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  • Writer's pictureKaitlin Coppola

What is the Science of Reading?

What is the Science of Reading?


The Science of Reading is a collective body of scientific research on reading. It encompasses what we know about how the brain acquires reading skills and what effective reading instruction looks like.

Structured Literacy is the systematic and explicit approach to teaching reading that is derived from this body of research.


What skills are needed for skilled reading?


Skilled reading can be broken down broadly into two categories: 1. The ability to read words and 2. The ability to understand written language. Research tells us, that in order to acquire both the ability to read words and understand them, a learner must master a subset of skills within each of these categories.



Two helpful models for understanding the skills needed for masterful reading are Scarborough's reading rope (above) and the Simple View of Reading (below).



Who needs the Science of Reading?

I often see well-intentioned parents in Facebook groups advocating for child-led learning, urging parents of struggling learners to simply turn on television subtitles or postulate that children figure out how to read on their own when they are ready. The truth is, while some children learn to read effortlessly or with broad, unstructured instruction, the majority of children do need systematic support in order to be masterful readers. It's a disservice to our children to assume they should naturally pick up reading and this belief can prevent children from getting the reading instruction they need. See Nancy Young's chart below for a look at the research on who needs structured literacy.



Neurodivergent children can fall anywhere within the above distribution, but we want to be aware of when their neurodiversity impacts areas of the brain that are used in reading development. While some struggling readers need intensive support in both comprehension and reading words fluently, it is not uncommon for some neurodivergent learners to struggle in one but not the other. Dyslexic learners may need significant support learning to read words yet have no trouble understanding complex text. Many autistic learners read the words in a text fluently while struggling with understanding the meaning.


How can Structured Literacy be Neuroaffirming?

  • Effective, evidenced-based instruction honors our children's time and saves them from unnecessary frustration

  • Short, frequent instruction can both accommodate attention needs and lead to faster acquisition of skills

  • Many neurodivergent children benefit from access to fidgets or movement while acquiring reading skills. Rocking, movement in a swivel chair, or bouncing on an exercise ball may help them regulate during instruction

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