The Science of Reading includes all components of Reading

As of late, there has been much talk about the science of reading in the reading world.

When many discuss the science of reading, they really mean what scientific research has said about phonemic awareness and phonics. I agree that there has not been enough emphasis given to phonemic awareness and phonics instruction in many classrooms and districts across the United States. There is however scientific research in all areas of reading.

Awareness of the smallest speech units is a huge part of learning to read. Words in any language are made up of sounds. We must be aware of those sounds and make the connection that individual letters and letter combinations represent those sounds in print. We can hear and speak many words before reading them. Phonological processing is a crucial aspect of how our brains process language when we read. The more language we hear and speak ourselves, the easier it is for us as readers. The more automatic phonological awareness becomes, the better word recognition is for beginning readers. This leaves readers better able to attend to different aspects of a text.

Those different aspects of a text are essential, especially for readers in grades second on up. These other skills are learned in parallel with phonics skills for school-age kids. The science of reading goes well beyond phonemic awareness and phonics.

There is science-backed research in all aspects of reading instruction. Shanahan (2020) states, “I think our field has dropped the ball with regard to teaching phonic. I see too little of it in primary classrooms, and what is there is not necessarily consistent with research findings.” He adds that, in all fairness, those same gaps of thoroughness, explicitness, and quality are apparent in reading comprehension, writing, and oral reading fluency.

Duke, Ward, and Pearson(2021) share some of the science of reading comprehension instruction. They tackle this question: What have decades of research told us about the nature of comprehension and how to develop students’ comprehension in schools? They state that research has revealed a great deal about what goes on in the mind when readers comprehend oral and written text and how instruction and other experiences can affect that development. Researchers from many disciplines, such as developmental psychology, cognitive science, education, and linguists, have been working on the science of comprehension for years.

Please understand that the science of reading is not limited to phonemic awareness and phonics. It goes beyond the so-called reading wars, and gets to the heart of researched reading instruction, and does not limit itself. Scientific studies are being done in the areas of vocabulary learning, comprehension, and others areas of reading instruction as well.

When using research to inform your practice, be sure that the research will stand up. Shanahan (2020) suggests that you should think of educational research this way, “We tried this routine and managed to make it beneficial to students—not a small thing—and perhaps you too could make it work under your circumstances and with your students.”

When considering research, remember that it is not guaranteed to work with your student and circumstances.

Shanahan discusses the importance of looking for studies that have been replicated and have used Meta-Analysis.

Meta-Analysis refers to a method used to synthesize multiple studies into a new, more extensive analysis. When conducting Meta-analysis, it is expected that all relevant studies are included no matter the outcome. For example, the ILA journal Reading Research Quarterly publishes many meta-analysis studies. One such analysis is Effects of Expository Text Structure Interventions on Comprehension (Pyle et al., 2017).

Shanahan (2020) emphasizes that scientists try to consider all of the available data. He states, “they seek the weight of evidence, not the unusual outcomes when trying to determine what works.

Good research explains all outcomes of the research and how it was set up, and if it was a replication or not. It describes any variations from similar studies. It explains things out in detail, not leaving out information.

Shanahan suggests asking these questions when deciding to use research findings to influence what happens in your classroom.

  • Was the study Peer-Reviewed and Published in a Rigorously Reviewed Journal?
  • Was there a comparison group, and were the Groups Equal at the Beginning?
  • What other Differences may explain these outcomes?
  • Was the Instruction Really Delivered?
  • What were the control and comparison groups doing?
  • Who was delivering the teaching, and how were they prepared?
  • What were the students like? Did the program have different outcomes for different kinds of students?

Asking these questions should not get you to disqualify Action Research done by classroom teachers from consideration of a type of replication in your classroom. I would apply the same questions for Action Research. Remember, teachers do action research with their own students in mind, which is an enormous difference from implementing a program that was successful with an entirely different set of students, even if they might be minorities like students you might have.

Please take the time to read the references that are listed in any journal article or research study. It will help you out tremendously when trying to understand if something will work for your students.

Remember that there are sound scientific research studies done across the board by educators, linguists, and many types of scholars that go beyond phonemic awareness and phonics.   


Duke, N., Ward, A., Pearson, D. (2021). The science of reading comprehension instruction. The Reading Teacher, 74(6), 663-672.

Pyle, N., Vasques, A.C., Lignugaris/Kraft, B., Gillam, S.L..Reutzel, D.R., Olszewski, A., … Pyle, D. (2017). Effects of expository text structure interventions on comprehension: A meta-analysis. Reading Research Quarterly, 52 (4), 469-501. HTTP://

Shanahan, T. (2020). The science of reading: Making sense of research. The Reading Teacher, 74(2), 119-125.

Author: Troy F

Reading Specialist & NBCT in Literacy. Academic Coach for online Graduate classes.

2 thoughts on “The Science of Reading includes all components of Reading”

  1. Troy, great post about an important topic. I don’t disagree with anything you have said or cited, however, I’m not sure that a critical point has been challenged enough. It’s unfortunate that the “science of reading” has become very focused on delivering phonics and phonemic awareness instruction over all of the other important areas of reading. The phrase, alone, leaves out the incredibly important connections between reading and writing. A bigger concern for me, though, is that what is being delivered is likely to further marginalize our students who are labeled “at risk.” Imagine if you enter school without having books in your home or having been read to where you live. And, you enter school to a classroom where phonics and phonemic instruction is the sole focus without opportunities for read aloud, shared reading and writing, and writers workshop. If you are that student and you believe that is reading, you will likely develop a strong dislike for reading. We have so many students who say that they dislike reading already. Imagine the impact this will have on them.


    1. You bring up a good point about the swinging pendulum of the best practices of teaching reading. It has swung from phonics, to whole word reading, to a balanced approach and is now swing towards phonemic awareness and phonics again. I hope that what you describe above is not going on in classrooms. Learning to read cannot be done focusing in on one processing system “alone.” I just read that once students understand the letters are represented by sounds, and that different combinations of letters represent more sounds that they need to be exposed to print as much as possible. I think the teaching of reading gets compartmentalized too much. Phonics time is phonics time, conferring time has to be focused on what was discussed in the focus lesson ect. Kids get reading taught in isolated chunks. These chunks are all important but there is not enough of bringing those chunks together and talking about how they building off of each other.
      Reading and writing are reciprocal process and they feed one another. To be a good writer you have experience good writing as a reader.


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