Monday, August 28, 2023

The Science of Reading

The Science of Reading is an educational finding, based on research, which attempts to unravel how humans become literate. Many school districts in the nation are currently embracing the findings and implementing them into elementary school classrooms. The basic premise is that educational institutions have gotten reading instruction all wrong and an update in the operating system is necessary and overdue. 

All of this is beautifully presented in a podcast entitled Sold a Story by Emily Hanford. I listened to all 6 episodes yesterday on my drive from Rochester, NY to Trenton, NJ. It is an engaging investigation into reading theory, history, and implementation. It should be required listening for educators, especially those who have not gotten this information in their training programs.

As a reading specialist, I already knew most of the information. Yet, there were some surprises (I'll get to that in a minute). I've lived through a range of the educational approaches about reading presented in this podcast. I remember phonics-based instruction as a child with worksheets asking me to circle the long vowel in a series of words. I also remember my confusion because I was never told what that meant. What made a vowel long or short? A bit of explicit instruction would have been helpful and my early experience influences my teaching today because I know what it is to be the child who benefits from explicit instruction. 

Over the years, the pendulum has swung between phonics-based instruction to wholistic methods and back again. Things shift as we learn more and, it seems to me, they shift because people simply want something different. We also cannot ignore the influence of financial greed and political gain in how schools are run. All of this is covered in Sold a Story.

The bottom line is many schools are now throwing out the work of Marie Clay, Lucy Calkins and Fountas & Pinnell to focus on phonics. In my training and work with hearing students, I've always incorporated phonics instruction and was surprised to learn -  in the podcast - that Marie Clay's Reading Recovery and Fountas & Pinnell's Leveled Literacy Intervention considered it optional.  That was never how I implemented their work. For this, I give thanks to my mentor, Dr. Joanna Uhry, who taught me the value of matching my instruction to meet the needs of the children rather than providing a one-size-fits-all approach. 

This "new" direction, propelled by the science of reading, comes with questions. Questions regarding assessment and instruction that administrators and coaches, who know much less than I do, are undoubtedly going to struggle to answer. I just hope we do better for our struggling readers and can one day celebrate an America with higher literacy rates because to paraphrase Whoopi in Ghost, we in danger girl.

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