Science of Reading

This is not a term that is widely used in the UK, but it is increasingly used in the USA to denote literacy schemes that use phonics as opposed to other methods and draw upon scientific research evidence to do so. The resources on this page are a useful primer for those new to the term and the debates that are continuing in the USA and the UK about what is the best way to teach children to read and write, and the role of phonics methods. What stands out to us from these debates is how much about how children are taught reading and writing seems to be a mixture of untested traditional methods and commercial interests. In the USA the high levels of poor literacy in the population, particularly amongst disadvantaged communities, is driving this debate.  We think the Citizen Literacy Programme is a good fit with the ideas of the Science of reading movement, although we use quite different methods to those used with children.

It may come as a surprise to many that a systematic ‘nuts and bolts’ approach, based on research evidence, of how to teach reading in our school systems is not always the norm. Often it is left to tradition, local habits and the agendas of large commercial publishers. In an article called ‘Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science’ an American teachers union describes clearly and persuasively the need to adopt such modern systematic, evidence based approaches to the teaching of reading and writing and the considerable obstacles to doing so – these points apply equally to the UK. In our work, we use and advocate these kinds of systematic ‘nuts and bolts’ approaches to help adult literacy tutors be effective and confident.

Science of Reading: Defining Guide
For those new to the term ‘Science of Reading’ this is a very useful, clear explanation, and definition and is available from the Reading League website at where it can be downloaded as a free PDF document. It is also available from our website here at this link.

Overview: Although the scientific evidence base for effective reading has existed for decades, the term “the science of reading” has gained traction in the last few years, potentially leading to misunderstandings. As a result, we believe that a common definition is useful for the field.

Want to know more about the science of reading? A reading list of 10 sources.

Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science,2020: What Expert Teachers of Reading Should Know and Be Able to Do.

Produced by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) a member of the AFL-CIO trade union federation. Written by Louisa C. Moats a leading exponent of phonics and Science of Reading approaches to literacy and one of the authors of the popular LETRS programme for teacher development training in literacy in the USA.

Inside the Massive Effort to Change the Way Kids Are Taught to Read

A Time Magazine article about efforts to introduce phonics-based instruction into the public education systems of the USA. Despite being recommended by the USA National Reading Panel back in 2000, based on clear research evidence, this had been resisted or diluted in school systems. The article describes how advocates and civil rights activists for Dyslexics and Black kids, groups of learners particularly disadvantaged by traditional methods of instruction, have been able to drive forwards the debate and pressure local governments to start to act. Now the subject of a documentary film – The Right to Read (release 2023)