Is Science of Reading or SoR just about Teaching Phonics?
The “science of reading” is a phrase representing the accumulated knowledge about reading, reading development, and best practices for reading instruction obtained by the use of the scientific method. (Petcher et al, 2020)
The Science of Reading is not a movement or a belief system. It is a vast body of research based on hundreds of studies conducted by dozens of researchers over many decades, and involving fields in the social and hard sciences such as psychology, linguistics, and neuroscience. While researchers still have questions about the exact processes by which skilled reading develops, a sufficient number of studies have produced similar results to allow them to conclude that certain things are true and others are not.(Breaking the Code)
Science of Reading Isn’t New
This term has actually been around for over 100 years. Recently, I have been hearing teachers say that they are doing “science of reading” because they are focusing on phonics when they teach reading. This makes me so sad to think that so many new teachers, and maybe seasoned ones are thinking that is what SoR is all about. It’s not!
I have been an educator for over 30 years and I have experienced all the trends that have come and gone in literacy, teaching our children how to read. I remember the days when we were told to focus on phonics, so we as teachers did as we were told and taught phonics. This was only part of the equation. We were so busy having students sound out all their words that we weren’t paying attention to their lack of building vocabulary and reading comprehension.
Next came “Whole Language” where we were told to immerse our students in literature. I remember when my school bought all these beautiful Big Books. We read one book every day for the week. The students did fun activities that were connected to the story. This time students were comprehending the material, but they weren’t learning how to read effectively.
Have you ever felt like you were on a runaway train, caught up in whatever trend your admin felt was best? Why do we throw the baby out with the bath water? Teaching students how to read effectively is not just about phonics. There are 5 components that are essential to reading success.
- Phonics: Phonics is the relationship between the letters (or letter combinations) in written language and the individual sounds in spoken language. Phonics instruction teaches students how to use these relationships to read and spell words.
- Phonemic Awareness: Phonemes are the smallest units making up spoken language, combined to form syllables and words. Phonemic awareness refers to the student’s ability to focus on and manipulate these phonemes in spoken syllables and words.
- Vocabulary: Vocabulary development is closely connected to comprehension and refers to words we need to know to communicate with others. The larger the reader’s vocabulary, the easier it is to make sense of the text.
- Fluency: Fluency is the ability to read as well as we speak and to make sense of the text without having to stop and decode each word. Fluent readers are able to read orally with appropriate speed, accuracy, and proper expression.
- Comprehension: Comprehension is understanding what is read. It is connecting what has been read to what the reader already knows . The process of comprehension is both interactive and strategic. Rather than passively reading text, readers must analyze it, internalize it and make it their own.
One big part of comprehension is having a sufficient vocabulary, or knowing the meanings of enough words. Readers who have strong comprehension are able to draw conclusions about what they read – what is important, what is a fact, what caused an event to happen, which characters are funny. Thus comprehension involves combining reading with thinking and reasoning.(readingrockets)
So, as you can see, there is so much more to the “science of reading” than just teaching phonics. Teachers need to teach numerous literacy skills for students to truly be proficient readers.
During the past two decades research has expanded and we know more about what should be included in a science of reading instruction. Topics like writing and spelling to improve reading, text complexity, teaching reading comprehension within science and social studies, differentiation of instruction, quality of instruction, and text structure have all generated extensive bodies of research since the Panel closed its books. (A science of reading is always a moving target since knowledge is always conditional and research is always ongoing). ( Dr. Shanahan)
So what’s the big Science of Reading takeaway?
Students can’t only focus on phonics. They need to be proficient readers too. That means they have to decode what they’re reading, apply it to background knowledge, and draw their own conclusions from the text. Without essential vocabulary and focus on reading comprehension, that won’t happen.
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Have an amazing week!