To quote my favorite graduate school professor, “we use a plethora of buzzwords and acronyms in education.” PLC, RTI, SEL, the list goes on and on. These educational acronyms are used throughout the day by administrators and teachers alike. One of significance throughout the country is SOR, or the Science of Reading.
So What Exactly is the Science of Reading?
The Science of Reading is a vast, interdisciplinary body of research that demonstrates methods that best help children learn to read. The research has been conducted over the past forty years and is derived from thousands of studies conducted in multiple languages. The research informs the following:
- How proficient reading develops
- Why some students have difficulty
- How we can most effectively assess and teach
- How to improve student outcomes through prevention of and intervention for reading difficulties
Several popular models help to break this all down. First, is the Simple View of Reading. The Simple View of Reading is a formula presented by Gough and Tunmer in 1986. It demonstrates that reading has two basic components: word recognition (decoding) and language comprehension.
This formula makes it clear that strong reading comprehension cannot occur unless both decoding skills and language comprehension abilities are strong.
Another well-known model is Scarborough’s Reading Rope. Like Gough & Tunmer’s Simple View of Reading, Dr. Hollis Scarborough replicated the interconnectedness and interdependence between decoding and language comprehension in order to establish proficient reading.
The reading rope consists of lower and upper strands. The lower strands (known as the word-recognition strands) include phonological awareness, decoding and sight recognition. These strands work together as the reader becomes accurate, fluent and increasingly automatic. The upper strands (known as the language-comprehension strands) include background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning and literacy knowledge. These strands reinforce one another and then become woven with the word-recognition strands to produce a skilled reader.
How Is This Research Being Implemented in Schools?
From 2013 to today, 32 states, the District of Columbia, and NYC Public Schools have passed laws or implemented new policies related to evidence-based reading instruction.
There are six categories for the state legislation: teacher preparation, teacher certification or license renewal, professional development/coaching, assessment, materials, and instruction/intervention. The breakdown of each state and category can be shown in the image below.
The majority of states that have passed legislation around the science of reading include the category of professional development and coaching. This category of legislation requires that teachers and/or other educators undergo professional development in evidence-based reading instruction and/or institute a program of instructional coaching.
Many of you might be thinking, “What is evidence-based reading instruction? Is it another buzzword in education?”
What Is Evidence-Based Reading Instruction?
Evidence-based reading instruction means that a particular program or collection of instructional practices has a record of success. There is reliable, trustworthy, and valid evidence to suggest that when the program or practice is used with a particular group of students, the students can be expected to make adequate gains in reading achievement.
The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) at the Institute for Education Services (IES), more acronyms I know, publishes practice guides that present recommendations for educators to address challenges in their classrooms and schools. They are based on reviews of research, the experiences of the practitioners, and the expert opinions of nationally recognized experts.
One practice guide from WWC that addresses evidence-based reading instruction is Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade.
The goal of the practice guide is to offer educators specific, evidence-based recommendations for teaching foundational reading skills to students in K-3. There are four recommendations provided in this guide.
4 Recommendations to Support Reading
1. Teach students academic language skills, including the use of inferential and narrative language, and vocabulary knowledge.
When? Kindergarten through 3rd grade
How? Engage students in conversations that support the use and comprehension of inferential language. Explicitly engage students in developing narrative language skills. Teach academic vocabulary in the context of other reading activities.
Example: Inferential Language Discussion Prompts
- Teachers should first model how to provide reasoned answers that fully address the question and illustrate critical thinking.
- Prompt students to include additional detail in their responses, “Why do you think that?” or “Can you add more?”
2. Develop awareness of the segments of sound in speech and how they link to letters.
When? Kindergarten and 1st grade
How? Teach students to recognize and manipulate segments of sound in speech. Teach students letter-sound relations. Use word-building and other activities to link students’ knowledge of letter-sound relationships with phonemic awareness.
Example: Phonemic Awareness using Elkonin S
- Have students use sound boxes to mark the phonemes in two or three-phoneme words (mat, no, sit).
- Provide each student with a set of Elkonin sound boxes and colored chips.
- Tell students the first word.
- Have students repeat the word slowly, pulling one chip down into the box for each unique sound they say.
3. Teach students to decode words, analyze word parts, and write and recognize words.
When? Kindergarten through 3rd grade
How? Teach students to blend letter sounds and sound-spelling patterns from left to right within a word to produce a recognizable pronunciation. Instruct students in common sound-spelling patterns. Teach students to recognize common word parts. Have students read decodable words in isolation and in text. Teach regular and irregular high-frequency words. Introduce non-decodable words that are essential to the meaning of the text.
Example: Build Words with Elkonin Sound Boxes
4. Ensure that each student reads connected text every day to support reading accuracy, fluency and comprehension.
When? Kindergarten through 3rd grade
How? Ask students read orally, model strategies, scaffold and provide feedback to support accurate and efficient word identification. Teach students to self-monitor their understanding of the text and to self-correct word-reading errors. Provide opportunities for oral reading practice with feedback to develop fluent and accurate reading with expression.
Example: Fluent Reading Practice
Activities to practice reading fluently include the following:
- Individual oral reading with support
- Individual oral reading with a recording device, with teacher feedback provided later
- Choral reading in small groups
- Echo reading
- Partner reading
Patience and Practice Are Key!
We know that change cannot happen overnight, but we do know that the new acronym SOR is here to stay and that evidence-based reading instruction is being mandated throughout the country. Remember that time, patience, and practice are key! You cannot implement every evidence-based practice at once. Decide which practices will benefit your particular group of students the most and start there. Remember to model and provide an abundance of practice opportunities.
To quote Leo Buscaglia, “Change is the end result of all true learning.”