What is the Science of Reading

What is the Science of Reading?

“The body of work referred to as the “science of reading” is not an ideology, a philosophy, a political agenda, a one-size-fits-all approach, a program of instruction, nor a specific component of instruction. It is the emerging consensus from many related disciplines, based on literally thousands of studies, supported by hundreds of millions of research dollars, conducted across the world in many languages. These studies have revealed a great deal about how we learn to read, what goes wrong when students don’t learn, and what kind of instruction is most likely to work the best for the most students.” – Dr. Louisa Moats.

Learning to read is the capacity to attend to the individual phonemes (sounds) of speech and then attach them to graphemes (letters) to spell, read words, and create meaning in a text. – Marsha Harris

Do you remember when you learned to read?

Think back. Do you remember when you learned to read? Do you remember how you learned to read? Do you have any specific emotions attached to those experiences? For some, reading was a fairly simple process with good instruction. For others, it was daunting, exhausting, and challenging. 

At Trinity, our primary literacy goal is to develop proficient readers who love reading. However, the ultimate goal is for our students to become deep readers to connect the text and transfer their understanding across content areas. Teaching a child to read is a complex system of foundational skills culminating in comprehension. The methods, programs, and resources required to teach reading are specific and involve a deep content study. 

No one is born with the innate ability to read. It isn’t a natural skill like crawling, talking, or walking. The human brain is not wired to read. Reading is something that must be developed with explicit and direct instruction. Reading is a complex task, from visual identification of letters and attaching them to sounds, meaning, and pronunciation. 

Tiki Norris, Pre-K Teacher, uses a multisensory approach to learning how to form and identify letters

What is the Science of Reading?

This year, our faculty has been studying The Science of Reading. Over the decades, there have been shifts in reading practices in schools. Thanks to advances in brain research and the consensus of thousands of studies from reading experts, we now better understand how the brain learns to read. As a faculty, we are studying methods, routines, systems, and essential foundational skills that are proven best practices in reading instruction. 

Marley West, Kindergarten Teacher, models a lesson for the faculty

The National Reading Panel report (2001) concluded that all students benefit from explicit and direct phonics instruction through a multisensory approach and a systematic program. They also determined that for students to become proficient readers, there are five critical pillars of instruction: Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension. 

Learning how to read begins with the essential skill of listening. We teach students how to decipher sounds, identify the sequence, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) that we hear in words. This is a skill that we can do with our eyes closed and without print. Phonological Awareness is the foundation of all reading skills. 

Once a child is proficient in playing with sounds, letters (graphemes) are introduced, and children are taught sound-symbol correspondence. For example, the letter Cc makes the sound /k/  or  /s/ like in CAT or CIRCLE. Even though the English alphabet has 26 graphemes, 44 phonemes are made up of various combinations of letters. Listening and spelling, even invented spelling, is the building block of reading. We ask students to “tap out” the sounds in words when spelling or reading in the early grades. We are looking to see if they have phonemic Awareness and can isolate individual sounds in words to spell and read. Once students learn how to isolate sounds, they learn about spelling rules and combinations of letters. This is called Phonics

Teaching students to “tap out” sounds is a multisensory technique that helps students decode and become more proficient readers and spellers. Guessing at words based on pictures or context is not an efficient reading strategy and is not based on the science of how our brains learn to read. – Michelle Perry,  EED Learning Specialist

Abbie Shaw, 1st Grade Teacher, teaches her student how to tap out each phoneme in words during dictation.

The alphabetic principle is the understanding that there are systematic and predictable relationships between written letters and spoken sounds.

The brain is a pattern detector, and skilled readers do not use pictures or context clues to read words. When they encounter unknown words, they DECODE them. For example, here are two nonsense words: englaption/serlendiphilous. Even though they are nonsense words, our brain learns patterns from the alphabetic principle and forms words. Students develop their phonics skills over several years. Decoding (reading) and encoding (spelling) lead to fluent readers. Reading and spelling go hand in hand.  If we teach a child to read there is no guarantee they will learn to spell, but if we teach them to spell they WILL learn to read. One engaging task that can be used when developing sight word automaticity is to have students say the word, tap the sounds, write the word, and then read it back.  This practice firmly establishes the visual-auditory-kinesthetic associations.

Katherine Goldberg, 2nd Grade Teacher uses explicit instruction when teaching her student the sight words for the week

Second Grade is a year when students increase their independence as readers. Trinity School follows the most up-to-date research on teaching children how to read by honing in on the five key elements of reading instruction. In Second Grade, we explicitly teach students how to decode words through the six syllable types. With this knowledge in place, our students are able to apply the tools they have learned to decode unknown words when reading independently. – Katherine Spits, 2ns Grade Lead

Fluency is the ability to read accurately, at an appropriate rate for the text, and with suitable intonation and expression. When students become fluent readers, there is a stronger motivation to read, and deep comprehension is achieved. For students who are still struggling to decode, the cognitive load will impact their comprehension. Fluency of sounds, letters, individual words (sight and nonsense), sentences, phrases, and passages should be practiced for automaticity at all reading stages. Reading fluency is the ability to decode and comprehend text simultaneously. Thus, reading fluency forms a bridge from decoding skills to comprehension (Rasinski, 2004).

Vocabulary development is also a skill that continually evolves throughout our lifetime. At Trinity, our students learn about the morphology (study of the smallest unit of meaning in words) and etymology (the origin or history) of words by studying roots, prefixes, and suffixes. With this, they can understand meaning and spelling patterns when they encounter unfamiliar vocabulary in their reading and when they use strong vocabulary in their writing. Children who decode accurately, read fluently, and have strong language skills become proficient readers who can comprehend text, which is the ultimate goal of learning to read.

Finally, comprehension is the culmination, mastery, and integration of all of the components of the essential skills for reading. Reading comprehension is not a single skill that can be mastered. Our ability to understand our reading changes based on background knowledge, vocabulary, and the text’s complexity and type. Comprehension is the ability to extract and construct meaning while engaging with a text. We encourage our students to think about the author’s intentions and recognize the structure and purpose of the text. Can they make a movie in their mind while reading? Can they talk about what they have read and connect it to another text or themself? Can they summarize the text they just read? Proficient readers read for meaning and know when their understanding of the text breaks down; rereading and stopping to think when they do not understand the text.

How do we know your child is developing as a proficient reader?

At Trinity, our goal is to provide our students with intentional, structured programming to become proficient readers, and spellers and comprehend complex text by the time they leave Trinity School. We intentionally design our program and curriculum to align the trajectory of skills with the Science of Reading. Through a multi-sensory approach that is direct and explicit, our students engage in language development that is robust and rich with visuals, routines, rhymes, and age-appropriate materials. 

Trinity has invested in systems and assessments that screen, progress monitor, and diagnostically measure benchmarks throughout the year. Teachers use this information to analyze as teams, design for differentiation, and plan for progress monitoring. We have never been stronger in our assessment practices and teaching methods. We are committed to continuing to grow in our instruction, response to intervention, and collective teacher efficacy as a school. 

As author Emily Buchwald famously said, “Children are made readers on the laps of their parents.” Even when your child is too big to sit on your lap, and even after they learn to decode on their own, don’t give up the special time you share reading together. By reading aloud, or taking turns reading, you are modeling your own fluent reading and how you make sense of the text. By talking about unfamiliar words, you help to build your child’s vocabulary and understanding of the story. By spending time reading with your child, you demonstrate that reading is something you value.  – Samantha Steinberg,  UED Learning Specialist

What can you do at home?

  • Read together. Take turns reading passages. Please encourage your child to decode words that are appropriate for their age. 
  • Play rhyming and sound games together. Nursery rhymes, songs, poetry, and alliteration are great ways to develop sounds and patterns in sounds. 
  • Use rich language and vocabulary in conversation.
  • Give your child experiences that build background knowledge and directly impact reading comprehension.
  • Provide books that fit the developmental age and readiness of your child. 
  • Remember that reading is a skill that needs to be directly and explicitly taught. It will take time. 

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