What is the science of reading?
“Science of reading” means an interdisciplinary body of scientific evidence that:
- Informs how students learn to read and write proficiently.
- Explains why some students have difficulty with reading and writing.
- Indicates that all students benefit from explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and writing to become effective readers.
- Does not rely on any model of teaching students to read based on meaning, structure and syntax, and visual cues, including a three-cueing approach.
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What do we know about how the brain learns to read?
How the brain learns to read is no longer a mystery. Learning to read is not magic. Advances in technology show us that the brain processes multiple sources of information while reading in a network of print, speech sounds, language, and meaning. The brains of proficient readers connect first to the letters, then the sounds, and finally, the meaning of words when reading. Before we learn to read, these connections are not present. The
athway connecting the spelling to sounds to meaning of words must be built through explicit, code-based instruction, with sufficient repetitions, to develop automaticity and ensure permanent word storage and retrieval (Dehaene, 2009).
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What is code-based instruction?
In a code-based or phonics approach, teachers organize instruction around a scope and sequence of word reading skills, moving from simpler to more complex skills. Teachers guide students through activities to build phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension, and writing skills. Code-emphasized instruction requires students to look carefully at words, sound them out, then check to see if the word makes sense. It should be noted that with code-emphasis instruction, meaning is not excluded; instead, the emphasis for beginning instruction in learning to read is focused on the code. Teachers support meaning through texts read aloud to students, especially in kindergarten through first grade.
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Does the science of reading involved more than just phonics?
The science of reading is a body of research which includes research on the effects of systematic phonics instruction. Studies sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) and the National Research Council form a consensus based on clear evidence on the priority skills children acquire as they learn to read. In addition to phonics, there are other critical factors needed for proficient reading, writing and academic success. These include, but are not limited to: Oral language, Alphabet knowledge, Phonemic awareness, Fluency, Morphology, Vocabulary development, Comprehension, Spelling, Handwriting, Written expression and Well-prepared teachers to implement research-based instruction (NIHD, 2000; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 2003).
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Why should we follow what science says about the development of proficient reading and writing?
Data from the 2021-2022 Ohio State Report cards indicates 62.5% of 4th
grade students are proficient readers. Trend data shows there has been no steady movement in terms of reading proficiency rates for learners, especially those in vulnerable populations such as our students identified with learning disabilities. Among reading researchers and scientists, there are no opinions on the best way to teach children to read. Instead, the science research leads to an evidence-base so effective practices can be determined and implemented
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Why is it important for content area teachers to receive professional development in evidence-based language and literacy instruction?
Literacy instruction for students doesn’t end in elementary school. Across all content areas and subject matter courses, students interact with reading, writing and discussion. To succeed with grade-level content and interact with increasingly complex text, language and discourse, students benefit from receiving embedded literacy instruction across their content area classes. Educators can support students in meeting the demands of complex grade-level text, academic language and discourse by providing instruction in vocabulary, comprehension, advanced word study and comprehension. For more information on the value of professional development in literacy for content area teachers, view this video
from Joan Sedita of Keys to Literacy.
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How are student needs supported and differentiated with instruction aligned to the science of reading?
Instruction, aligned to the scientific body of research on reading, promotes evidence-based practices that demonstrate understanding of how the brain processes reading. This instruction should be grounded in high-quality instructional materials and evidence-based practices for literacy instruction, with differentiated support to meet the needs of all students. Differentiated instruction allows students to access the same high-quality classroom curriculum by providing various entry points, challenging learning tasks, processes that can be expanded or compacted, rich content to build on, and outcomes that are tailored to student’s needs. The integrity of implementation is based on valid and reliable diagnostics and screeners of what the student knows and the optimal practices to help the student reach mastery based on where they are on the scope and sequence of skills and content.
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How can I learn more about instruction and materials aligned with the science of reading?
Many resources exist for educators and administrators to support the use of instruction and materials aligned with the science of reading. The Department has developed guides for school leaders
to support the implementation of evidence-based practices in literacy. The guides, along with additional resources for both early and conventional and adolescent literacy are available on the Department’s website. The Department is also committed to providing professional learning to support the use of evidence-based language and literacy practices through the annual Literacy Academy
and Literacy Academy on Demand.
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Is it possible to teach students to read using both three-cueing strategies and practices aligned with the science of reading?
Recent technological advances help us better understand how skilled readers' brains process information while reading. Brain researchers have identified particular and distinct areas and networks of the brain which process print, speech sounds (phonology), language, and meaning. Proficient readers use this path to connect letters to sounds and then to meaning on the left side of the brain. Using this same technology, researchers know poor readers have not developed this pathway and instead rely on meaning and context first, activating the right side of the brain (Stanovich, 2000). Eye tracking research confirms that good readers do not guess or use a few letters to read words. They look at all the letters when reading (Rayner & Pollatsek, 1986). Proficient readers use the same brain circuit or neural pathway, which must be strengthened and taught through explicit, code-based instruction. When teachers use practices based on the three –cueing strategies, they build another neural circuit to the wrong side of the brain in an area not associated with proficient reading. Whole-word memorization also weakens the development of the proficient pathway to reading. It is essential to use only the strategies that activate the print, speech, and then meanings of words in that order.
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Why should families and community members care about the science of reading?
Families and community members recognize the significance of literacy on academic and personal development, and they rely on schools to teach their children to read. When districts utilize instructional practices that are grounded in a strong evidence base, all students learn to read proficiently, relieving the burden on families to hire tutors to teach their struggling students how to read. Families can advocate for evidence-based language and literacy practices in schools, early identification of risk, and data informed interventions to prevent failure early. The science of reading research also informs families about their role in developing literacy skills at home, fostering oral language development. From birth through high school, strong oral language, including the use of sophisticated vocabulary, provides a foundation for literacy skill development. For more information about family partnerships in literacy, the National Center for Improving Literacy
has online briefs and tutorials.
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Is the science of reading a one size fits all approach?
Instruction aligned to the science of reading follows the pathways and processors in the brain. All novice learners of new concepts will benefit. Instruction provides opportunities to support students who need to secure their learning in a particular area and instruction provides time for students to expand a robust understanding of concepts.
All students benefit from explicit and systematic instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, comprehension, and writing to become skilled readers who will expand their knowledge and language expertise. Integrity of implementation means data-based instruction using evidence-based practices and understanding the scope and sequence in word study and language comprehension so that educators can meet all students’ needs.
The English language is complex, but it does follow rules and patterns. Students who are gifted will engage with that complexity, especially those that are orally at a high level with syntax and semantics.
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What opportunities can educators of gifted students use for students that are reading at a higher level than their peers?
An educator’s knowledge base can help bolster concepts in a scope and sequence and building-knowledge curriculum as well as provide a deep grasp of literacy opportunities that create reading and writing as reciprocal activities In-depth understanding of grade level and above complex texts will expand student knowledge of English Language Arts standards and standards in the disciplines.
High quality instructional materials provide depth, breadth, appropriate pace and complexity of topics in a sequential order and student access to a rich, complex variety of individual texts and text sets. Quality materials allow time for appropriate and flexible practice of concepts and access to deepen understanding of concepts. In addition, quality materials can provide opportunities to compact the curriculum, based on student needs.
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A student who is twice exceptional is a student who is identified with a disability and also as gifted. What does instruction aligned to the science of reading look like for a student who is twice exceptional?
Addressing the strengths and needs of twice-exceptional students necessitates seamless collaboration among intervention specialists, gifted intervention specialists, reading specialists, general education teachers and other professionals. To best support students who are twice exceptional, educators should adopt a strength-based approach grounded in the science of reading. This involves identifying and leveraging a student's strengths to facilitate the acquisition of essential skills. Educators can use assessments to pinpoint specific strengths and challenges, informing the selection of evidence-based interventions designed to address both strengths and areas of difficulty. For example, if the student has dyslexia, targeted interventions focusing on phonemic awareness, phonics and fluency can address needs while enrichment opportunities might leverage students’ areas of strengths (e.g., vocabulary, background knowledge).
To address needs, educators might use scaffolding techniques such as breaking down tasks step-by-step or providing a more concrete presentation. They might also model think-alouds and guided questioning, offer examples and non-examples, and encourage more frequent student responses to promote active engagement. To address strengths, educators might provide purposeful opportunities for discovery learning and provide opportunities to grapple with abstract or complex ideas. They might foster greater independence and enable students to work at a faster pace. If mastery has been demonstrated, curriculum compacting may be warranted. Educators may also provide extended opportunities to master advanced content or tiered assignments at different levels of complexity. Importantly, knowledge of students’ specific needs should drive these decisions to ensure that instruction is intensified when students need more support and
when students need more depth and complexity.
To learn more about supporting and meeting the needs of students who are twice exceptional, including resources for strength-based planning for instruction, please review the Ohio Department of Education and Workforce’s Twice Exceptional Guide
and Gifted and Dyslexic: Identifying and Instructing the Twice Exceptional Student Fact Sheet - International Dyslexia Association.
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How does a Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) help gifted learners?
A Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) provides an opportunity to improve services for all students by focusing on flexible services rather than labels. With respect to high-achieving students, MTSS can be leveraged to close opportunity gaps and reduce disproportionality through systematic talent development across instructional tiers. It permits students who demonstrate strengths to receive more advanced instruction at the outset, expanding students’ knowledge and skills beyond what is delivered in core instruction.
All students receive differentiated core instruction, some students receive strategic enrichment, and few students receive intensive enrichment. In Tier 1, general education teachers should use assessment data to provide appropriate scaffolds and extensions of learning objectives. In Tier 2, general education teachers and gifted education specialists should provide additional, strategic enrichment and/or accelerative options within specific content areas, such as English Language Arts. In Tier 3, a gifted intervention specialist may provide more intensive services or more significant acceleration. Other options may need to be considered, such as telescoping or radical acceleration. In all cases, student data should continue to drive decision-making to ensure that all students are adequately challenged. Students who are twice exceptional may require a constellation of services provided by general education teachers, gifted intervention specialists and intervention specialists. Students with social-emotional challenges may also benefit from interventions focused on addressing perfectionism or underperformance.
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How does instruction aligned to the science of reading meet the needs of gifted learners at the secondary level?
Instruction aligned to the science of reading is for all learners. Some of the critical components that are necessary for adolescent gifted learners are advanced word study, syntax, vocabulary and verbal reasoning. Advanced word study knowledge helps to break up unfamiliar multisyllabic words into components in complex texts and then use meaningful parts to understand the words. Syntax supports the link between sentence writing and sentence comprehending. Effective vocabulary instruction focuses on rich meanings including semantic classification, comparisons, influences from many languages and literacy references. Verbal reasoning involves deeper understanding of the text. The instruction is targeted in constructing inferences, integrating concepts within and across texts, clustering patterns and interpreting abstract language from the text with intentional scaffolds to support the depth of thinking.
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What tools can educators use to identify the advanced phonics needs of students who are gifted in early elementary school?
In the early grades, universal screeners can provide a helpful starting point for identifying students who may benefit from advanced phonics instruction. Students who score above benchmark on indicators like Phoneme Segmentation Fluency (PSF) and Nonsense Word Fluency (NWF) are prime candidates for accelerated phonics instruction in kindergarten and first grade.
To identify specific instructional targets, a decoding and spelling inventory may be strategically used with students who scored above benchmark to identify which concepts have been previously mastered. Because gifted students’ spelling can sometimes lag behind their decoding skills, it is important to have students read and write words containing each assessed concept. If a student can read and spell words containing a particular concept, that is a demonstration of mastery. If a student can decode but cannot accurately spell the words, that is an indication of an instructional need. What has been previously mastered can be compacted, and the results of the assessment can help educators identify targets for advanced phonics and spelling lessons.
It is important to consult a scope and sequence to provide enrichment at the point of need. In addition, following a scope and sequence prevents gaps and systematically propels students toward increasing levels of skill. By leveraging advanced phonemic awareness and decoding skills, educators can provide opportunities for students to read more advanced decodable texts to support vocabulary and comprehension growth. By engaging students in more complex dictation exercises, educators provide opportunities to strengthen students’ spelling and sentence writing skills. Careful attention should be paid to pacing and student performance. If students demonstrate mastery on a lesson, they should be permitted to move on to new concepts. If students demonstrate decoding or spelling difficulties during a lesson, a review session may be warranted.
For more information on the essential components in the teaching of phonics, refer to the Ohio’s Phonics Rule.
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