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What is the Science of Reading?

     The science of reading refers to the method and practice proven by thousands of extensive research studies across the world over the past fifty years from multiple fields including: 

  • cognitive & developmental psychology

  • communication sciences

  • education

  • implementation science

  • linguistics

  • neuroscience

Education Books Bookshelves

The Simple View of Reading

Gough & Tunmer, 1986


     The purpose of reading is comprehension or in other words, extracting meaning from written text. In order to teach reading, we must understand how it is achieved and this is where The Simple View of Reading comes in. 

     The Simple View of Reading is a multiplication problem (Decoding x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension) that attempts to illustrate the skills that contribute to reading comprehension. It was first proposed by researchers Gough and Tunmer in 1986 and has been proven in research again and again since 1990. The Simple View of Reading is one piece of research behind the science of reading. 

     Reading is made of two components; decoding and language comprehension with reading comprehension, the product or goal. To have reading comprehension, you have to be able to convert the written words into speech (decoding) AND understand that speech (language comprehension).

     Only when both factors are strong is reading comprehension strong.  So in other words, if your child struggles with reading comprehension it's either due to their decoding and/or their language comprehension. 

The Reading Rope

Scarborough, 2001

Reading Rope.png

     Scarborough created The Reading Rope in 2001 to reveal how multifaceted each component in The Simple View of Reading is.  For either of the two essential components to develop successfully, students need to be taught the elements necessary for each. 

     If diagnostic assessments show a student is struggling with language comprehension, further testing may be done to determine which elements need to be built up like background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, or literacy knowledge. 

     If a student is struggling with decoding, we would need to identify the exact elements needed for instruction. This might include, phonological or phonemic awareness, letter or letter combination sounds, or sight recognition of familiar words. 

     The Reading Rope is another piece to the science of reading. It helps educators determine what to assess and what to teach. 


How do you wire a brain to read?

     Our brain is like a muscle and can grow with practice. Brain scans have shown us that nonreaders’ brains begin to show a connection between the visual and speech part of the brain (the connection needed for reading) after as little as five hours of training in explicit, systematic, phonics instruction. Although connections begin to show after five hours, it takes a child two to three years to learn all of the code.

What is the best way to teach reading?

     The best way to teach reading is using structured literacy. Structured literacy is an instructional approach that is informed by the science of reading.

Evidence-Based Elements Include:

  • Phonology: Study of sound structure includes: phonemic awareness

  • Sound-Symbol Association: Mapping sounds to letters

  • Syllables: Knowing the six syllable types and division rules 

  • Morphology: The smallest unit of meaning includes: prefixes and suffixes 

  • Syntax: Principles that dictate the sequence and function of words in a sentence includes: grammar, sentence structure, and mechanics of language

  • Semantics: Concerned with meaning includes: comprehension​

Evidence-Based Teaching Principles Include:

  • Systematic: Follows logical order 

  • Cumulative: Each step is based on concepts previously learned

  • Explicit: Direct teaching with continuous student-teacher interaction

  • Diagnostic: Informal and formal assessment 

Is structured literacy appropriate for students with dyslexia?

    It's the only way! Whole language and balanced literacy instruction only work for 40% of our population. This is the most common approach used in schools across our country and why we are in a reading crisis. BUT, 95% of students can learn to be successful readers with structured literacy instruction.

     Many people are familiar with the Orton-Gillingham method for students with dyslexia. Did you know that Orton-Gillingham is a structured literacy approach? Orton-Gillingham falls under the structured literacy umbrella. 

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