What is Meant by the Term Science of Reading: A Defining Guide
The Reading League collaborated with numerous experts to develop the Science of Reading: A Defining Guide (2022). This guide provides a clear understanding of what the term means and includes additional material to support that understanding. It is very helpful for teacher educators to build their own knowledge or to provide it as a part of their coursework (copies can be purchased or downloaded as free PDFs by following the link in this paragraph).
The Defining Guide defines the science of reading as “a vast, interdisciplinary body of scientifically-based* research about reading and issues related to reading and writing. This research has been conducted over the last five decades across the world, and it is derived from thousands of studies conducted in multiple languages. The science of reading has culminated in a preponderance of evidence to inform how proficient reading and writing develop; why some have difficulty; and how we can most effectively assess and teach and, therefore, improve student outcomes through prevention of and intervention for reading difficulties.”
This scientifically-based research is the kind of research that has historically been absent from many educator preparation programs. Typically, the kind of research featured in EPPs includes qualitative studies, observational studies, and other methodologies that are useful when the research questions are not seeking to address causal claims. Scientifically-based reading research addresses questions about causal relationships between instruction and student outcomes, providing pre-service teachers with knowledge of how our brains read, how brain circuitry changes as we develop skilled reading, the instructional practices that best support these cognitive processes, and more.
On page 11 of the Defining Guide, a table articulates the components of scientifically- based research:
The majority of educator preparation programs have been preparing pre-service teachers using a Balanced Literacy framework. This framework emphasizes student choice and implicit learning to encourage an early love for reading and writing with the belief this will lead students to successful literacy outcomes. Unfortunately, these underlying tenets of Balanced Literacy are not substantiated by scientifically-based reading research. In contrast, scientific evidence shows that explicit and systematic instruction in components of language such as phoneme awareness, phonics, semantics, and syntax result in better reading outcomes because they provide students with the understanding of the relationships between oral and written language. Structured Literacy is the term used for an instructional approach that integrates these components of instruction based on the science of reading.
Developing Department Unity for Program Transformation: Syllabi and Course Refinement Tools That Can Help
An essential first step in integrating evidence-aligned / scientifically-based reading instruction into an educator preparation program is developing unity among faculty in a department so that there can be commitment to engaging in the work. Through The Reading League’s EPP community of practice meetings, faculty from over 200 EPPs have agreed that this work is challenging, and particularly challenging and less successful if done independently. Following are tools that can make this work less challenging for faculty members.
Curriculum Evaluation Guidelines
The Reading League’s Curriculum Evaluation Guidelines (CEGs) feature pages of scientifically-based reading research within its resource section. This research substantiates the instructional practices identified within the CEGs that are aligned with the scientific evidence (“aligned practices”) and those that are not aligned with the evidence (“red flags”).
Education preparation program faculty can use the CEGs to identify the instructional practices to teach pre-service educators and base student assignments. Pre-service educators can be provided with copies of the CEGs to understand how certain instructional practices are supported by the science of reading and how others are not supported by it.
CEEDAR Center Resources
The CEEDAR Center offers many innovation configurations that EPPs can use to evaluate programs on a variety of evidence-based practices.
Syllabi Refinement Consultants
Dr. Cara McDermott-Fasy’s blog describes the transformation of Rhode Island College as its faculty united to abandon its single syllabi perspective and use the Rhode Island Science of Reading and Structured Literacy Syllabi Refinement Tool to build a cohesive program. The tool allows faculty to identify gaps and redundancies in evidence-aligned instructional practices among syllabi and coursework. They credit this tool with helping them improve their National Council for Teacher Quality (NCTQ) rating from an F in 2018 to an A+ in 2023.
How the Science of Reading Supports Multilingual Learners and Students who Speak English Language Variations
Educator preparation programs must prioritize the inclusion of content from the science of reading regarding how to support English Learners and Emergent Bilinguals (ELs/EBs). Visit The Reading League Compass: English Learners / Emergent Bilinguals and the Science of Reading for resources to support this population of students.
Pre-service teachers should graduate with an understanding of the benefits of recognizing and embracing bilingualism as an asset, as well as viewing dialects and English language variations as an asset. Linguistic diversity benefits students, fostering cultural inclusivity and acknowledging the unique characteristics and expressions found within different dialects. Understanding that dialects are governed by their own grammar rules helps both students and their teachers realize that language variations are not a lesser form of standard English.
Participants from The Reading League’s educator preparation program community of practice have generously shared their syllabi as examples of what a course that integrates components of evidence-aligned literacy instruction may look like.
Model Syllabi from Mount St. Joseph’s University
Model Syllabi from Excellence in Teaching/CESA9 virtual courses
Model Syllabi from William Carey University
Model Syllabi from Eastern Oregon University
Model Syllabi from William Penn University
Model Syllabi from Mars Hill University
Model Syllabi from the University of Missouri
Connecting to Classrooms
Many schools and universities are currently transforming by building knowledge in scientifically-based research. Faculty participating in The Reading League’s EPP community of practice have noted that a major challenge is providing pre-service teachers with practicums in classrooms that feature practices aligned to the science of reading.
Some EPP faculty and deans have solved this issue by offering cohorts of professional development in the science of reading in which both EPP faculty and partner school teachers build their knowledge together. Sometimes, resources such as grants or initiatives from a state education agency, or partnerships with organizations such as the CEEDAR Center are used to support such field placement efforts. EPPs have also partnered with local community organizations and after-school programs to establish tutorial practicums to have greater control and assurance that pre-service teachers will be using the evidence-aligned instruction that they’ve learned.
Dr. Katie Pace-Miles and Andrew Fletcher developed another replicable solution. They designed a tutoring model that has been supporting the needs of New York City’s youth while also allowing pre-service teachers authentic, paid, experience using evidence-aligned materials.
Textbooks and Materials
Selecting textbooks and course materials that are aligned to the science of reading can be a challenge. To make this task easier, the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) created a searchable database of reading instructional materials. The database includes more than 1,000 educational resources—including textbooks, journal articles, and instructional videos—currently used in teacher preparation programs’ coursework. Each resource is rated on how well it aligns with scientifically-based reading instruction and has a detailed review written by a leading reading expert from the field.
Users can search by the core components of scientifically-based reading instruction (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension); by types of reader (struggling readers, English language learners, English language variations); by rating; and by intended use.
NCTQ Reviews and Resources
Though we know scientifically-based reading instruction is imperative, it can be hard to determine if educator prep programs are preparing teachers with the knowledge base to make the best instructional choices In turn, this can make it difficult to identify strong educator prep programs that can serve as models for others. To help with this, the National Council on Teacher Quality produced the Teacher Prep Review: Strengthening Elementary Reading Instruction, which examines nearly 700 teacher prep programs across the country to determine the extent to which they are preparing future teachers in scientifically based reading instruction. NCTQ looks for evidence that coursework for future elementary teachers includes all the core components of scientifically based reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. The analysis breaks down how future elementary teachers are prepared in each aspect of the science of reading through instructional hours, assigned readings, assignments and assessments, and opportunities to practice.
This tool can help state leaders and advocates discern which educator prep programs in their state are strong and which need additional support. The review also includes
The Center for Reading Science: Higher Education
The Center for Reading Science at Mount St. Joseph University provides resources to support EPPs seeking to enhance the alignment of educator preparation to reading research. The center offers tools, consultation, and collaboration through the STARS in Higher Education alliance, which is open to educator preparation providers.
Resources such as course enhancement tools and sample syllabi can be found on the Faculty Resources page.
Deans for Impact
Deans for Impact (DFI), a national nonprofit organization with a mission of ensuring every child is taught by well-prepared teachers, supports aspiring teachers to enact equitable, evidence-based instruction, including in early literacy.
Their team of literacy experts works with teacher-educators to build content area knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge in scientifically-based reading instruction and supports efforts to design aligned coursework and clinical experiences that create meaningful learning opportunities for aspiring teachers. Notably, their Early Literacy by Scientific Design Network helped educator preparation programs to employ a series of seven asynchronous, practice-based modules drawn from high-quality instructional materials, resulting in significant pre- to post-assessment gains in candidates’ mastery of foundational skills instruction.
DFI has published resources for educators on early learning and development, provides on-the-ground training and technical support, and supports alignment across teacher preparation and pre K-12 education.