Online Degrees Blog Key Science of Reading (SOR) insights | KU SOEHS Online

Key Science of Reading (SOR) insights | KU SOEHS Online

12 December
Female teacher reads to her students who are entranced by a captivating story during library time.

In an October 2023 EdWeb presentation sponsored by the University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences (KU SOEHS), KU’s Dr. Heidi Hallman and Dr. Barbara Bradley shared invaluable insights on the Science of Reading (SOR). Their presentation has value for anyone intrigued by the intricacies of literacy instruction and covered the following critical topics:

  • Why SOR is gaining traction
  • SOR’s place in instructional practices
  • Practical suggestions for educators navigating the dynamic landscape of literacy instruction

Read on to learn more about their perspectives on the Science of Reading and its implications for today’s classrooms and diverse readers.

Watch the video recording here.

Introducing KU’s SOR experts

Both Dr. Hallman and Dr. Bradley are distinguished educators with a collective experience of over 30 years and experts in the field of literacy.

Dr. Heidi L. Hallman is a distinguished Professor of English Education, serving as the English Education Program Coordinator and Chairperson in the Department of Curriculum and Teaching at the University of Kansas. With a research focus on the preparation of prospective teachers for diverse school contexts, Dr. Hallman has made significant contributions to the field. Notably, her published work includes the award-winning book "Secondary English Teacher Education in the United States: Responding to a Changing Context" (2018).

Dr. Barbara Bradley holds the distinguished position of Professor of Reading Education, where she serves as the Elementary Education Program Coordinator and the Reading Specialist Program Coordinator in the Department of Curriculum & Teaching at the University of Kansas. With a scholarly focus on early literacy, Dr. Bradley is a co-PI on Project PEACE, concentrating on the language and literacy development of emergent bilingual children. Her contributions extend to various journals, including Early Childhood Research Quarterly. With 14 years of experience as an early childhood special education teacher in diverse settings, she brings a rich perspective and contributions to the field.

Assumptions and challenges surrounding SOR

Before delving into the essence of the Science of Reading and why it's gaining attention, the professors establish some basic ideas in the presentation.

In laying the foundation for their exploration of the Science of Reading, the professors first examine some assumptions surrounding the topic.

According to Dr. Hallman and Dr. Bradley, today’s teachers are not lacking in knowledge; they are skilled architects of learning. The professors go on to challenge the idea that there's a one-size-fits-all approach to literacy education and advocate for teachers to collaborate and consider diverse student needs in the ever-changing classroom landscape.

An expansive tapestry: The Science of Reading in Practice

Dr. Bradley unfurls the Science of Reading as an expansive tapestry woven from the threads of research across diverse disciplines. This isn't a recent revelation but a repackaging of well-established knowledge. The professors dismiss the notion of a one-size-fits-all model, recognizing the dynamic and multifaceted nature of literacy instruction.

Beyond phonics: Nurturing a holistic literacy perspective

When it comes to the term "evidence-based practice," in SOR, Dr. Hallman advocates for a balanced perspective in literacy instruction. It's not just about decoding words; it's about embracing social components, understanding classroom dynamics, and widening the perspective on what it means to be a reader.

The Science of Reading, they argue, extends beyond textbooks, incorporating real-world skills and societal contexts.

The professors also emphasize the need for stability in educational programs and the power of collaboration. Educators are encouraged to align various components to meet the diverse needs of their students effectively.

This isn't just a directive for educators, they share; it's a foundational principle for anyone interested in the transformative power of literacy education.

Exploring literacy development at different stages of education

In the next segment of the EdWeb talk, the professors delve into the nuanced journey of literacy development at various stages of education.

Early Childhood: The importance of oral language

Body:In the realm of early childhood education, Dr. Bradley underscores the paramount importance of oral language. She emphasizes that language serves as the foundation not only for literacy but for overall learning.

Creating ample opportunities for children to engage in conversations with both adults and peers, in this context, can serve as a key strategy. These dialogues contribute not only to the development of vocabulary but also to essential phonological awareness—the awareness of sounds in spoken words.

Next, Dr. Bradley introduces the lexical restructuring hypothesis, a concept that highlights how children implicitly grasp the individual sounds in words through meaningful conversations. By engaging in discussions and encounters with a diverse range of vocabulary, children organically develop phonological awareness.

This foundational skill becomes a stepping stone for future literacy endeavors.

The professors shed light on the significance of read-aloud sessions in early childhood. Reading books to children not only exposes them to a rich tapestry of vocabulary but also aids in expanding their linguistic abilities. Dr. Bradley emphasizes the value of repeated readings, dispelling the myth that children may grow bored. On the contrary, repetition enhances vocabulary acquisition, a phenomenon familiar to parents of children who enjoy hearing the same story or watching the same movie repeatedly.

Playtime and meal periods emerge as crucial opportunities for language development. These informal settings allow children to not only use the vocabulary they've acquired but also engage in more profound conversations. Dr. Bradley suggests leveraging specific days like Mondays or Fridays to prompt abstract discussions, fostering higher-level language skills.

Practical advice is offered to early childhood teachers, encouraging them to take a step back and observe. Dr. Bradley suggests simply sitting, watching, and listening to understand the language dynamics within the classroom. Acknowledging the challenges of managing a class, she advocates for a balance between behavior management and meaningful conversations. The recommendation includes focused interactions, ensuring teachers engage in substantial dialogues with students, and fostering a supportive learning environment.

Elementary education: Strengthening foundational skills

Transitioning into elementary education, Dr. Bradley outlines key practices for building upon the language foundation laid in early childhood.

During this education period, the emphasis shifts to alphabet knowledge and phonological awareness, with a particular focus on large sound units and syllables. The professors stress the significance of blending and segmenting, foundational skills that pave the way for effective reading.

The integration of writing in the primary grades also takes center stage. Dr. Bradley draws on the concept of emergent literacy, emphasizing that writing plays a pivotal role in reinforcing letter-sound correspondences. Echoing the sentiments of Dorothy Sulzby and William Teale's work, she suggests placing writing before reading in the early stages, highlighting its potential to drive reading proficiency.

For a bit more context, Dorothy J. Sulzby and William H. Teale are prominent figures in the field of education, particularly in literacy research.

  • Dorothy J. Sulzby: Sulzy is known for her work in early childhood literacy. Sulzby has contributed significantly to understanding the development of literacy skills in young children, focusing on emergent literacy and the role of writing in early childhood.
  • William H. Teale: Teae is an expert in the areas of literacy, language arts, and reading education. Teale has conducted extensive research on various aspects of literacy development, including the role of digital media and technology in children's literacy.

Their collective work has influenced theories and practices related to literacy instruction, especially in the early stages of education.

The elementary reading stage transcends basic phonics, introducing students to decoding and understanding connected text.

Dr. Bradley encourages educators to reflect on the amount of time students spend reading connected text, urging for a substantial commitment to develop reading stamina. As the focus expands to larger word chunks, blends, and digraphs, students are equipped to tackle multi-syllabic words with strategic support.

Middle-level transition: Navigating academic language

Dr. Hallman steps in to discuss the transition to the middle level, where reading becomes embedded in discipline-specific literacy practices. The challenge lies in developing academic language, a task that requires making disciplinary communities visible to students through explicit vocabulary instruction. She cautions against limiting approaches and advocates for interactive, context-rich methods, fostering engagement and understanding.

Tips to help you integrate SOR into your classrooms

Implementing the science of reading into your curriculum can be a transformative process that positively impacts students' literacy skills. Here are some practical steps to guide you in this journey:

Assessment and individualized instruction

Begin with a thorough assessment of your students' current literacy levels. Identify their strengths and areas of need. This personalized approach allows you to tailor instruction to meet individual students where they are in their literacy development.

Professional development

Engage yourself in professional development opportunities focused on the Science of Reading. Attend workshops, and webinars, or join communities of practice where educators share insights and strategies. Staying informed about the latest research ensures that your teaching practices align with evidence-based methods.

Collaboration across grades and disciplines

Take the time to foster collaboration with colleagues both vertically and horizontally. A cohesive approach across grade levels ensures continuity in instruction, while collaboration with other subjects can reinforce literacy skills in different contexts. This cross-disciplinary approach enhances your students' ability to transfer and apply their reading skills across various subjects.

Data-driven decision-making

Regularly assess and analyze your student data to inform instructional decisions. Use formative assessments to gauge progress and adjust teaching strategies accordingly. Data-driven insights empower all educators to make informed choices that cater to the diverse needs of their students.

Building a literacy-rich environment

Be sure to create an environment that promotes literacy in and outside the classroom. Establish a print-rich space, incorporate a variety of texts, and encourage reading for pleasure. Keep in mind that a literacy-rich environment goes beyond the confines of structured lessons, fostering a love for reading that extends beyond the classroom walls.

Parent and community engagement

Involve parents and the community in supporting literacy development. Share information about the Science of Reading and provide resources for families to reinforce these skills at home. A collaborative effort between educators, parents, and the community strengthens the foundation for students' literacy success.

Technology integration

Leverage technology as a supplementary tool for literacy instruction. Educational apps, digital platforms, and interactive resources can enhance students' engagement and provide additional support. Ensure that technology is used purposefully to complement, not replace, effective teaching practices.

Continuous reflection and adjustment

Reflect on your instructional practices regularly. Be open to adjusting your methods based on ongoing observations and feedback. A growth mindset fosters a culture of continuous improvement, ensuring that your teaching evolves to meet the evolving needs of your students.

By integrating these strategies into your curriculum, you'll be taking significant strides towards a comprehensive and effective Science of Reading approach.

Remember that the Science of Reading is not a one-size-fits-all solution but a framework that allows for flexibility and adaptation to cater to the diverse needs of your students.

Advice for SOR practitioners

In addressing the question of introducing the Science of Reading into the curriculum, Dr. Bradley emphasized the importance of collaboration, professional development, and individualized instruction. The intricate dance of integrating various components—oral language, phonological awareness, decoding skills, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension—requires a coordinated effort across grades and disciplines.

The challenges of engaging a community where only 60% of classes implement these principles were met with practical suggestions by the KU experts. Celebrating successful practices, creating forums for sharing, and promoting a culture of observation and reflection can bridge the gap. Visibility, trust, and a commitment to ongoing improvement are key elements in fostering a community that embraces the Science of Reading.

Dr. Bradley's explanation of decodable text versus leveled text clarified a critical aspect of literacy instruction. Decodable texts focus on specific phonics skills taught, allowing students to practice and reinforce their learning. Leveled texts, on the other hand, provide a broader range of language elements, gradually introducing complexity as students progress in their reading journey.

Moving forward: A lifelong learning journey

The dynamic landscape of literacy instruction requires continuous adaptation and a commitment to staying informed. The research-backed resources shared by the KU presenters, from the National Early Literacy Panel report to What Works Clearinghouse Practice Guides, serve as valuable tools for educators seeking to deepen their understanding and refine their instructional practices.

Embracing the Science of Reading is not just a pedagogical shift; it's a paradigmatic transformation. It requires dedication, collaboration, and a relentless pursuit of excellence. As educators and lifelong learners, the journey toward effective literacy instruction is ongoing

If you continue to engage, reflect, and refine your literacy educational practices, you can help ensure that every one of your students has the opportunity to unlock the magic of reading.

Elevate your teaching with advanced Science of Reading techniques

Now is the ideal moment to enhance your educational strategies by gaining additional insights from literacy experts such as Dr. Bradley and Dr. Hallman at KU.

Explore KU SOEHS’ #19 best-in-the-nation online master’s Curriculum and Teaching programs*, which provide flexible online learning that enables you to acquire essential skills without compromising your busy schedule.1 When you join KU, you also become part of a dynamic community of committed educators, initiating your journey toward a transformative career.

Reach out to a KU admissions outreach advisor today to receive the valuable information you need to take the first step.

*The department offers an online Master of Science in Education degree in curriculum and instruction with three individual emphasis area options: general curriculum and instruction; reading education; or teaching English to speakers of other languages.

The University of Kansas School of Education and Human Sciences has engaged Everspring, a leading provider of education and technology services, to support select aspects of program delivery.

  1. Retrieved on November 13, 2023, from