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EdSpeak: The Science of Reading

Why is the Science of Reading Important?

Many teachers teach reading in K-3 public schools through a “balanced-literacy” approach, meaning that they use multiple strategies for a variety of reading abilities. Reading programs such as Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study for Teaching Reading and Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention are mandated by the district, paid for in large batches of curriculum materials in order to unify what is being taught across multiple schools, and given to teachers to implement. Many teachers are good at using this approach but the overall results are questionable as only about a third of students in fourth grade can read on grade level in the United States.

Some of the programs that made the top of the list in 2019, such as Lucy Calkins’ Units of Study for Teaching Reading and Fountas and Pinnell’s Leveled Literacy Intervention, have declined in popularity. These data come after sharp criticism of these materials from reading researchers and literacy experts who say that they don’t follow evidence-based best practices.

EdWeek, August 1, 2022

Evidence-Based Best Practices

Instead of mandating large batches of standardized curriculum, what seems to be missing is an effective way to prepare new teachers and support existing teachers in using evidence-based curriculums that are grounded in the science of reading. Evidenced-based best practices are much more structured frameworks for beginning reader instruction:

WHAT IS THE “SCIENCE OF READING”?

In a “science of reading framework,” teachers start by teaching beginning readers the foundations of language in a structured progression—like how individual letters represent sounds, and how those sounds combine to make words. At the same time, teachers are helping students build their vocabulary and their knowledge about the world through read-alouds and conversations. Eventually, teachers help students weave these skills together like strands in a rope, allowing them to read more and more complex texts.

EdWeek, August 1, 2022

What Can Be Done Now?

Although most teachers do not have a solid background in learning about evidence-based practices, we can give them the help we need by increasing the effectiveness of current professional development strategies in the science of reading. Coaches for current teachers and dedicated classes for beginning teachers could help us get off the ground quickly. Most importantly would be to redesign reading tests as performance assessments aligned with best practices. This would help our teachers understand how effective they are being with current students in real time. The last time the reading wars heated up in the 1990s, phonics lost out to this more balanced approach to literacy, but the time has come to weave the science of reading back into regular classroom practice in a more structured way to help all students gain reading proficiency by third grade.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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