Skip to content

Supporting Literacy for All Learners

Educators know that teaching reading continuously evolves as we learn about what works best. In response to the current landscape, many states have enacted legislation to explicitly transform reading by prioritizing well-researched, proven methods for instruction and bringing consistency across schools and districts.

This comprehensive resource provides educators with helpful context, research, and valuable material to inform literacy goals in their district and support effective reading instruction.

Jump to a Section

Helpful Context

Historically there has always been some level of debate about the best ways to teach reading and literacy, giving rise to multiple theories and strategies. While reading instruction focuses on the ability to decode and understand written text, literacy covers a broad range of skills where students apply their ability to read. Acknowledging the difference between these skills is imperative to determining instructional strategy, selecting curriculum, and offering students personalized support.

Decoding
The ability to translate written words into sounds and meanings, allowing the reader to “sound out” unknown words and recognize words more quickly.
The Five Pillars of Reading
Five components of reading instruction necessary for successful oral and silent reading (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, comprehension).
Balanced Literacy
Reading instruction that uses various teaching methods, including read-alouds, independent reading and writing, and small group instruction.
Structured Literacy
Instructional approaches that emphasize highly explicit and systematic teaching of all important components of literacy. These include both foundational skills and higher-level literacy skills.
Previous slide
Next slide

The Literacy Landscape

An Urgent Call for Literacy Support

NAEP scores

Literacy data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) demonstrates low proficiency rates and achievement, with a steeper decline in recent years. 

These declining scores have created an urgency to adjust how educators help students learn to read, as previous instructional approaches to reading (such as balanced literacy and whole language) have been inconsistent in how they support knowledge building and de-emphasize foundational skills like phonics and phonemic awareness.

Adopting New Approaches to Reading Instruction

Through legislation and other avenues, education stakeholders, including policymakers, parents, educators, and researchers, are using Science of Reading (SoR) research with a Structured Literacy approach to help students learn to read effectively. SoR focuses reading instruction on foundational skills integrated with knowledge building across all content areas.

Watch our recorded webinar Navigating Science of Reading Legislation & Transforming Literacy Initiatives to learn more.

Educators and Policymakers Are Taking Action

Many states are introducing new legislation on reading curriculum. Since 2013, 47 states have passed laws or policies encouraging SORaligned practices. These legislative efforts have often focused on preparing and training teachers, implementing practices, and measuring and assessing program efficacy.

One notable example of this work emerged in Mississippi under the leadership of former State Superintendent of Education, Dr. Carey Wright. Due to a shift toward SOR, Mississippi saw great improvements in reading, and became a model for states and districts working to adopt new reading standards and improve student outcomes.

Watch our recorded webinar The Mississippi Miracle to learn more.

This Is a Process, and Change Will Take Time.

As leaders have shifted to embrace Science of Reading-aligned instruction, they have turned to reading solutions that support well-rounded instruction across all literacy domains and consider factors that impact student motivation and agency. Many leaders are also prioritizing evidence-based reading solutions that support targeted instruction, engage students, and provide comprehensive progress reports.

While legislation is a significant first step, it doesn’t translate to immediate action in the classroom. District leaders must determine the best ways to support teachers as their instructional practices evolve to match the shifting literacy requirements and research. This change will be a major shift for many teachers who have been using the same practices for decades or teachers unfamiliar with new approaches to reading instruction. It will require thoughtful strategy, communication, professional development, and patience at every stakeholder level.

read aloud

What Is the Science of Reading?

The Science of Reading (SoR) is not a single pedagogy or curriculum. It is a body of evidence-driven approaches to reading instruction that draws on research from cognitive psychology, neuroscience, linguistics, and education to understand how we learn to read and how reading instruction can be improved. Unlike speaking, a skill that most humans naturally acquire, reading is a complex set of skills that must be taught. The Science of Reading emphasizes the importance of systematic, explicit instruction that models and offers structured practice on reading skills.

An Effective Way to Teach Reading and Literacy

To read effectively, students need to develop a strong grasp of both word recognition and language comprehension through systematic explicit instruction. Explicit instruction is teacher-driven, intentional and addresses individual student needs. It focuses on five components:

  1. Segmenting complex skills into smaller manageable tasks
  2. Modeling or thinking-aloud to address the important features of the content
  3. Promoting successful engagement using fading supports and prompts
  4. Providing feedback
  5. Creating purposeful practice opportunities. 

An abundance of research suggests that a structured literacy approach is the most effective way to teach reading

What Does the Science of Reading Teach?

When educators leverage Science of Reading approaches in their instruction, they systematically and explicitly teach decoding skills, phonics, and other foundation skills directly and sequentially (starting with sounds, phonemes, and graphemes). Students practice these skills by applying them to texts. 

The Five Pillars of Reading

The Five Pillars of Reading, a critical evidence-based report released by the National Reading Panel over two decades ago, identified what they believed to be the best approaches to help children learn to read. 

When used sequentially, DreamBox Reading Park and DreamBox Reading Plus address all the National Reading Panel’s Five Pillars of Reading. The programs provide structured literacy lessons designed by experienced reading academics and instructional design experts. Continuous assessment and adaptivity provide individualized instruction and practice across all skills necessary to read.

More Than Phonics

The Science of Reading is often misunderstood as simply phonics instruction, but phonics is only part of a multi-pronged approach. The approach also pairs knowledge of various reading components with strategies to build reading comprehension.

The Science of Reading suggests that students must acquire an understanding of the world early to support reading comprehension. Educators integrate comprehension strategies with content so students can learn to analyze and understand content as they learn to read. This approach incorporates literacy instruction into other subjects, including math, science, and social studies, and leverages quality instructional materials to deepen students’ understanding.

What Are Some Components Within SoR?

The skills necessary for reading comprehension can be broken down into the Simple View of Reading and Scarborough’s Reading Rope, two research-based frameworks used within SOR approaches that demonstrate the complex process of reading.

What is Structured Literacy?

Structured literacy is a systematic, explicit, and cumulative approach to reading instruction that emphasizes the understanding and use of the relationships between letters and sounds, and the language’s structure. It involves teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies to ensure students build a solid foundation in all aspects of literacy. To confirm student understanding, the structured literacy approach uses both formal and informal ongoing assessment throughout instruction. This approach is also endorsed by the International Dyslexia Association because of its significant impact on students with dyslexia.

Explicit
Skills are taught directly, assessed frequently, and practiced.
Scaffolded
Each concept is systematically introduced, and concepts are built on previous concepts in a logical order.
Engaging
Instruction engages the learner to listen, speak, read, and write.
Differentiated
Educators respond to individual student needs as they continuously assess student progress and adjust pacing, presentation, and practice for new concepts.
Previous slide
Next slide

Building Background Knowledge

Multiple research studies have found that prior knowledge is a critical factor for learning to read effectively. Activating baseline and background knowledge helps learners make inferences and better understand the text they are reading. Reading solutions that combine word recognition and background knowledge are more effective than those that only focus on word recognition or don’t include prior knowledge to activate reading.

Discovery Education’s award-winning cross-curricular solutions develop students’ background knowledge and vocabulary, provide embedded reading and language tools that support every learner, and deliver tools to help educators apply evidence-based strategies into their instruction with ease.

CODiE award image

The Importance of Cross-Curricular Literacy Instruction

Although elementary school teachers often have limited time to spend on areas outside of math and ELA, research on content-focused literacy support suggests that teaching subjects like science or social studies is critical for building background, content knowledge, and vocabulary, and can improve reading and overall literacy skills. Developing disciplinary literacy skills across core subjects can make a significant difference in student success and should be an integral part of how a district approaches literacy instruction.

A 2023 study of about 3,000 first graders conducted by Harvard’s James Kim found that participation in a 12-month program focused on building background knowledge in science and social studies helped them improve their reading comprehension as they transitioned to second grade. The program introduced the idea of key concepts, such as scientific principles used to study dinosaur fossils, during first grade and emphasized that students would come across these concepts again when they read about any study of animals. In second grade, when the teachers introduced new material, they connected it back to the existing schemas students built in first grade, and the children learned how to use their knowledge from first grade to tackle more challenging but related academic tasks.

How do Discovery Education solutions support literacy skills in Science and Social Studies? 

How Can Leaders Support Teachers and Ensure Their Preparedness?

As many districts transition to using Science of Reading-aligned instruction, they have found that some practices are already present. Unfortunately, they have also found that these practices may have gaps or were sequenced improperly to have the desired impact. To make this transition, it will require a concerted effort from all education stakeholders, from policy leaders to parents. Together, everyone must focus strategically to ensure teachers have a complete understanding of how to see the whole picture of literacy instruction, including writing, speaking, and listening.

Frequently Asked Questions

Like any type of instruction, technology can help teachers deliver SoR-aligned lessons by making it easier to create individualized active learning experiences. With core and supplemental resources, apps, and learning management systems, there are many types of technology that can support teachers in their SoR journeys. Reading curriculum programs that offer flexible and personalized experiences can be extremely helpful, as students may progress through different skill levels at differing rates.

DreamBox Reading offers two adaptive, supplemental reading programs that address seen and unseen student needs. Reading Park focuses on foundational reading skills for PreK-2 students, and Reading Plus provides reading support and silent reading fluency for 3-12 students. These programs are evidence-based and have been designed to help learners of all ages develop into proficient, life-long readers.

Discovery Education programs give every student access to high-quality embedded reading and language tools that can help improve reading, writing, and communication skills, regardless of age or ability. 

DreamBox Reading Park

Reading Park develops the critical foundational skills young learners need in grades PreK-2 to become independent readers through a Structured Literacy approach. With lessons designed to develop phonemic awareness and phonics, and introduce fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension skills, this program guides students toward successful and productive reading through a playful, engaging learning environment.

DreamBox Reading Plus

Reading Plus is an ESSA Strong supplemental intervention reading solution for grades 3-12. Reading Plus is the only reading solution that directly addresses silent reading fluency and motivation. Research shows that 70% of non-proficient readers process text inefficiently—they struggle to move their eyes smoothly and comfortably over lines of texts at an appropriate rate. Contrary to when students struggle to read out loud, inefficient silent reading is an unseen and unheard problem, yet it is the most frequently tested skill in activities like statewide assessments. Reading Plus’ unique InSight assessment measures comprehension, vocabulary, efficiency/fluency, and motivation to establish a personalized path of instruction for each student and enables educators to scaffold seen and unseen inefficiencies of even the most proficient learners while supporting enrichment in other areas.

Together, these programs teach students the foundational and independent silent reading skills they need to develop into fluent, confident readers.

Discovery Education Experience 

With award-winning, standards-aligned content and resources, Discovery Education Experience helps students build background knowledge that strengthens reading comprehension and fluency, while also developing academic vocabulary. The Ready-to-Use resources provide students of all grades with a variety of visual, auditory, and interactive resources to practice reading and analysis skills, as well as build background knowledge, with a variety of digital media.

Also found in Experience, are Sesame Learning channels, Letter Time and Sounds and Letters, which attend to the foundational skills every emergent (PreK/K) and early (K-2) reader needs to develop along their journey of becoming avid, proficient readers, writers, and communicators. We began with alphabetic awareness and recognition (Letter Time) and then focused on helping early readers develop an understanding of the sounds of speech and how these sounds relate to letters and letter patterns (Sounds and Letters). 

Secondary students need to build and practice fluency, comprehension, and vocabulary. Science of Reading requires direct instruction and independent practice on these skills, and personalized reading intervention programs like DreamBox Reading Plus offer support to secondary students by assessing students’ current reading ability and offering individualized instruction to close the reading achievement gap for all students.

To support the development of comprehension skills, Reading Plus offers personalized scaffolding to build independent reading skills. The Reading Plus program automatically customizes lesson features including content level (based on an initial assessment), reading rate, opportunities to reread texts, and questions interspersed throughout each lesson. The program also allows students to self-select reading texts that further build content knowledge and vocabulary while individualized choice increases student engagement

The vocabulary component in Reading Plus teaches students a research-based compilation of highly valuable, cross-curriculum, general academic vocabulary. Students master words through activities such as matching a vocabulary word with its synonym, selecting sentences where it is used properly, and completing sentences with members of its word family.

Reading is a cross-curricular skill, so students need opportunities to build their literacy skills in all content areas! Finding places in existing Science, Social Studies, or Math curriculum where students can practice active reading will help non-reading teachers feel prepared to offer their students opportunities to strengthen their literacy skills.

Collaboration with other teachers is a great way to open the doors between reading and non-reading classes. Allowing time for teachers to plan cross-curricular units can help make lessons that build meaningful vocabulary and background knowledge that can be applied in other lessons.

Teachers need support to accommodate content and lessons to match their students’ needs, whether that be through a variety of text levels, unique modalities and supports for the reading process, or ways for students to explore words they are unfamiliar with. 

During independent practice time, educators can have students work in DreamBox Reading programs, so they can receive personalized reading support and intervention in real time, regardless of their reading level. DreamBox programs measure students’ current reading ability, offer individualized instruction, and close the reading achievement gap for all students. With adaptive, engaging resources, DreamBox Reading Plus addresses silent reading fluency and measures motivation, helping students become proficient, lifelong readers. 

Educators can also integrate teaching strategies that meet students’ needs during small-group instruction.

Learn More About Creating a Culture of Literacy