Evidence-based reading research, or what many refer to as the Science of Reading, has been a much-discussed topic within the literacy landscape for the past few years. While it may seem like the “next new thing” in reading instruction, the theory, research, and instructional best practices are based on historical, neurological, and scientific understanding of how the human brain works, as well as the relationship to language and literacy development. At the root of evidence-based reading research and reading instruction is the goal of heightening the reader’s experience with text by providing them with strategies to engage with that text for deep understanding and the synthesis of content to build knowledge.
One aspect of evidence-based reading research is the need for explicit phonics instruction versus implicit instruction. While comprehension of text is the goal, the foundational skills of early literacy, such as phonological awareness, decoding, encoding, and fluency are essential.
According to researcher, practitioner, and educator Dr. Anita Archer, “There is no comprehension strategy powerful enough to compensate for the fact you can’t read the words.” Reading research corroborates this idea from Dr. Archer with evidence that illustrates how implicit instruction can stunt the forward trajectory of emerging readers’ reading development and abilities.
What is explicit, systematic phonics instruction?
There is strong research-backed evidence that students will develop the necessary literacy skills to become proficient readers by third grade when they are taught alphabetic principles and to use these principles to decode, encode, and analyze word parts. Teaching explicitly and systematically means just that: teachers expressly stating and explaining each phonics skill. This also includes the teacher modeling and guiding practice with students and then finally allowing students to independently practice applying the skill through word-level reading and reading decodable text. This instruction should also follow a scope and a sequence that maps out when skills are covered and reviewed so students learn the principles according to a research-driven hierarchy across the kindergarten through second grade span.