Connecting the Science of Reading and Educational Practices

The “Science of Reading” is a body of basic research in developmental psychology, educational psychology, cognitive science, and cognitive neuroscience on reading, one of the most complex human behaviors, and its biological (neural, genetic) bases. This research has been conducted for decades in the US and around the world. The research has important implications for helping children to succeed, but it has not been incorporated in how teachers are trained for the job or how children are taught.

The science of reading is not just “phonics”. It is about all of the types of knowledge that underlie skilled reading and how they are learned. It addresses questions such as:

  • How does reading work? What are the important component skills and knowledge, and how do they work together?
  • How is reading related to spoken language? How does it relate to spelling and writing?
  • How do children learn to read? How does their behavior change over time?
  • What is the impact of experience on children’s progress?
    • This includes experience in the classroom: instruction and other learning activities; and experience in the home and community: before children start school, and after
  • Which experiences are most important at different points in development?
  • What factors promote or interfere with children’s progress?
  • Why do some children struggle with reading? How can they be helped?
  • What are the brain circuits and operations that support reading? How can understanding the brain bases of reading be used to improve children’s learning?

Some Reliable Resources about the Science and Its Connection to Reading


Mark Seidenberg, Language at the Speed of Sight: How We Read, Why So Many Can’t, and What Can Be Done About It. Basic Books, January 3, 2017. Seidenberg’s website:

Daniel Willingham, The Reading Mind: A Cognitive Approach To Understanding How The Mind Reads. John Wiley & Sons, 2017. Willingham’s blog:

Maryanne Wolf, Proust And The Squid: The Story And Science Of The Reading Brain. Harper Perennial, 2008. Wolf’s website:

Natalie Wexler, The Knowledge Gap: The Hidden Cause Of America’s Broken Education System–And How To Fix It. Avery, 2019. Wexler’s website:

Dana Goldstein, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession. Doubleday, 2014. Goldstein’s website:

APM Reports Audio Documentaries by Emily Hanford

Transcripts are also available. New ones added frequently.

What the words say
Experts say widely used curriculum is failing kids
At a loss for words: How a flawed idea is teaching millions of kids to be poor readers
Hard Words: Why aren’t kids being taught to read?
Hard to read: How American schools fail children with dyslexia

For a summary of Emily’s reporting, watch her presentation at the 2020 PaTTAN Literacy Symposium.


1. Booklet from US Department of Education, for parents and teachers: 
Put Reading First: The Research Building Blocks For Teaching Children to Read

2. An important series of articles on the crisis in reading education: 
Special Report: Getting Reading Right (Education Week, 2019)

3. How Should Reading Be Taught? (Scientific American, 2002)

4. A recent review of the science: 
Ending the Reading Wars: Reading Acquisition From Novice to Expert (Castles, Rastle, & Nation, Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2018)

5. Where the “Reading Wars” started (Nicholas Leman, The Atlantic, 1997)

6. Money, race, and success: How your school district compares (NY Times, 2016)

7. How effective is your school district? (NY Times, 2017) 

8. Read all about it; The reading wars are back (Washington Post, 2020)

9. Reading Science and Educational Practice: Some Tenets for Teachers (Seidenberg & Cooper Borkenhagen, The Reading League Journal, 2020)

10. Using Research and Reason in Education: How Teachers Can Use Scientifically Based Research to Make Curricular & Instructional Decisions (Stanovich & Stanovich, 2003)

Reliable Websites

The Internet is full of information and misinformation about the science of reading. Buyer Beware!
These sites contain reliable information.

Reading Rockets: “A national public media literacy initiative offering information and resources on how young kids learn to read, why so many struggle, and how caring adults can help.”

Children of the Code: Interviews with numerous reading researchers and educators. 

National Center on Improving Literacy: “a partnership among literacy experts, university researchers, and technical assistance providers, with funding from the United States Department of Education. Our Mission is to increase access to, and use of, evidence-based approaches to screen, identify, and teach students with literacy-related disabilities, including dyslexia.”

International Dyslexia Association: Look under “resources.”

National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), The Nation’s Report Card: Data about 4th and 8th grade reading, easy to navigate. Highlights of 2019.

The Reading League: They have their own list of recommended resources.

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