Science of Reading Curriculum: What It Is and What It Isn’t

Aug 15, 2023 3:50:22 PM


As educators, we aim to equip students with essential skills for lifelong success. We aim to provide students with a comprehensive toolbox, enabling them to become proficient learners and valuable members of society. A significant predictor of this achievement is a solid foundation in early literacy. However, for numerous students, mastering the skill of reading poses a formidable educational challenge.

Research indicates that the prevailing methods of teaching reading are ineffective for many, with just 33% of fourth-grade U.S. students performing at or above the NAEP Proficient level in 2022.

The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) reports that 34% of fourth-grade students read below the basic level, and an additional 31% perform below the proficient level.

The Science of Reading (SoR) has gained substantial attention recently as an increasing number of states embrace evidence-based reading instruction in classrooms. But what does the Science of Reading curriculum entail? How does it differ from, and relate to, Balanced Literacy and Structured Literacy?

Understanding the Science of Reading

The Science of Reading comprises a comprehensive body of research, consolidating years of scientific expertise across languages and disciplines. This research informs the optimal teaching strategies, the requisite reading skills, and the brain regions activated during skill application. It has led to the development of Structured Literacy, an effective approach to reading instruction that emphasizes phonics-based teaching. This approach stands in contrast to Balanced Literacy, which focuses on independent learning.

Initially aimed at struggling readers, the Science of Reading is increasingly recognized as the preferred instructional method for all students. SoR illuminates the cognitive processes essential for proficient reading, benefiting both typical and atypical readers.

Preventing Reading Difficulties through SoR

Early exposure to intensive phonics awareness and decoding significantly reduces reading difficulties, including dyslexia. Integrating SoR-based instruction in primary classrooms prevents reading delays and fosters proficiency for all students.

Deconstructing SoR Instruction

The Science of Reading identifies five vital components of reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Structured Literacy incorporates all these components, effectively preparing students to become accomplished readers.

Balanced Literacy emphasizes memorizing words and sounds for constructing sentences. However, phonics instruction empowers students to comprehend exponentially more. Memorizing ten words enables reading those ten words, but understanding the sounds of ten letters unlocks the ability to read:

  • 350 three-sound words
  • 4,320 four-sound words
  • 21,650 five-sound words

Structured Literacy instruction unfolds in three stages:

  • Letters and Sounds: Letter-sound knowledge is vital for both phonics and sight-word learning.

  • Phonic Decoding: Early phonological awareness skills foster letter-sound development and warrant direct instruction until third grade, ensuring a solid orthographic lexicon.

  • Orthographic Mapping: This process aids struggling readers by transforming unfamiliar words into automatic sight words. Research explains how students build a sight word bank for accurate word retrieval and why reading-challenged students face difficulties.

Scientific evidence confirms that Structured Literacy is pivotal for most students' reading success.

While oral language is innate, written language requires systematic, sequential, and explicit evidence-based instruction provided by Structured Literacy.

Every student deserves the tools necessary to succeed in reading, regardless of their journey. Reading proficiency is the bedrock of academic progress. Implementing SoR-based curriculums in every classroom reflects our commitment as educators to every student's education.

Jeanne Jeup

Jeanne Jeup, co-founder of IMSE, a leading provider of Structured Literacy Professional Development training programs, is a former first-grade teacher and mother/stepmother of 5. She has been on a mission to improve literacy rates for the past 25 years.

The Feed


  • Why Math Identity Matters

    Lane Wright

    The story you tell yourself about your own math ability tends to become true. This isn’t some Oprah aphorism about attracting what you want from the universe. Well, I guess it kind of is, but...

  • What's an IEP and How to Ensure Your Child's Needs Are Met?

    Ed Post Staff

    If you have a child with disabilities, you’re not alone: According to the latest data, over 7 million American schoolchildren — 14% of all students ages 3-21 — are classified as eligible for special...

  • Seeking Justice for Black and Brown Children? Focus on the Social Determinants of Health

    Laura Waters

    The fight for educational equity has never been just about schools. The real North Star for this work is providing opportunities for each child to thrive into adulthood. This means that our advocacy...