A Guide to the Science of Reading Curriculum
Implementing a Science of Reading Curriculum
Decades of research have shown that learning to read is a combination of two things: decoding written words and language comprehension. Multiply these two together, and you have reading comprehension. Reading comprehension is how we are able to read, understand, interpret, and form ideas around the words in a text, and it’s what ultimately bridges the gap from learning to read into reading to learn.
A curriculum based on the science of reading will use evidence-backed approaches to teaching students, and it should be taught by educators who have a full understanding of the science behind learning how to read. During the last few years, there have been compounding stressors placed on the education system in the United States, specifically the COVID-19 pandemic paired with the teacher shortage, with more experienced teachers retiring before new teachers can get their footing.
The science of reading is a body of gold-standard research that tells us how students learn to read. Research has shown that 95% of students have the ability to learn to read when taught with methods based on the science of reading—this is a huge leap from the current 35% of students who can read proficiently. Implementing curricula that is based on science is the key to supporting students through the literacy acquisition process, ensuring all students have the opportunity to learn to read.
What is the Science of Reading?
The science of reading is a large body of research consisting of multidisciplinary studies from the fields of education, neuroscience, developmental psychology, and cognitive psychology. This body of research explains exactly how the human brain learns to read and explains the best practices for quality reading instruction in the classroom.
It is incredibly important educators understand research surrounding the science of reading because it directly affects how reading is taught. Using other methods (e.g. balanced literacy) can have negative impacts on students’ literacy acquisition.
What Makes up the Core of a Science of Reading Curriculum?
Before anything else, teachers must have proper education about the science behind learning to read. Teachers are the most essential factor when it comes to student success, but only about half of teaching institutions adequately prepare them for literacy instruction. Teaching reading requires a deep understanding of the processes and science behind it, so a critical component of ensuring students succeed begins with proper professional training.
Along with professional training, there are two models that serve as the foundation for curriculum based on the science of reading: the Simple View of Reading (SVR) and Scarborough’s Reading Rope. These models are based on decades of multidisciplinary research, and are an integral part of developing students’ reading comprehension skills. A strong reading curriculum needs to teach all the skills outlined in these two models, and should be taught with a Structured Literacy approach.
What is the Simple View of Reading?
The Simple View of Reading (SVR) conceptualizes reading comprehension as a combination of two skills, word recognition and linguistic comprehension. SVR is represented as a multiplication formula, emphasizing that neither word recognition or linguistic comprehension is sufficient on its own. It is the combination of both of these skills that leads to a successful reader and strong reading comprehension skills. Likewise, a lack of understanding of one concept can lead to overall reading failure. This is why it’s so important for students to develop both skills alongside each other in the classroom.
What is Scarborough's Reading Rope?
Scarborough’s Reading Rope is an infographic designed by Hollis Scarborough, Ph.d., a leading researcher of early language development and its connection to later literacy. Scarborough would provide lectures for parents on the complexities of learning to read, where she “spoke of skilled reading as resembling the ‘strands’ of a rope, using pipe cleaners to illustrate the interconnectedness and interdependence of all the components.”
This idea has since been turned into an infographic that clearly displays the complex process of learning to read in a straightforward way. Similar to the SVR, the Reading Rope is divided into two sections, one being the word-recognition strands (phonological awareness, decoding, and sight recognition of familiar words) and the other being the language-comprehension strands (background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge). These two sections weave together to ultimately produce a skilled reader.
What to Look for When Developing a Science of Reading Curriculum
There are plenty of Software as a Service (SaaS) products that allow educators to integrate learning programs based on the science of reading into the curriculum. When educators are developing their curriculum, it’s important to integrate research-proven literacy programs based on the science of reading. This means these programs should have research to support them. A great way of deciding if a learning program is effective is to review its ESSA rating.
ESSA ratings are divided into 4 categories: 1—Strong evidence; 2—Moderate evidence; 3—Promising evidence; and 4—Demonstrates a Rationale. Programs with an ESSA rating closest to “1” are the strongest. To learn more about ESSA ratings, take a look at this blog.
Along with ESSA ratings, there are other criteria you should consider when choosing what learning program to implement in your curriculum. Here are a few key features to watch for:
- Individualized Instruction: Students need personalized and individualized instruction. This way, students can learn at a pace that fits their needs, and they can spend more time focusing on areas they are struggling with. It can be difficult for teachers to individualize learning for every single one of their students, which is why SaaS learning programs are so beneficial.
- Data, data, data: Data is a key aspect of any good learning program. Educators and administrators should have a full view of student progress and be able to sort this data in a variety of ways (by class, student, school, or district). By choosing learning programs that prioritize convenient data, educators are able to save hours of valuable time and put their efforts into ensuring students get the support they need, right when they need it.
- Structured Literacy Approach: Good literacy programs take a Structured Literacy approach to teach students how to read. Structured Literacy is a term coined by the International Dyslexia Association® (IDA), and it outlines the best practices for teaching students. New information should be taught through explicit, systematic, and cumulative instruction that is scaffolded to fit each individual student’s needs. This is much easier to do with a high-quality learning program.
Students Find Success with Evidence-Backed Curriculum
The human brain has naturally evolved to acquire oral language skills through exposure, so it is often assumed reading is the same. This assumption is what has led to the dramatically low levels of students who can read proficiently—only 35%. When we look at the science behind learning how to read, it is evident the human brain needs explicit, systematic instruction to be able to find success in reading.
Educators must root their reading curriculum in evidence-based programs centered around the science of reading to ensure their students have the best chance at success. It’s been shown that 95% of people can learn to read when they’re taught with programs based on the science of reading. To learn more about essential strategies for educators, take a look at this webinar. In it, Ohio Literacy Lead for the Ohio Department of Education Michelle Elia discusses the importance of inclusive instruction and applying the science of reading in the classroom. She breaks down how our brains create pathways from letters to sounds to meaning while learning to read, as well as why professional learning programs are so important right now.
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