What is reading science?

When it comes down to it, schooling can be the most important learning skill for children. Being a fluent reader opens up endless opportunities for lifelong learning. This is why schools and teachers everywhere are constantly trying to improve the way they teach these basic skills. One of the phrases that has emerged in recent years is “the science of reading”. But what is the science of reading? How does it help teachers and students? Here’s an overview.

What is reading science?

A diagram of a human brain shows the parts involved in different reading skills (what is the science of reading?)


Over the last 40 years or so, there have been thousands of studies on teaching and learning to read in multiple languages ​​and countries. Reading science gathers evidence from those studies to really help us understand the best ways to teach and learn to read. The NWEA website describes it this way:

The science of reading is organized around models that describe what is important and what works in the direction of literacy, describing how and why.

Instead of guessing and testing what might work, teachers use a structured learning method that has been proven to be successful. Students get research-supported methods to help them master these vital skills. Most importantly, the methods work well with all types of students, including (perhaps even especially) those who struggle.

The ultimate goal for students is to read comprehension সক্ষম to be able to identify words individually and to fully understand what they mean, fluently and efficiently.

What are the key elements of reading science?

Color illustrations of the five pillars of literacy: phonetic awareness, phonology, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension


After analyzing all the research, the National Panel of Reading has identified these five elements as important for reading comprehension:


Phonology is the combination of letters and letters and identifying the words they make. Think of a student learning the letters alphabetically or practicing words like “ch” or “st”.

Phonemic awareness

Acoustic awareness recognizes that letter words and combinations together form words. When you say the word “cat”, you don’t say “kuh-a-tuh”. But if you want to figure out how to spell or pronounce a word, you slow down each letter or combination of letters. That phonemic awareness.


Although phonology and phonetic awareness are about being able to say or spell a word, vocabulary is knowing what a word means. It is a part of language understanding. The larger our vocabulary, the easier and smoother our reading will be.


Overall comprehension means understanding words individually, as well as sentences, paragraphs and texts as a whole. It’s one thing to be able to find words, but reading without understanding is meaningless. The science of reading reminds us that comprehension is actually one of the earliest skills that children learn. They practice this skill even when someone else is reading them aloud!


Fluency is bringing it all together at the same time. Fluent readers effortlessly extract words and focus on understanding and meaning as secondary nature. They can read with expression and explain what they have read without parroting the text.

Which model demonstrates the science of reading?

Easy to read diagram showing: R = D x LC


Several popular models help to break all this. A popular alternative is the easy-to-read approach: decoding (d) x language comprehension (LC) = reading comprehension (RC.)

  • Decoding is the process of translating written words into speech, and involves phonology, phonetic awareness, spelling, and visual words.
  • Language comprehension includes vocabulary, language structure, background knowledge, and fluency.
An image of the Scarborough Rope, a model that explains skilled literacy


Another well-known model is the Scarborough’s Rope, which shows how many strands can be woven together to create an efficient reading. A weak strand can affect the overall rope, so all skills are equally important. Learn more about Scarborough’s Rope here.

Does it look like a classroom?

The student is using a pointer to practice a list of words using phonology, while a teacher is watching (What is the science of reading?)


A science of classroom reading usually follows a structured sequential curriculum, which is heavy on phonology. Kids spend a lot of time learning words, combinations, sounds and more. This enables them to quickly decode any word.

Hand-to-hand practice and repetition are important. Kids watch fluent reading modeled for them, then try it for yourself. They read a lesson more than once, focusing on different elements. For example, a first text-medium might be about decoding: say the words aloud. The focus may be on the next vocabulary. And a final reading can address the overall perception of the meaning of the text.

Some argue that the science of classroom reading reduces the focus on flat lessons, instead trying to give children skills that enable them to deal with topics of interest.

How does balanced literacy compare to the science of reading?

Color chart showing The Ladder of Reading (What is the science of reading?)


Balanced literacy is not easy to define, but it often involves a focus on “reading signals.” Sometimes you will hear the phrase MSV, which means meaning, sentence structure and visual information.

In other words, when readers encounter an unfamiliar word, they do not study the word itself but look at the words or signals around it to understand it (as in the picture). The idea is that kids should be able to come up with a word quickly and move on while maintaining their interest in the text. Plain reading is another key part of balanced literacy, often in addition to teaching reading and writing as separate subjects.

If you teach reading for a while, you might be thinking, “But I prefer a balanced literacy approach. I teach some phonology, but I want kids to learn to love reading first! It’s not funny when they have to focus on words and letters over and over again. “But here’s the thing about balanced literacy practice – there’s no scientific evidence to back them up. Makes reading comprehension much faster and more efficient than.

Of course we want kids to love reading. But they are more likely to enjoy it when they can learn it with less effort. And proponents of reading science say their structural methods are more successful. It is possible to ground children in phonology and at the same time teach them to love books.

Where can I learn more?

This is just an overview of a very comprehensive topic. Anyone who teaches reading should spend more time on the proposed science of their reading method. Here are some places to start:

Want to talk about reading science with other teachers? Join the discussion in the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, check out what makes a good decodable text?

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