4 simple ways to put the science of reading into practice

Key points:

In districts across the country, educators are continuing to support students with post-pandemic learning recovery. Many students are still reading below the level appropriate for their grade–roughly one-third of fourth graders in the United States read at or below what’s considered the basic level. And unfortunately, even before the pandemic, reading achievement has been low over the past several decades.

Districts incorporating the science of reading into their curricula are seeing improved student outcomes. However, because the science of reading refers to broad research in a variety of fields on how a child learns to read, practical applications have not yet been widely taught to educators and there is a sizeable gap between theory and action.

Educators deserve relevant professional development in research-based instructional practices to inform their classroom instruction. One example to learn from is the “Mississippi Miracle,” in which a state once ranked second to last in the U.S. for literacy saw fourth-grade reading scores rise by 10 points – even after school closures during the pandemic – due to an emphasis on explicitly teaching foundational reading skills and professional development.

To help other school leaders start replicating the success that administrators and educators experienced in Mississippi, district leaders can guide the implementation of the science of reading principles through high-quality instruction in phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension. To do this effectively, it is important to align lessons with research-based practices that don’t encumber or overwhelm administrators, educators, or students.

Provide trusted resources

Educators need a consolidated source of trusted resources when making any significant classroom changes. This includes research, webinars, and other content to guide implementation.

Each state’s department of education may have guidelines, frameworks, and resources for implementing the science of reading. The U.S. Department of Education also provides resources and guidance on evidence-based practices in literacy. District leaders can supplement those guidelines with training programs that offer explicit, systematic approaches to teaching reading, or attend a webinar series from education technology partners that offers data-driven suggestions for literacy curricula.

Digital resources include Literacy Worldwide, research-based articles from the International Literacy Association (ILA), and peer-reviewed reports from journals like Reading Research Quarterly, the Journal of Educational Psychology, and the Journal of Literacy Research. The science of reading is an evolving field, so it’s essential that both administrators and teachers have the necessary resources to stay up to date with the latest research and best practices.

Choose the right classroom technologies

Supplemental classroom technology that aligns with science-based practices not only helps ease implementation of new curricula but can also tell educators where to target instruction respective to each student’s understanding.

Adaptive technology can assess students’ current literacy levels through formative, diagnostic assessments and then create personalized learning paths for each student. These real-time insights ensure students work on the specific skills they need to develop, whether it’s phonics, reading comprehension, vocabulary, or writing.  Students who excel in a particular area can access more advanced content, while those struggling can receive additional support and practice. This differentiation makes certain all students are challenged at an appropriate level.

Many adaptive education platforms incorporate interactive and multimedia elements, making the learning process more engaging for students. Gamification, interactive exercises, and multimedia resources can capture students’ attention and keep them motivated to practice literacy skills.

When students experience success and progress in their literacy skills through education technology, it can boost their confidence and motivation. This built-in positive reinforcement can have a significant impact on their overall learning experience. That said, literacy and reading technology should always be chosen with the understanding that it is not meant to replace teacher-directed instruction but to complement it.

Be prepared to make strategic changes

Implementing science of reading curriculum in classrooms requires careful planning, strategic rollout, and the flexibility to make adjustments as needed. The science of reading is an evidence-based approach to teaching reading that focuses on the underlying cognitive processes involved in reading – as such, best practices are subject to change with the latest research and with anecdotal evidence from student performance.

Start by defining clear, achievable, and measurable objectives. These objectives should be aligned with your school, district, or state’s literacy goals and standards. Instead of implementing the curriculum all at once, consider a phased rollout. Districts can also consider establishing a system for teachers, students, parents, and caregivers to provide feedback on the new curriculum and spotlight necessary adjustments.

Not all students and classrooms are the same, and what works for one group may not work for another. Implementing a new curriculum takes time, and success may not be immediate. Patience and a commitment to evidence-based practices are key to ensuring that the science of reading best practices have a positive, lasting impact on students’ reading skills and motivation to learn.

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