Want to learn more about the science of reading?

I chose 10 things to recommend. I’ve read hundreds of books and articles since I first became interested in this topic five years ago, so it was hard to narrow it down. This is by no means an exhaustive list. But it’s a start. Here is:

I start with that because, really, what is the science of reading? It’s a term that’s been around a lot these days. In September 2020, a group of educators and researchers decided to sit down and come up with a definition. That’s what they found.

This is the book that blew my mind and sent me down a rabbit hole. Cognitive scientist Mark Seidenberg explains how people read. Do not miss the chapter entitled “The two cultures of science and education”. Seidenberg writes, “Parents who bring their children to school on that momentous first day of kindergarten, proudly launching them down the venerable path of education, are making a grave mistake: they assume their child’s teacher has learned to teach reading. They did not do it.

I have never filled a book with so many post-its. If you want to understand how the brain learns to read, this is a great place to start. There are YouTube videos of Dehaene’s work if you’re not ready for a 388-page book. Try this one (bonus: Dehaene also mentions math education).

Academic papers are often behind paywalls, but not this one. This is a summary of decades of scientific research into how people learn to read. There is a companion article that focuses specifically on what the research says about teaching reading.

Stanovich is a cognitive scientist who was a leading figure in the world of reading research until he stopped doing so over a decade ago. He was tired of fighting and politics and instead took up research into rational thinking (no kidding). In this essay, from 1993, Stanovich reflects on “the research I’ve done that almost everyone likes and the research I’ve done that everyone doesn’t like.” In the “not everyone likes” category is his research on the role of context in word recognition. Stanovich is the guy whose studies first showed that less skilled readers were more dependent on context for word recognition. In other words, he’s the guy whose work began to demystify cueing theory.

This is an updated version of an article originally published in 1999. It focuses on what teachers need to know to teach children to read. “The tragedy here is that most failures in reading are unnecessary,” Moats said in 1999 and again in 2020. “We now know that classroom instruction itself, when it includes a range of components and of research-based practices can prevent reading difficulties.”

A teacher’s perspective on learning the science of reading: “I understand why advocates, researchers and policy makers who feel the urgency of our literacy crisis are frustrated when teachers don’t embrace not the science of reading. But my entry into the world of reading research was difficult, and while I’m proud of my determination to learn, I understand why other teachers might be deterred.

“Learning to read can sometimes seem almost magical,” Blevins begins this memoir on teaching phonetics. “But it’s not magic.” Blevins provides a clear description of what phonetics is and why it is important. The memoir, published by the International Literary Association in 2019, also identifies what can go wrong with teaching phonetics. “Some phonetic instructions are random, incomplete and implicit. Other instructions are exaggerated and isolated, lacking the extensive application of authentic reading and writing necessary for fluency. Neither is as effective as it should be.

The science of reading goes far beyond phonetics. In this article, cognitive scientist Dan Willingham explains the importance of knowledge and how it affects reading comprehension. Bonus: I also recommend Willingham’s book, The Reading Mind. Good things about the link between reading and writing and the role of motivation. And critical insight: “Teaching reading is not just a matter of teaching reading. The whole curriculum is important because good readers have a broad knowledge of civics, drama, history, geography, science, visual arts, and more.

This is not a book on the science of reading. I put it on the list because countless parents have told me that they use this book to teach their child to read when it’s not being taught in school. Columbia University professor John McWhorter talks about using this book to teach his daughter in this podcast episode.

Sold a Story is a new podcast from American Public Media. Emily Hanford and Christopher Peak investigate influential authors who promoted a demystified method for teaching children to read. Learn more.

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