus not just on building knowledge and ensuring their materials are aligned to the science of reading, but they will go beyond to examine hiring practices, multi-tiered systems of support, assessments, the science of learning and implementation, and more. Learn more about how different stakeholders will champion the science of reading.

A new NCTQ report, State of the States: Five Policy Actions to Strengthen Implementation of the Science of Reading, highlights five key policy actions states should take to strengthen teachers’ reading instruction and examines the extent to which states focus on them. The five policy actions are: Setting specific, detailed reading standards for teacher prep programs; reviewing teacher prep programs to ensure they teach the science of reading; adopting a strong elementary reading licensure test, requiring districts to select a high-quality reading curriculum; and providing professional learning for teachers and ongoing support to sustain the implementation of the science of reading. Read more about how states can strengthen literacy instruction training.

Laura Ascione
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