Teaching Tuesday: How the Science of Reading Ended the Reading War

By Claudia Coleman, M.Ed, Faculty

a girl reading a book

In the early 2000s, educators believed phonics were the correct method to teach reading. The same educators who believed phonics were the correct method disapproved of the whole-language approach to reading instruction. During this time, some educators believed “the pendulum” would again swing and whole-language reading instruction would return as the best method of teaching students how to read.

 As educators, we all want to teach children how to read using the correct manner. Such a “reading war” developed when educators stood by their differing opinions on the best approach to reading instruction. The most recent side to this argument, the “science of reading,” has proven to make instructional sense to many educators.

We now can come to an agreement on how to best teach reading to children. As a current or future educator, you can ask the following questions to learn more about what this is and how it can be used to impact your students.

What Is the Science of Reading?

It is essential to understand that the brain is not hardwired for reading, as it is for speaking. The brain develops speech organically; in other words, it is a natural process. On the other hand, reading is not a natural or organic process. Therefore, while the debate on the best method of teaching reading was taking place, hundreds of scientists from different disciplines were conducting scientific research to find the answer to how the brain learns to read. Indisputable scientific evidence, known as the science of reading, has answered the question.  

What Does the Science of Reading Say About How the Brain Learns to Read?

The science of reading supports the scientific model, known as the simple view of reading (Loewus & Hanford, 2019).1 The simple view of reading is best expressed as reading comprehension is the product of decoding and language comprehension. Authors Gough and Tunmer first introduced the model, making it clear that decoding alone does not result in a skilled reader (Gough & Tunmer, 1986).2 Skilled readers do not just use letter-sound correspondence, which is decoding, but must also understand the meaning of the decoded word to read skillfully. Decoding alone is not enough to become a skilled reader; however, it is part of the formula.

 The simple view of reading explains that language, what you say and hear, along with decoding equals reading comprehension. As educators, we must understand that skillful readers can store words in their long-term memory and automatically recognize them when they are reading. This process is called orthographic mapping.   

How Can Orthographic Mapping Promote Fluent and Skillful Readers?

The best way we can promote orthographic mapping to our students is through exposure and practice. Orthographic mapping occurs when students can link the sounds of a word with the letters that make up the spelling and the meaning of the word (Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education, 2020).3

Orthographic memory helps move words into a child’s long-term memory and will result in these words being recalled automatically when reading. It is essential to understand that our students will need phonics and decoding skills for orthographic mapping to occur. Phonemic awareness is a foundational skill for decoding. Therefore, it is our responsibility to support our students in the needed skills to help promote orthographic memory for students to become fluent and skillful readers. 

Teaching reading is not an easy task, but the science of reading is now offering us clear, indisputable evidence of how the brain learns to read. As educators, it is up to us to become familiar with what the scientific evidence says about how the brain learns to read and begin implementing it in our classrooms.

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Retrieved From:

Loewus, L., & Hanford , E. (2019, March 11). What Teachers Should Know About the Science of Reading. Education Week. Another version of this news article first appeared in the Teaching Now blog. Retrieved May 30, 2022.

Gough, P. B., & Tunmer, W. E. (1986). Decoding, Reading, and Reading Disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7(1), 6–10.

Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. (2020, December 18). Automatic word recognition. Skills for Early Reading: Automatic Word Recognition - Evidence Based Early Literacy. Retrieved May 31, 2022.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.