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The Future of the Science of Reading: Emerging Trends and Innovations

The Future of the Science of Reading: Emerging Trends and Innovations

The Science of Reading is a body of research by leading educators, psychologists, neuroscientists, and linguistic experts. This collective body of work is constantly being updated with the latest findings in each field.

Teachers have enough on their plates without having to translate lengthy research articles and dig deep into publications to extract information. On the other hand, the education field, in general, needs to be timelier in its dissemination of the data and studies available to us. 

There isn’t an immediate answer to fix this. Although many educators are creating online collections of research articles and resources, many researchers and educators are creating meta-analyses to help consolidate information. 

Many non-profits, such as The Reading League, are working to make information more readily available to educators, and some companies are trying to update curriculums regularly to match the evidence. 

At the end of the day, quality, unbiased, peer-reviewed studies and research are vital to our field. Now, we just need to continue to connect that knowledge to our classroom practices.

Some of this information changes the landscapes in our classrooms and helps us find ways to be more effective and supportive of the educational needs of our students. This includes specific data that applies directly to English Language Learners (ELL) and children with learning disabilities. 

This guide is going to break down how a scientific approach to literacy arms teachers with the best tools and resources to assure reading success for a variety of needs. 

 

New Discoveries are Changing Our Understanding of How Reading Works

Due to technological advances in scientific research, much more data is available on how the brain processes text and spoken language. Through fMRIs, neuro-imaging, and non-invasive brain imaging, scientists have been able to study and map the brain in a way that we’ve never seen before.  

Why does this matter? Because we can see which areas of the brain support which processes during reading, and more importantly, which processes need to be present to activate the areas of the brain used during proficient reading. By understanding the workings of the brain, we can understand what needs to be done to learn to read. 

One example is how many in the field of education used to believe that students memorized and stored words in the occipital lobe of the brain. 

We referred to this area as the “word box.” With scientific proof, we now know that that area of the brain actually maps words by letter strings and patterns, not by whole word form. That area of the brain is now dubbed the “letter box” and has redefined how we teach sight words. 

Based on brain studies, there’s strong evidence that memorization of whole words isn’t the most effective approach to reading, but by identifying parts of words and their structures, even when the spellings are irregular, readers activate their brains the way a strong reader does.

Occipital Lobe – The Letter Box

Another impactful finding from unbiased research is the clear impact of component-based phonological instruction on children’s reading fluency. To this end, many curriculums, teacher educational institutions, and published programs didn’t contain a focus on phonemic awareness, and our national statistics show these gaps. 

An extensive body of research provides irrefutable proof that phonics-based education improves students’ word-decoding skills. This shows effective results across the board, benefiting dual-language learners, monolingual English learners, and children with learning disabilities.

Advances in Technology are Enabling New Approaches to Teaching Reading

With the recent advancements in technology, it has become essential for teachers to integrate digital learning tools in the classroom. 

Some technology allows students to find success and teachers to differentiate, while other technology causes questions to arise. Interactive tools can keep children’s attention for longer, but which ones are effective? Some tech allows instructors to accommodate students’ individual needs, but which ones are appropriate for which needs?

Some technological devices to take note of are those becoming available to help students find equity in education even if they struggle with reading. 

When a student struggles with reading, how can they access content and acquire knowledge from text like their peers? Some options have become available, such as reading pens that read text to the student or collections of audiobooks available to students and those with difficulty accessing text.

There’s also a concentration on how to support teachers with the increasing need to differentiate during classroom instruction. Teachers need to directly instruct and review with students with various skill sets. To provide that type of instruction with effectiveness, teachers need quality educational materials, sometimes in technological format, to support independent practice, such as Sortegories

 

The Role of Neuroscience in Understanding Reading

As previously stated, the brain is a focus of more study as it pertains to reading, but much has been learned in the last two decades.

Neuroscience research draws clear links between learning techniques and their resultant impact on the brain. Evidence shows that reading instruction focused on orthographic mapping and phonological word formation trains the left ventral visual cortex to retrieve words based on grapheme-phoneme relationships.

By dissecting the role of specific brain regions, neuroscientists can investigate the effects of learning and experience on the brain. Current research within the science of reading concludes that the brain actively maps specific neural pathways to read and recognize the shapes of letters depending on the method of instruction.

One of the unignorable proofs is that the literate brain is different from the illiterate brain. Specific connections and strengths are essential to being a reader, and with the research at hand, we can understand the vital nature of specific aspects of reading instruction.

 

The Importance of Phonics in Literacy Instruction

At the center of many arguments made by those opposed to the science of reading is the misconception that phonics is the ONLY important piece missing from harmful literacy practices. Phonics is an essential piece, especially as it’s INTEGRATED into the reading curriculum, not just slapped in as an afterthought. 

Phonics instruction teaches beginner readers sound-spellings, or grapheme-phoneme correlations, to decode words. This focus provides a strong foundation for reading and promotes the strategy strong readers use to approach text.

As I previously discussed, part of our brains uses this letter of knowledge to store words for future automatic reading.  By giving students the tools to decode, we’re also giving them the future ability to read fluently as they begin to map words and stockpile those letter patterns in their brains.

 

The Connection Between Language Acquisition and Reading

If you look at the Simple View of Reading or Scarborough’s Reading Rope, language comprehension, directly connected to language acquisition, is required for strong reading capabilities. If you don’t have language or an understanding of that language, no amount of phonics knowledge or word representation memorization will help you read. 

The Simple View of Reading

Phonics is just sounds and symbols, while a word is just an utterance of those sounds and a pattern of the written letters.  

Students need to acquire language, amass a vocabulary of spoken language, and be able to understand discussed topics to apply meaning to the mechanical parts of reading. 

Basically, the more language a child has, the more references they’ll have when they decode words, and the more adept they’ll be at making connections and understanding written text.

 

The Future of the Science of Reading is Exciting and Promising 

With advancements in technology and research, we’re constantly learning more about how the brain works and how we can improve explicit instruction in reading skills for our students.

It’s an exciting time for educators, parents, and researchers alike as we work together to help every child become a successful reader. Let’s keep researching, learning, and adding valuable information to the science of reading!

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