The education community is abuzz over the Science of Reading. What does it mean, and how does it impact the way you teach reading?
What Is the Science of Reading?
Reading instruction has been subject to trends for a long time. Should reading be tied to spelling and writing or taught as its own skill? Should we teach via strict phonics, whole-word instruction, or a mix of both? Do we divide children into leveled groups and give each group targeted instruction, or do we teach the class together?
The Science of Reading draws from a body of published scientific research on the various methods of teaching reading. It is not based on a single study but rather the compilation of hundreds and thousands of published papers and articles by scientists. The focus is on five areas:
Words are made up of individual sounds called phonemes, and familiarity with these phonemes is key to reading success. From an early age, children should be taught to hear, separate, and manipulate the component sounds of words.
The Science of Reading states that children need specific, detailed instruction on all the sounds that letters represent. Phonics should not be taught incidentally; reading teachers must teach decoding systematically.
The idea is that whole-word instruction is limiting. If you teach a child to memorize 100 words, he can read 100 words. If you teach him how to decode 100 different patterns, he can read countless words.
Children need repeated exposure to the same passage to gain fluency. The teacher should model reading a high-quality passage first, and then the students read it orally at least twice more to improve fluency. The goal is fluid reading coupled with expression (all while keeping reading comprehension central).
Expose children to texts rich with language. Explain the meanings of words and teach inferencing.
The goal of reading is comprehension. The Science of Reading has the following “Simple View of Reading”:
RC = D x LC
Reading comprehension (RC) is the product of decoding (D) and language comprehension (LC).
Pros and Cons of the Science of Reading
Should you follow the Science of Reading? Here are some pros and cons:
Pro: The Science of Reading is backed by science.
Do you feel like you are constantly flip-flopping in your reading approach? Perhaps this back and forth has caused some students to slip through the cracks. The Science of Reading gives firm recommendations based on what works best for most learners.
Con: The Science of Reading may not work for every child.
Children are not made with a cookie cutter; every child is different. Some children may thrive with a phonics approach, while others do better with whole-language instruction. The Science of Reading recommends the way to teach reading; no variations are encouraged.
Pro: The Science of Reading may help identify those who need reading interventions sooner.
Children with reading or language disorders will not be able to float through the Science of Reading. Phonics tends to expose problems early. The sooner you can identify these issues, the sooner you can provide the necessary support. Kids will get the help they need to stay on level with reading.
Con: The Science of Reading emphasizes rich, complex texts that may frustrate struggling readers.
The Science of Reading promotes rich texts, not leveled readers. The idea is that you expose all kids to these kinds of books, passages, and stories. Not all children are ready for these types of texts. You might frustrate your struggling readers, making it more likely that they will give up on reading altogether.
Resources for the Science of Reading
With the recent emphasis on the Science of Reading, books about the topic abound.
This practical guide gives the classroom teacher six ways to bring the Science of Reading into your classroom. This book provides actionable steps to help your instruction complement scientific research.
Are creativity and artful teaching in opposition to the Science of Reading? They don’t have to be! This book shows how the two can work together to create dynamic, inspiring, and effective reading instruction.
If you want to dig into the science of reading–the actual science and brain processes–this book is for you. It melds science and practical application (one author is a teacher, and the other is a doctor of psychology).
The Science of Reading Explained
Whether you are for or against the Science of Reading (or even somewhere in the middle), it is surging. Some states even require that K-6 teachers pass an exam on its methodology. You’ve taken the first step: you now know what it is. If you’d like to explore it further, check out one of the listed resources.