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Evidence-based Early Literacy Trends and Lessons (With Examples)

During this time of post-pandemic learning recovery, school teachers and administrators are working hand in hand to improve the learning experience for students. 

It’s in everyone’s best interest that students succeed! Especially when it comes to early literacy and math, proficiency in these two fundamental domains are the building blocks of success in learning and life.

Sprig Learning has worked in tandem with its education partners over the years to create early learning solutions that promote a culture of early literacy equity. 

It’s a time of great change, where new approaches and resources are being tried to teach early readers, such as evidence-based reading instruction and structured literacy teaching resources. 

The change process is usually preceded and followed by unfreezing and refreezing respectively. If this 2019 report from Education Week is any indication of the viewpoints held by the majority of educators, we are still at the unfreezing stage.

But the blow dealt by the pandemic to the continuity of in-school learning has definitely hastened the need to take action and speed up the change process. 

The learning loss that has occurred has grabbed the attention of many school districts and teachers across North America. Some have started to implement practices that are more conducive to evidence-based early literacy. 

Nine such evidence-based instruction trends are reviewed in this article, with examples. The lesson learned from each trend is discussed as well.

Evidence-based Early Literacy Trends and Lessons


Trend: Aligning Professional Development with Teacher Needs for Certain Grade Configurations

At King Elementary in West Contra Costa Unified School district in Richmond, California, the school leadership team focused on aligning various professional learning spaces to help teachers improve their reading instruction. 

Teachers in each grade were asked what type of professional development their grade level teams needed.

In lower grades, the focus was on phonics instruction, in middle grades the focus was on chapter books, and in the upper grades the focus was on project-based reading units.


Before choosing professional development for the teaching staff, ask to see how it will inform their strategic reading instruction


Trend: Obtaining Buy-in From All and Keeping Everyone on The Same Page

Schools in Pella Community School District in Pella, Iowa, use a Reading Plus Partnership pledge that is an agreement among students, parents, teachers, reading specialists and principals to reach the highest educational objectives and strive for academic success. 

Parents are kept informed about all interventions. Everything is recorded to ensure accountability. Instructional procedures, materials, number of sessions, length per session, individuals involved, and follow-up notes are all recorded.


Establishing collective ownership of literacy goals is a recommended action for increasing literacy equity, but if there is a system in place to check in on every instructional detail, it makes collaboration easier between the parties involved, including parents. Parental involvement is an established indicator of early reading success. 


Trend: Creating An Atmosphere of Play-based Learning

Jess Keenan, part of the K-1 faculty, at Waynflete Academy in Maine, stresses the importance of play-based learning. Kindergartners are naturally curious and eager to learn, which lends itself well to making choices in the classroom, playing with materials, and interacting with others to learn more about the world around them via language and math. 

The teacher has a responsibility to provide ample opportunities to students throughout the school day to engage with written and spoken language. In Jess’s words, “an approach to learning that is teacher-led and driven by student interest can be a powerful platform for learning.”


Evidence-based learning is not at loggerheads with play-based learning. Both practice and play are needed, and they often complement each other. Explicit instruction needs to be practiced by students through play, where they can joyfully practice the learned concepts. 


Trend: Setting Time Aside for Foundational Skills

When focusing on learning recovery, sometimes the impetus is to catch up to grade level material as soon as possible. But in the process,  it is important not to gloss over the foundational skills. 

Students have to be ready for the next year, but not without mastering the grade level skills first. Mastering a skill is different from merely catching up to it at the level of your peers. Knowing this, the Public schools in Milwaukee have set a standard for their teachers, where time is dedicated to focus on prerequisite skills every day. 


Each student is unique. This includes their ability to learn and retain information. If something is understood but not practiced enough times, there is a chance of forgetting it. Thus, setting aside some time to practice the fundamentals of literacy is most important. 


Trend: Sustaining Small Group Instruction

Evidence suggests that tutoring in small groups is beneficial over time, regardless of the environment or circumstance the students are in. Research published in 2021 by Brown University’s Annenberg Institute for School Reform showed that consistent tutoring sessions can accelerate learning by two to 10 months.

The Bristol Tennessee City Schools (BTCS) has partnered with the Niswonger Foundation to deliver high-dosage and high-impact tutoring in literacy and math. BTCS will be reimbursed for its tutors’ and project coordinator’s salaries, as a part of this program. 


Differentiated instruction as a strategy in early literacy is widely known. When such a practice is sustained over time, the students in smaller groups reap the benefits. Whenever there is a scope of personalized learning, the class should be split into smaller groups. This will however require regular formative assessments.   


Trend: Reallocating Time Blocks Based on Need

Tennessee’s Haywood County Schools (HCS) allocated a 45 minute daily intervention time slot reserved for students to work on a variety of skills, to the studying of foundational skills for all students.  Reading proficiency levels in Grade 3 at HCS jumped from 8% to almost 26% within the span of a year.


Depending on the situation, it can be helpful to consolidate various types of interventions into one lesson for the whole classroom, that is designed to master the basics, and thereby reduce the likelihood of future interventions. Again, understanding the classroom profile is key here. 


Trend: Providing Intensive Instruction to Test Student’s Maximum Learning Potential

Juan, a Grade 2 student at an undisclosed elementary school, only knew half of the consonants and none of the vowels of the alphabet. Despite his assessment results reflecting that of a special needs student, he made fast progress in one school year where he moved up two reading levels. This sudden jump was a stark contrast from his prior two years of stagnation. 

It was the result of an intensive phonics intervention applied by his teacher who had received dozens of hours of training in several different research-based reading programs.


Sometimes, progress, or lack thereof, is not steady. It can happen in spurts. By not underestimating the capabilities of the student and providing intensive instruction, young learners can quickly be brought up to speed. 


Trend: Aligning Intervention with Curriculum

Ethel I. Baker Elementary School in  Sacramento City Unified School District has What I Need (WIN) Classes, which consists of 45 minutes of  daily structured literacy intervention using a curriculum that is strong on phonological awareness, phonics and sight words. 

Many students who were lagging behind have moved up one grade level throughout the course of a school year. Proficiency in listening, reading and speaking have all improved since the introduction of the program. 


Reading intervention is critical in the success of early readers. It matters if the intervention is for foundational skills, the mastering of which will form the building blocks of reading proficiency. Thus when choosing an ideal reading intervention program, it’s important to see what type of curriculum it adheres to. 


Learning Lessons From Early Literacy Trends

Learning Lessons From Early Literacy Trends

There is a lot to learn from those teachers and staff who have taken the bull by the horn when it comes to starting early literacy initiatives. They have started to implement evidence-based early literacy practices.

It’s always good to have the right plan, but sometimes the urgency of a situation forces action before a plan. 

The efficacy of school improvement plans is not universally agreed upon. According to a RAND Corporation survey, only 44% of teachers and 67% of principals believe school improvement plans change teaching practices. 

In order for such plans to be effective, teachers need to be involved in the strategic planning. However, Less than half of the teachers surveyed say that strategic planning is a collaborative project in their school. 

Sprig hopes that these evidence-based early literacy trends started by teaching teams at schools inspires new thinking. By looking at the results they have delivered thus far, a far broader application of these trends are warranted.

Need for Professional Development in Strategic Reading Instruction

Despite $18 billion spent each year on professional development (PD) in schools across the United States, the lack of satisfactory PD and training in the primary grades continues to be a recurrent theme in early learning. It was identified as one of the 5 major early learning challenges faced by schools, along with the lack of time, lack of pay, resource shortage, and learning loss. 

It’s not enough to have more and more PD. PD should be goal-oriented and improved upon annually to meet the demands of educators. Particularly at a time when there is a call for more evidence-based practices to be taught in teacher training programs and implemented in classrooms, PD needs to be strategic. 

When done right, PD can be a tool for strategic reading instruction. 

It can consolidate and further advance the learning gained from teacher preparatory programs on evidence-based instruction. 

Furthermore, it can introduce these concepts to teachers who have not heard of them before. 

Most importantly, it can provide practical and actionable guidance to teachers by which they can improve reading proficiency for their students. 

This article explores the goals of PD for strategic reading instruction and the ideal components of PD. It subsequently discusses the types of PD that are available, and the expectations of a high-quality PD program.


Professional Development for Strategic Reading Instruction

Professional Development for Strategic Reading Instruction

Professional development (PD) is the ongoing training received by teachers to improve their skills, knowledge, and expertise as a teacher. School districts provide PD to teachers to educate them about curricular adoptions or other school-wide and classroom initiatives. 

From a teachers’ perspective,  learning must introduce and reinforce the latest teaching practices so teachers can better support their students. Teachers also want PD to be aligned with the vision of their school district. Additionally, teachers want to improve their professional skills and methods which they know produce the best results for early reading success. 

For strategic reading instruction, all three of these reasons are important on their own merit.


Ongoing Learning

If there are new ways, methods or approaches to teach young students the science of reading, teachers should be equipped with this knowledge.

Vision Alignment

If the school has a particular goal towards improving reading scores, teachers must evaluate what they can do within the given timespan, to work towards achieving this goal. This can include seeking help or consultation.

Optimizing Teaching Practice

Teachers have amazing classroom insights. Rather than overhauling the way teachers teach, it’s more likely that the information learned and knowledge gained in PD sessions will be used to bolster existing teaching practices. The best case scenario for PD is when the teacher can use the information presented to address concerns, and improve their existing teaching practice. 


Components of Professional Development for Excelling in Reading Instruction

Components of Professional Development for Excelling in Reading Instruction

The positive effect of professional development on student reading performance is well established, where increased quality of teaching and greater teacher knowledge improves reading outcomes. 

In a meta-analysis of 35 studies that featured an experimental design, controlled for student characteristics and other contextual variables, seven commonly shared PD traits were identified that lead to successful student outcomes.


Successful PD programs:

  1. Focus on teaching strategies associated with specific curriculum content.
  2. Incorporate active learning to get hands-on experience in designing and practicing teaching strategies. 
  3. Support collaboration with other teachers, members of teaching staff and paraprofessionals.
  4. Uses models of effective practice.
  5. Provide coaching and expert support.
  6. Offer opportunities for feedback and reflection.
  7. Is of sustained duration. 

When choosing PD, it’s important to ask if these seven components are reflected in the program. PD today can be executed in multiple ways. Some examples follow in the next section. 


Professional Development Examples in Early Literacy 

Professional Development Examples in Early Literacy

Professional development today is much more than passive training outside of school hours. Sometimes, it is collaborative in nature, and is integrated into the daily teacher schedule. 

Also, PD need not necessarily consist of just one activity or session at a particular point in time. PD can take the form of a PD plan, which can consist of multiple PD activities conducted over a certain period of time. 

Today’s world of high-speed communications is advantageous for professional development, where it’s possible to have interactive learning sessions from the comfort of your home or school office, as well as collaborate with others who may not be in the same vicinity. 

PD such as action research, attending conferences, curriculum planning, curriculum mapping, professional books and journals, peer coaching, workshops, and/or seminars can now all be conducted online. Of course, there are certain advantages to doing them in-person and in-school. 

There are other forms of PD which cannot be conducted by using virtual means only. They best lend themselves to being done on site.  Namely: classroom/school visitation, education exchange and examining student work.

There is another class of PD that is more long-term, such as: professional development schools, leadership development programs, journaling and school improvement teams. 

As long as these PD modalities have the seven characteristics covered in the previous section, the likelihood of success of early readers increases. 


Professional Development Expectations

Professional Development Expectations

 What does ideal PD for early reading instruction look like? 

Due to the:

  • range of modalities varying in length, location and timespan
  • the variety of goals that range from support, alignment and improvement
  • and the specific content area addressed by PD

…there are many options for constructing the ideal PD.

Sprig Learning  provides evidence-based PD that is grounded in foundational reading skills that have been proven to create successful readers by Grade 3. 

All of the PD material is the final product of decades of research and reports on effective reading instruction. All of the workshop best practices are packed into Sprig Reading, an evidence-based interactive tool for Pre-K to 2 teachers. It is designed to be used with any reading program or approach.

Attend Sprig’s Early Reading Assessment, Instruction and Planning Interactive Workshop this Tuesday, October 11. As the first part of a multi-part workshop series on evidence-based instruction, educators can expect to learn what has worked best for classrooms engaged in strategic reading instruction.

Sprig Reading workshops contain information that can be integrated into existing curriculums across multiple content areas to improve reading scores. They are created to help teachers support both pre-emergent and emergent readers. 

By attending these workshops, teachers can expect to increase their knowledge on the assessment-instructional link, progress monitoring and goal-setting for both individual readers and smaller groups of students with similar needs. 

How Principals Can Improve Foundational Reading Skills at Their Schools

School principals have a leadership role in influencing educators in their respective schools. They also have influence over the district leadership if they can successfully implement new ideas that raise student achievement. 

Sometimes they act as the enforcers of new ideas that have been already decided upon at the district level. But given that they know their schools best, the successful implementation of such ideas completely depends on their knowledge, expertise and experience. 

Improving foundational reading skills requires the collaborative effort of many. Sprig has written about these players in previous blogs. See for example, the primary teacher, the literacy specialist and the literacy coach. This article deals with the all important role of the school principal. 

When enough principals adopt a validated, peer-reviewed approach to literacy, they can also influence the superintendents in their districts to try out evidence-based methods, which have been proven to reduce risk of reading failure.


What Should Principals Know About Foundational Reading Skills?

What Principals Should Know About Foundational Reading Skills

How many foundational reading skills are there? The traditional answer is five. Phonics, phonological awareness, vocabulary, reading fluency and reading comprehension. But more recent research includes word study along with phonics. Then, there is other research that includes print concepts as one of the main pillars of early reading.

While there are varying degrees of overlap between some of these concepts, it helps to isolate them from one another, and focus on an ideal number of evidence-based foundational reading skills. The Sprig Reading framework for example, has eight such pillars, which includes the 5 main Science of Reading(SoR)-based components, but also concepts of print through shared reading and dolch superpower sight words. 

It’s better to look at all studies from multiple sources and cover every listed foundational reading skill. 


There are 10 states in the US that either mandate teachers to use SoR instruction, or require districts to provide SoR-based curriculum or professional development. In addition, there are 12 other states that require teachers to take a SoR-based reading instruction exam, or require teacher prep programs to teach the SoR.

It’s not a case of SoR vs Balanced Literacy. It’s a matter of being more comprehensive versus less comprehensive. Focusing on the visual process of reading, and the practice of reading, are contained within the SoR. 

Popular phonics instruction in Balanced Literacy, such as focusing on the visual appearance of sight words, is already a component of a SoR-based framework. But in addition, SoR heavily focuses on the decoding aspect of reading by looking at letter-sound relationships. 

It’s not a case of abandoning one and choosing another. It’s about including everything with a focus on the 5 core foundational skills.  


Literacy Training for Principals

Researchers have studied the balance between managerial and content area knowledge of principals. It’s seen that when school principals develop literacy content knowledge, the students’ literacy scores increase because of more effective literacy instruction. 

Given how important the principal’s role is in a school system, there is a case to be made for principal involvement in literacy training. In a review of 100 hundred principal preparation programs, only seven referenced the term “literacy” in one of their course titles or descriptions. Out of these seven, only three specifically focused on literacy as a content topic. 

It’s safe to say that principals should be included in any literacy-related professional development. 


Characteristics of Effective Principals

Characteristics of Effective Principals

There is research to show that principals’ contribution accounts for a quarter of a school’s impact on student achievement. It’s amazing to think of the difference an involved principal has on reading success. Such findings are corroborated by studies which say that an above-average principal can raise student achievement by as much as 20 percentage points.

Such a large swing in student achievement could mean the difference between someone reading below, or higher than, grade level. 


There have been countless studies on effective principals which highlight the following behaviours for optimum student success: 

Work directly with teachers to strengthen their teaching practice.

Implement high-quality instructional approaches. 

Offer meaningful professional development opportunities.

Analyze student data with the aim of improving instruction.

Set a culture of collaboration and high expectations.


Each of these 5 traits can be applied in an early literacy context to focus on the foundational reading skills. 


The Effect of Principals on Those Who Need Most Help

Effect of Principals on Those Who Need Most Help

Foundational reading skills are important for all students, but especially for those who may require extra support. 

In a synthesis of existing studies by the Wallace Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization  that seeks to foster improvements in learning for disadvantaged children, it was discovered that effective principals lead to equitable school and student outcomes via their positive leadership behaviours. 

These primary behaviours include instructionally focused interactions with teachers, building a productive school climate, facilitating professional learning communities and engaging in strategic personnel and resource management processes. 

Principals make a big difference in schools with a high number of at-risk students. They build a sense of community by jointly developing a shared meaning of the school’s vision, mission and goals. They actively participate by discussing with teachers about instructional issues, observing instruction in the classroom, and examining student data alongside teachers.


How Much Involvement Is Ideal?

In a research paper titled The Impact of Instructional Leadership on Student Reading Success, the issue of the level of principal literacy involvement was explored in the literature review section.

Too much literacy content knowledge negatively affects the formative walkthrough, which is an intentional learning process where the principal assumes the student’s position as a learner in order to foster collaborative conversations. 

Less than sufficient literacy content knowledge is not good for obvious reasons, as the principal does not know how to advise teachers who are struggling to meet the instructional needs of students. 

Thus, the principals should have enough knowledge of literacy by which they are able to articulate solutions and means of improvement to teachers and staff. 


An Active Principal with Adequate Literacy Knowledge = Foundational Reading Success

Active Principal with Literacy Knowledge

Given the leadership position that is held by principals, they have a tremendous responsibility in transforming the vision for literacy success into a reality for schools. 

By following research-based instructional leadership behaviours as stated in this article, they are able to ensure that all students learn the foundational reading skills.

Sprig Learning is developing Sprig Reading, which can be used by principals and teachers alike, to complete ongoing assessments that track and monitor student achievement, and intervene as necessary according to need for more practice or instruction. 

Every student can be helped in their journey to reading mastery. For more insights into building an ideal literacy team, please get in touch with us. With the right tools, principals can build a role-model early literacy instructional system for an entire school district. 

Early Literacy State of Affairs. 6 Major Ways to Make a Difference.

Literacy rates in the US were already dropping before COVID-19, but the pandemic has definitely worsened the situation. 

In Virginia for example, approximately one-third of K-2 students scored below the early literacy benchmark last fall. This is a record high in the 20-year history of conducting The Phonological Awareness Literacy Screening assessment in the commonwealth of Virginia.

This year, various states are reporting improvements in grade-level literacy rates as schools, for the most part, have returned back to normal. But in the majority of the states, the number of students at risk of not learning to read remains higher than pre-pandemic levels.

Data from over 1,300 schools in 37 states in the US using the Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills assessment suggests that a large share of the improvements have been made for Grade 3 to 5 students. 

K-2 students and students from marginalized socioeconomic backgrounds have been affected disproportionately by the pandemic. 

There is data to show that students attending schools in lower-income zip codes or in schools serving a higher portion of Black and Latino students faced the brunt of missed or disrupted learning opportunities. 

The above finding is also true when we zoom in on any particular region. In the Boston region, for example, the percentage of students in low-income schools who are at risk of reading failure doubled during the pandemic. 

This is a major concern because birth to age 8 (Grade 3) is a critical period for learning how to read. It reveals the issue of literacy inequity, which is a big thorn to achieving reading success for all.

Vulnerable groups, either due to age or background, are lagging behind on the road to learning recovery.


 6 Major Difference Makers for Early Literacy 

6 Major Difference Makers for Early Literacy

Given the current state of affairs for K-2 students, and for those from marginalized backgrounds, Sprig has identified six factors that make a positive difference in the learning outcomes of children. 

These six factors, when understood properly, can be used to make a difference for students who are: struggling to read, just beginning to learn how to read, or going to start learning in the near future.

Below, we’ve paired each factor with a recommendation for action. 


 1. Correlation of Schooling and Reading— Equip Teachers To Spend More Time With Students.

Stanford University conducted a study which showed that Grade 2 and 3 students were 30% behind in reading fluency last year, compared to a typical school year. As soon as school stopped in the spring of 2020, the students’ development of oral reading fluency did too, and remained stagnant during the summer. 

There was a strong recovery in the fall, which is a testament to the hard work of the teachers. But the resurgence in growth was not strong enough to make up for the earlier loss, which carried over to the next year.

The takeaway here is that in-person instruction, or its closest substitute, is still the best way to teach early literacy skills and concepts to young readers. 

Post-pandemic, there is a big rise in remote and blended learning. While it’s good to have such measures in place as contingency plans, one-on-one time between a teacher and a student is still irreplaceable, especially for our youngest learners. 

Such personalized attention can best be received in a classroom environment, where the teacher gets to know the student over time and builds trust. 


2. Teacher’s Knowledge of Foundational Literacy Skills— Offer Evidence-based Instruction.

20 empirical studies were reviewed to validate the positive effect of teacher preparation and training programs on elementary teachers’ knowledge of the science of reading (SoR), and also student outcomes in reading. 

When teachers are well versed on the SoR, their students achieve better outcomes in reading. 

In particular, training where teachers had the opportunity to apply their learned knowledge and skills under expert guidance resulted in the biggest growth in teacher knowledge. 

The next factor (Factor 3) in this article talks more about receiving the right guidance, but the first step is to have the right knowledge about reading instruction. 

Any time evidence-based instructional strategies are used, especially those that comply with the SoR, the early learner has a better shot at reading success. It’s why Sprig Reading uses an early literacy framework that is based on the SoR. 

3. Role of Literacy Coaching— Support The Teacher With Specialist Literacy Roles.

Literacy specialists make a big difference in the success of early literacy programs. Primary school teachers have many tasks to do, and it helps to have reading specialists in the team to work with to provide a more well-rounded educational experience to striving readers. 

In particular, the literacy coach role has had a great impact on the reading achievement of early learners. 

There are many examples, such as this one research paper from a large urban school district in southeast Ohio, where literacy coaches improved teacher’s sense of efficacy in literacy instruction in multiple survey items. 

Such as:

  • Using a student’s oral reading mistakes as an opportunity to teach effective reading strategies.


  • Using a variety of informal and formal reading assessment strategies.


  • Providing specific, targeted feedback to students’ during oral reading.


  • Provide students with opportunities to apply their prior knowledge to reading tasks.


The greatest gain of working with a literacy coach was: matching differentiated reading materials to the accurate level for students in their classrooms.

The number of different ways in which specialist roles like that of a literacy coach can help primary teachers is quite amazing. What if a literacy coach is not available? In such an instance, a robust platform backed by learning resources can guide teachers.

But in an ideal scenario, both teachers and literacy specialists should collaborate in a team-based setting.  


4. Culturally Responsive Teaching— Ensure Diverse Student Needs are Being Met.

There are studies to show that when teachers’ self-efficacy for culturally responsive instruction increases, it increases the likelihood of early literacy success for English Learners. Not everyone starts off on an even playing field. In diverse communities, those from different backgrounds might require specialized teaching expertise or learning materials.

Sprig’s work with Indigenous communities in Canada is an example of combining high-quality early learning programs and adapting them to local traditions, language and customs. This truly helps position every child to succeed in early literacy. 


5. Appropriate Screening at the Right Time. — Diagnose Early.

Studies show that early literacy assessments in pre-kindergarten are correlated to literacy performance in kindergarten and beyond. These assessments are good at identifying students who may benefit from early literacy interventions as they enter kindergarten.

Sprig has highlighted the importance of early literacy intervention in a previous blog.

The K-2 group of students is especially vulnerable, because the type of educational experience they get in this formative period could either make or break their case for reading success in future years. 

Therefore, it helps to have some type of formative assessment in place, where a student is immediately assessed as they enter a program. This allows commensurate intervention to be applied if needed, which can unblock reading struggles and pave the road to reading mastery. 


6. Parental Involvement in the Early Years—  Communicate With Parents.

Early childhood learning experience, at home, or in any early learning program has a tremendous impact on future reading success. 

For example, one study determined that the number of words children hear by age 2, significantly predicts 16 language and literacy outcomes over the next 9 years. This includes letter identification, phonological awareness, vocabulary, and reading comprehension, which are building blocks of the Science of Reading. 

Learning begins at home, but then continues in school, as a child is introduced to a formal schooling system. As such, it’s so important to build that crucial nexus between parents and educators, so they can fill each other in on the particular needs, interests, strengths and weaknesses of the student when it comes to early reading. 

All of Sprig Learning’s platforms, including Sprig Reading, have this component built-in, whereby educators can share progress reports with parents. In Sprig Language, parents are invited to fill out surveys to build a broader understanding of the learning needs for their child. 


Take the Recommended Steps for Early Literacy Success

Steps for Early Literacy Success

The current state of affairs in early literacy is uncertain. Yes, progress is being made. But that progress is geared towards getting back to pre-pandemic levels of reading success, which was not ideal to begin with. Also, it’s not clear if the progress made is at risk of regression in the future. 

The good news is that more and more evidence is emerging which directly states what works in early literacy. The scope of the issue is large enough to deserve district-wide and state-wide attention, and indeed it has. 

By understanding these six factors and taking appropriate measures, it’s possible to provide adequate, sustained, and targeted supports which will usher us into a new era, where high-reading proficiency for diverse classrooms is the norm. 

Sprig Reading, Sprig Learning’s new platform for evidence-based early instruction for K-2 teachers, is going to be released on August 26th. Join the waitlist now to receive exclusive updates. 

40 Science of Reading Insights You Need to Know for Strategic Reading Instruction

The Science of Reading (SoR) is picking up steam in schools in North America. It’s a methodology consisting of evidence-based literacy practices that have proven to work in increasing literacy achievement for early learners. 

The SoR is informed by decades of research into what is most effective at teaching children to read. The knowledge of what makes a successful reader is taken from multiple disciplines and is an expanding body of research.

At present, there is enough evidence to support a shift towards teaching practices that are aligned to SoR. 

Sprig Learning wrote about the application of SoR in various stages of early literacy development. Indeed, SoR should be a part of every early literacy strategy. 

In this article, we look at multiple aspects of SoR to derive lessons that can be applied in the classroom. 

To do this, we rely on an assortment of 40 factual statements on SoR. They are grouped where appropriate, to offer valuable insights to educators, staff and leaders for improving reading instruction at schools. 

Using these 40 insights and other important realizations gained through research and experience, Sprig is committed to bring SoR into the classroom this fall with the launch of Sprig Reading. 

Improvement starts at a strategic level. Let’s see how SoR advises strategic reading instruction.


40 Insights to Inform Strategic Reading Instruction

40 Insights to Inform Strategic Reading Instruction

1. The SoR must not ignore language, identity, culture and other contexts that are important to the early reading experience. 


There is another side to SoR that probes deeper into the learning context of the young student. While offering direct, systematic and explicit instruction, it also understands the unique background and learning profile of each student. This can be done through holistic assessments


2. Studies show that computer-assisted instruction is valuable in improving the phonological awareness of 6-year-old children. 


Phonemic awareness is one of the major pillars of SoR, which in turn is a part of phonological awareness. It’s important to note that technology has the power to catapult the instruction of these concepts into another level of efficiency!


3. The simple view of reading equation (see image below) shows that reading comprehension is the product of decoding/recognition and oral language comprehension. It has been tested in over 100 studies and endorsed by many renowned reading experts.

Simple View of Reading 

Decoding (D) x Language Comprehension (LC) = Reading Comprehension (RC)


4. The Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading (see image below) states that  word recognition (which includes phonological awareness, decoding and sight recognition) and language comprehension come together to form the fluent execution of skilled reading. 

The Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading

Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading

Recommendation From 3 & 4

The simple view of reading is one of  the main models used when talking about SoR. Decoding is used in phonemic awareness and phonics, two of the main pillars of SoR. Oral language permeates in every pillar of SoR, but especially vocabulary and phonemic awareness.

Reading comprehension is the result of children recognizing letters and the sounds they make, and understanding the meaning of the words they form. 

The Scarborough Rope Model of Skilled Reading also backs this notion of word recognition (of which decoding is a part of) and language comprehension (of which vocabulary is a part of) coming together to produce skilled readers.

So while the decoding bit is rather obvious to SoR,  oral language is also important to integrate in lessons. 


5. Research has identified poor phonological awareness as a major risk factor for dyslexia. Intensive phonological awareness instruction can be used as an intervention for readers with dyslexia.

6. Many readers struggle with reading fluency, which has been linked to poor ability in Rapid Automatized Naming (RAN). RAN is the ability to quickly name letters, symbols, words, or objects in a quick and automatic manner.

7. Relatively small difficulties encountered in the early months of learning how to read, such as problems with phonological processing or letter-to-sound matches, discourage students from practicing reading. For lack of practice, these early learners fail to grow their vocabularies, gain reading fluency, or acquire other background knowledge needed to comprehend texts. 

Recommendation From 5-7

Along with phonological awareness (this includes phonemic awareness), RAN, and Shared Reading and Concepts of Print are extremely important in building fluency in the early stages of one’s reading journey. This is why these concepts are a part of the Joyful Literacy Framework, used by Sprig Reading. 

Although not part of the original 5 pillars of SoR, RAN and Shared Reading and Concepts of Print have been deemed important enough to focus on separately, and should be a part of reading instruction. 


8. There are over 40 research centers in the US dedicated to examining reading-related brain activity. Research in these centers have been ongoing for more than three decades. 

9. 15-20 % of students are dyslexic. While dyslexia cannot be cured, intensive reading instruction can help improve the success rates of dyslexic students. 

10. Learning to read requires the involvement of several brain functions. The visual cortex recognizes printed letters and words. It is located in the occipital lobe. 

11. The auditory cortex builds oral word understanding. It is located in the temporal lobe. 

12. The angular gyrus associates letters with sounds. It is located in the parietal lobe. 

13. The inferior frontal gyrus produces speech and processes meaning. It is located in the frontal lobe. 

14. 56% of variance in reading outcomes are due to the increase in volume of brain white matter between kindergarten and Grade 3. The quality of instruction during this time period impacts the building of the neural pathways.

Neural Systems for Reading

Recommendation From 8-14

Ultimately, learning how to read is partly a biological process. It has to do with functions in the brain. 

Given the urgency and gravity of early language development, Sprig Learning always vouches for early literacy intervention, that is taking action, when the student is most conducive to learning concepts and building good habits. 


15. There are certain leadership practices that significantly raise the percentage of students’ reading at grade level by Grade 2. Schools that have been successful in raising this number share 5 behaviors. They:

16. Make literacy priority number one.

17. Treat reading instruction time as sacred.

18. Empower teachers to own and lead interventions.

19. Monitor processes and data closely.

20. Share granular data with students. 

Science of Reading Share Data

Recommendation From 15-20

Leveraging SoR for strategic reading instruction is not a task for educators only. They must be adequately backed by school and district leaders. 

When there is a system in place where educators are given the time to focus on literacy instruction, formative assessments and interventions, accountability is increased for all. 

Teachers and administrators are aware of what is working, and the student also knows what areas they need to improve on. This information can also be shared with parents, who can be more actively involved. 


21. 90- 95% of students have the cognitive capacity to read.

22. 30% of students are capable of reading regardless of instructional quality.

23. 50% of students are capable of learning how to read from explicit and direct instruction in foundational skills.

24. 15% of students will need additional time and support to meet their reading potential. 

25. 5% of students have severe cognitive disabilities. 

Recommendation From 21-25

While it’s true that there will always be a certain percentage of students who will continue to struggle to read because of cognitive impairments, the vast majority of students should be able to read with varied levels of support.  

The biggest segment from this group of students is those who will need help using SoR in order to boost their literacy scores. By first implementing SoR in the classroom and following it up with tiered intervention support, the overwhelming majority of students (90-95%) can be helped. This is a far cry from the average of 35% of students who are currently reading at grade level at Grade 4 in the US.


26. A randomized controlled longitudinal study conducted by Vanderbilt University shows that preschool education improves reading outcomes, but the effects are not sustained beyond kindergarten. 

27. 79% of the variance in high-school reading ability is explained by the intensity of foundational skills instruction in Grade 1. 

28. There is a thing called the Grade 4 slump, where 20% of Proficient Grade 3 readers drop down to Basic  by Grade 5. 55% of advanced readers in Grade 3, are no longer advanced readers in Grade 5. There have been 90 research studies which say that the absence of foundational phonics and phonemic awareness instruction in the early grades impairs students’ reading growth in the later grades. 

29. Research from the University of Chicago has found that for 85-90% of struggling readers, intervention programs implemented before Grade 3 can increase reading skills to an average level. However, if the interventions come after Grade 3, then 75% of those students will continue to struggle with reading. 

Science of Reading Intervention

Recommendation From 26-29

High-quality early literacy instruction is extremely important to literacy growth, but it has to be consistently applied, beginning in preschool, and especially in kindergarten, Grade 1 and Grade 2. If not, then the early efforts are not sustained to achieve maximum reading potential.

Plans to improve  kindergarten and primary school programs are as important as the need for high-quality preschools and early childhood programs.

Instruction early on in kindergarten and Grade 1 has to be intensive, in order to give kids their best shot at success in the later grades. It is absolutely crucial that any literacy interventions are applied before Grade 3. If these interventions are started at preschool, it’s important that they are not stopped after preschool. 


30. The concept of spoken language was invented over 200,000 years ago, however the concept of written language was invented only 5,500 years ago. 

31. 87% of words in the English Language are either fully or easily decodable. 

32. Approximately 80% of elementary teachers do not adequately teach phonemic awareness to their students, if at all. 

33. 95% of early elementary classrooms spend inadequate time providing direct instruction on all the English phonemes. 

34. The National Reading Panel (NRP) established the 5 pillars of reading instruction in 2000. To meet the NRP recommendation of more phonics instruction, schools adopted balanced literacy. But in balanced literacy, phonics is taught only briefly. 

35. In a study of 32 elementary schools in Rapides Parish School Board, the percentage of kindergarteners reading at grade level rose from 46% to 99%  because of science-of-reading training, data summits, skills-based grouping and summer learning focused on literacy.

36. In a study of 16 elementary schools in The Bethlehem Area School District, the percentage of kindergarteners reading at or above the DIBELS benchmark composite score increased from 47% to 84% due to science-of-reading training, new curriculum, skills-based grouping and summer learning focused on literacy.

37. UP Academy Holland, which is a part of Boston Public Schools, shifted from balanced literacy to a high-quality English language arts curriculum that was built to support the Science of Reading. Ever since its implementation, they have noticed a decrease in behavioral issues in language blocks, greater confidence from students in responding to questions and reading, and more enthusiasm from both students and teachers!

Science of Reading Literacy Achievement

Recommendation From 30-37

Reading language was a human invention and so it requires a specific methodology for teaching it. As long as that methodology is applied, as demonstrated in numerous case studies, the likelihood of increasing literacy scores rises.

Phonemic awareness and phonics have to be incorporated into lesson plans. It’s not the case currently in many schools where educators are underprepared. A good SoR should have adequate professional development support so educators can be quickly upskilled on how to teach phonemic awareness and phonics. 


38. In a survey of Pre-K to 3 teachers, there were three types of challenges faced in literacy instruction. These were time, resources and materials, and diversity of student needs. There was not enough time to work individually with students. This included both struggling and accelerated learners. It was difficult to find reading materials in multiple languages, and appropriate leveled texts for older students who would not be embarrassed to read them. Regarding diversity of student needs, teachers found it difficult to manage striving readers, where they would get pulled out of class, but then miss out on other instruction in class. 

39. The common causes for reading instructional failure include: inadequate or non-existent review and repetition cycle, lack of real reading and writing experiences, inappropriate reading materials to practice skills, loss of time due to transitions, and limited teacher knowledge of research-based phonic routines. 

40. Multi-sensory approach to reading enhances phonics instruction. Manipulatives, gestures, and speaking and auditory cues improve early learners’ acquisition of phonics skills. Multi-sensory activities also provide the necessary scaffolding to beginning and struggling readers. They include visual, auditory, kinesthetic, and tactile activities to enhance learning.

Recommendation From 38-40

These last three statements offer insight into what to do, and what not to do, when it comes to using SoR in the classroom for strategic reading instruction. 

We can summarize many of the points to say that differentiated instruction is key to the success of early readers. SoR is amazingly effective, but not if everyone practices the same things at the same pace with the same intensity. 

Also, the need for high-quality instructional materials and resources that drive engagement is highly beneficial. Books need to be appropriate for different skill levels, and the learning environment should be stimulating enough to sustain learning motivation.

All the various components of SoR have to be taught, but in accordance with what each student needs. Differentiation can take up time and extra resources, which are common challenges. But, differentiated instruction has a host of advantages which can offset these challenges and ultimately ensure that every kid has their best foot forward in reading. 

Any tool that makes it easy to differentiate lessons and monitor individual students in a cost-effective manner,  will save teachers percioustime. And if those tools also include guidance on SoR-based teaching practices, plan lessons for their students, and review any progress made, those time savings become truly significant.. That newly freed time can be used to help struggling readers who require further support. 


Applying These Lessons 

Science of Reading Applying Lessons

That wraps up this article on the 40 SoR insights. Sprig hopes that the guidance offered here is used to strategize reading instruction in line with SoR. 

Want help bringing SoR into your classroom? Get in touch with us. 

Educators are the heartbeat of the education system. They have a lot on their plate. At this time when there is increasing consensus around SoR, it’s important to be strategic about how reading instruction is delivered across schools and districts. 

Sprig Learning is developing Sprig Reading, which will be released in the fall and change the face of SoR-based early literacy instruction. 

Having the right plan to begin with will save teachers time, and ensure students have enough support. 

Early Literacy Instruction for Primary School Teachers/Elementary Teachers

Primary school teachers (or elementary teachers) are the heart and soul of early literacy efforts in schools. 

Not every school has the necessary budget for a specialist literacy role, such as a coach or a consultant, but they all have homeroom teachers in preschool, Kindergarten and the early elementary grades. These teachers are responsible for teaching all the core subjects, which includes oral language, reading and writing. 

Therefore, they have immense influence on the early literacy outcomes of their students. They set up the environment, plan the lessons, and use their knowledge and experience to teach the language arts curriculum.

Elementary school teachers need support given the additional work, besides actual teaching, that they do in their busy daily schedules. Also, there are other challenges at play, such as the lack of professional development and resources, which can impact teachers. Sprig has written about such endemic challenges and presented various solutions to them. 

Recently, there is more awareness about the immense value of early literacy. Studies continue to be published from various states showing that roughly a third of all K-2 students are missing early literacy benchmarks. 

It’s a collective responsibility to ensure that the early literacy experience for children is optimized. Apart from parents, teachers spend the most time with kids in their daily lives during the school year. Their role in young students’ early literacy development is paramount to student success.

This article, Part 3 in our series, is dedicated to classroom teachers in early elementary grades who have a permanent seat at the early literacy dream team table.  (Read Part 1 and Part 2.)


How Elementary School Teachers Play Their Part in Early Literacy

Elementary Teachers Play Their Part in Early Literacy

Elementary teachers’ knowledge of foundational literacy skills is critical to the success of grade-level literacy achievement. In a meta-analysis of 20 empirical studies on the impact of teacher preparation and training programs, it was found that such programs increased teacher’s knowledge of the Science of Reading, which resulted in successful reading outcomes for their students. Teachers who applied the learned skills under expert guidance demonstrated the largest growth in teacher knowledge. This is a testament to the type of fruitful collaboration that can happen between reading coaches and teachers. 

Indeed, one of the greatest roles of elementary and primary school teachers is to coordinate with others regarding the needs of the child. It can involve keeping parents in the loop to encourage active participation, and referring to specialists like speech language pathologists as necessary.

It’s often the teacher who determines the next step for the student. Besides being adequately versed in the application of the Science of Reading and coordinating with other teachers and staff, how does a classroom teacher make a daily impact for optimum reading success?

We outline 5 critical teacher responsibilities below which, if performed well, lead to desirable early literacy outcomes.


1. Creating a Print-Rich Environment

Early learners need access to books, writing materials and signs in the classroom to motivate them to practice literacy. The teacher creates their own and buys many supplies, sometimes even out of their own pocket, if they feel that the learning environment requires it. 

Children need to see uses of literacy around them in order to try it for themselves. A big part of this is having a print-rich environment. High-quality early learning materials are needed such as decodable texts and leveled readers. Concepts of Print is important enough to be recognized as one of the 8 foundational pillars of early literacy success. 


2. Developing a Positive and Nurturing Relationship

For early learners in school, their teacher is often their first point of contact when problems arise or when they want to express themselves. Thus it’s important for teachers to be understanding of their current needs and interests, and sensitive to their current level of language development. 

Teachers are entrusted with building one-on-one relationships with their students to support their oral literacy development. It’s the first step of many in the road to reading proficiency. Oral language is one of the recognized foundational skill sets in early literacy. 


3. Making Learning an Interactive Experience

In the early years, it’s important to make learning a two-way experience, where the teacher models speaking, reading and writing behaviors, and the students reciprocate. Teachers are there to talk to, play with, sign to and partake in other early literacy activities. It’s usually the teacher that commands the room, and they direct what should be done. 

Teachers are amazing in that they have so many interactive activities to teach important concepts and skills to their students. Shared reading in the classroom is especially important, as it also has its own category in the foundational skill sets needed for reading success.  


4. Differentiating Instruction for Students

On average, there are 22 students in a self-contained classroom in the US. It’s highly unlikely that all 22 students are on the same wavelength when it comes to learning everything in the curriculum. 

Some students may need more work on a certain topic, while others may cruise ahead only to stumble upon a future lesson/skill. It’s the teacher’s job to vary teaching strategies according to the needs of students. The Unrivaled Miniguide to Introducing Differentiated Instruction in Early Learning is a must-read for using targeted learning in an early literacy context.


5. Being Culturally Responsive

Classrooms are increasingly diverse in North America, reflecting a wide variety of backgrounds, cultures and languages. It’s important to feel supported in one’s first language, in order for students to succeed in English-language acquisition. 

Elementary teachers have a huge role to play in embracing the child’s culture and language, so they feel comfortable enough to open up to learning a new language. Indeed, studies show that bilingual assessment and teacher-training programs on cultural responsiveness have led to significant increases to teachers’ self-efficacy for early literacy instruction.

It’s clear the teachers are ready to do their best, and they know exactly where they need help in order to best serve their students. 


Priorities Going Forward- How to Best Help Elementary Teachers

How to best help elementary teachers

Classrooms are set to get more diverse with students from different backgrounds and of different abilities. Calls in many states to incorporate the Science of Reading in instruction are becoming more common, as the right approach to teaching reading gives every student an equal chance to succeed.

But whether they ultimately succeed depends on what happens in and out of the classroom. In classrooms, elementary teachers will require a thorough knowledge based on early literacy instruction. 

As demonstrated in this article, primary classroom teachers are already engaged in wonderful initiatives and efforts on a daily basis to improve literacy scores. With greater organization and guidance on each task, their efforts can be better aligned with the Science of Reading.

Sprig Learning is extremely passionate about literacy equity. We have written extensively on this subject before, highlighting obstacles which exist such as bias, and espousing numerous solutions such as inclusive early intervention.

We have recently partnered with Joyful Literacy Interventions to develop Sprig Reading, a proven Science of Reading-backed early literacy teacher app. 

It’s our most powerful and comprehensive solution to date, to achieve early literacy for all. See what it’s all about, and feel free to join the waitlist by scrolling to the bottom of the page.