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How does Science of Reading interact with spelling?

Published on 10 February 2024
Edited on 08 April 2024

Science of Reading and spelling instruction

Spelling instruction and spelling tests in the classroom are intricately tied to the Science of Reading movement. I want to talk about what the implications are for giving spelling quizzes, and how that relates to Science of Reading.

What is Science of Reading?

“Science of Reading” (or SoR for short) refers to a body of research from multiple disciplines, including cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and education, which explores how we learn to read. This research aims to understand the processes involved in reading and to apply this understanding to improve reading instruction and literacy outcomes. Key aspects include:

  • Decoding: Understanding how children and adults learn to decode written language into sounds and meanings. This involves phonemic awareness (recognizing and manipulating sounds in spoken language) and phonics (connecting sounds to letters and words).
  • Comprehension: Exploring how readers construct meaning from text, which involves vocabulary development, background knowledge, and inferencing skills.
  • Fluency: Examining how accuracy, speed, and expression in reading contribute to better comprehension.
  • Neurological Underpinnings: Studying how reading processes are represented and managed in the brain
  • Instructional Practices: Investigating effective methods of teaching reading, including systematic phonics instruction and approaches that build comprehension and fluency.

The New York Times summarizes Science of Reading as simply: “in addition to a broad vocabulary, children need to understand phonics, or the relationship between letters and the sounds of spoken language.”

Science of Reading contrasts with other reading instruction philosophies such as the discredited Balanced Literacy approach, which “emphasizes the importance of surrounding children with books and allowing them to spend quiet time reading literature that interests them. It includes some phonics, but the instruction is less structured.”

How does Science of Reading interact with spelling instruction and spelling tests?

Being a fluent, successful speller is a critical aspect of student success in the Science of Reading approach.

There is a lot of research that combines Science of Reading with spelling instruction, and provides a framework for how spelling should be taught within the classroom. A summary is as follows:

Spelling should be taught as structured literacy for 20 minutes a day.This should start in first grade and continue through sixth grade, and beyond where necessary. It should be taught using a full research-based curriculum that’s delivered through a spelling book or other method that’s provided to teachers through an integrated curriculum, vs. teaching foundational skills in separate lessons. Don’t expect students to pick up spelling skills simply by reading and writing.The goal is for students to master Phonemic Awareness (PA) and develop the circuitry required for phonics.

Tools such as Spelling Test Buddy can help educators more easily adopt (or re-adopt) spelling test evaluation as a part of their daily flow, by saving time and increasing consistency as spelling becomes a core part of the curriculum again.