What is structured literacy? And how does it support students with reading disabilities?
The term ‘Science of Reading’ refers to a comprehensive body of reading research on how we learn to read. This research has been in the making for over twenty years and includes scientific knowledge, spanning across many languages, and incorporating the work of experts from relevant domains, ranging from the field of education and literacy to psychology and neurology, and more. This body of research has helped us to debunk older methods purported as effective reading instruction. Such methods were based upon tradition and observational data, no evidence as experts assert as being best practice.
The Science of Reading is a conclusive, empirically supported research that offers knowledge to gain a deeper understanding of how students learn to read, the skills that are required for efficient reading, how they work together, and which parts of the brain are responsible for reading development.
From this research, teachers have an evidence-based best practice approach for teaching foundational literacy skills called Structured Literacy. Structured Literacy emphasizes a purposeful, direct, systematic, and explicit reading and language arts instructional framework for instructing students to decipher words in prints and to focus on the goal of reading, which is to learn, enjoy, and comprehend text, through individualized instruction, informed by deliberate assessment.
A science of reading classroom bursts with clearly observable explicit and engaging key instructional practices, framed on a Structured Literacy approach to teaching reading. These key instructional practices begin with a focus on the sounds in words, or phonological awareness, not the letters. When the learning of sounds is hands-on, students are able to commit the learning to memory quicker and in a shorter amount of time. Instruction includes manipulating sounds and playing with them, and students are observed practicing their learning by engaging in sound and word play.
Instruction in the Structured Literacy classroom progresses through a continuous loop of teaching, learning, and assessing to build students’ reading, writing, speaking, and listening skills.
Structured literacy is intentional, explicit and direct, systematic, cumulative (scope and sequence), comprehensive, diagnostic, prescriptive, and multi-sensory instruction, incorporating phonology, sound-symbol, syllables, morphology, semantics, and syntax.
Structured literacy is intentional, explicit and direct, systematic, cumulative (scope and sequence), comprehensive, diagnostic, prescriptive, and multi-sensory instruction, incorporating phonology, sound-symbol, syllables, morphology, semantics, and syntax. Intentional literacy instruction is purposeful in its instructional moves. Meaning that every instructional teaching decision and move I make is a careful and deliberate choice, but based upon student data, with the purpose to move a student’s learning forward. Explicit and direct is the deliberate teaching of all concepts with continuous student-teacher interaction, meaning the teacher provides clear and precise instruction. Instruction is systematic as it follows a logical instructional order of the language from easier to more difficult and each skill/step requires mastery before moving on, meaning that the teacher has a specific plan or sequence for introducing letter-sound relationships. Structured Literacy classroom instruction is cumulative with each step being based on previously learned concepts. Instruction is comprehensive. It includes all levels of language, often in parallel, including sounds (phonemes), symbols (graphemes), meaningful word parts (morphemes), word and phrase meanings (semantics), sentences (syntax), longer passages (discourse), and the social uses of language (pragmatics). Instruction is diagnostic. This means that instruction is individualized based on formal and informal data including observation of reading behaviors. This leaves for a flexible teaching plan based on careful and continuous assessment of the individual student’s needs. The instruction is also prescriptive. Teachers scaffold instruction, managing the level of difficulty. Corrective feedback is given so students know how to monitor their reading errors. Every activity should be taught to 100 percent mastery. Teachers ensure that mastery is met through multi-sensory, meaning that information is presented using more than one modality. Multi-sensory teaching uses all learning pathways in the brain (i.e., visual, auditory, kinesthetic- tactile) simultaneously or sequentially in order to enhance memory and learning. Multisensory, structured language programs include both synthetic and analytic instruction. Synthetic instruction presents the parts of the language and then teaches how the parts work together to form a whole. Analytic instruction presents the whole and teaches how this can be broken down into its component parts.
In a science of reading-based classroom, decoding and encoding are taught, synchronously. Explicit instruction in sound-spelling patterns that includes spelling helps to support students in learning to read. Learning to read does not develop naturally and all students benefit from explicit and systematic instruction. This means that all 44 sounds should be delineated in a clear scope and sequence that supports student learning. Students should receive explicit instruction on the rules of the English language and be taught to attend to all the sounds in each word so they can “hack” the code to reading.
Daily practice with applying these skills should be evident in a classroom where instruction is based upon the science of reading. Students should be given a chance to generalize taught and learned skills through daily practice with decodable texts, aligned to the scope and sequence of instruction. Good readers are able to automatically connect the sounds of language to print. This is because through regular practice, or daily reading, students are able to strengthen the neural pathways between the visual and language parts of the brain for improved automaticity of word reading.
Instruction should focus on a content topic for 2 to 3 weeks. This allows background knowledge to be built which aids readers in comprehending text. Knowledge of vocabulary is highly correlated to predicting a student’s comprehension of a text. Vocabulary, in a science of reading -based classroom, should be pre-selected and connected to the topic and the texts students are reading on the topic. Vocabulary words should include student-friendly definitions to promote understanding, and students should have multiple exposures to the selected words.
Furthermore, topics should be engaging and meaningful to our students. Students learn to read through an interactive, developmentally-appropriate, and engaging manner. Students should be given the chance to interact with content through speaking, listening, and writing. The activities connected to this content should be purposeful in that they focus on supporting student understanding of how words are connected, even among different topics.
Intentional activities of the instruction should focus on understanding and constructing sentences. Analysis at the sentence-level is important to overall text comprehension. Instruction on grammar and syntax (sentence structure) in both reading and writing is key. We want to challenge our students even further by developing students’ understanding of language. For example, students should be taught to make inferences from a text. Skilled readers use both explicit and inferential information to extract meaning from a text. Therefore, instruction should include verbal reasoning and analysis of text including text structures.
Structured reading instruction grounded in the Science of Reading supports the learning of ALL learners, including those with Dyslexia. There are a few reasons for this, like for instance, it’s grounded in the Science of Reading. But also because in structured literacy, elements of language are taught to address the language basis of the learning disability or reading disability. These include such elements as instruction of sounds and symbols, word meaning or semantics, and sentence structure or syntax. And because structured literacy follows a systematic scope and sequence, progressing from easier to more challenging skills, it ensures that mastery of one step like learning the phonemes /ŏ/ and /ŭ/ followed by /ew/ and /ow/, before learning alternate grapheme combinations like /ough/.
Use this checklist to transform your teaching into a structured literacy classroom based on the Science of Reading today!
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