When it comes to teaching kids to read, there’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. However, there is a science to it. Research (a lot of research) has determined that the science of reading helps us better reach kids who are learning to read, enabling them to be successful and lifelong readers.
Forgive us if you’ve heard us define this one before: the science of reading, in the words of my colleague Cindy Jiban, is “the converging evidence of what matters and what works in early literacy instruction.” In previous posts, we’ve recapped what the evidence says about effectively supporting important elements of the science of reading, like phonics and decoding, language comprehension, and fluency. These elements are grounded in effective teaching practices that help early learners develop those foundational literacy skills.
Guess what else the evidence tells us? A great teacher is what matters and what works most of all. There are many factors that contribute to a student’s academic performance, especially when it comes to learning to read, but it’s the efforts of caring teachers that matter the most.
If you’re an elementary teacher looking to maximize your impact in the classroom to help all students succeed, a strong foundation in literacy plays an integral part in every curriculum area. It can be daunting to determine what tools work best to build that foundation, but we’ve got a lot of great resources from our talented team of educators and experts to help make sense of it all. We’ve compiled some of the best Teach. Learn. Grow. posts about literacy to help you organize your toolbox.
Science of reading, meet art of teaching
When teaching kids to read with comprehension, there’s wisdom in combining the art of teaching with the science of reading. NWEA reading expert Cindy Jiban breaks it down wonderfully: if you are adopting evidence-based practices that are effective and you are using data to watch for how these practices are effecting growth in your classroom, then you are doing the science of reading.
Seems simple enough, right? Either way, let’s start with the basics.
- “The science of reading explained”
- “What the science of reading tells us about how to teach decoding—including phonics”
- “How the science of reading can help you teach language comprehension skills”
- “Supporting fluency and comprehension using practices grounded in the science of reading”
- “Decisions, data, and doing the science of reading”
Phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency
As young learners develop skills like reading fluently, they typically begin to digest more and more of what they read. But sometimes, not all kids have a strong enough understanding of the foundational skills necessary to move toward greater reading comprehension. Some students might have strong word recognition skills but aren’t quite understanding what they’re reading, and so on.
When it comes to drilling down how reading comprehension works, here’s what the science says about those building blocks of phonemic awareness, phonics, and fluency:
- “Simple, but not easy: What we forget about how reading comprehension develops”
- “How phonemic awareness helps words become sight words”
- “The power of prosody: Why faster reading isn’t always better reading”
- “Slides and ladders: The importance of fluency with older readers during COVID-19”
Don’t underestimate your young readers
On the journey to helping students learn to read, fostering a love of reading goes right along with it. It can be tempting to give your learners texts that are easy for them to breeze through, but if the students in your class only get to read books at, or below, their reading level, then you’re underestimating them.
Reading levels should not—and cannot—mean limiting kids to reading below-grade-level text. Text complexity is a matter of equity, not about lowering expectations. Equity in literacy instruction means that we give access to rich, grade-level text to all, including students who need more scaffolding and support to engage with that challenging text.
This school year, it’s important to remember that students may be reading below grade level due to interrupted or unfinished learning. As we continue to close gaps, refer back to these resources as needed:
- “Let’s talk equity: Reading levels, scaffolds, and grade-level text”
- “How to use leveled readers”
- “Guided reading reimagined: How to close reading gaps with differentiation and scaffolding”
- “How to help third-graders meet reading requirements”
- “How to reach older struggling readers”
- “Go, team: How parents and teachers can use Lexile measures to support young readers”
- “‘Grade-level’ text for kindergarten and first grade: More on how reading is a team sport”
- “I’ve got a golden ticket: How to address foundational gaps in reading with Florida Center for Reading Research resources”
Dyslexia reading resources
Dyslexia can present additional challenges for early learners. While not all students with dyslexia will need specially designed instruction, ensuring the capacity to deliver that is our responsibility in protecting every student’s right to learn to read. These Teach. Learn. Grow. posts explore the ins and outs of dyslexia, along with emerging research and best practices to support and empower students with dyslexia.
- “How the education system failed me as a student with dyslexia”
- “Fact or fiction? The 4 myths of dyslexia”
- “Why students with dyslexia aren’t ‘at risk’”
- “Best practices in reading instruction for students with dyslexia”
- “The case for K–3 screening and intervention for dyslexia”
- “How identity-affirming texts empower literacy education”
The literary landscape is vast, and building confident, lifelong readers is no easy task. These evidence-based strategies and resources, along with NWEA tools like MAP® Growth™ and MAP® Reading Fluency™ can support your ongoing commitment to your students’ literacy.
Just remember that along with the tried-and-true methods, scientific evidence, and professional learning, effective early literacy education begins with teachers like you.