The science of reading or SOR is all the talk of the education world. And rightfully so. But I understand that it can be overwhelming and downright confusing with so much information thrown at us. This blog post is meant to explain the science of reading and share how the science of reading can easily be incorporated into your classroom. And honestly, I think this is a piece that’s missing. There’s so much about SOR on social media especially but it’s not real teachers in real classrooms with real kids. This blog post has both: research and how this looks in a real-life classroom with a real-life teacher and real-life kids!
My SOR Journey
I want to share my experience with the science of reading. I think it’s important for us to see how this journey is different for all of us, but it’s a journey we must take! When I started teaching 18 years ago, I was taught to teach reading using the science of reading. Now, it wasn’t called that but looking back, that’s what it was. However, the focus was almost entirely on decoding and phonics. My kids could decode and call words but had little comprehension skills. When our district shifted to balanced literacy, I made the shift because it’s what the district required and it’s what everyone believed to be the best. But I did keep phonics and phonemic awareness in our classroom with our TKS BOOTCAMP curriculum. However, was anyone else scared to say “sound it out” or “use your sounds” when doing guided reading? True story. That had become a big no-no so it seemed. And about 4 years ago my district started making the shift science of reading-aligned reading instruction. And that’s where we are now.
I am a classroom teacher. Not a scientist. I am learning and growing through reading a lot of books and doing research and attending PD sessions. I encourage you to do the same. I am sharing a collection of books I suggest at the end of this post.
I also learn a lot from teachers on social media. BUT be careful. Take what social media tells us and do your own research. Here’s why: SOR is so much more than phonics and decoding but if you look at social media, you’d believe that SOR is just phonics. A little more on that later…
What is the science of reading?
The science of reading is not a curriculum. It’s not a program. And most importantly, it’s not a fad or a pendulum swing. SOR is a vast and decades-long body of research that tells us how the brain works and how we learn to read. Quite simply, SOR demonstrated the methods that best teach kids to read. We also know that science is always changing because we’re constantly learning more and new things so we’re learning so much about how our kids learn to read. While the shift in teaching is hard and scary, the good news is that the science of reading is making our jobs easier because we’re learning what exactly works when teaching reading so it helps us simplify our teaching.
The science of reading:
- is documented all around the world and in all languages and cultures
- is already happening in your classroom (really! You’re already doing SOR-aligned activities it just isn’t labeled science of reading)
So why is this shift so necessary?
- 65% of our nation’s 4th grades fail to meet basic reading proficiency standards (NAEP)
- In a class of 28 students that means 19 students CAN NOT READ PROFICIENTLY.
The good news is that the research and science tell us that 95% of students in a class CAN learn to read with systematic, explicit, sequential foundational skills instruction. That means we can use science to help our kids be the best readers they can be.
Your instruction needs to have these five essential components:
- phonemic awareness
Before we get to phonemic awareness, it’s also important to teach phonological awareness. Phonological awareness is the understanding that spoken language can be broken down into smaller parts. A sentence can be broken down into words. Words are made of sounds, etc.
A good phonological awareness game is to count the words in a sentence. You can walk the yellow brick road to make this fun. Put some yellow construction paper on the floor. Say a sentence. Students take one step for each word in the sentence.
Now we’re ready for phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the understanding that words are made of sounds and those sounds can be pulled apart and put back together! Many of us probably learned that phonemic awareness could be done in the dark because it was just sounds. The latest research (see, science is learning and changing and making our jobs easier!) says you can do phonemic awareness with sounds and letters.
Phonemic awareness includes oral segmenting, oral blending, rhyming, phoneme deletion, phoneme substitution, etc.
One of our daily phonemic awareness activities is to change your name! We do this at the start of our foundational skills block each day. The boss of the day chooses our sound and we change our names to that sound!
Phonemic awareness is also explicitly taught and practiced with our TKS BOOTCAMP curriculum. Before we add a word to our circle chart, we segment the sounds in the word. That means the students are getting explicit phonemic awareness instruction multiple times a day!
Phonics is all about sound-spelling relationships or the alphabetic principle. This includes beginning sounds, decoding and blending words, and encoding words. Your phonics instruction should be EXPLICIT and systematic. You should also include frequent opportunities to practice with words, stories, and sentences. Research is clear that students who receive explicit, systematic phonics instruction surpass those who do not receive this instruction.
Let’s chat about EXPILCIT instruction. This means you tell students what they will learn. You model and guide them and give them individual practice. And, this is key, you’re providing feedback and ongoing assessment.
Our phonics instruction is our district foundational skills curriculum plus we supplement and push our students with our science of reading aligned, classroom-proven TKS BOOTCAMP curriculum. TKS BOOTCAMP is a systematic, explicit, research-based phonics curriculum driven by best practices.
Let’s talk about TKS BOOTCAMP:
- systematic and explicit-follows a scope sequence that you can find HERE
- circle charts-explicit instruction, phonemic awareness (segmenting, syllables, rhyming), sound mapping, decoding, blending
- handwriting and letter formation
- vocabulary-attaching meaning to the words helps students read the words
- fluency-repetition with blending/decoding to build automaticity
- encoding/writing-students use sounds to spell and write words
- decodable text-students apply phonics skills using decodable texts
Fluency is more than just reading fast or reading with expression. Students, especially in early childhood years, need fluency in skills such as sounds, sight words, etc. We achieve this fluency with daily practice and review after explicitly teaching the skills!
- letter encoding-say the sounds when you see the letter (see b and say /b/)
- letter decoding-hear a sound and identity the letter or letters that make up the sound (hear /b/ and say b, hear /sh/ and say sh)
- sight word decoding-see the word and reads it (see the word “not” and says n-o-t and/or spells the word)
- sight word encoding-hear the word and write the word (hear “not” and writes not)
- blending and segmenting-decoding and encoding words
Teaching vocabulary should be explicit. And this is an area where I have really shifted my practice as I’ve learned more. In the past, we tried to get students to use context clues such as what the text said and the pictures to figure out words. But the research tells us we need to teach new vocabulary explicitly. It should be taught before a story and in the story. One easy way to do this is to restate the vocabulary word and meaning as you’re reading. For example. the story might say “She dashed down the hallway” so after reading that I would quickly say “she dashed or ran fast down the hallway.” And then you can utilize the total physical response and have students “dash” around the room.
Another way to teach vocabulary is by having students restate the definition in their own words, and coming up with a picture for that word. This helps personalize the work. We record these on a vocabulary chart that is displayed in the classroom!
And keep this in mind, when using TKS BOOTCAMP and creating the circle charts, that’s a perfect opportunity for vocabulary instruction. When someone shares an unfamiliar word then teach the meaning of that word!
YES! The science of reading includes comprehension. Everything we are doing with phonics, vocabulary, and phonemic awareness is building the foundation so our students CAN comprehend and make meaning. Without comprehension, students are just calling words. They need explicit, guided instruction on how to make meaning of what they hear and read!
In early childhood, that comprehension instruction happens through interactive read-alouds with rich, complex texts and explicit instruction on comprehension strategies! This is important because we know students’ oral/listening comprehension exceeds their ability to decode and comprehend at this point.
We use our Read It Up! resources to make planning and prepping for comprehension instruction EASY! These all-inclusive resources include instructions, essential questions, lessons with graphic organizers and student recording pages, grammar lessons, writing, vocabulary, and more! Read It Up! is aligned to SOR and really makes planning easy! AND they’re always buy 1 get 1 50% off!
These are books I have read and am currently reading to grow my knowledge and understanding of the science of reading! Click the image to see the books on Amazon!
All of our literacy, phonics, research projects, and ELA centers are aligned to SOR, we recommend these resources to get started with SOR in the classroom! (Also, as we continue to learn more and understand more, we’re continuously reviewing our resources and updating and modifying them to be the best and most research-based they can be!)
For more ideas, resources, and information check out these blog posts: