You have probably been hearing a lot recently about the science of reading. You’ve heard that your instruction should align with structured literacy. But what does that even mean?
The good news is, while this might require a mindset shift, it doesn’t have to be overly complicated.
In this blog post, I am going to show you 5 ways you can align your instruction with the science of reading and structured literacy.
What is the science of reading?
The science of reading refers to a collective body of research and knowledge relating to the brain and how it learns to read. It is NOT a specific curriculum, program, or way of teaching.
While the science of reading may seem like the new buzzword in education, it’s definitely not! The science of reading includes decades worth of research into best practices for teaching reading.
Why should you align your instruction with structured literacy?
While many people associate structured literacy with teaching students with learning difficulties, the truth is, the science of reading can benefit EVERYONE!
About 20% of the population has a language-based learning disability such as dyslexia.
According to a report by the NAEP, 34% of fourth graders read below the basic level of proficiency.
Research also tells us that students that struggle with reading in first grade have a very high chance of continuing to struggle in fourth grade and beyond.
Structured literacy has been shown to be extremely beneficial to our struggling readers, but it also explicitly teaches the key components of early literacy that ALL readers need.
Important Truths of Structured Literacy
As you begin to plan your lesson plans that align with the science of reading and structured literacy, it is important to remember these truths.
Structured literacy is explicit.
Explicit lessons have to do with teacher clarity. If your lesson is explicit, the teaching point will be clear throughout the entire lesson. Every part of the lesson is intentional and relates back to the teaching point.
While it can be tempting to quickly point out another skill or teaching point when it comes up during a lesson, research in teacher clarity shows that this is not best practice.
Structured literacy is systematic and cumulative.
Systematic instruction means that skills taught follow a scope and sequence. Skills are not “peppered in”. Lessons build upon each other in a thoughtful manner so that students are continually building on their background knowledge.
However, that does not mean that a skill is taught and then never revisited. As new skills are taught, previous skills are reviewed.
Structure literacy is data-driven.
Assessments and data should be the driving force behind your instruction. After all, if you don’t know where your students are, how do you plan where to get them?
What To Include In Your Lesson Plans
As you begin to align your instruction with the science of reading and structured literacy, it is important to include these components in your daily lesson plans. Instruction that align with the science of reading and structured literacy will include:
- Phonemic awareness
Each of these areas should include explicit, daily instruction.
I know that sounds like a lot! But I’m going to show you 5 ways that you can make sure that these components are a part of your daily instruction (spoiler: you’re probably already doing most of them).
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words.
Research shows that phonological and phonemic awareness is crucial to reading success. Students must be aware of that language can be broken down in different ways and manipulated to make new sounds and words.
The good news is, you can increase students’ phonemic awareness skills with just a few minutes of direct instruction daily!
You can include your phonemic awareness instruction as a warm up to your whole group or small group literacy lessons.
Some phonemic awareness activity ideas:
- Activities To Teach Rhyming Words
- 6 Segmenting and Blending Activities
- Phoneme Substitution and Manipulation
When planning your lesson plans that align with the science of reading and structured literacy, phonics instruction is essential.
You want a phonics curriculum that is systematic and explicit.
Systematic means that it follows a research-based scope and sequence. Research tells us that there is no one best scope and sequence, but in general, a scope and sequence should build upon skills in a thoughtful way.
Explicit means that lessons are clear and students understand what they are learning and why. Lessons should guide students in practicing a skill while slowly decreasing support.
Your phonics instruction can be both whole group, small group, or a mix of both. The important thing is that students are receiving that direct, explicit instruction daily.
Find the Kindergarten Phonics Curriculum for whole group instruction here.
Find the Empowering Little Readers Science of Reading Curriculum here. While this curriculum was developed with small group instruction in mind, it can also be used effectively for whole group phonics instruction.
When students are able to read fluently, they can read with speed, accuracy, and expression. There are many different ways to improve freaking fluency, and they are all easy to include in your instruction.
1. Improve reading fluency by reading aloud to students. Daily teacher read alouds are a great way to model fluent reading including reading with cadence and expression.
2. Improve reading fluency by giving students opportunities to read aloud. As students begin to read independently, they need time to practice with a variety of texts aloud. This can include reading decodable readers in small groups, reading to a partner, fluency drills, etc.
3. Improve reading fluency through daily review and fluency drills. In order to increase fluency, students should review previously learned skills daily. This can look like:
- Whole Class Fluency Drills – We project these on the board and students are able to review previously learned skills in a spiral review. This is our daily warm up in the Empowering Little Readers Kindergarten Phonics Curriculum.
- Fluency Sentences – Fluency sentences allow students to practice reading the same sentence multiple times for fluency. They can read the sentence in different voices or expressions to keep this fun and engaging.
- Timed Fluency Drills – Timed decoding and fluency drills are a great way to practice reading words in isolation fluently. Students can work repeatedly on the same skill as they increase speed and accuracy.
Vocabulary and background knowledge is so essential to listening and reading comprehension. However, it can be easy to push this piece to the side.
Students need daily, explicit vocabulary instruction.
How can you add vocabulary instruction into your day?
Teach vocabulary as a part of your daily interactive read alouds. Each week, we teach 4 vocabulary words that come from our weekly interactive read alouds.
Not only does this vocabulary instruction help our students better understand the current read alouds, but it also increases their comprehension and understanding of future books.
Teach decodable vocabulary that relates to your current phonics skill.
Just because students are able to decode a word doesn’t mean that they understand the word! Teaching decodable vocabulary helps build connections.
In my Science of Reading Curriculum, we introduce decodable vocabulary words that will appear in the decodable readers at the beginning of each lesson.
This helps students make connections and better understand the story as they read.
One of the best ways to work on comprehension is through daily interactive read alouds. In an interactive read aloud, the teacher is doing the legwork of reading.
This is beneficial because you are able to read more “meaty” texts that lend themselves well to specific comprehension focuses. For example, the teacher may read the story and then the students can focus on retelling, sequencing, or making connections.
By doing the legwork of reading, the teacher also frees up the brain space for students think deeper about the text and the lesson.
The Empowering Little Readers Reading Curriculums provide daily interactive read aloud lesson plans that explicitly teach comprehension skills.
You can try out a free week here!
Aligning your lesson plans with the science of reading and structured literacy can feel overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be! First, look at your instruction and see what components you’re already implementing (I bet it’s more than you think).
Next, start making small changes. Choose a component to focus on and begin looking into best practices. Experiment and see what works best for you and your class. Remember to give yourself grace! Small steps lead to big gains.