Is the Science of Reading Relevant in High School?

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The science of reading is a subset of the science of learning. This is a body of research developed to better educate students. It is a multidiscipline study involving neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology. The tools involved can be a helpful means to better educate high school students, including in reading. It should be applied with flexibility and with proper support for all those involved.  

Education As A Science

I’ve been hearing a lot of chatter on the science of learning on social media.  

The U.S. National Science Foundation twenty years ago invested in six “Science of Learning Centers” across the US.   Science of Learning initiatives have now sprung up across the globe.  

The “science of learning” is an approach developed in recent years that recognizes the complexity of how we learn.  It involves various disciplines to obtain insights about learning.  The science of learning is particularly concerned with the scientific method.  


Science of Reading 

The “science of reading” refers to the body of research on how children learn to read.  

The exact definition might be disputed (one expert suggested there might be around 50 different versions).  But, the bottom line is the attempt to apply scientific research, including how the mind works, to determine how the students learn (cognition) and how to teach them. 

The science of reading, therefore, is a subset of the science of learning.  Both apply fields such as neuroscience, cognitive science, and psychology to improve education methods.  

The NWEA, which provides academic assessments for 145 countries, defines it this way:

The science of reading is the converging evidence of what matters and what works in literacy instruction, organized around models that describe how and why.

I think the term is a bit of a buzzword but it can be a useful tool for teachers and students.

The Basics 

The science of reading has determined there are five basic components to reading comprehension, the ability of students to understand what they read. They are phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension.  

Phonics is recognizing letters and the sounds they make.  Phonemic awareness involves the creation of words.  Vocabulary is the meaning of words.  Fluency is the ability to read as a whole.  Comprehension is understanding what you are reading.  

This provides a taste of the study of the science of learning and what it teaches us.  

Application of Basics to High School

This knowledge can help teachers when students are learning, including when they are struggling in a certain fashion.  The basics of reading comprehension are important from K-12.  

Students do not stop requiring the tools of reading once they learn their ABCs.  Reading does not change in basic ways as our assignments become more complex.  Also, the basics can help the learning of foreign languages and such things as Shakespearean plays.  

A range of students continue to struggle with reading in high school.  This can be a result of a range of reasons, including poor early education, learning disabilities, and bilingual students. 

Consider close reading, a technique used to have students have a deep understanding of the material.   The science of reading provides some useful assistance here as well.  

Science of Reading in the High School Classroom

Teachers have a lot on their plate.  They might be concerned about being required to become scientists as well.  But, teaching is always partially pedagogy, the study of teaching. 

The science of reading provides a tool for teaching students high school students.  It helps learn what makes students tick, improving the chance of a productive learning environment. 

Plus, teachers can have help.  An educational team can be formed to provide various insights, including psychologists to help explain how students’ minds work and how best to reach students with special needs.  The science of reading factors in here.  

States and the Federal Government Get Involved

States have always been concerned about education.  The federal Department of Education is now over four decades old.  (Middle-aged.) Both have been excited about the science of reading.

The basic concept again goes back to studying how reading works.  The labels change, but the basic principles were always there if you look closely enough.  For instance, in the 1990s the federal government was concerned about “scientifically-based reading instruction (SBRI).” 

States have built off recent research.  For instance, in recent years, over twenty states have passed new laws based on evidence-based reading techniques.  

A Happy Medium 

The science of reading boils down to determining how students learn to read and employing it in your classroom.  This entails a range of research areas.  It should be treated as a helpful tool.

Reading is basic to education, which is basic to an equal role in society.  A recent study determined one in three students do not meet minimal standards.  This is especially a problem for African-American and Native American students.  

The science of reading advocates tells us the reason is that we are not teaching reading correctly.  But, of course, a range of factors are involved.  Big problems have many causes.   

The science of reading is only one tool of many.  It should be applied carefully with the proper support and flexibility necessary for successful endeavors of all kinds.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.