Thinking back on how I was taught to read, I don’t know that all of it was beneficial. While it has been a long time and I don’t remember everything by any stretch, I recall being taught to “skip ahead” when I struggled with a word.  

After I “skipped ahead,” I could go back and decide what that word was later based on context clues. Or I could just skip the word and do my best to understand the paragraph based on the words I did know. In those cases, I wasn’t being asked to stop and sound out the word and therefore, I wasn’t being corrected when I wasn’t sounding it out properly. I also wasn’t learning what the word meant.  

Because I was shy in school at this time, I used “skipping ahead” as a way of not having to sound silly if I wasn’t confident in my ability to read a word aloud in front of my class.  

Today, I love reading. The thought that someone can combine words and create enchanted lands and stories that lift us right out of current situations and into new worlds is magical to me. The ways books can be used to help us understand those around us and share or better understand lived experiences is breathtaking. But I did have to train my brain to not just skip over unknown words and that was difficult for me for a long time.  

As a mom, I love reading with my son. I love trading pages. He gets the left page and I take the right. I LOVE how he laughs when I make voices for the characters and how he now does the same.  

But to be completely honest, I never really thought about there being ONE right way to teach my son to read. I just purchased books of all kinds and started reading with my child every single night. I printed out sight word flash cards. I searched for the best ways to teach my son, but I didn’t know exactly what to search for. I didn’t have a method at all when teaching my child to read. I just knew that I wanted my son to be a good reader and to one day share my love of reading.  

If you’re wondering, I didn’t teach my child to skip ahead. And now that I am learning about the Science of Reading, I am glad I didn’t. But there are a lot of other lessons I am learning.  

Not only have I found that skipping ahead is a bad practice, but I’ve learned there are a lot of other ill-advised practices that are common (and found in many of our classrooms) too.  

I’m not an expert on the Science of Reading, but I hope you’ll benefit from what I have learned so far: 

  • Don’t skip over words, have your child or student sound them out.  
    • The same thing goes for misread words. They should be corrected and sounded out (which I know can be hard –my son hated being corrected). 
    • Phonics has to be foundational! Successful readers are taught with an explicit and systematic focus on phonics and phonemic awareness.  
  • Reading instruction isn’t catered to a kid’s learning style.  
    • Structured reading instruction is vital. 
  • Using pictures to guess words doesn’t help children learn to read. 
    • This practice is known as “cueing” and SoR tells us it doesn’t work.  
  • Building vocabulary as exact words are identified and sounded out is important!  
  • Read decodable texts that reinforce phonics patterns instead of leveled readers.  
    • Decodable texts are meant for beginning readers. They help kids connect sounds in letters and solve words.  
      • I did not choose Bob Books for my son because I knew they were decodable books. A teacher recommended them to me while at a Stand Indiana workshop focused on IREAD. Before I knew what the Science of Reading was or why decodable texts mattered, I just thought these books were magic. My child who was not reading one day was enthusiastic about reading the next!  

One of my biggest school-related fears for my son was that he would struggle to read, and I feel blessed that he’s doing well. But if your child is struggling to read, I hope you will remember all kids are capable of reading and of excellence. I hope what I have learned about the Science of Reading so far helps someone out there. And if you have feedback or your own learnings from the Science of Reading, comment below!  

You may or may not have heard of the expression, “the Science of Reading.” Like so many buzz phrases in education, you may be initially skeptical about whether the Science of Reading might be the latest “flavor of the month” in a long list of alleged cures for our struggling public education system. So what is it? 

It’s important to note that it’s not a cookie cutter policy.  

The Science of Reading is simply a broad body of research conducted over decades by hundreds of scientists through thousands of studies all over the world. Through this work, there is clear evidence of how we learn to read proficiently by seeing how our brains respond to certain methods of receiving content. Just as science has led to effective medicines for fighting disease and creating machines that send us to the moon and drive us to the grocery store, science has given us a clear roadmap for what is proven to work in how we teach reading and literacy. 

Unlike learning to talk, our brains just aren’t wired to learn to read and write. Learning to read is complex. It’s more than surrounding our children with books. It’s more than memorizing words. It’s more than context clues.  

We know that an explicit and systematic focus on phonics and phonemic awareness matters and that many commonly used ways our children are being taught to read are ineffective (things like guessing words based on pictures or memorizing the text). 

The Science of Reading says schools should be systematically teaching reading by focusing on these five tenets: 

  1. Phonemic Awareness: The ability to identify individual sounds in spoken words. 
  1. Phonics: Knowing how sounds look in written words. 
  1. Fluency: The ability to read, speak and write words that make sense without having to stop to decode 
  1. Vocabulary: Knowing the meaning of words being read. 
  1. Comprehension: The ability to accurately understand text. 

If you’d like to continue learning about SoR, check out these resources from the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE).

Reading is important. I believe it might be the most important thing our children learn in school because children who struggle to read are at risk of falling behind in many subjects. 

The decades of brain research that make up the Science of Reading have given us a clear understanding of how we learn to read. While best practices for teaching reading have grown from this, many of our children are not benefiting. The data makes that clear.  

In Indiana, only 37% of our students are reading at grade level (down from 41% in 2017). And within that data, there is a problematic racial gap –signifying clear, further inequities:  

  • 43% of white students are on reading on grade level 
  • 17% of Black students are proficient 
  • 24% of Latino students are proficient 

Our state law doesn’t define evidence-based reading or require schools to adopt an aligned curriculum. That’s a problem.  

It’s a problem because students who are not proficient in reading by the end of third grade are four times more likely to drop out of high school compared to proficient readers. It’s a problem because, despite decades of research that demonstrates how children can become successful readers, many schools aren’t following this evidence. It’s a problem because the literacy crisis in our state is widening opportunity gaps.  

Our teachers and our schools deserve the support and resources to ensure every student can read and our students deserve to be educated with practices that are backed by science.  

LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SCIENCE OF READING HERE 

Indiana is neck-deep in a literacy crisis. Just slightly more than one in three Hoosier children (37%) are reading on grade level (down from 41% in 2017) according to NAEP, which is known as the nation’s report card. Student demographic data shows significant disparities along racial and ethnic lines, but the literacy crisis impacts children of all backgrounds. And while COVID has certainly contributed to this problem, many of these significant challenges pre-date the pandemic. 

  • 43% of white students are on reading on grade level. 
  • This number is 17% of for Black students and 24% of Latino students. 
  • The data shows Indiana has made NO progress in closing achievement gaps related to reading in 20 years. 

Beyond this disturbing data is the impact illiteracy has on everyday people and our communities. When young people are not getting the tools needed to become skilled readers, their opportunities to learn and prepare for life success are severely limited. And these limitations have a ripple effect on the health and well-being of our economy and cities and towns across Indiana. It’s a well-known fact that companies consider literacy rates when evaluating where to expand and create new jobs. By one estimate, increasing literacy rates in our nation could add trillions of dollars in annual income growth. If we consider this fact for Indiana alone, we would likely be looking at billions of dollars in earnings for Hoosiers by successfully attacking high illiteracy rates.  

The Commission for Higher Education recently released its annual report highlighting postsecondary attainment in Indiana, and the data was cause for concern. Only 53% of high schoolers are heading to college, which marks a steep decline (12% decrease over the last five years). The state’s goal of having 60% of adults achieve some form of higher education attainment by 2025 is severely off the mark – sitting currently at just 48%. While there are several factors contributing to Indiana’s higher education decline, there is no question that our underlying literacy crisis is feeding this trend.   

Fortunately, there is hope and it comes in the form of science. The Science of Reading (SoR) has given us a clear understanding of how we learn to read and how we should teach children to read.  Thankfully, the Indiana Department of Education just announced a major investment in the science of reading that should mean thousands of elementary educators will get the training and support needed to teach literacy more effectively. Be sure to read the details of this exciting plan here.

Be sure to follow Stand on social media for more details on the science of reading and what specific action steps we can take as a state to turn all Hoosier children into skilled readers.