Science of Reading: What You Need to Know

Reading is one of the most fundamental skills a person can learn. It opens the doors to endless possibilities. So, it makes sense that educators and parents would want to take the time to give the gift of reading to their students, right? But HOW? 

That’s where the Science of Reading comes in. 

What is the Science of Reading? 

The Science of Reading is just that – the actual science behind the best ways for students to learn to read. It is the culmination of thousands of studies conducted over decades all around the world. 

The NWEA explains it simply: “The science of reading is the converging evidence of what matters and what works in literacy instruction (Jiban, 2022).”

Two theoretical frameworks, based in science, help us understand how a student develops into a skillful reader (The Reading League, 2022). Educators use these frameworks to inform literacy instruction and assessments.

The Simple View of Reading

The Simple View of Reading is the framework that defines the two skills that contribute to early reading comprehension (Gough & Tunmer, 1986).

The Simple View of Reading

Students must be proficient in both word recognition and language comprehension to understand what they are reading. A key component of word recognition is decoding words. Decoding is the ability to turn words into their correct sounds. 

How do we help students develop the skills they need to decode? Through systematic and explicit phonics instruction and decodable books, such as Just Right Reader Decodables.

Dr. D. Ray Ruetzel, a senior research fellow at the Center for the School of the Future, explains that the magic of decodable books is they give students a different kind of practice. They reinforce the instruction taking place in the classroom by providing opportunities for students to apply their knowledge of phoneme/grapheme correspondences in real, connected text. Students are able to repeatedly practice phonological awareness, decoding, and sight word recognition skills in a structured, yet authentic and meaningful way.

Decodables are also important because they give readers a place to experience the joy that happens when they are decoding a word themselves for the first time (Messmer, 2023).

Scarborough's Reading Rope

Scarborough’s Reading Rope is the second framework used to understand how early reading acquisition occurs. Dr. Hollis Scarborough created this metaphorical rope to capture the complexity of learning to read. It dives deeper into the skills that make up each component of the Simple View of Reading.

Scarborough's Reading Rope

(Image source: The Reading League, 2022)

Looking closely at word recognition, it is important for students to learn and apply the many correspondences between letters and phonemes, so the words can be decoded. Phonological decoding is the most reliable guide to word recognition (Scarborough, H.S., 2021).

Besides word recognition, developing language comprehension is crucial for reading comprehension because it allows students to make meaning of the words and sentences they are encountering. 

Strengthening word recognition with decodable books also paves the way for developing language comprehension.

When students read decodables, they are:

  • Reinforcing literacy knowledge
  • Strengthening phonological awareness 
  • Practicing decoding skills
  • Developing sight word recognition
  • Understanding syntax (the ways words and phrases fit together to form sentences)
  • Understanding semantics (the meanings of words in a sentence)
  • Building background knowledge
  • Learning new vocabulary

What are the key pillars of the Science of Reading?

So far, we reviewed two key frameworks that explain how students become skilled readers. If the ultimate goal is for students to comprehend what they are reading, how can we use all of this research to get them there? In 2000, the National Panel of Reading identified five pillars that are crucial to becoming a skilled reader.

5 Pillars of Reading

 Educators support developing readers by focusing on these five pillars to guide their literacy instruction and assessments:

Phonemic Awareness 
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken language. This skill forms the foundation of reading.

Phonics involves connecting sounds (phonemes) to written symbols (letters) and understanding the relationships between them.

This incorporates the ability to understand what words mean. A rich vocabulary is essential for comprehension and fluency.

Fluency is the ability to read with speed, accuracy, and expression. Fluent readers can focus more on understanding the text. 

Reading comprehension involves understanding, interpreting, and making sense of text.

How Do We Choose High-Quality Science of Reading Decodables?

As you look for decodable books that align with the Science of Reading, like Just Right Reader Decodables, to accelerate reading achievement and strengthen all five pillars, make sure you are looking for decodables that: 

  • Reinforce phonemic awareness skills and allow for engaging phonics practice in a connected text. 
  • Have an extensive library to support every different skill along the phonics progression, such as Just Right Reader’s library of 700+ titles.

Ready to Learn More?

Just Right Reader regularly teams up with leading literacy experts to showcase the latest research and share actionable strategies to accelerate reading achievement.
Click here to join us for an upcoming symposium! 



     Dr. Baker, Doris, Professor of Education at University of Texas at Austin
Symposium on Unlocking Literacy for Bilingual Learners, Oct. 13, 2023

     Gough, P.B. & Tunmer, W.E. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6-10.

     Jiban, C. (2022, January 25). The Science of Reading Explained. NWEA. 

     Messmer, Heidi, Professor of Literacy Education at Virginia Tech
Interview with Just Right Reader, 2023. 

     Dr. Ruetzel, Ray. Senior Research Fellow at The Center for The School of the Future
Symposium on The Science Behind Early Reading Acquisition, June 20, 2023

     The Reading League. Science of Reading: Defining Guide.

     Scarborough, H. S. (2001). Connecting early language and literacy to later reading (dis)abilities: Evidence, theory, and practice. In S. Neuman & D. Dickinson (Eds.), Handbook for research in early literacy. New York: Guilford Press.


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