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Perceptions and The Science of Reading

At our 58th Annual International Conference in February, we were fortunate that Dr. Holly Lane from the University of Florida and Dr. Maria Murray of The Reading League were able to join us for a spotlight session related to the Science of Reading. As Dr. Lane shared, based on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data, only 35%, or around one-third, of students in 4th grade performed at or above the proficient level in reading. While that is alarming enough, she went on to point out that only 12%, or just over one-tenth of students with disabilities in 4th grade performed at or above the proficient level in reading.  

The focus of Dr. Lane and Dr. Murray’s conversations were the essential elements of reading instruction and how the science of reading supports the literacy needs of students with learning disabilities. One big takeaway from these conversations was that there is still much work to do to transform perceptions of quality, research-based reading instruction and to develop an effective depth of knowledge throughout the field of education. 

Last December marked the 20th anniversary of the National Reading Panel’s Report Teaching Children to Read. The Panel identified five essential elements of reading instruction (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and text comprehension).  Twenty years seems like a long time, but reading achievement does not seem to be improving as we would have expected. During the Spotlight Town Hall at Conference, I took an opportunity to ask Dr. Lane and Dr. Murray if they would shed some light on this conundrum. 

Question: Why do you believe it’s taken so long for this topic of focus when the National Reading Panel came out a while ago?

Dr. Maria Murray:

That’s a great question! I think it’s been a big topic of conversation in venues like this and elsewhere, but science tends to take a good couple of decades before it makes its way through the funnels and tubes and pipelines and so forth. I used to say that the pipeline from science to the reading was clogged, but I venture to say that until recently we didn’t even buy the real estate to start building this pipeline. I think it’s just now that people are aware of it. . . so many schools are using it with success that it’s catching on, so it’s almost like it’s starting now to make that move out…. 

We had one of our sessions in our Defining Moments Symposium and one of the panelists, Dale Webster from Core in the California area, he talked about this because many of us, I don’t know about you Holly, but we were in the trenches doing the research during that time. . I was at Syracuse University and involved in some of the instruction that led to those neuroscience learnings that Holly alluded to earlier and I would go to my advisor, my mentor and say, “What…what’s it going to take to get this into classrooms?”. And she said, “twenty years”. Because there is no known way to get it out there … pamphlets, mail, tv commercials….How do you make this a mass known thing? 

And also, the science of reading isn’t things. It’s not items. It’s not programs… so teachers will be familiar with what publishing companies churn out with their multi-million dollar publishing money, right? If the science of reading’s not what’s being sold, they’re not gonna sell it …. every stakeholder involved in this has some part to play in this not having been done successfully. . . . . . . 

If we expect teacher to do something, we need to give teachers more power. We can’t say to teachers, “You have to follow Common Core State Standards next year, you have to start RtI next July, you have to follow No Child Left Behind, we’re doing that next year”, and not give them the knowledge or the support to do it. It fails every time. So, knowledge first before all else is my mantra.

Dr. Holly Lane:

I’ll add one more thing about why it’s taken so long. I think… the fact that it’s a convergence of evidence from multiple fields and we tend to be silos and we learn what’s going on in our field and we don’t learn what’s going on across campus, so teacher educators haven’t been able to keep up with the work that’s being done in other fields like they really need to be. 

I was fortunate enough in my doctoral program to take a class from communication disorders, a seminar in dyslexia, that introduced me to Marilyn Adams and Beginning to Read and Thinking About Print. I remember that book literally changing my professional life and learning about dyslexia. . . .  learning about phonemes at a different level than anyone in the college of education was talking about it. So, my preparation included some of this information from other fields just by chance and I lucked into that, but I don’t think most other teacher educators had experiences like that and they don’t have the depth of knowledge themselves in order to be able to develop the depth of knowledge in their students so it is a generational thing I think. Having teachers who are starting out and getting this information early on . . .  having those people when they become the professors in colleges of education, then things will be changing more rapidly, but in the meantime, it takes a long time to get that information disseminated.

One of Dr. Lane and Dr. Murray’s key points was that it is important for anyone working to improve reading achievement to learn and develop a depth of knowledge from multiple disciplines. One of the most powerful aspects of LDA’s International Conference is that it brings together information and resources from educators, psychologists, researchers, neuroscientists, and linguists.  LDA’s conferences provide an opportunity for accessing a variety of information and are one effort for building a stronger pipeline like the ones Dr. Murray described. Don’t miss your chance to add to your depth of knowledge through the opportunity to view conference sessions until March 26th! 

Sessions related to reading at #LDACON2021: 

  • Science of Reading, Parts I and II with Dr. Lane & Dr. Murray
  • Improving Reading, Writing, Math, and Communication with Free Microsoft Assistive Technology
  • Kicking Things Up a Notch: Incorporating Advanced Phonological Awareness into Reading Instruction
  • Multi-Sensory Strategies for Spelling (and Reading) that Really Work!
  • SLD Identification in Schools for Reading Disabilities

For more information on the University of Florida Literacy Institute and Dr. Lane’s work, visit education.ufl.edu/ufli.

For more information on The Reading League and Dr. Murray’s work, visit The Reading League at YouTube or check out the podcasts at their website whatisthescienceofreading.org