The Science of Reading: A Professional Development Guide
There are a variety of factors putting pressure on educators and students alike: The COVID-19 pandemic, the national teacher shortage, and an overall lack of resources given to teachers to ensure their students are receiving proper instruction. The pandemic has exacerbated the need for accelerated learning—especially in the case of literacy acquisition—and the teacher shortage has left many new and remaining educators underprepared.
Now more than ever it is critical educators have access to professional resources that provide them with an in-depth understanding of the science behind learning to read, as well as actionable steps they can take to implement the science of reading in their classroom.
Science of Reading for Educators and Mentors
The key to ensuring student success is first making sure educators are properly prepared to teach their students, especially when it comes to teaching literacy. The science of reading is a gold-standard body of research comprised of decades worth of interdisciplinary studies. This body of research breaks down exactly how the human brain learns to read, and outlines best practices for teaching students to read.
Professional development courses based on the science of reading not only educate teachers about how students learn to read, but also provide them with actionable steps to take in the classroom. As a result, teachers (especially newer teachers) can feel confident entering the classroom and supporting students of all abilities and backgrounds.
Myths and Misconceptions About Teaching Reading
1. Learning to read is a natural process
Because reading and writing are directly linked with speaking and listening, many believe these skills are acquired the same way—this is far from the truth. Oral communication has been around for as long as humans have, but reading and writing didn’t become popular until the 19th and 20th centuries. In fact, only 1%-7% of students can learn to read without explicit and systematic instruction. This is where Structured Literacy comes in.
The IDA coined the term Structured Literacy to refer to a specific way of teaching students to read. This method of teaching involves explicit, systematic, and cumulative instruction, along with other practices such as embedded assessment, hands-on learning models, and more. Research has shown this is the most effective way to teach students to read.
2. The science of reading is only phonics
The science of reading is built on the Simple View of Reading, developed by Gough and Tunmer. This model explains that reading is a combination of word recognition and language comprehension, and both are equally important in learning how to read proficiently. The model looks like:
Decoding x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension
It is important to note this is a multiplication equation, which symbolizes a lack of understanding of one component can lead to potential reading failure. Phonics is one aspect of “decoding,” but there is a multitude of other factors that go into learning how to read—it’s not just phonics.
Similarly, Scarborough’s Reading Rope is another graphic that shows all the different “strands” that go into learning to read. Each of these strands is just as important as the next, and it’s important to make sure students are getting a comprehensive education on all aspects of literacy.
3. The science of reading is a one-size-fits-all approach
The science of reading is far from a one-size-fits-all approach to teaching reading. While it is true all students need to develop the same set of skills to become proficient readers, effective instruction includes differentiation based on individual students’ abilities. The best instruction uses data from things like embedded assessments to determine where that student needs more practice, and what areas they excel in.
When teachers are provided with strong professional learning resources, they are better able to meet their students where they’re at on their literacy journeys.
What to Look for in Professional Development Programs
When leaders are evaluating professional development programs, there are a few key features to keep in mind.
Based on the Science of Reading
The science of reading should serve as the foundation for professional development programs centered on literacy education. The science of reading offers educators a deeper understanding of how students learn to read. Effective professional learning can help teachers deepen their understanding of literacy instruction and improve student outcomes. Programs based on the science of reading should provide in-depth education on the pillars of literacy, Scarborough’s Reading Rope, and instruct educators about how to implement Structured Literacy in their classrooms.
Alignment with Specific Standards
Another key feature to look for when evaluating professional development programs is their alignment with state and/or IDA standards. The Common Core State Standards are a broad-based, extended effort to ensure all students are proficient at reading and writing by the end of high school. Along with state standards, the International Dyslexia Association’s Knowledge and Practice Standards for Teachers of Reading is another important resource to look for. These standards explicitly outline the importance of effective literacy instruction, specifically highlighting the Structured Literacy approach to teaching.
Personalized, Continuous, and Flexible Professional Learning
Every educator’s journey is going to be different, just like that of their students. Strong professional development programs will provide individuated, continuous, and flexible instruction to ensure the program works for teachers of all backgrounds, abilities, and experience levels. Along with individuated and scaffolded instruction, educators should have access to flexible courses that fit easily into their busy schedules.
Strengthen Your Science of Reading Professional Development with Lexia
Professional development based on the science of reading is the first step toward making sure your students achieve reading success. One of the most common approaches to teaching reading is the balanced literacy approach, which has been shown to be less effective than the science of reading for the majority of students. This approach can leave students with gaps in foundational reading skills, and it inadequately prepares teachers to address a wide range of literacy skills. In this case study, you can see exactly how switching to a science of reading-based teaching method can increase student literacy success.
To learn more about the importance of professional development courses, Lexia® has compiled 10 reasons why it is so essential for student success and teacher retention. Similarly, our blog post about teaching in crowded classrooms explains how professional learning creates more efficient and effective teachers—regardless of circumstances.
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