What is the science of reading?

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).

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