The ability to read is transformative in a child’s life. Interdisciplinary insights into the process of reading have been uniform in their findings—both on learning to read and on teaching reading.
This research, consistent and extensive, constitutes the “science of reading,” a persuasive body of evidence that documents the skills and capabilities needed to develop a “reading brain.” Neural connections must be made in the phonological assembly region of the brain to enable reading, and these connections must be built through informed instruction.
Three Primary Regions of the Brain Are Associated with Reading
Theoretical models have provided a visual for this process. The Simple View of Reading explained that reading comprehension is a product of decoding and language comprehension, while Hollis Scarborough’s Reading Rope points out how the two work together—with word recognition becoming increasingly automatic (fluent) as language comprehension becomes increasingly strategic.
In viewing these models, it is critical to recognize that decoding without deep levels of language comprehension is insufficient to develop skilled reading. And deep levels of language comprehension without decoding will not result in skilled reading either. Readers need proficiency in both, thus these essential elements must be taught and developed as children learn this life-changing skill.
Note: McKenna and Stahl (2009) have developed a Modified Cognitive Model of the Reading Rope that adds the Strategic Knowledge that readers use (e.g., general and specific purposes for reading, knowledge of reading strategies) to further understand how readers comprehend text.
Just as brain imaging studies have been consistent in their depiction of the neural connections necessary for fluent reading, there is consensus on what must happen instructionally to wire the brain for the ability to read. In order to determine how well your program and resources reflect Science of Reading guidance, consult our Science of Reading Evaluation Checklist, developed by author and early reading specialist Wiley Blevins.
Ed.M., Harvard University, Principal Author, ILA 2019 Literacy Leadership Brief: Meeting the Challenges of Early Literacy Phonics Instruction and author of Meaningful Phonics and Word Study: Lesson Fix Ups for Impactful Teaching (Benchmark Education Company)
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The Necessity of Text Variety
As students are taught to develop and hone both the decoding and language comprehension required for skilled reading, an array of decodable texts, leveled texts, and trade books should be used. Children read books to practice foundational skills, to develop fluency, and for pleasure, too. Classrooms need a range of texts for different instructional purposes.
Different texts receive different degrees of emphasis at each grade level. But ALL are needed for a comprehensive literacy solution.
Phonics lessons must be explicit and systematic, with a clearly defined scope and sequence. And they must include Decodable Texts for reading application.
Trade Books develop vocabulary, knowledge, and perspective, and allow children to see themselves in the world. Teachers read books aloud in order to build vocabulary and background knowledge, and to instill a love of reading.
Knowledge-Building Leveled Texts eliminate barriers, scaffolding students and lifting them up, making them eager and able to tackle complex grade-level texts.
Explore Benchmark Education Resources That Support Evidence-Based Reading Instruction
Just a few examples:
In alignment with science of reading research, phonics instruction must follow a defined scope and sequence with ample review and repetition.
Each skill is explicitly introduced and applied in ways that get students thinking and talking about how words work.
Readers rely on their knowledge of the meanings of specific words (vocabulary) in a text and their background content knowledge related to the topic of that text. These skills intertwine with decoding as the student tackles and accesses this new text.
As students build their decoding skills, equal time must be dedicated to flooding them with vocabulary and developing their content knowledge through rich read-alouds with interactive conversations. These efforts plant the seeds of comprehension.