Classrooms across the country look different this year. As with so many other aspects of life in our communities, COVID-19 has complicated how children can learn. The pandemic has exacerbated existing cracks in our nation’s education foundation, including our struggle to offer all students effective early reading instruction.
Pre-pandemic, status-quo instruction methods were already failing students nationwide when it came to reading: only a third of U.S. students have achieved reading proficiency at grade level in 2019. Overall, childhood literacy rates have trended downward in recent years and remained stagnant over decades, leading many educators to employ instruction methods aligned with the Science of Reading.
The Science of Reading is a long-established body of scientific evidence informing how our brains learn to read and the instructional approaches necessary to prevent and overcome reading difficulties. And while there is a growing awareness of the Science of Reading, its effective teaching approaches are not yet reflected in conventional wisdom about reading instruction, nor are they utilized in most U.S. classrooms.
Unfortunately, many of the barriers to implementing methods derived from Science of Reading – lack of funding for teacher professional development, curriculum materials not in alignment with what is known to benefit learning to read – persist in many schools nationwide, most notably in underserved communities. Faced with the public health crisis that has left many students outside the classroom indefinitely, these existing inequalities that have long prevented students from learning to read have bubbled to the surface of our day-to-day reading instruction. The same students who struggled to read at grade level in the classroom must now grapple with the additional challenges of a disrupted learning environment. Now they need to contend with a lack of access to technology, less structured learning time and access to trained educators, and distractions at home.
Under these conditions, it’s now more important than ever for educators to prioritize proven instruction methods that will yield reading proficiency for students and help bridge the learning gaps that pandemic-era schooling has widened. It may look different but learning to read is still possible this school year. Though the challenges may be daunting, the solution remains the same. The Science of Reading is a real solution to support educators as they navigate teaching literacy across remote and hybrid learning environments. And while nothing can replace the value of in-person learning, evidence-aligned instruction can meet teachers where they are, lending itself well to ever-evolving distance learning environments.
The Science of Reading is a real solution to support educators as they navigate teaching literacy across remote and hybrid learning environments.
Learning to read well, for information and pleasure, is a goal we should have for every student. I believe that it’s our most significant education priority. To the teachers and school districts struggling to provide quality instruction this year, I suggest three steps toward integrating the Science of Reading.
Step 1: Become aware of the Science of Reading.
The Science of Reading’s body of research comes from multiple disciplines, including cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics. Its findings go beyond traditional schools of education, filling gaps in our understanding of the learning process.
Step 2: Prioritize professional development on approaches aligned with the Science of Reading.
Educators must embrace opportunities to learn about the Science of Reading, reflecting upon their practice and challenging approaches to reading instruction that are not aligned with the scientific evidence base. Free and low-cost tools can be found here to support this growth process.
Step 3: Adopt evidence-aligned assessment and instructional practices.
Once the Science of Reading is familiar, the selection of science-based assessment and instructional practices, materials, and programs becomes clear. Educators, not programs, teach students.
It is vital to establish a shared understanding among administrators and educators if we hope to achieve unity and consistency in implementation, and ultimately, to improve reading outcomes for students.
Dr. Maria Murray is President and CEO of The Reading League. For more about integrating evidence-based methods into your reading instruction, contact email@example.com or read: The Reading League’s Position Statement on the Science of Reading.