There are so many myths about the science of reading. It is important to debunk them so that more children can gain the strong reading skills they need. Read below to learn some top myths about the science of reading and the truth.
Myth 1: The science of reading is an approach or program.
The science of reading is an ever-growing body of research that tells us everything we know about reading; how it develops; and the best, most effective ways to assess and teach reading (Petscher et al., 2020). There are several programs, approaches, and curricula that address skills noted as important in reading science.
Myth 2: The science of reading only promotes phonics instruction.
Research on best practices for teaching and improving reading skills indicates that various skills should be learned (Ehri, 2020; National Reading Panel, 2000). Those include phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, reading fluency, and reading comprehension.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to recognize and manipulate the sounds in the words we speak. We use phonemic awareness to learn phonics, which is mapping the sounds we hear in the words we speak onto the words we see in print. We build our vocabulary by talking about and being exposed to a variety of life activities, places, people, and cultures. Building vocabulary in that manner fosters background knowledge, which is critical because children who have had that type of exposure can better understand what words mean in print.
As children learn to adeptly use phonics skills to read words and vocabulary to understand the meaning of words in print, they build their reading fluency, which enables strong reading comprehension. The goal is for students to move from learning to read to reading to learn. To learn to read, we have to debunk myth 3.
Myth 3: Learning to read is a natural process.
Some folks think that if you read to children and show them books, they will naturally learn to read. The truth is that our brains are not designed to read. Instead, research shows that our brains are geared to naturally learning spoken language, which is listening and speaking (Wolf, 2018). Phonemic awareness is a spoken language skill. When children learn phonemic awareness and then use it to grow their phonics skills, their brains evolve to become receptive to print. Overtime, repeated exposure to print using phonics to read makes students more efficient readers.
Research also tells us that teaching students to read should occur in a structured manner such that students are directly taught the letter and speech sound associations in an explicit and systematic manner (Ehri, 2020). That means that educators should focus on teaching more basic skills, like the association between single letters and speech sounds, before moving to more advanced letter sound associations, like consonant clusters, consonant blends, and vowel teams. This is important because the more basic skills form the foundation for more advanced literacy skills. Students need lots of practice reading words in isolation, sentences, and paragraphs to build reading vocabulary and fluency, all of which promotes robust reading comprehension.
The big take-aways are that students need to be read to in order to build phonemic awareness, vocabulary, and background knowledge; taught directly how to read words; and be provided many opportunities to practice reading. Alright, get out there and help debunk these science of reading myths!
Ehri, L. (2020). The National Reading Panel report: A summary of its findings. The Reading League Journal, 1(3), 4-10.
Ehri, L.C. (2020). The science of learning to read words: A case for systematic phonics instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S45-S60. https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.334
Petscher, Y., Cabell, S.Q., Catts, H.W., Compton, D.L., Foorman, B.R., Hart, S.A., Lonigan, C. J., Phillips, B.M., Schatschneider, C., Steacy, L.M., Terry, N.M., & Wagner, R.K. (2020). How the science of reading informs 21st century education. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(S1), S267-S282.
National Reading Panel (U.S.) & National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (U.S.).(2000). Report of the National Reading Panel: Teaching children to read: an evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, Public Health Service, National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.
Wolf, M. (2018). Reader, come home: The reading brain in a digital world. HarperCollins.
Dr. Jaumeiko Coleman
Dr. Jaumeiko Coleman is the Vice President of Early Literacy Impact at EVERFI. In her role she enjoys collaborating with colleagues across units as well as external stakeholders on early literacy projects as a subject matter expert. Dr. Coleman’s career focus on spoken language and literacy has been infused in her work in public and private schools, public and private universities, and a not-for-profit association. She is a board member of the Learning Disabilities Association of America.