The Science of Reading: A Hot Topic in Education

Thanks to a few recent journalistic endeavors, the edusphere is aflutter with discussions about The Science of Reading. Doing a quick search for those terms returns 4.9 million results, but a great place to start is a list of resources assembled by APM Reports.

What struggles are most common for your adult learners in relation to reading? What strategies have you found are most helpful?

Join the discussion below!


Thanks for beginning this intriguing discussion Susan!

When I first started in adult education, I was a librarian teacher. I handed out books to students with the understanding that if they worked in the right book, they would learn to read better. I gave assignments to read certain pages and answer the questions. If you asked me what I was doing to teach students to read, I could not tell you. 

What works with helping adult students learn to read well is evidence-based reading instruction. We see this in adult basic education with the STAR (STudent Achievement in Reading) initiative. STAR, geared toward intermediate level students (grade level equivalents 4 to 9 - the largest segment of most adult ed programs), emphasizes:

  • Using results from diagnostic assessments of the four components of reading (alphabetics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) to plan as well as monitor the effectiveness of instruction
  • Direct and explicit teaching methods to carry out instruction
  • Methods and materials that engage learners and help them to recognize the relevance of instruction for their strengths and needs in reading

Evidence-based methods and materials for teaching intermediate-level readers include:

  • Alphabetics:
    • systematic introduction of relevant patterns (e.g., syllables and affixes) in short, frequent lessons
    • oral reading of text that provides opportunity to apply taught patterns
  • Fluency:
    • reading aloud from connected text (e.g., collaboratively, or repeatedly, or by echoing or marking phrase boundaries)
    • experience with a model of fluent reading
  • Vocabulary:
    • multiple encounters with a word’s meaning in a variety of rich contexts
    • focus on academic (tier 2) words
  • Comprehension:
    • strategies that apply across a variety of texts (e.g. summarizing, questioning, graphic organizers, fix up, and monitoring)
    • extensive experience with and reflection about a strategy’s use (STAR's Big Ideas, 2012).

Now that I've started the ball rolling, let's hear from the community! How are you doing evidence based reading instruction in your classroom or program?

Thanks for your thoughts,

Steve Schmidt, Moderator

LINCS Reading and Writing Group 

Steve, thank you for linking to this wonderful resource in our LINCS library! 

You mention that instruction for adults begins with alphabetics. When I began teaching, I had a similar strategy to when you taught at the library. I'd look at their diagnostic test scores and see if I could find books on their "level." What I soon found was a lot of students were applying a "fake it 'til you make it" strategy, which isn't a reading strategy at all--ha! I like that STAR begins with alphabetics even with their grade 4 equivalents, as many of our adult students never had this sort of approach in their K-12 experiences.

Do we have any STAR participants in our group who have something to add?

Hello Susan, Steve and all, It's obvious to me that teaching reading is at the heart of what we do as adult literacy educators. The research around the Science of Reading is compelling, and in recent years the evidence on brain imaging studies has been mounting showing clearly how the brain processes print. These studies demonstrate marked differences between the brain images of good readers and struggling readers.  

I wanted to share a resource written by Susan McShane and published online in 2005 by the National Institute of Literacy and the National Center for Family Literacy entitled Applying Research in Reading Instruction for Adults: First Steps for Teachers. I'm wondering how familiar this valuable resource is to teachers.

And here's an article by Ashley Hager published in 2001 in Focus on Basics (a National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy publication which was discontinued a long time ago). In this brief and highly accessible article, "Techniques for Teaching Beginning-Level Reading to Adults," Hager outlines the routinized curriculum she used when teaching beginning adult readers. 

I welcome this discussion and believe it is of utmost importance to our field. 

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition Group


Thanks so much for your thoughtful reply and the link to Hager's article, Susan! The date of publication (2001) alone shows that adult educators have largely been ahead of our K-12 counterparts in the area of literacy instruction. In fact, I frequently recommend some wonderful adult ed. curriculum to K-12 colleagues who are struggling to find SOR resources!

What have others found as helpful references for teaching reading to adults?

Hello Susan, Steve, and all, I would love to hear from members about the curricular materials they have found to be most effective for teaching reading, especially for low-level readers. 

Cheers, Susan