Picking up the Book After Virtual Literacy Instruction: The Current Challenges of Literacy Instruction in the Multi-Reading Level Classroom

Picking up the Book After Virtual Literacy Instruction: The Current Challenges of Literacy Instruction in the Multi-Reading Level Classroom

After an extended period of virtual literacy instruction, it can be challenging to find appropriate resources and tailored reading plans that transition smoothly from one lesson to the next, especially in a classroom reading at a variety of levels. In today’s newsletter, we present a classroom case study and illuminate the current challenges of literacy instruction in a multi-reading level classroom, before reviewing strategies that can help schools advance young students reading at different levels.

Literacy Instruction in the Multi-Reading Level Classroom

Heather Miller, a first grade teacher at Doss Elementary in Austin, TX, is one of many teachers who radically shifted their reading instruction upon returning to the in-person classroom. This fall, Miller had to backtrack from writing full sentences with her first graders to writing single letters. While Miller’s students are struggling to read at their grade level, they are also falling short of social and developmental milestones: she sometimes stops class to mediate disagreements, or to assist students whose fine motor skills were delayed by prolonged virtual instruction. “My kids are so spread out in their needs,” she told the Hechinger Report; after virtual instruction, “there’s so much to teach, and somehow there’s not enough time.”  Miller’s classroom is one of many that are experiencing the long-term impact of virtual instruction during the pandemic. A recent report by Amplify Education Inc., which creates reading curriculum, assessments, and interventions, found that children in first and second grade experienced dramatic drops in reading level scores compared with those in previous years. Learning loss is exacerbated among low-income, Black, and Latinx students compared to their white peers, according to data analyzed by McKinsey & Company.


In consideration of these barriers, students can still have a positive literacy education with thoughtfully applied strategies from teachers, parents, school psychologists, and other supportive adults. In her first grade classroom, Miller divides her students into several small groups, tailoring activities typically used by younger grades to help students reading at the lowest level. For two hours a day, she works intensively with this group; for other students, she supplies various reading “tools”, such as hollow phones that encourage students to listen to themselves read and reinforce connections between sounds and written words. Miller is fortunate to work among a team of adults working to get elementary readers back on track: her school has a strong team of literacy interventionists who provide extra reading help throughout the day, as well as a first grade teacher focus group where tips and strategies are regularly exchanged. Miller and other early elementary educators maintain a fine balance between stretching their students while not pushing too hard with remediation efforts.

Multi-Reading Level Classroom

Although the pandemic has created many issues, it has also propelled educators and legislators to respond to long-standing deficits in students’ reading performance, as evidenced by major curriculum shifts, state-funded training for educators in the science of reading, and literacy nonprofits. Team Read, a free program that pairs trained teen reading coaches with second and third graders, is one example of a locally-minded nonprofit working to close reading gaps with a unique cross-age model. Local and regional efforts, coupled with the ingenuity of individual teachers like Miller, ultimately provide hope that young readers will bounce back. The case study at Doss Elementary illustrates the value of splitting a classroom into skills-based rotation groups and participating in teacher focus groups, as well as creating more time and space for reading beyond the classroom. Perhaps now more than ever, reading is a science as well as an issue of accessibility, requiring a creative and collaborative array of teachers, legislators, and nonprofits to support classrooms reading at multiple skill levels.


  • Prolonged virtual literacy instruction has resulted in many elementary classrooms reading at different skill levels, creating instructional challenges for teachers.
  • Heather Miller, a first grade teacher at Doss Elementary in Austin, TX, is one of many educators who have tailored their curriculum to support the varied needs of individual students in their classrooms.
  • Innovative strategies employed by Miller and other educators, funding for teacher training in the science of reading, and support from literacy specialists and nonprofits are essential to the advancement of young readers returning to in-person instruction.

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Saying “Goodbye” to Bin Learning: New Cross-Curricular Reading Program Takes an Equity-Minded Approach

Saying “Goodbye” to Bin Learning: New Cross-Curricular Reading Program

As part of ongoing efforts to reshape elementary instruction based on the science of reading, more schools are adopting curricula that support a whole-child and equity-minded approach. In this week’s newsletter, we dive into the science of cross-curricular reading education, focusing on the latest curriculum changes at Nebraska public schools through an equity lens.


In a December op-ed, psychology researchers wrote on the value of a whole-child approach to reading, wherein teachers stop teaching in “bins” – for instance, reading from 10:15-10:45 a.m. – and instead create lessons that honor the overlap between math and reading skills. Based on recent psychology research, early language ability is the single best predictor of both reading and math scores, and reading and math abilities depend on the same broad network of cognitive skills: memory, attention (executive function), language, and general knowledge. Teachers can design integrated lessons that draw from a range of topics in reading, math, and social skills, and that cater to a child’s or classroom’s unique interests: whether it’s favorite recipes, dinosaurs, or big cats. According to the authors, the best integrative lessons encourage peer collaboration and allow students to build on ideas from previous classes; they are active, engaging, meaningful to students’ lives, and, above all, joyful.

New Cross-Curricular Reading Program Takes an Equity-Minded Approach

Amplify Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA), the new elementary reading and English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum at Lincoln Public Schools in Nebraska, models this integrative and cross-curricular approach to literacy. Amplify CKLA lessons, which will be officially implemented in the 2023-24 school year after piloting next year in select schools, are based on the vast, interdisciplinary body of research known as the science of reading. The K-2 portion of the curriculum is divided into two strands: foundational skills such as phonics and position words, and a knowledge component that pushes students to expand their knowledge and vocabulary in a specific, equity-conscious topic.


Under the new curriculum, elementary schoolers grades K-5 will draw connections between social studies, history and science, said Lisa Oltman, the district’s K-6 language arts curriculum specialist. Among many other topics, kindergartners will learn about indigenous cultures, nursery rhymes, and fables; second graders will read Greek myths and study slavery and the Civil War, and fifth grade students will read Don Quixote and learn about the Renaissance. High-quality reading material will help students dive into these topics, and culturally relevant topics such as climate change will be threaded throughout grade levels to help students draw connections as they progress through school.

Reading Program Takes an Equity-Minded Approach

Driven by the belief that word recognition and language comprehension ultimately lead to reading comprehension, Amplify CKLA combines reading and writing under one curriculum, with a special emphasis on narrative, opinion writing, research, and discussion. Says Oltman: "We have a variety of students, lots of students with lots of different backgrounds, and so one thing that was important to us was that students get to see themselves, but they also get to learn about others through this curriculum.”


To formally implement Amplify CKLA, 80 LPS staff members participated in an elementary reading committee to study the science of reading and learn the CKLA materials. It has been a lengthy and expensive process, but educators believe it is a necessary investment to support all students, regardless of reading ability or socioeconomic background. By investing in equitable education and faculty training on the science of reading, school districts ultimately service both students and teachers, whose understanding of reading science will empower them to build lessons that are cross-curricular, culturally relevant, and meaningful for students.

Reading Program


  • Psychology researchers and educational leaders continue to voice the value of teaching literacy through a cross-curricular and equity-minded lens, contrary to the traditional “binning” of reading, math, and other subjects.
  • This research adds to our growing understanding of the science of reading, which serves as the foundation for the Amplify Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA) curriculum that will soon replace current literacy education in the Lincoln Public School District, Nebraska.
  • Amplify CKLA encourages students to make connections across subjects and exposes them to a wide array of topics, cultures, and narratives, while training teachers to integrate subjects and design lessons based on student’s developmental needs and unique interests.

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Everything You Need to Know About Sight Words

Everything You Need to Know About Sight Words

sight words

When kids start learning to read, it’s important for them to practice reading sight words. Sight words are the most frequently used words that appear on every page of the textbook many times. Sight words include words like the, who, like, he, at, but, there, etc.

These terms appear so frequently in textbooks that young readers no longer have to try to sound them out. Because they are used so often, teachers make sure that novice readers are able to recognize and understand them as soon as they see them.


Learn More About Sight Words

Sight words are usually small because of which they are easily recognized. However, these are the words that can’t be sounded out. Sight words are classified into two categories, including frequently used words like it, will, at, and non-phonetic words like talk and the that can’t be sounded out.

For example, if you try sounding out the words “the” and “there,” you’ll understand that the spelling of these words is not straightforward in regards to how they sound out. Another reason it is encouraged for young readers to memorize sight words is that words like the, or, and cannot be easily represented by pictures.


In other words, some sight words do not follow the typical letter-sound correspondences. Therefore, children are encouraged to memorize these words by sight because they are commonly used and not always straightforward to sound out.

Children are introduced to sight words when they enter kindergarten. The number of sight words taught to kindergartners varies by the curriculum. However,  they are taught between 100 to 300 words, with the first 100 being the most common words used in children’s textbooks.


Why It Is Important for Children to Recognize and Memorize Sight Words

Most sight words comprise words found on Dolch and Fry’s list. The revised Dolch list carries 220 words, which are also known as Dolch words. On the other hand, Fry’s sight word list comprises 300 words that are also known as Fry words.

Most of us won’t probably remember learning words like “the, there, at, our, this, that,” but for many young readers, they can be challenging to learn. Sight words are important to memorize because they build speed and frequency.

It is important for children to recognize and understand sight words because they promote comprehension and provide readers with clues to the context of the text. When children understand and are familiar with sight words, they are able to understand the meaning of sentences.

Sight words not only promote reading fluently but are also considered important because they help children write more efficiently too. In other words, sight words are there to prepare them for their reading journey.


What are Sight Word Books?

Sight word books are a great place for children to start looking for sight words. There are many sight word books for kindergartners that can help them memorize, recognize, and understand sight words. Many sight word books carry fun illustrations and include characters and interesting storylines.

Sight words are confidence boosters that can help children read the text more confidently and fluently. You might think that these words are so common that your child might not need sight word books to be able to memorize and recognize them. However, as many sight words defy standard phonetic convention, meaning they can’t be sounded out, it becomes difficult for children to build deeper connections with them.


A few good sight word books for kindergartners include:

  • The Cat in the Hat by Dr. Suess
  • Richard Scarry’s Best Word Book Ever
  • I’ll Teach My Dog 100 Words by Michael Frith, illustrated by P.D. Eastman
  • My Sight Words Workbook: 101 High-Frequency Words
  • 180 Days of Practice- Kindergarten Workbook Set
  • Write-and-Learn Sight Word Practice Pages
  • My 100 Must Know Learn to Write Sight Words

While introducing your child to sight words, it’s important not to introduce two sight words at the same time that are similar, for example, “well” and “will” and “no” and “on.”

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Scope and Sequence Unit 1

Scope and Sequence Unit 1

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Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

The image below demonstrates where new phonemes, new words, and special (high frequency) words are introduced. These are only the words and sounds introduced in Unit 1.

Scope and Sequence Unit 1

We strongly recommend the program be read in order because the sounds and words in each book build upon those learned in previous books. It is important that students master each book before moving on to the next book.

If you are looking for previous units scope & sequence you can find them below


Scope and Sequence Unit 2

Scope and Sequence Unit 3

Exciting ways to learn sight words for Elementary Students!

Exciting ways to learn sight words for Elementary Students!

Are you wondering how to learn sight words in a fun and interesting way? Some creative and low-preparation activities assist a child in learning sight words promptly.

What are sight words?

Sight words are also called high-frequency words. They encourage young learners to memorize by viewing them.  This helps in recognizing them in prints without using any strategies to decode the new words. Some of the examples of sight words are; has, have, was, and, the, are, and the list goes on.


Over 75% of the children’s textbooks are comprised of sight words.


Fun ways to learn sight words:

To aid you in teaching sight words in fun ways, we have compiled a list of activities. We have generated plenty of ideas and thoughts. It helps in releasing energy with activities and games in tons of outdoor and hands-on activities.


Putting flashcards on a day-to-day basis helps little learners to develop these skills more quickly. Besides, we would suggest you make it engaging with fun and exciting activities for young readers. Hand-on sight words accompanied by activities and games can draw the attention of preschoolers. It also helps them to learn at a faster pace.


Moreover, incorporate the sight words in daily life. Make it part of your play that develops the interest of the children in learning. It will result in mastering the list a little faster.


Initiate with sight words as early as possible:

It is essential to learn sight words in the early years of homeschooling and schooling. Knowing the sight words means a strong grip and command over the recognition of words. It makes reading and memorizing much easier.  It assists young learners to become affluent readers and improve their comprehension.


Sight words may require a lot of effort, time, and energy. By taking an early initiative will ease out the burden. According to research, a child who starts learning sight words at an early age may learn effortlessly and grasp more words due to exposure to extensive reading.


You can begin with two letter sight words like no, on, in, is, it, too, an, am, or, of, and others. This makes it easier for beginners to recognize, learn and develop the skills. Once you have mastered two-letter words, you can move on to three or more letter words to add up to the vocabulary.


It is never too early, to begin with, sight words. It is beneficial to start at a tender age so that it helps in language booster and aids them with reading skills. This is one of the most natural ways to introduce your children to an array of sight words. Simple flashcards for your child also bring a lot of improvement.


Continuous practice makes a lot of difference:

Repeat exposure to the sight words will do the trick for you. When you repeatedly bring into the notice the sight words, it makes a lot of difference.  Sight words like I, as, at, she, he, do, and, up, so, by, go, and some of the words which keep on repeating time and again. Emphasizing them religiously encourages your child to chime in.


Sight words make up the major portion of the text. Moreover, reading out the text loudly can make a lot of a difference.


Pool in all the senses of a child:

Using all the senses in the activities makes learning more interesting and fun-filled. Children grab new words more quickly. By using multi-senses for it will help in retaining the sight words for a longer time.


Therefore, the use of pipe cleaner to magnetic letters to construct sight words is quite beneficial.


Activity-based learning:

Let them explore sight words in newspapers, magazines, pamphlets, and brochures. It will develop their skill in searching for more and more sight words along with the basic understanding of the sight words.


Develop a habit in the child for reading the signboards on the streets, roads, and at utility stores. It assists in building a robust foundation for the child.


Illustrations on the board, spelling drillings, or typing on the keyboard can cement their learning of the words.


Play along with the sight words:

A game makes the learning of sight words more entertaining for a child. The play times like jumping games along with the sight words will result in wonders. Try hopscotch to make them learn while playing.


Final words:

Making your preschooler’s journey into reading is a fun yet challenging adventure to begin with. Hence, it is vital to make tiny steps towards introducing new words to them. Most importantly, it is vital to stay positive with learners.  Try to mix and match the activities to engage and excite them with the learning process.


Parents and teachers are the biggest cheerleaders of a child. Therefore, appreciate them for the little efforts they are making to learn. It makes them feel excited and motivated to learn more and more. Readingteacher.com would love you help you with creative ideas and innovative suggestions.

Below is a link to a few of our favorite sight words worksheets!

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Decodable Books: Do They Actually Work?

Decodable Books: Do They Actually Work?

how decodable books work

Learning to read comes naturally to some children; they seem to just get it without needing to understand and learn the phonic codes that make reading sensible. For some, on the other hand, learning to read isn’t always that simple.


When it comes to reading, several children need a systematic approach in teaching in order to acquire this skill incrementally. As they begin learning to read, decodable books prove to be an integral part of the entire learning process.


At this point, some of you are probably asking a pretty important question: “What are decodable books?” Don’t worry – in this blog post, we’ll answer all your concerns regarding decodable books and reveal if they actually work or not.

What we’ll cover:

  • What are decodable books?
  • How do decodable readers work?
  • Purpose of decodable books
  • Why are decodable readers important?
  • Do decodable readers work?

What Are Decodable Readers?

Decodable books or decodable readers are texts that only contain specific phonics patterns or codes, which the student has already learned. These books usually involve high-frequency words.

How Do Decodable Readers Work?

Decodable readers are designed particularly to align with precise, systematic phonic instruction. They’re simple stories formed using exclusive terms that are phonetically decodable, using letter patterns that students have already learned in phonics classes.


For example, a student at the initial learning stages of reading who only knows short vowel sounds can decipher simple terms like bed, pig, and hat; however, he/she will not be able to decode words like owl and see.


On the other hand, a student at a greater reading level who already knows multi-letter phonograms like OA and AI will be able to decode more complex terms like goat and snail.


Moreover, Education Week reveals that decodable books have no storyline; they’re entirely nonsensical whether you begin on the first page or the last page, and even if you read backwards.

Purpose of Decodable Books

The purpose of decodable readers is to enable students to practice the phonic patterns and codes their teacher is teaching them. So far, they’ve proved to offer an outstanding opportunity for in-context practice. Many experts believe that students should practice phonics words and patterns in isolation as well as in the context of writing and reading.


Additionally, these books are used only for short periods to help students develop and improve decoding skills. Once these are in place, students move on to reading varied and wonderfully rich children’s literature.


Note: When searching for decodable books for kindergarten or 1st grade, know that the word ‘decodable readers’ is often used improperly, especially when it indicates books in which only half the terms are decodable. This can be extremely frustrating for many children and may not even support good reading habits. Therefore, keep in mind that good decodable readers – like the ones provided in Reading Teacher programs – are fully decodable and allow your students to read each word.

Why Are Decodable Readers Important? 

Apart from effectively teaching phonics skills, there are some other ways decodable books help students and teachers. Here are some of them:


  • Children learning to read can read decodable books independently
  • Decodable readers encourage students to practice their decoding skills rather than merely relying on images and guessing.
  • These books establish and foster a self-reliant approach among beginning stage readers.
  • With decodable books, learners experience immediate success and acquire interest, enthusiasm, and confidence for reading.
  • These books focus on a target grapheme (spelling) and phoneme (sound).
  • Decodable readers aid successful reading of children’s literature.

Do Decodable Readers Work? 

Yes, it is true that decodable readers effectively teach phonics skills to struggling students, but they do not teach them some of the other vital decoding skills of vocabulary and grammar.

Closing Note

A decodable reader is an excellent tool if you intend to teach and improve the reading skills of young learners. They will not only make learning how to read easy and effective but also fun.


Click here to see our range of decodable books for kindergarteners and 1st graders or explore other Reading Teacher programs that can make reading lessons fun and successful. You can access interactive videos, quizzes, stories, and printable books that have set over 40,000 students on a straight road to academic achievement through our platform.

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Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

Wordle Illuminates the Power of Play in Phonics Instruction

Wordle Illuminates the Power of Play in Phonics Instruction

Sometimes, all we need is a simple reminder to play. The popular phonics game Wordle, recently acquired by the New York Times, now offers a daily opportunity to play: with phonics, that is. Each day, players have six chances to guess a random 5-letter word. After each attempt, the letters guessed correctly turn green, while letters that are in the word but in the wrong place are highlighted yellow; letters not in the word at all turn gray. In some elementary classrooms, this simple guessing game now functions as a snack-size activity for elementary schoolers. Drawing from the popularity of Wordle, this week’s newsletter explores the power of play to improve reading, writing, and spelling skills.

Power of Play in Phonics Instruction

In an EdWeek teacher interview, Kim Palcic, a third grade teacher in Kansas, and Maureen Elliot, a fourth grade teacher in New York, both present Wordle as a teaching tool to support engagement in reading and social development. Palcic plays Wordle with her class using vowel groups and reading anchor charts to visually connect the reading game to their phonics lessons. In Palcic’s classroom as well as Elliot’s, students are encouraged to collaborate with their neighbors to identify the word: each class starts with a word and begins to play, hardly realizing that they’re learning about phoneme-grapheme associations and how letters can make multiple sounds. Elliot notes that while her fourth graders are typically moving away from phonemes and graphemes, COVID-induced learning gaps mean that some kids still require explicit phonics instruction. Elliot subsequently pairs up students with different skill levels for Wordle, allowing some to serve as peer leaders while other students catch up on foundational phonics skills.


Unlike other phone-based word games, Elliot insists that Wordle is not simply a passing trend: as a classroom tool, the power of the game is rooted in the science of reading. Based on the structure and popularity of Wordle, the Association of Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD) recently outlined key insights about effective reading instruction gained from phonics games:

  • Some letters are more common than others, reminding educators that teaching the alphabet is not as simple as A through Z: rather, research on the science of reading suggests that the English alphabet should be taught based on letter frequency and difficulty.
  • The positions of letters in words matters. Young readers memorize more letter positions from high exposure to words, along with explicit phonics instruction.
  • Multiple letters can represent a single sound. For example, the word tough has five letters but only three sounds (/t/ /uh/ /f/), while the word thigh has five letters and two sounds (/th/ /ī/). Although letter-by-letter decoding is appropriate for young readers, they’ll soon learn that attending to letters around a letter is necessary for reading comprehension.
  • Vocabulary knowledge is important for spelling and reading. This is especially important as students become older, encounter more complex texts, and face more challenging assignments in reading comprehension and writing composition.
Phonics Instruction

Finally – and most importantly for our readers – phonics and spelling can be FUN. By thinking about reading and vocabulary expansion as a form of play, parents and caregivers are empowered to play and, in turn, read more with their children at home – whether through Wordle, the animated phonics activities available at Reading Teacher, or any other science-based phonics game.


  • The phonics game Wordle has become wildly popular across the Internet, delighting both reading teachers and their students.
  • The game can function as a classroom tool for reading instruction and encourages students to work as creative collaborators.
  • Wordle and other high-quality phonics games help reading teachers understand the power of play in expanding vocabulary, forming phoneme-grapheme associations, and other foundational skills for reading and writing competency.

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New Year, Same Science: 3 Goals for Improved Literacy Instruction in 2022

New Year, Same Science: 3 Goals for Improved Literacy Instruction in 2022

We’ve conquered more than one month of 2022: a remarkable feat for any teacher or caregiver working alongside a child in their early reading journey. With a pandemic, teacher shortages, and districtwide shifts in curricula, the age-old simplicity of cozying up with a book is more complicated than ever. To simplify the headlines, we outline 3 national goals for literacy instruction based on the science of reading, with timely insights from researchers and educational leaders in the field.

Literacy Instruction in 2022

1. Improve teacher training in the science of reading – for real

New programs in North Carolina, Missouri, Alaska, and other states are retraining entire elementary schools in explicit and systematic phonics instruction, phonemic awareness, and the science of the literate brain. Yet these efforts will be insufficient, writes reading researcher Molly Ness, if teacher training programs neglect the latest research on the science of reading. According to a 2020 review of elementary teacher training programs by the National Council on Teacher Quality, only 53 percent of those programs provided sufficient coverage of essential early reading components. Retraining teachers is a time-consuming and costly endeavor, which is why it’s crucial for higher education programs to train future teachers effectively the first time around. In addition to systematic phonics, science-driven teacher training should cover the linguistic structure of English and the evaluation of foundational literacy skills through various measures.


2. Adopt instructional materials that align with the science of reading.

New teachers trained in the science of reading often enter schools using outdated instructional materials, such as the Units of Study from the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project. The resulting disconnect between teachers’ training and the materials they’re given is both disorienting and frustrating. Particularly for students learning English and/or students with learning disabilities, these older curricula fall short in the science of reading and may not provide sufficient text complexity in students’ first languages.

As high-impact individuals with the power to change curricula, district leaders can introduce research-supported reading curricula in their schools: among them, the Simple View of Reading. The Simple View of Reading states that students need to be able to decode, or read each word accurately and fluently, and comprehend the meaning of texts being read before progressing to higher-level reading skills.

Goals for Improved Literacy Instruction in 2022

3. Understand literacy as a social justice issue.

To best support each reader in a classroom, we must treat literacy as a social justice issue with the urgency it deserves. Poor reading skills are associated with increased risk for school dropout, mental health challenges, and barriers to employment and higher education, among other outcomes. Unfortunately, major reading gaps are visible in national data: the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Performance (NAEP) indicated that only 35% of all fourth-grade students performed at or above proficiency levels in reading; students of color, students with dyslexia, and other socioeconomic challenges are projected to perform at even lower percentages, especially since the onset of COVID-19. It’s critical to remember that students are not simply data points, just as reading is not a one-size-fits-all formula: there are humans behind these numbers, with complicated personal histories that intertwine with their reading journeys. Researchers maintain the importance of teaching students to decode words before moving onto more complex skills. When students crack that code, they’re more likely to continue reading and encountering more words, more places, and more narratives that both affirm and challenge their own.

Improved Literacy Instruction in 2022


  • Popular coverage of U.S. students’ national reading scores and associated challenges bring the science of reading into mainstream discussion, particularly as we navigate the educational challenges of 2022.
  • Insights from reading researchers illuminate 3 main goals to improve literacy instruction in 2022 and beyond:
    1. Improve teacher training.
    2. Adopt reading curricula that align with the science of reading.
    3. Frame literacy as a social justice issue with the urgency and care it deserves.

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Looking for a New Reading Program? 3 Red-Flag Catchwords for Parents & Educators to Understand & Avoid

Looking for a New Reading Program? 3 Red-Flag Catchwords for Parents & Educators to Understand & Avoid

While we know that foundational literacy skills such as phonics and spelling are best learned from explicit instruction, seasoned reading teachers can run into trouble when a reading program sprinkles “red-flag” catchwords amid mentions of phonemic awareness, lifelong reading, and other honorable goals. To make it easier for you, we’re unpacking 3 red-flag words for teachers and parents to identify and avoid, based on the wisdom of psychologists, cognitive scientists, and other experts on the science of reading.

3 Red-Flag Catchwords for Parents

1) Whole Language Methodology

Many popular reading programs describe their methodologies as “whole language”: a widely debunked approach that encourages rote memorization and guessing words from images, among other pitfalls. Other programs use the related term “whole-class” to describe their curricula, which might convey images of students collaborating to achieve reading success: surely, any teacher’s dream. Although the vision behind whole language programs might be a noble one, the research depicts a different reality. Many of these programs minimize teacher involvement and encourage kids to memorize words, guess words from pictures, or simply skip words they can’t read. In an effort to move the whole class forward, many students – particularly those vulnerable to reading challenges, such as children of low socioeconomic status, children of color, and students with learning disabilities – are left behind.

2) Guided Reading

When used without explicit instruction in phonics and spelling, guided reading is another phrase that should raise the hairs of any reading teacher. Also called leveled reading, guided reading involves the separation of students into groups based on their reading levels and facilitating reading within these groups. While this practice continues in many classrooms, there is very little evidence that it actually works. At its core, guided reading minimizes teacher instruction while giving kids in lower reading groups a steady diet of less challenging texts, denying opportunities to stretch themselves – and expand their love for reading – by reading texts above their instructional levels with active teacher support.

3 Red-Flag Catchwords for Parents & Educators to Understand & Avoid

3) Leveled Texts

Related to the concept of guided or leveled reading, teachers and parents are encouraged to steer clear of reading programs that emphasize leveled texts with no use of decodable readers. Although some leveled reading work is appropriate for reading texts independently, classroom reading teachers are advised to focus on decodable texts for early readers whose foundational skills are still developing. Decoding is a critical process that creates brain words: stored representations preserved in long-term memory and used for fluent reading and writing. Explicit lessons in decoding and spelling are brain-changers for literacy, writes educational psychologist J. Richard Gentry: he encourages teachers to “think of the third-grader who in one weekly spelling book lesson on single-syllable homophones can learn the meanings and spellings of sell, cell, sail, great, and grate and commit them to long-term memory.” This lesson increases the child’s brain words, which can be accessed for the rest of their life: the direct result of explicit instruction.

New reading program

At Reading Teacher, we are heartened by a growing movement led by educators, cognitive scientists, psychologists, and parents to improve the “architecture” of both reading programs and the literate brain. We believe our step-by-step program is a meaningful part of this movement, and look forward to providing more tools and news to help you teach the science of reading in your classroom – so stay tuned!


  • Popular reading programs use various buzzwords to describe their curricula: yet many of these programs are ineffective and even detrimental to students’ reading performance.
  • As alternatives to whole-language methodology, guided reading, and leveled reading, cognitive scientists and educational psychologists recommend systematic and explicit instruction in both decoding and spelling for young readers.
  • High-quality reading programs recognize the importance of long-term memory and utilize decodable readers and strong spelling instruction to develop the “architecture” of a literate brain.

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Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

Teaching to Read the Right Way: The Social Impact of Science-Based Literacy Education

Teaching to Read the Right Way: The Social Impact of Science-Based Literacy Education

Within the past month, political statements on the importance of science-based literacy education have made headlines. Last week, New York City’s incoming school chancellor David Banks announced that the city’s school district has been teaching reading the wrong way for 25 years. By focusing on balanced literacy, Banks said, N.Y.C. schools’ reading instruction has been especially ineffective among low-income students. Similar observations by the Avoca School District 37 of Illinois persuaded the Illinois Association of School Boards to lobby for legislation to strengthen science-of-reading education for elementary teachers. By appealing to state legislators to invest in “scientifically proven methods of reading,” these political moves are shaping the trajectory of literacy education, particularly for students of color, those experiencing poverty, and all students impacted by an unfounded allegiance to balanced literacy.


In Illinois, where Avoca D37 is pushing to license more elementary school teachers in the science of reading, average reading test scores are significantly lower among Black and Hispanic students and those who qualify for the National School Lunch Program. Race and economic gaps in reading scores are partially attributable to Illinois’ longtime emphasis on balanced literacy, based on the observations of Avoca Superintendent Dr. Kaine Osburn and other educational leaders. Instead of teaching phonics – how to recognize and ultimately decode letters by sight and sound – many Illinois educators still teach the whole-language approach of balanced literacy. While this may work for intermediate readers, it rarely benefits students with limited access to high-quality reading materials, students with dyslexia, and/or those learning English as a second language. By simply sprinkling phonics into balanced literacy education and allowing poor reading skills to go unaddressed, reading gaps between students of different socioeconomic backgrounds will continue to widen, sometimes beyond the point of remediation possible for an individual teacher to address.

Literacy Education

In New York City, home to the nation’s largest school district, school chancellor Banks addressed these gaps and urged educational leaders to make the long-awaited shift to reading instruction based on phonics. Under balanced literacy instruction, less than 30 percent of New York City fourth graders were proficient in reading, according to 2019 federal data, and 65% of the city’s Black and Brown students are not reaching proficiency. Yet Banks made it clear that reading is a code that all students can be taught to crack, with substantive federal funds and supportive teachers who understand how students’ brains work when learning to read.


In response to Banks’ statement, Juliana Worrell, chief schools officer of the Uncommon Schools public school network, wrote that the legislative moves envisioned by Banks are essential to ensure that literacy education pulls directly from the science of reading. In the Uncommon Schools network, for instance, educators are required to complete up to 70 hours of literacy training this year, with a focus on the different brain regions engaged in the process of reading. Worrell also stressed the need for students to have consistent access to rich, complex, and culturally responsive texts, opening them up to a broad range of experiences and identities. These three key commitments – science-based reading instruction, well-trained and supported teachers, and rich, culturally-responsive texts for young students – are essential to improving structured literacy education and eliminating reading gaps between students of varying socioeconomic backgrounds.

science based literacy education


  • Many school districts have been teaching balanced literacy for decades, denying students access to quality structured literacy education based on phonics and reading science.
  • Recent efforts by the New York City school chancellor and the Avoca 37 School District in Illinois highlight the necessity of science-based reading instruction to increase reading proficiency among students of color, students with reading disabilities, and/or students experiencing poverty.
  • Based on these efforts, it is apparent that science-based reading instruction, well-trained and supported teachers, and rich, culturally-responsive texts are essential for eliminating historical reading gaps.

Start Teaching Reading for Free Now!

Access Level 1’s four interactive stories and the accompanying supplemental resources to teach elementary students how to read. No credit card is needed. Join the 42,635 teachers and students using our reading program.

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