I'm noticing a lot of chatter about the Science of Reading. I went through training last summer, and to be honest; I was a bit conflicted. Having my Ed.S in Reading, many things challenged my belief system. Especially the ideas about guided reading instruction!
But my policy is always to be open-minded about new learning and NEVER throw away what I feel are best practices! I like to see how the two philosophies are connected and make informed decisions about my teaching from there. So I wanted to share a few things I've learned (and my thoughts) in hopes it can help you.
What is the Science of Reading?
The Science of Reading:
- Helps us to understand how the brain works as it relates to reading proficiency.
- Debunked various methods used to teach reading not based on science.
- Demonstrates the effectiveness of intensive phonemic awareness, phonic decoding, and opportunities for repeated practice with reading controlled text.
The Importance of Listening to Teach Reading
I think we can all agree that if we look at the students in our classrooms who struggle with reading, the majority of them (not all) lack the experience of listening and talking about rich texts, sharing personal stories, and having conversations.
Listening comprehension is built through these language interactions and exposes the child to new ideas, vocabulary, and concepts. Most people think reading comprehension begins with print, but we must already have the words in our heads for them to be activated to comprehend a text.
I could go into an extensive explanation of the Four-Part Processing Model, but I want to keep you here; 😂
For now, let's talk in more practical terms for the classroom. In my opinion, the most important thing you can do to develop student's listening comprehension is to focus on the following:
- Build Background Knowledge
- Vocabulary Development
- Focus on Sentence Structure
Activities you can do in the classroom include:
- Interactive Read-Aloud
- Storytelling Activities
- Purposeful Use of Complex Vocabulary
- Opportunities for Experiential Learning
- Content Area Instruction
- Have Meaningful Conversations with Your Students
I do want to explore the Simple View of Reading Equation with you.
While listening comprehension is essential, if a child does not have adequate skills for decoding print – the child will not comprehend the text.
Teach Phonics (Even in the Older Grades)
I know firsthand the importance of learning to decode because my daughter was a struggling reader. For a long time, I blamed myself for her lack of reading skills even though I thought I did everything right. I read to her every day, and she had so many language experiences before she ever entered Kindergarten. I even remember people asking me how she was talking so clearly at age two. Yet, when she got to Kindergarten, she struggled with learning to read.
It was a problem all through school and even in college. Do you want to know what helped? When she went to college, we hired a tutor for her. At the age of 20, the tutor taught the skills she should have learned in Kindergarten and first grade. It was amazing to see how the introduction to phonics made all the difference!
Everyone has their favorite phonics program, but here are a few things to consider when choosing the best program. Plus, practical applications for the classroom:
- Provide Daily Whole-group and Small-Group Phonics Instruction
- Analyze the Scope and Sequence of the Program – Be sure to teach the skills in a logical order
- Linking Charts and Words Lists for Visual Learners – A lot of programs use sound words now rather than word walls
- High-Yield Instructional Strategies and Routines – Make sure to include hands-on materials and multi-sensory activities.
- Formative Assessment – Use your observation and assessment to inform instruction
Phonemic Awareness Is Important
I will be the first to admit I put phonemic awareness on the back burner. However, research confirms that the lack of strong phonemic awareness is a contributing factor to a majority of reading difficulties (Blachman 1995, 2000; Torgeson 2002).
If you are ready to get started teaching phonemic awareness in your room, here are a few examples:
- Listen to sounds /c/a/t/ – Student makes the whole word – Phoneme Blending
- Say a word “cat” – Student says each sound – Phoneme Segmentation
- Say “can” – Now say the first letter in can. Student says “c” – Phoneme Isolation
- Which word doesn't have the same beginning sound? can, cap, dog – Phoneme Discrimination
- Say the word “can” – Now say the word without /c/ – an – Phoneme Deletion
- Say “can” – Now change /c/ to /p/ – pan – Phoneme Substitution
Stop Memorizing High-Frequency Words
We teach high-frequency words using a variety of teaching methods. But what happens when students seem to struggle with learning words while others understand them with ease? We must teach high frequency explicitly to help students read words automatically.
Orthographic mapping involves turning unknown words into sight words. According to David A. Kilpatrick, orthographic mapping is the process we use to store words into long-term memory permanently. With orthographic mapping, the reader uses the pronunciation of words stored in memory with correct letter sequences.
How to help students learn high-frequency words is
- Phonological and phonemic awareness
- Automatic letter-sound knowledge
- The ability to accurately and quickly decode a word
Practical applications for the classroom include:
- Teach phonemic awareness
- Teach word structure sequentially
- Incorporate word families and nonsense words into reading lists
- Read-aloud to students
- Provide multi-sensory activities to help students work with words
- Use connected texts
Guided Reading Isn't a Bad Word
The narrow definition of guided reading relies on meeting with small groups based on their reading level. Stronger readers receive more complex texts, and weaker readers read easier, more predictable texts. The teacher's role is to introduce the text, listen to students read and then guide them in solving unknown words based on the three cueing systems.
- I would argue we need to widen our view of guided reading through a different lens. I like Regie Routman's view of guided reading:
“Guided reading is any learning context in which the teacher guides one or more students through some aspect of the reading process: choosing books, making sense of the text, decoding and defining words, reading fluently, monitoring one's comprehension, determining the author's purpose, and so on. In guided reading, the teacher builds on students' strengths and supports and demonstrates whatever is necessary to move the child toward independence.
(Routman, Reading Essentials, 2003, p. 151 and Literacy Essentials, 2018).
So when I hear people say we shouldn't teach guided reading or students ONLY read decodable texts, I question this school of thought. Remember the simple view of reading. Students need decoding skills, yet they also need to learn how to transfer these skills to authentic text.
While this is a simplified view of the Science of Reading, I hope it has given you food for thought. If you've been around for awhile (like I have) you know instructional strategies come in cycles. This doesn't have to be an all or nothing approach. As in life, it's all about balance. Learn the research and enjoy the journey.