Join us for The Heart and The Science Zoom Summit on August 30, 2023. Discover the proven strategies for achieving 90% early literacy success from our outstanding speaker team. Register now! Register

The Power of Early Childhood Education: 4 Critical Reasons to Prioritize ECE

Sprig Learning creates holistic and inclusive early learning programs for pre-K to Grade 3 students. 

Early childhood education is defined by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the National Association for the Education of Young Children as birth to 8 years of age. This corresponds to pre-K to Grade 3 in the education system.

It’s the early years from Pre-K to Grade 3 that is especially critical.

There are many reasons for this. Chief among which are:

  1. Pre-Kindergarten is an underserved market. 
  2. There is a strong connection between pre-kindergarten and the primary years.
  3. Early Childhood Education (ECE) is a powerful driver of educational equity.
  4. Evidence-based early literacy instruction can be introduced as early as pre-K.

Each reason is elaborated upon below, accompanied by an ideal scenario that adequately addresses the point raised.


1) Pre-Kindergarten is An Underserved Market 


Funding for K-12 schools are treated differently than funding for preschools in both Canada and the US. 

There simply aren’t as many preschool programs as there are elementary schools operated by school districts.

To demonstrate, approximately 1.6 million children attend preschools in the US. This number includes both private pre-kindergarten programs, and also federal- and state-funded public preschool programs. 

Contrast that with the 3.4 million children in the US that attend kindergarten in public schools. Even without including private or charter schools, it’s more than twice the amount of preschool children. 

Preschool is a vital part of early childhood education. However, lower preschool enrollments compared to K-12 education directly contribute to limited funding opportunities.

Insufficient funding leads to a lack of long-term vision and a scarcity of innovative solutions in early learning. Sprig is committed to ensuring that this market receives the support it deserves.

Ongoing research has shown that the greatest brain development in children occurs between birth to age 8. 

Take a look at these compelling early learning statistics. They all speak to the importance of healthy early childhood development.


Ideal Scenario

Government, foundations, and private organizations actively contribute to financing early learning centers and programs, a recurring topic covered in Sprig’s newsletter. Additionally, the realization of universal preschool would further bolster support for early learning initiatives.


2) There Is a Strong Connection Between Pre-K and Primary Education

Connectoion Between Pre-K and Post-K

The primary goal of a preschool system is focused towards ensuring kindergarten readiness. In order to ensure readiness, the quality of pre-kindergarten education has to match that of the education provided in the primary years.

Just like secondary school students taking advanced placement (AP) courses to prepare for college or university, the introduction of high-quality material beforehand paves the way for a seamless transition to the next stage.

Similarly, are preschool students gradually introduced to the skills and concepts that they will need to apply in kindergarten to make the best of their learning? 

If this is not the case, then there is a risk of a chasm developing, one which is difficult to cross for early learners. 

Sprig has a myriad of high-quality evidence-based activities that work on essential early language and math development components.

In a study done in Virginia at a mixed-urban school district, pre-kindergarten attendance had a significant effect on the literacy achievement of Grade 1 students. 

Students who attended the district’s preschool program had a higher percentage of students meeting or surpassing the reading benchmark versus those students who did not.  

There are many more studies that affirm how the presence of accessible and high-quality preschool programs directly correlates with subsequent student success.


Ideal Scenario

Preschool programs (with increased funding and support) innovate to ensure greater quality. Sprig has previously written on what a high-quality early learning program looks like. 

Some of the items on the checklist are: adequately equipping the classroom with educational materials, ensuring ongoing communication and offering opportunities for multiple kinds of play.


3) ECE is a Powerful Driver of Educational Equity

Increased Educational Equity

​​The world is embracing increased educational autonomy, allowing individuals with curiosity for a subject to pursue self-teaching. We so often hear of success stories from people who did not go to college, or in some cases, did not even graduate high school.

But even for those individuals, early education was important! 

There was a teacher, or some other mentor in the early grades, who left a profound impression on them. It motivated them to go on and develop expertise in their fields in traditional or non-traditional ways.

Other than this spark of inspiration that allowed this curiosity or inquiry-based learning to flourish, developing the fundamentals of early literacy and numeracy was also important.

These foundational skills served as building blocks, enabling individuals to innovate, generate ideas, and execute them with confidence.

Considering this, it is disheartening to acknowledge that many young students are deprived of a high-quality early education. This deprivation denies them even a glimpse of inspiration and the essential learning skills they deserve.


Ideal Scenario

If the accessibility and quality of early learning programs improve, as stated in reasons 1 and 2, it should automatically make a difference in providing the right type of education to young students who need it most.

By addressing the issue of excessive reliance on standardized assessments and acknowledging the impact of implicit bias in early learning, we can significantly enhance educational equity.To understand how these two things affect equity, check out this article.

Sprig has devised several strategies to combat these challenges. One notable approach is the implementation of holistic assessments, which consider diverse learning perspectives and maintain longitudinal data tracking to foster accountability.


4) Evidence-based early literacy instruction can be introduced as early as pre-K.

There is a rise of evidence-based early literacy instruction being mandated in teacher training programs and in school curriculums. This wave of evidence-based early literacy is affecting educators and students in all grades, including pre-K!

Studies have shown that children who receive evidence-based early literacy instruction in pre-K exhibit higher levels of phonological awareness, vocabulary development, and reading readiness compared to their peers who did not receive such instruction. 

This early exposure to literacy skills not only enhances their reading and writing abilities but also cultivates a lifelong love for learning and literature. 

It’s not just that there is a link between early learning and academic achievement in the later grades, but the fact that concentrated effort earlier on can prevent excessive learning loss and avoid costly and ineffective interventions. 

Early interventions are important, but the best approach is to provide students with very strong core tier 1 instruction from the beginning. 

By opting for an evidence-based approach to instruction that focuses on foundational skills that have been proven to lead to reading success, all students receive the support they need. This reduces the need for later interventions and sets them up for long-term academic achievement.


Ideal Scenario

School districts collaborate closely with preschools in their areas to ensure that preschoolers receive developmentally appropriate and research-based instruction. Such collaboration can be in the form of joint professional development, lending resources or sharing tools.

It makes for a much smoother transition from preschool to kindergarten when the kids have taken part in early literacy activities such as shared reading and have been exposed to concepts such as alphabets and letter sounds.

To create an ideal evidence-based early childhood classroom, there is a considerable amount of work to be done. The University of Central Florida has developed a professional development tool that serves as an observation guide to ensure correct implementation.

As such, preschool organizations require all the assistance they can get to ensure alignment with research and create optimal learning environments. It helps when another organization also focusing on early learning, such as an elementary school, who has undertaken similar evidence-based PD can impart this knowledge and practice to the preschools.


Moonshot: Taking Early Childhood Education Where it Needs to Be

Taking Educational Equity Where it Needs to be

​​Sprig Learning wants to ensure every child has a fair shot at success. Starting early is so important to achieving this aspiration!

This article hopes to make it clear why ECE should be prioritized– demonstrating a need for it in the market, its connection to student success, its ties to educational equity, and the opportunity that exists at the present to apply evidence-based learning to the totality of a school system, starting from pre-K!

To join us and discuss ideas on how, together, we can raise the bar of early childhood education, please get in touch with our team.

Early Literacy Instruction: The Various Roles & Their Collaboration

Literacy instruction is a multifaceted endeavour that involves a diverse range of roles, each contributing to the success of early learning and primary education. 

From Pre-K to Grade 3, educators, specialists, and support staff collaborate to build strong foundations in early reading and writing.

Sprig has previously written on the need to create the right team of literacy professionals in schools, whose contributions are invaluable to the ultimate reading success of every child in the classroom. 

This article in particular, focuses on the literacy aspect of early learning, and how all the different roles work together to increase the likelihood of children reading proficiently by Grade 3, regardless of their circumstances.

Some previously mentioned roles are recapped below, with a few new roles that are particularly relevant to early reading. Concise explanations of their job descriptions are provided, emphasizing their direct relevance to early literacy instruction. 

By understanding the collective responsibilities of these roles, it’s possible to foster a comprehensive and coordinated approach to early literacy development.


The Various Positions That are Responsible for Teaching Literacy

The Various Positions That are Responsible for Teaching Literacy


Classroom Teachers

Classroom teachers play a central role in early literacy instruction. They design and implement comprehensive literacy lessons, incorporating skill sets such as phonics, vocabulary development, reading fluency, etc. 

Teachers provide explicit instruction and tailor classroom lessons to meet the diverse needs of their students. They are expected to teach and guide early learners from emergent or even pre-emergent literacy to reading mastery, where they learn how to read and develop a passion for reading. 

Kindergarten to Grade 3 teachers, and their teaching assistants have critical responsibilities, which when accomplished, leads to desirable student outcomes.


Literacy Coaches

Literacy coaches provide ongoing support and professional development to teachers, assisting them in implementing effective early literacy practices. 

They work with educators to analyze student data, identify instructional needs, and implement evidence-based strategies. Through modeling, mentoring and collaborative planning, literacy coaches enhance teacher’s instructional approaches.

In schools, literacy coaches can be program organizers, school leaders and also support providers.


Reading Specialists

Reading specialists are experts in diagnosing and addressing reading difficulties. They provide targeted interventions and individualized instruction to children who struggle with early literacy skills. 

These specialists assess students’ reading abilities, develop intervention plans, and work closely with teachers and families to support student progress. 

Reading specialists follow key principles by which they are able to deliver on the student’s reading potential.


Speech Language Pathologists

Speech-language Pathologists (SLPs) assess and address oral language difficulties, phonological awareness, and speech sound disorders that can impact early reading. 


School Librarians

School librarians curate a diverse collection of books, providing access to a range of genres, topics and reading levels. 

Librarians collaborate with teachers to integrate early literacy skills into various subjects. By creating a welcoming and engaging library environment, they inspire early learners to read. 


Educational Technologists

Educational technologists contribute to literacy instruction by leveraging digital tools and resources. It can include positions such as Director of Technology and Chief Technology Officer.

They assist in integrating technology into literacy lessons, supporting interactive and engaging learning experiences. 

Education technologists collaborate with teachers to identify and implement appropriate educational apps, digital reading programs, and online resources that enhance students’ reading and writing skills.

They also build robust cybersecurity systems for schools that protect the privacy and security of student information.


Early Childhood Educators

Early childhood educators, including preschool teachers and childcare providers, lay the foundation for early literacy development in Pre-K settings. They create language-rich environments, implement play-based literacy activities, and foster early language and communication skills. 

Early childhood educators focus on oral language development, phonological awareness, and pre-literacy skills, ensuring a strong start to the reading journey.


Instructional Coordinators

Instructional coordinators develop and implement curricula and maintain educational teaching standards. They collaborate with teachers to develop and align curriculum, identify effective instructional strategies, and implement evidence-based practices. 

Instructional coordinators provide professional development opportunities for reading instruction, offer feedback and support to teachers, and ensure the coherence and effectiveness of early literacy programs.


Examples of Collaboration in Literacy Instruction

Examples of Collaboration in Literacy Instruction

To create successful Pre-K to 3 readers, effective collaboration among the various roles in literacy instruction is crucial. 

The first section of this article introduced each role and highlighted a few collaborative aspects in the descriptions. In this section, we ask…

What Are Some Examples of These Importation Roles Working Together? 


Classroom Teacher/ Literacy Coach/Reading Specialist

Classroom teachers can share student data and instructional needs with literacy coaches and reading specialists, who can then use the information to provide targeted interventions and support for individual students 

Through regular data meetings, they can exchange such information to identify specific areas of improvement. 


Classroom Teacher/ School Librarian

School Librarians can provide classroom teachers with book recommendations and other resources that align with the standards and curriculum, promoting a cross-disciplinary approach to literacy. 

They can also co-organize engaging literacy events such as author visits and book fairs.


Classroom Teacher/ Educational Technologist

Classroom teachers and educational technologists can collaborate to integrate digital tools into literacy lessons. For example, they can jointly explore interactive reading resources that help assess, monitor, and track early reading skills. 


Classroom Teacher/ Early Childhood Educators/Speech-Language Pathologists

Classroom teachers, early childhood educators, and speech-language pathologists can collaborate to support oral language and early literacy development. 

They can engage in joint planning to align classroom activities with oral language goals and phonological awareness instruction. 


Instructional Coordinators/ All roles

Instructional coordinators can facilitate professional development opportunities that bring everyone together. The professional development sessions can share best practices, but also align instructional strategies with the collective goal to ensure a cohesive early literacy program. 


Working Together for The Betterment of Early Literacy

Working Together for The Betterment of Early Literacy

Sprig hopes this article will inspire and motivate school-wide planning to better organize early literacy programs from pre-kindergarten and through the primary grades. 

Every school year is so crucial in the early years, and thus commensurate actions are also required in this stage of early learning, of which collaborative planning is hugely important!

The collaborative efforts mentioned in this article promote a comprehensive approach to early literacy instruction, leveraging the strengths and expertise of each role to support the development of strong readers in the early years.

Everyone has to play their part, but the classroom teacher is often at the center of any kind of collaboration, since they are the ones who spend the most time with the students and provide the direct instruction , assessment and monitoring of early literacy throughout the year.

As such, it definitely helps to have the ability to share information across the early literacy team, whereby everyone can access relevant notes about student progress and regularly monitor and intervene as needed.  

Such visibility of information allows for better collaboration, where both class-level and individual-level decisions can be taken that optimizes student success.. With such resources in place, the entire early literacy team can work together efficiently, ensuring all students are  on the path to reading mastery. 

Add different members of your literacy team in Sprig Reading

From Emergent Literacy To Reading Mastery

The journey from emergent literacy to reading mastery is a crucial phase in a child’s development. Emergent literacy is the beginning. Reading mastery is the desired result.

Educators play a vital role in guiding students through this transformative process. 

By understanding the milestones and implementing effective strategies, more students can become confident and proficient readers. 

In this blog, we will delve into the path of emergent literacy to reading mastery, exploring key stages and evidence-based approaches that will take an early learner beginning to show signs of literacy to a proficient reader.


Stages of Literacy Development

Stages of Literacy Development

There are many versions of literacy development stages, varying in complexity and the number of stages.

Every child is unique. Some learn certain skills quicker than others. Some require more rigorous practice at  certain skills than others. 

 To account for a diverse classroom,  it is helpful to have a roadmap of learning progressions across 

To keep it very simple, we can envision the reading progress of every child to evolve from an emergent reader, to an early reader, to a proficient reader

There can be many more progressions described in between these three stages, but in general, the expectation should be for every child to progress through these stages where they are able to demonstrate certain reading skills.

The mentioned stages and their corresponding age levels are as follows:


Emergent Reading

The emergent reader is completely new to reading. They are learning their alphabet and understanding the relationships between letters and sounds. They are also being exposed to concepts of print.


Early Reading

The early reader is able to read simple sentences and has a good understanding of phonological awareness. They would have mastered the alphabet by now. They are familiarizing themselves with a growing bank of high frequency words. 


Proficient Reading

The proficient reader is able to read fluently using all reading skills learned prior with minimal effort. They are also able to comprehend everything they are reading with their growing vocabulary, knowledge of print concepts and oral language skills.


Emergent Literacy: The Foundation of Reading

Reading Mastery. Capitalizing on The Foundation

Emergent literacy lays the groundwork for future reading success. It encompasses developing alphabet knowledge, phonics, phonological skills, print awareness and vocabulary.

Let’s take a closer look at each to see what can be done in the classroom to provide the type of strong foundation every child needs for reading success.


Alphabet Knowledge, Phonics & Phonological Skills

Alphabet knowledge, phonics and phonological skills are essential to emergent readers, as they are the key building blocks for reading success.

It is important to incorporate phonological awareness instruction by introducing letter-sound correspondence and teaching basic phonetic patterns. 

Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds in spoken words. It is a crucial component of emergent literacy and must be taught well in order for the student to develop strong decoding skills.

Teachers can utilize interactive activities such as sound segmentation exercises, and word blending exercises to strengthen phonemic awareness skills. 

Effective phonics and phonological skills instruction enhances students’ decoding abilities and paves the way for reading fluency.


Print Awareness

Print awareness, that is, understanding how print works, is crucial for emergent readers. 

It involves recognizing letters, words, and sentences, and can be fostered through activities like shared reading and exposure to print in the classroom environment.

Indeed, building a literacy rich environment is featured as one of the four golden rules of early literacy development. 

Read-alouds, where the teacher reads to the class, is a fun classroom activity that can be both engaging and enriching to the early learning experience for the child. 

Students familiarizing themselves with text through group, shared or individual reading sessions, are great opportunities to practice some of the taught reading skills.


Vocabulary Development

Building a strong vocabulary is vital for reading comprehension. Students with an extensive vocabulary have greater comprehension abilities. It’s important for teachers to incorporate vocabulary-building exercises and word games into lessons. 

Teachers can enhance vocabulary development by providing exposure to diverse texts and explicitly teaching new words. It’s important to offer a comprehensive approach in vocabulary that includes high frequency word instruction and advanced word study.


Building Fluency and Comprehension

Fluency, the ability to read with accuracy, speed, and proper expression, is a crucial aspect of reading mastery. But it is also needed for the emergent reader.

Teachers can support fluency development by incorporating repeated reading, modeled reading, and opportunities for oral reading practice 

Additionally, developing comprehension skills through explicit instruction in strategies like predicting, questioning, clarifying, and summarizing enhances students’ ability to understand and analyze texts.


Early Reading: Building on The Foundation

Early Reading. Building on The Foundation

Once a solid reading foundation has been acquired, it’s important to continue building on that foundation so children can read at-grade level with every promotion. 

Vocabulary Development and comprehension especially, has a big impact at this stage. So while these skills are n covered in the emergent reading stage, vocabulary development and comprehension will further grow in the early reading stage, where the early learner is able to combine their decoding skills and reading fluency with a larger vocabulary and language skills to result in greater reading comprehension. 

It’s interesting to note how every single foundational reading skill is used by themselves and with each other to result in becoming a stronger reader. 

Thus, it’s very important to assess all skills individually to identify  the best way to support each child in their reading. In fact, pinpointing problem areas in the early literacy journey is featured as one of the five hidden gems for teaching reading in schools.


Individualized Instruction and Assessment.

Each student progresses at their own pace. Thus, educators have to individualize instruction and tailor activities to meet their unique needs. 

Student progress should be assessed regularly using formative and summative assessments to identify areas of growth and areas that require additional support. 

This personalized approach ensures that students receive the guidance and attention necessary for their development as confident readers.


Reading Mastery: Capitalizing on The Foundation

Reading Mastery. Capitalizing on The Foundation

An early reader, when taught well in line with evidence-based instruction, will graduate to a proficient reader, barring any medical or unforeseen circumstances.  

They now understand basic decoding concepts, have developed a substantial base vocabulary, and familiarized themselves with print and language concepts to come to a point where they can read and understand text at their grade level!

The journey from emergent literacy to reading mastery is a transformative process that requires intentional and evidence-based instruction. 

By focusing on emergent literacy and building a strong foundation which you can build on, teachers can nurture their students’ reading abilities and guide them towards reading mastery. 

Remember, the journey from emergent literacy to reading mastery requires patience, dedication, and a commitment to not only explicit reading instruction, but fostering a love for reading in every student. 

If you are curious about the connection between phonics and phonological awareness, or fluency and comprehension, there is an amazing event at the end of August that will precisely answer such questions. 

Learn how these foundational skills intertwine, enabling you to create a cohesive and engaging learning journey for each student. Uncover strategies for designing joyful learning experiences that seamlessly guide students through these skills. 

The event will also showcase sessions on creating dynamic practice centers, facilitating skill mastery, and invisibly integrating these approaches into the classroom. Register now to secure your spot.

The Heart, the Art, and the Science of Reading

Teachers who successfully merge the Heart, the Art and the Science of Reading in their classrooms see 90% of their children reading at grade level in kindergarten, grade one, grade two and therefore, likely for the rest of their school experience. 

Then why is it that as many as 40% of Canadian grade three students, and over 60% of American grade four students are not reading at-grade level? 

The reason? As educators, we have not learned how to effectively balance the scientific needs of children to become fluent readers while at the same time embedding our teaching strategies with both art and heart. 

Over the decades, we have excelled at implementing many effective classroom practices that were designed by innovative classroom teachers and academics. We can be proud of our learning as educators and the many achievements of our most struggling learners. 

However, researchers like Dr. Clyde Hertzman, Dr. Kilpatrick and other medical experts advise that over 90% of all children are capable of reading at-grade level; the only exceptions would be children who have diagnosed medical challenges, and children who will require expert medical assistance and additional classroom support.


Setting Things Right with Heart, Art and Science

By understanding the true potential of reading success, and exploring the components of Heart, Art and Science, we can establish effective approaches that support reading development. 

So, how do we embed the Heart, the Art, and the Science in ways that will help us reach that essential goal of a 90% success rate for our young children? 

Let’s examine each component:


The Heart in Reading

The Heart in Reading

Heart cannot be learned, and this is what makes teachers so special. Most educators enter the profession for the singular purpose of working to support children as they learn. This requires the central characteristic of a love for children, a joy that automatically surfaces as we work and play, a natural inclination for playfulness and celebration of progress, compassion for moments of a child’s anxiety, insecurity and struggles, and unlimited patience for each individual child. 

Teachers who don’t possess these qualities or can’t develop them, rarely last in the profession. 

I remember when I was in grade three in the 1950’s, our student rows were competing in a choral reading exercise where we were expected to read simultaneously with expression. My row included a struggling student who simply was incapable of keeping up with the rest of us. The result? At the close of the competition, our row was required to stand while the teacher walked down our row hitting each of us on the shoulder with her pointer as punishment. No heart there! 

The heart of reading lies in its transformative power to foster empathy and understanding. Reading, after all, is much more than decoding words on a page, but rather an immersive experience that allows the child to connect with others.

In the incident described, the student exerted his best effort, despite his difficulties, showing a genuine desire to engage with the text. The heart of reading is needed because it builds the perseverance to learn and shows all early learners the profound impact reading words can have on their lives. It reminds us to approach the act of reading with patience and encouragement. 


The Art in Reading

The Art in Reading

Dr. Tim Rasinski, international expert in the field of fluency, comprehension and word studies, recently penned a new book with colleagues titled Artfully Teaching the Science of Reading. He eloquently describes the interdependence of artful teaching with the science of reading: 

“Science yes, but also a Need for Art. We contend through this book that what is missing from a ‘science-only’ approach to reading instruction is an equal emphasis on what we term “artfulness” in teaching reading.  An artful and scientific approach to reading instruction not only focuses on the need for developing proficiency in the various scientifically identified reading competencies and high achievement in overall reading proficiency, but also aims to develop in students a positive attitude towards reading and an inclination toward a lifelong engagement with reading. Even scientists who have studied reading note the importance of artfulness necessary for reading instruction.”

He continues to say:

“…but teachers should still have the space for making pedagogical decisions about how reading instruction actually occurs. It is in this space that teachers are encouraged to be artful. The most effective teachers are ones who embrace both a scientific and artful disposition toward their reading instruction…If you want to be a truly effective teacher, you must be an artist as well as a scientist.”

The artful dimension of reading instruction acknowledges that teachers play a pivotal role in shaping the learning experience. They know their students best, and thus can create dynamic and engaging environments, and design meaningful learning activities that best resonate with their class. There is space for artistry here which allows them to tap into their creativity, while at the same time adhering to the scientific aspect of reading instruction. 


The Science of Reading

The Science of Reading

Why does this term scare so many teachers, and why are so many parents demanding it in their children’s classrooms? Parents are demanding it because in most grade four classrooms across North America – according to post-covid statistics – the majority of children are not reading fluently. 

It becomes very challenging (and expensive) for school systems to help those struggling readers catch up beyond grade four.  Many of these children feel defeated and are tired of the continual difficulties they encounter; parents’ dreams of their child’s post-secondary careers are drowning while they helplessly watch their child struggle to read; the school system does not always have the resources needed to change the trajectory on which most of these children are travelling.

Why is the school system struggling to support almost half of the student population? Even pre-covid, the system was not doing much better for young readers.  

Prior to the year 2000, there were very few reliable brain research studies in the field of early literacy; this ultimately resulted in random and inconsistent creation and selection of early reading programs. There were the “Reading Wars” in the 1980’s and 1990’s where some educators made radical, unbalanced, and subjective choices of instructional strategies. The resulting inequities in the system were the inevitable outcome.

Let’s simplify and clarify the Science of Reading discussion. 

The Science of Reading is based on multiple banks of excellent quality research projects that studied thousands of effective and successful reading programs in real classrooms (The National Reading Panel, 2000; The NELP Report (2009), National Early Literacy Panel (2000), the National Association for the Education of Young Children, (2022) to name just a few). These studies concur that the following skill competencies should be part of effective and successful reading programs from pre-kindergarten to grade two:

  • Phonics and Alphabet Knowledge,
  • Phonological and Phonemic Awareness,
  • Rapid Automatized Naming,
  • Shared Reading and Writing,
  • Comprehension and Fluency,
  • Vocabulary and Oral Language, combined with
  • Word Study, Word Families and Word Play.

There is nothing new about any of this; when I began teaching in the mid-sixties, every single one of these skill competencies was part of the basic reading programs that teachers were obliged (by law) to be used in our classrooms.

What is new is the fact that these thousands of pages of research now provide us with guidance on how to introduce these skills within playful and joyful classrooms. The research also now provides us with a sequentially ordered breakdown of the detailed skills essential for reading mastery. 

Current research suggests the order within which the skills should be taught as well as the appropriate developmental stages of readiness of early learners. It connects proposed reading practices with brain research. 


Heart, Art and Science Learnings In Application

Heart, Art and Science Learnings In Application

Highly respected authors such as Dr. Maria Walther, Dr. Tim Rasinski, Dr. Anne Cunningham, Dr. Louisa Moat, and Dr. Linnea Ehri, among many others, have flooded the market with exceptional ‘how to’ books that support teachers with powerful implementation strategies. 

In my own work (with Joyful Literacy Interventions and now with Sprig Learning) we have been able to prove that when we ensure our reading programs focus on the  the seven foundational reading competencies listed above, and implement  assessment, tracking and monitoring capabilities , we can bring 90% reading success to all children by the end of grade two. 

In working with Sprig Learning, we have developed Sprig Reading – an intuitive and interactive teacher resource that not only assesses the foundational reading skills, but provides the instructional and classroom planning support for teachers that is needed to ensure 90% of children are reading at-grade level.

Let us embrace this new knowledge about the seven, evidence-based competencies and joyfully explore how much more effective we can be as teachers when we implement new strategies that reflect this compelling research. Let’s look forward to celebrating the increased success of our struggling learners and our own professional growth.

Dr. Janet N. Mort

Dr. Janet N. Mort

About the Author

Dr. Janet Nadine Mort is an early literacy scientist who is responsible for the reading success of countless vulnerable primary learners. Upon retirement in 2007, after a 35-year career as a teacher, principal, and superintendent of schools on Vancouver Island, Mort attained a PhD in language and literacy.

Join some of the respected authors mentioned in this section for an amazing evidence-based professional development event this fall.

Find and close gaps in early literacy to achieve 90% early literacy success.

The Science of Teaching Reading: Effective Reading Assessment, Explicit Reading Instruction and Targeted Reading Intervention

Reading is an essential skill for success for all learners. 

Not all students develop reading skills at the same pace, however. Therefore, teachers need to be equipped with the right tools and resources that support all students to receive the right instruction, at the right time, and at the right level.  

The science of teaching reading involves effective reading assessments, explicit reading instruction, and targeted reading interventions. In this blog post, we will explore each of these elements and how they can enhance student reading skills.


Effective Reading Assessment

Effective Reading Assessment

A critical step to understanding your students’ learning needs, strengths and interests is to enable an ongoing assessment of their reading skills. 

There are hundreds of foundational skills students need to master to become a strong reader.  Without an effective assessment of these skills for every student, teachers lack the information and understanding required to support their students to improve their reading skills. 

There are several types of reading assessments, including screeners, diagnostics, progress trackers and outcome evaluators. All are important for student success. It’s necessary that a teacher is equipped with the right tool (or tools) for these types of assessments. 

For example, a teacher may require an assessment tool for screening particular reading skills or challenges that the student is suspected of, for example, dyslexia

Subsequently, they may need a tool that diagnoses reading ability at various checkpoints throughout the school year. 

Teachers can also benefit from assessment tools that monitor student progress in a number of reading skills throughout the course of the school year to track improvements and identify skills that require additional support and nurturing. 

Lastly, a school system may wish to assess  reading skills using standardized tests or other measures to support professional development and curriculum development.  

There are some specialized assessment tools, which cover one of these purposes (i.e. screeners), but there are also many tools that support multiple purposes and classroom practices.

Ultimately, schools and educators should choose assessments that best fit their students’ needs. By using effective reading assessment, teachers can identify a student’s strengths and needs in reading, which is essential for designing effective reading instruction.

It’s important to note that assessments should be used as a tool for identifying areas where students need additional support and not as a means to label or diagnose.

Every student is unique. When teachers are able to get a comprehensive and holistic understanding of their learning strengths, needs, interests, background and opportunities as early as possible, they are able to provide students with an early learning experience that is most conducive to reading achievement. 


Age-appropriate Assessment

When it comes to assessing early literacy skills in Pre-K to 3 students, it’s important to use age-appropriate assessment tools. According to the National Early Literacy Panel, the best predictors of later reading success are: measures of phonological awareness, alphabet knowledge, and rapid automatized naming (RAN).

Assessment tools used in early childhood classrooms to assess foundational skills, like the ones mentioned above, are extremely beneficial for teachers.

How often do you measure foundational reading skills?

It’s also important to note that assessment tools which are administered two to three times a cannot truly be classified as a formative assessment tool, which should look to measure weekly progress of the foundational skills, if not daily!


Explicit Reading Instruction

Explicit Reading Instruction

As teacher’s gain insights from daily and weekly assessments of  reading skills, they must translate that information into the delivery of explicit reading instruction. 

This means providing instruction that is clear, direct, and focused. 

Explicit reading instruction should be systematic and scaffolded to ensure that students can learn and apply new skills and strategies.

One effective approach to explicit reading instruction is the gradual release of the responsibility model. This model involves the teacher modeling a skill or strategy, followed by guided practice, and then independent practice. This approach allows students to learn new skills and strategies while receiving the necessary support and feedback from the teacher. 

This process is critical as it sets the stage for assessment, instruction, and assessment again to gauge progress. By assessing students’ learning after instruction, teachers can make informed decisions about how to adjust instruction to best support each student’s reading development.


Choosing The Right Learning Content and Resources

Explicit reading instruction in Pre-K to 3 classrooms should focus on developing the foundational literacy skills such as phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension.

It’s important to use engaging and developmentally appropriate materials to keep students motivated and interested in reading. 

Overall, when it comes to teaching early literacy skills in Pre-K to 3 classrooms, it’s important to use a comprehensive approach that incorporates both explicit instruction and playful learning experiences. 

It is very helpful when it is mentioned how certain concepts can be instructed explicitly in the classroom by using certain learning strategies, many of which are quite playful!


Appropriate Reading Intervention

Appropriate Reading Intervention

Even with proper reading assessment and explicit reading instruction, some students may still struggle with reading. In these cases, it is essential to provide the right reading intervention. 

Reading intervention should be evidence-based, meaning that it is based on research that has proven to be effective.

One evidence-based reading intervention is the Orton-Gillingham approach, which is a multisensory approach to reading instruction. This approach involves using multiple senses to teach phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension.

Whatever the intervention approach is, it should be timely, and assessment should be formative. Early literacy gaps must be closed quickly. There should t be a plan for how quickly the students will be reassessed!


In-class Intervention or Program?

In Pre-K to 3 classrooms, reading intervention should be evidence-based and focus on the specific areas where students need support. It’s important to note that early intervention is key to preventing reading difficulties from becoming more severe and persistent later on.

It is often best to have these interventions as a part of the teaching process in tier 1 and tier 2 instruction.

Such intervention approaches built into classroom instruction (both core instruction and small-group differentiated instruction) will always be more efficient and cost effective than intensive programs which work with too few students, and usually at a time when it is too late for help.


Putting It All Into Action

Putting it All Into Action

The science of teaching reading may seem complex and multifaceted on the surface. But by breaking it down into its essential components, an action plan can be developed by any educator to make an immediate impact on their students’ learning! 

By using proper reading assessment, explicit reading instruction, and appropriate reading intervention, teachers can enhance their students’ reading skills and set them up for success in school and beyond.

Indeed the role of reading assessment, teaching strategy and appropriate interventions may be more nuanced depending on the exact foundational skill set or sub skill that the explicit instruction is delivered on.

For that, there are experts who have invested decades in researching the most effective ways to improve reading skills for all types of learners. 

 Luckily, there’s a fantastic opportunity to dive deeper into this topic and learn from some of the top experts in the field. 

The upcoming virtual Summit, “The Science of Teaching Reading: Promising 90% Early Literacy Success (JK to 3) ” will offer short keynotes and workshops that address key classroom-based questions. 

You’ll hear from the likes of  Dr. Anne Cunningham, Dr. Tim Rasinski, Dr. Maria Walther and who will cover topics like phonics and phonological awareness, fluency and comprehension, and playful practice centers. 

Learn from some of the best in the field and improve your students’ reading abilities. Register now for the August 30, 2023, Zoom Summit, and enhance your understanding of the science of teaching reading. 

Image by zinkevych on Freepik

15 Highly Effective Classroom-based Advice From 15 Structured Literacy Educators (Teachers, Specialists, & Scientists)

nStructured Literacy, as defined by the International Dyslexia Association, refers to highly explicit and systematic teaching of all the critical components of literacy. 

In many school districts, there is a growing concern that diverse classrooms of students are not achieving their full potential in reading. 

This has led to an increased demand for more structured literacy instruction that provides a comprehensive focus on foundational reading skills, ensuring that every student receives rigorous early literacy support.

Through structured literacy instruction, students who excel in certain areas can naturally advance, while those who struggle in certain areas receive additional instruction and practice, so they do not fall behind and are not left struggling by the time they reach Grade 3.

Teaching reading is both a science and an art, and it is important to learn from experienced early literacy researchers, teachers, specialists, coaches, and interventionists to determine the best practices for effective reading instruction.

This article compiles 15 valuable pieces of advice on how to teach early learners to read from highly experienced literacy specialists, coaches, teachers, and experts. 

The individuals featured in this article have dedicated years to researching and implementing the best methods for teaching reading, and their experience and wisdom are unparalleled.


15 Structured Literacy Tips That Can Be Implemented in The Classroom

15 Structured Literacy Tips That Can Be Implemented in The Classroom

The information for this article was gathered by asking early literacy experts for their best advice on teaching reading in the classroom, and by identifying published papers or interviews that highlight how their research can be applied to the art of teaching reading.

Without further delay, let us delve into the valuable insights shared by these educators.


1. Use In-class Observation to Design The Right Learning Environment

“There is something so beautiful about the joy and excitement that comes from the connection with texts. Listen closely to the conversations that are happening around you and the way students gravitate towards play. Are they rushing to the kitchen corner? Plant a few cookbooks. Lego lovers? Print a collection of simple builds or find the ‘how-to’ books. Animal lovers? Find your local pet store’s ‘Guides to Owning a…”. Strategically place these gems in the classroom and encourage using the environment as an ever-changing wealth of information.”

– J. Roxanne Young

Early Literacy Specialist and Curriculum Coordinator at Southpointe Academy

Formative assessment goes beyond just quiz scores, but also involves observation.


2. Provide a Multi-sensory Learning Experience To Teach Reading

“An excellent way to support early literacy development is to offer children open-ended, natural materials to manipulate and experience in their learning. When practicing phonemic awareness, they can trace letter shapes in the sand – or form the symbol with sticks or rocks. Open-ended activities such as these, also help support student agency and independence. ”

-Marcella De Diego

Reading Intervention Specialist

Engaging activities and resources are required to teach all the all-important foundational reading skills.


3. Understand How The Brain Processes Information Relating To Reading

“All children have the right to know how to make sense of the lines, squiggles, curves, and dots making up text, whether they are reading someone else’s thoughts or creating their own thoughts in writing. This is the essence of literacy. Every child has the right to understand how the human brain learns to read and spell, as well as a teacher who understands this same information. Attaining literacy is surely not a ‘passive process’. My message to teachers and families: “Be sure YOU understand how the human brain learns to attain literacy as either the teacher or parent of children.” Seek information about the research behind The Science of Reading. 

-Lori Josephson

Literacy Coach and Dyslexia Specialist

Knowledge of how reading skills develop gives greater confidence to young learners.


4. Ensure That Decoding Happens Fluently Enough To Lead to Comprehension

“It is not enough for young students to be able to decode words accurately; they also need to develop their word decoding competencies to an automatic and effortless level so that they can read with good expression and focus their attention on reading for meaning. In my mind’s eye, an effective foundational reading curriculum would occur in kindergarten through grade 2. Each day, students would receive the type of literacy instruction that would be considered exemplary: read-aloud by the teacher, authentic reading of stories and dictated texts followed by meaningful response activities, time to read and explore books and other reading material independently, instruction on how words work (phonemic awareness, phonics, and words study), and opportunities to engage in authentic writing.”

-Dr. Tim Rasinski

Professor of Literacy Education at Kent State University, multi-award-winning author and international expert on fluency and word play.

Decoding is only the beginning. Further practice takes the art of decoding to a new level.


5. Focus Efforts Early On To Give Future Readers Their First Breakthrough

“Getting an airplane off the ground is an excellent analogy for what we have to do in the beginning stages of reading acquisition. It does require an inordinate effort and focus on helping children to break the code and understanding these letter sound patterns, and fragmenting and putting them together rapidly so those words become automatized. In our study, what we found was that children who made this breakthrough, who broke the code early on in first grade, not only became better readers in high school, which is what we’d predict, but they engaged in print more.”

-Dr. Anne Cunningham

Literacy development scientist and a special education professor at University of California, Berkeley.

Early literacy intervention is a crucial part of early literacy instruction.


6. Work With The Interests of Your Students

“I begin every year with a quick survey about my students’ favorite topics. The data I collect helps me make instructional decisions that impact my book selections for read-aloud, for guided reading and for my students’ individual book boxes. If I know that Sam is interested in trains, then I might entice him with a book like Freight Train by Donald Crews. After he’s hooked, I’ll hand him an informational book about trains that is a bit more complex but uses the same vocabulary as Freight Train, and so on.”

-Dr. Maria Walther

Teacher, Author and Literacy Consultant

A holistic assessment tries to know everything about the student: their strengths, weaknesses, interests and dislikes. 


7. Think of Ways For Students to Actively Participate in The Reading Process

“You can’t drill and skill phonics, that won’t work. Phonics, just like every other aspect of literacy, depends on understanding and thinking. The key to teaching phonics well is not just teaching them their ABCs, you must know the ABCs, but it’s not just teaching them, helping them to learn letter/sound correspondences, but it’s finding a way to get them to think actively about how the whole thing works so they’ll learn.”

-Marilyn Jager Adams

Cognitive and Developmental Psychologist and a Reading Researcher. 


8. Give Ample Opportunities for Practicing Taught Concepts

“A large number of studies have shown us that if we explicitly teach and then give students lots of opportunities to practice specific reading comprehension strategies, their reading comprehension will improve and improve much more than it would do just naturally. Some of these studies teach just a single comprehension strategy, and even from teaching just one comprehension strategy, we do see gains in students. Other studies will have students learning several different strategies and implementing those, and again, we see really, in some cases, very substantial growth from the research studies in kids’ reading comprehension abilities even in the very early years of schooling.”

-Dr. Nell Duke

Professor of Literacy at The University of Michigan and Language Expert

Find time for practice in the daily teaching schedule.


9. Engage in Small Group Instruction. It can be as Effective As One-to-One Instruction.

“The effects of three grouping formats—1:1 (one teacher with 1 student), 1:3 (one teacher with 3 students), and 1:10 (one teacher with 10 students)—on the reading outcomes of second-grade struggling readers was studied. Students in all groups were given the same supplemental reading intervention for the same number of sessions, thus holding intervention type and intensity constant and varying group size. Students made significant gains in phoneme segmentation, fluency, and comprehension following the intervention, and these gains were maintained at follow-up (4—5 weeks after intervention). Based on effect sizes, both 1:1 and 1:3 were highly effective intervention group sizes for supplemental reading instruction. Although the 1:1 grouping format yielded significantly higher scores for phoneme segmentation, fluency, and comprehension than the 1:10, it was not superior to the 1:3 on any outcome measure.”

-Dr. Sharon Vaughn. 

Literacy researcher and executive director of The Meadows Center for Preventing Educational Risk at The University of Texas at Austin

If individual learning personalization is too much of a draw on resources, small group differentiation can also get the job done.


10. Have a Tracking Mechanism For Literacy Skills.

“Once reading instruction begins, the best predictor of future reading growth is current reading achievement, and the most critical indicators of good progress in learning to read during the early elementary period are measures of word reading skill. Children who end up as poor readers at the end of elementary school are almost invariably those who fail to make normal progress in these skills during the first years of elementary school.”

-Dr. Joseph Torgesen

Emeritus Professor of Psychology and Education at Florida State University and Dyslexia Specialist

Regardless of if it’s diagnostic, formative or summative assessments, all of this assessment data should be made easy to track.


11. Provide Enough Autonomy to Educators Who Know Their Class Best.

Most teachers “credited other exemplary teachers for supporting them and encouraging them to become better teachers and to assume greater professional responsibility for the success of their students. These teachers seemed to understand that professional responsibility meant choosing how to teach, what to teach, and with what sorts of curricular materials and tasks: they rejected the low-autonomy/high-accountability models that seem increasingly popular with advocates of “proven programs.”Instead, these teachers elected a high-autonomy/high accountability model. They seemed to feel no particular pressure from state testing schemes, perhaps because their students performed so well. At the same time, because they were the architects of the instruction offered in their classrooms, they reported a greater sense of responsibility for student outcomes. In other words, these teachers accepted the professional responsibility for developing high levels of reading proficiency but insisted on the autonomy to act on their expertise”.

-Dr. Richard Allington

Professor of Literacy Studies at The University of Tennessee and reading instruction Scholar

Find a tool/resource that will act as a force multiplier to existing best practices.


12. Ensure Adequate Teacher Collaboration.

“Find yourself some friends with whom to work. They make me think of things I have not thought of before. Other people keep you honest, and other people keep you going.”

-Dr. P. David Pearson

Reading Researcher & Professor of education at the University of California, Berkeley 

Apart from providing the right professional development, set up a culture of collaboration where teachers can discuss in-class practices amongst themselves to learn and improve. 


13. Understand All the Essential Sub-skills of Each Foundational Skill Set

Phonemic awareness training must include connecting the oral phonemes and the letters that represent them.”  

-Joanne Heckbert

Reading and Assessment Specialist and Co-owner of KAS Corporation Ltd.

When teaching a class, it helps to know everything a student needs to know in order to progress to reading mastery. 


14. Choose Professional Development That is Backed by Research

As a structured literacy teacher and Orton Gillingham trained interventionist, I know the critical importance of following a pedagogically sound phonemic awareness program such as Equipped for Reading Success by Dr. Kilpatrick. Experts and researchers agree that Phonological and phonemic awareness are the greatest predictors of later reading proficiency.

-Suzanne Diermann

Literacy Specialist at Illuminate Literacy

It helps to rely on professional learning that will help you fulfill your teaching goals, in this case, helping students gain reading proficiency. 


15. Think of Fun Ways to Assess For Important Skills

“If your child has difficulty playing “Anomia for kids”, they probably have phonological and possibly phonemic awareness difficulties. Easy and fun way to assess! “

-Barbara Mendes

Experienced Reading Specialist at Reading Routes

Play-based early learning is conducive to reading success.


Structured Literacy Leads to Early Reading Achievement!

Structured Literacy Leads to Early Reading Achievement!

We hope that the 15 valuable pieces of advice from these experts compiled in this article have provided you with insight and inspiration for your classroom. 

If you are interested in learning more about Structured Literacy and evidence-based practices for effective reading instruction, join us at The HeART and The Science Summit in August. 

The Summit will bring together top researchers, practitioners, and advocates to share insights, strategies, and solutions for addressing the reading crisis in North America, including three names mentioned in this very article! Namely: Dr. Rasinski, Dr. Cunningham and Dr. Walthers.

Connect with like-minded educators and learn from leading experts in the field. Register now to reserve your spot!