The Science of Reading, Part 5: Teacher Preparation, Research, and Policy

    by | November 12, 2020

    This symposium directly addresses our conference theme of “All of us are smarter than each of us: Collaborate for impact” by bringing together expertise on a topic that many LRA members are confronting: the science of reading.

    Learning and instruction based on research evidence has been at the heart of LRA since its inception, as illustrated by the involvement of members in Becoming a Nation of Readers and the National Reading Panel’s (NRP’s) report. The current use of the term “science of reading,” however, has frequently been restricted to the first two of the five pillars identified by the NRP: phonemic awareness and phonics. This session consists of the responses to the science of reading discussion of three LRA members in their roles as teacher educator, researcher, and policymaker.

    Preparing Teachers in Evidence-Based Instruction: Holly Lane, University of Florida

    Download the paper by Lane et al. here.

    Download the paper by Dieker et al. here

    Hanford (2018) has suggested that many faculty in education either don’t know the science or dismiss it. The program led by Holly Lane over an extended period of time demonstrates how teacher candidates can have a deep understanding of the whys and hows of evidence-based reading instruction and intervention.

    In this program, teacher preparation is centered around an evidence-based intervention. In the first semester, teacher candidates tutor a struggling reader for 20 or more sessions after considerable practice in delivering the intervention. In the next semester, they use the same instructional routine with a small group of challenged readers. Finally, teacher candidates work with students who have significant reading disabilities.

    The results of this teacher education program indicate that, with evidence-based knowledge and skills, teacher candidates can be part of effective interventions and have a solid foundation on which to build effective classroom practice.

    Examining Research Evidence for Phonics Instruction: What We Know and What We Still Need to Learn: Elfrieda H. Hiebert, TextProject

    The science of reading is often conveyed as if the conclusions from science about reading instruction are complete and unequivocal. In any science, especially one related to the complex process of reading, however, the questions of researchers evolve.

    A blog and video series at TextProject will be available on December 1, 2020 where additional information can be accessed on five topics. Here is a brief overview of the topics:

    • Why orthography matters: English has a complex orthography that requires careful design and implementation of interventions.
    • What we know works in–Curriculum: Numerous reports and meta-analyses are unequivocal in describing the need for beginning readers to become automatic in recognizing consistent and prominent grapheme-phoneme correspondences (GPCs).
    • What we know works in–Instruction: One of many research findings is that reading acquisition is supported when the GPCs taught in lessons appear in the texts of application and practice.
    • What we know doesn’t work: Evidence also shows that some common practices such as teaching children to focus on pictures for clues in decoding do not support proficient word recognition.
    • What we don’t know… yet: Finally, numerous aspects of beginning reading instruction have yet to be addressed, such as the number of relatively unusual and rare vowel GPCs that need to be directly taught.

    Bringing Evidence to Bear in State-Wide Policies and Practices: Caitlin Dooley, Deputy Superintendent, Georgia Department of Education

    As deputy superintendent for a large state, Caitlin is responsible for responses about the science of reading to parent and citizen groups, educators, and state legislators. Three perspectives underlie the message that she and her colleagues have crafted.

    First, the term “evidence-based” is used, as is the case in the Every Student Succeeds Act (U.S. Congress, 2015), rather than the more polarizing term of “science of reading.”

    Second, just as the challenges confronting educators are broad, so too are the literatures that inform solutions. Literacy research encompasses topics such as social awareness, engagement and interest, and language development.

    The final perspective is featured explicitly in all communications to stakeholders. This message is that the goal of policy and practice is to provide equitable learning opportunities for all students.

    Discussant: Timothy Shanahan, University of Illinois-Chicago

    Download the paper here.

    Tim has had prominence in each of the three roles of teacher/teacher educator, researcher and policymaker. Recently, he published a foundational paper in the RRQ special issue on the science of reading. As indicated by the title of this article, “What constitutes a science of reading instruction?”, Tim has cast the net to include instructional features in discussions of evidence-based reading instruction.

    We are confident that the sharing of expertise that will occur in this session can support LRA members, whatever their role in the educational enterprise, in responding to the science of reading discussion in their institutions and communities.