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Overview

The science of reading refers to the evidence-based pedagogy shown to effectively teach children how to read. Interdisciplinary researchers and educators have asked and tested research questions for decades to better understand the relationship between literacy instruction and student reading outcomes. Science-of-reading-based pedagogy and instruction takes a structured approach to helping students become skilled, fluent readers who are able to make meaning by connecting what they have read with what they already know, and thinking about this information until it is understood. 

Though the science of reading currently lacks a common formal definition, decades of evidence suggests that it hinges upon the Simple View of Reading model (Gough & Tunmer, 1986), which helps explain the relationship between decoding and skilled reading. This empirically based framework shows us that reading comprehension is the product of two components: word recognition and language comprehension (WR x LC = RC). In other words, children need to be able to both sound out a word and decipher the meaning of the word in order to understand what they’ve just read. If either of these skills are weak, reading comprehension is low.

The image, courtesy of the author, originally appeared in the following publication: Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for research in early literacy (pp. 97–110). New York, NY: Guilford Press.

 

A helpful way to visualize how these skills work to reinforce each other is Scarborough’s Reading Rope (2001). Developed by literacy expert Dr. Hollis Scarborough, the Reading Rope shows how reading comprehension consists of word recognition strands that bind together to build accuracy and fluency and language comprehension strands that reinforce one another, before weaving together to produce skilled readers.

The National Reading Panel (2000) —a group of reading researchers, faculty from colleges of education, reading teachers, educational administrators, and parents—identified five key research-based pillars that effectively help children learn to read:

  • Phonemic awareness: the understanding that spoken words are made up of separate units of sound that are blended together when words are pronounced
  • Phonics: the breakdown of words into letters and sounds, which allows readers to decode words as they read
  • Fluency: the ability to read accurately, quickly, and with proper expression across connected texts (i.e., sentences, paragraphs, and full passages)
  • Vocabulary: the explicit integration of vocabulary instruction to help build students’ recognition of words
  • Text comprehension: the product of being able to recognize and understand words. In other words, comprehension happens when the words become ideas. Comprehension is the final goal of literacy instruction.

Phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency are skills that help readers learn word recognition skills, while vocabulary and text comprehension contribute to language comprehension development. These components build on each other to help readers establish the foundational skills they need to comprehend the text they’re engaging with. 

A large recent cultural shift towards the science of reading has led to more educators introducing explicit and dedicated phonics instruction in early grades to build and solidify foundational literacy skills.

Classrooms that integrate science-of-reading-informed curricula and practices bring varied activities that map onto each of the five pillars, including activities such as:

  • Explicit and systematic phonics instruction, in which letter-sound relationships are directly taught and in a clearly defined scope and sequence.
  • Interactive read-aloud lessons that allow teachers to scaffold understanding of text, model fluency, and teach vocabulary and new concepts.
  • Sound walls inside the classroom that reinforce phonemic awareness and phonics instruction by helping students focus on the articulation of sounds and letters/letter patterns that represent the phonemes in words. Many of these walls also include images of a child’s mouth next to each sound so students can practice the way their mouth feels, looks, and acts when pronouncing sounds, which makes the learning more concrete.
  • Leveraging the mind-body connection, which includes listening, speaking, reading, and a tactile or kinesthetic activity to focus and reinforce the phonemic awareness, phonics, and vocabulary being taught. As a bonus, students usually find these multi-sensory reading experiences, such as assigning gestures to specific sounds and spelling words in shaving cream, to be engaging and motivating. 
  • Word games that help students practice their literacy skills in novel ways, such as creating alliterative sentences and rhyming games, serve to reinforce direct literacy instruction while building vocabulary and fluency.
References
Gough, P.B. and Tunmer, W.E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7(1), 6-10. https://doi.org/10.1177/074193258600700104
Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for research in early literacy (pp. 97–110). New York, NY: Guilford Press.
The National Reading Panel. (2000). Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. https://www.nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/ pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf 

What Makes This Innovative?

Rigorous Learning

The science of reading is a research-based approach to helping students build the literacy skills vital to reading comprehension, critical thinking, and connection across topics.

High Expectations with Unlimited Opportunities

Science-of-reading-based pedagogy, curricula, and practices help every student, including struggling readers and those diagnosed with dyslexia, become proficient readers.

Relevance

Effectively developing students’ foundational reading skills unlocks their potential to explore their individual interests and connect their schoolwork to their everyday lives.

Science of Reading Models on the Exchange

Explore models on The Innovative Models Exchange that have embraced the science of reading pedagogy, practices, and curriculum below.

Grades K-8

BookNook

BookNook accelerates students’ reading and comprehension with standards-aligned, high-dosage, remote tutoring for students in grades K–8.

Grades K-3
Groves Literacy Partnerships

Groves Literacy

Groves Literacy is an evidence-based K-3 literacy model that enables all students to learn to read, illuminating the path to enhanced literacy.

Grades K-8

Ignite! Reading

Ignite! Reading provides a one-on-one virtual high-dosage tutoring program grounded in the science of reading that teaches every student the foundational skills they need to become an independent, confident reader.

Grades K-12
AIM Institute for Learning & Research

Integrated Literacy Model

AIM’s Integrated Literacy Model is a comprehensive framework designed to improve literacy outcomes for students of all abilities by helping teachers understand the science of reading and how to translate research into effective practices.

Grades K-12
The Literacy Architects

Literacy Masterminds

Literacy Masterminds supports student growth in literacy through the incorporation of evidence-based instructional routines into the daily classroom experience.

Kindergarten
Once

Once Early-Reading

The Once model teaches school support staff to implement high-dosage, one-on-one tutoring based in the science of reading, so that kindergarteners learn how to read fluently and independently.

Grades 1-8
Success For All Foundation

Success For All Tutoring

Success for All Tutoring is a research-proven literacy tutoring program offered through an easy-to-use web-based platform so that students can accelerate their reading skills.

Resources from Transcend and Beyond

The following resources can help deepen your understanding of the science of reading and support the design and implementation of a high-quality model, whether it’s one from The Innovative Models Exchange or one of your community designs.

Early Literacy Playbook
Instruction Partners

The Early Literacy Playbook equips educators with a game plan to implement evidence- based early literacy practices and deliver rigorous foundational reading skills instruction.

Lexia LETRS
Lexia Learning

Lexia LETRS (Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling) is a comprehensive professional learning suite designed to provide early childhood and elementary educators and administrators with deep knowledge to be both literacy and language experts in the science of reading.

On The Same Page
Bellwether

A primer of the science of reading and its future for policymakers, school leaders, and advocates. It includes a summary of the history of reading instruction and the different approaches over time as well as a high level understanding of the obstacles from curriculum challenges to implementation gaps.

Phoneme Resources
Once

To help students learn to pronounce words correctly, Once provides a collection of phoneme materials, including recordings of the exact sound that should correspond with each letter and worksheets that allow students to write the letter at the same time they are saying it.

The Science of Reading Resource Hub
Zaner-Bloser

The resources in the Science of Reading Hub are meant to help educators better understand the concept and learn new practices they can implement in their classrooms and schools.

Steps to Literacy
AIM Institute for Learning & Research

The AIM Institute for Learning & Research offers evidence-based training to implement structured literacy instruction in classroom practice. AIM’s Steps to Literacy modules can be taken individually or in course bundles and are fully asynchronous online courses providing detailed introductions to understanding Structured Literacy.

Teaching Tools
FreeReading

The week-by-week structure provides educators with guidance on how FreeReading activities and resources may be used to support intervention for students who are developing their literacy skills.