Click play below to hear 4 key points when using the science of reading in upper elementary:
While I love everything related to literacy, the topic on today’s episode is one of my favorites, which is the science of reading. Not only do I enjoy this topic, but it’s extra special because you, my listeners, shared that you’d like to learn more about it, specifically as it pertains to upper elementary teachers. Well I’ve heard you and I’m answering your questions! I’m sharing 4 key things to know about the science of reading in upper elementary.
Before I dive into my 4 key points, I briefly explain what the science of reading is and how the idea of Scarborough’s reading rope is directly connected to the science of reading in upper elementary. With that prior knowledge, each key point assists with building a student’s foundation of word recognition and elements of language comprehension. Additionally, I share practical strategies and activities to improve a student’s ability to read and understand a text.
Even though the science of reading might not be a new term, learning how to effectively use it in your classroom can be. Understanding how to implement the science of reading in upper elementary will greatly benefit and impact your students’ literacy skills and reading comprehension.
In this episode on the science of reading in upper elementary, I share:
- Preview of what my summer episodes are going to cover related to your feedback
- 4 key things every upper elementary teacher should focus on with the science of reading
- How Scarborough’s reading rope can be used to guide your science of reading instruction
- 3 things to think about when implementing vocabulary instruction
- The one thing that’s the hardest for upper elementary teachers and what they do a great job doing, but often forget a key component
- Sign up for my Private Podcast: Confident Writer Systems Series
- Check out the Stellar Literacy Collective Membership
- If you’re enjoying this podcast, please leave a review on Apple Podcasts!
Related episodes and blog posts:
- Episode 101, A Literacy Routine for Building Students’ Sentence Structure Skills
- Episode 88, Science of Reading Q&A
- Episode 87, Breaking Down the Elements of Language Comprehension (and Practical Implementation Ideas!)
- Episode 86, Understanding Phonological and Phonemic Awareness with Michelle and the Colorful Classroom
- Episode 85, What is the Science of Reading & Why is it Important?
- The Science of Reading: Building a Foundation for Successful Readers
- Mastering Reading Instruction: The Power of Scarborough’s Rope Model
Connect with me:
More About Stellar Teacher Podcast:
Welcome to the Stellar Teacher Podcast! We believe teaching literacy is a skill. It takes a lot of time, practice, and effort to be good at it. This podcast will show you how to level up your literacy instruction and make a massive impact with your students, all while having a little fun!
Your host, Sara Marye, is a literacy specialist passionate about helping elementary teachers around the world pass on their love of reading to their students. She has over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher and school administrator. Sara has made it her mission to create high quality no-fluff resources and lesson ideas that are both meaningful and engaging for young readers.
Each week, Sara and her guests will share their knowledge, tips, and tricks so that you can feel confident in your ability to transform your students into life-long readers.
Hey, there friend, happy Monday, happy end of May, and happy end of the school year. I just hope that it is just a happy day for you.
We are going to be talking about maybe one of my favorite topics here on the podcast and that is the science of reading. And I know I don’t always tag my episodes as like science of reading specific, but a lot of my episodes talk about things that are aligned with the science of reading.
And I sent out a survey to my audience back in February. Maybe you got it. Maybe you filled it out. I hope you did. And if you did, thank you. In that survey, I asked kind of some pretty open ended questions. I wanted to know, what is your biggest year long challenge? And what questions do you have about teaching reading and writing in upper elementary?
And let me just say that I loved getting all of your feedback. We had over 1000 teachers fill out the survey and I read through every single one of them. I wish I could have responded to every teacher individually. But the questions that you guys asked, they were really good questions. I’m like, dang, the teachers in my audience, like they think about some really good topics.
And I’m hoping to answer as many of them as I can during our summer podcast episodes. Starting next week, we’re going to be starting kind of our summer series where I’ll be doing three weeks on the same specific topics. And it’s really important to me that my podcast helps with questions and topics that you’re struggling with.
And I found that rather than me just trying to guess like, what do you guys want to hear about? I just asked you. So thank you for those of you that told me. So mark your calendars every Monday, this summer, you guys have some great content coming your way. I’ve got it all mapped out. I’m so excited to put these episodes together for you.
But on the survey, I got many, many questions about the science of reading. A lot of people are asking, you know, what is the science of reading? And specifically, I got a lot of questions about what does the science of reading look like in upper elementary? Which makes complete sense. Most of my audience is upper elementary teachers.
And the science of reading is still pretty new in terms of schools shifting their instruction, to align with the science of reading. And most of the conversation around the science of reading has really been focused on phonics instruction in lower elementary. That doesn’t mean that upper elementary teachers shouldn’t know about the science of reading and you know, can’t benefit from it because it definitely is not lower elementary specific.
So I wanted to do a podcast specific about the science of reading in upper elementary. Now, like I mentioned before, many of my episodes I’ve recorded this past year, share instructional strategies and teaching tips that align with the science of reading. I just don’t always lable my episodes as aligned. So if you’ve been listening to my podcast and are implementing what you’ve learned, chances are, you already are well on your way to aligning your upper elementary classroom with the science of reading.
But I did want to share some specifics on really, you know, four key things that I think upper elementary teachers need to focus on. And I wanted to do this episode, especially because it’s a question that many of you have.
Now, before I do that, I do want to do just a little bit of background on what the science of reading is. If you are familiar with it, maybe skip ahead. 30 seconds, a minute, two minutes, so you can get into the content. If you’ve never heard of the science of reading before, and this is a term that is brand spankin new to you, go back and listen to episode number 85. It is titled What is the science of reading? And why is it important?
And last summer I did a whole series on the science of reading and you’ll definitely want to start there before you listen to the rest of this episode. But for those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, let’s just quickly review so we can all be on the same page.
The science of reading refers to the body of research about how we learn to read. It is research. It’s not a curriculum. It’s not a program. It’s not a resource. And this collective research has been around for over 20 plus years. So you’re really isn’t anything new. And it’s cool because it draws on research and information from educational psychology, cognitive psychology, neuroscience, and linguistics.
And the whole goal is to help us, especially as educators, understand how people learn to read. And I’ve been doing research on it for a couple years, and I find it to be just really fascinating. And I’ve learned a lot and a lot of that I’ve shared with you.
And ideally, we want our classrooms to be based in that research. And one of the models that I really love and appreciate in the science of reading is Scarborough’s reading rope. And you can Google it if you want to see this visual, but I’ll try to paint a picture for you here.
So envision a large rope, or even a cable. And if you think about it, a rope is created by twisting smaller strands together to create a larger rope. And the smaller strands of the rope are woven together to help strengthen and reinforce each other. And reading is very similar to a rope.
Each strand in the rope is a single element or component or you can say even skill of reading. And when we weave them together, it helps to strengthen and reinforce our reader. So Scarborough’s reading rope is divided into two main strands, we’ve got the word recognition strand, and the language comprehension strand.
And both of these strands are necessary. If we want our students to be skilled and proficient readers, they have to have strong word recognition skills and strong language comprehension skills. Without one or the other, they’re going to struggle. But within each of these strands, there are smaller strands that are woven together, and are needed for our students to show reading proficiency.
So in the word recognition strand, there’s phonological awareness, decoding, and sight word recognition. And in the language comprehension strand, there’s background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge. And I go more in depth on those in my science of reading series. So I’m not going to dig into those specifically now. I would encourage you to go back and listen to episode number 87, where I talk specifically about language comprehension.
But the thing that I really love about Scarborough’s reading rope is that it one I think, highlights the interconnectedness and complexity of reading. You know, we can’t just teach vocabulary and expect our students to be strong readers, they need to have vocabulary combined with all of the other elements of the reading rope in order to be skilled readers, so everything is connected.
But also, it provides a roadmap for instruction. So if you’re wondering, what does the science of reading look like in upper elementary? Well, Scarborough’s reading rope gives us a very clear picture of the types of things that we should see in our literacy classrooms.
So in upper elementary, we want to make sure that our students have a foundation of word recognition. These are traditionally skills that are usually taught in lower elementary, but we don’t want to ignore them as upper elementary teachers, we want to make sure that our students have that foundation. And we also want to make sure that our instruction is rich in the elements of language comprehension. So we want to make sure that we’re focusing on background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge.
And maybe you’re like, oh, my gosh, I’ve never heard of this before, like this model, it sounds great, it makes sense. But how do I apply, you know, background knowledge? Or what does verbal reasoning actually look like? Or how do I teach this on a day to day basis?
So I know you guys love practical strategies and suggestions. I do too. That’s part of the reason why I love putting this podcast together for you. So practical suggestion number one, go back and listen to episode number 87. In that episode, I break down the language comprehension strand. And I give some very practical suggestions for how you can make sure you’re incorporating those elements in your classroom. So do all of those things. And that’s going to help align your instruction to be you know, more in line with the science of reading.
But like I said, in this episode, I’m going to share four things that upper elementary teachers can do to make sure that they are doing their best to align their instruction to the science of reading, which, if you remember is just research. So let’s jump in.
The first thing that I think is important is to provide explicit and systematic word recognition instruction to our students who are not fluent readers. And my guess is, is that if you are a third or fourth or fifth grade teacher, you probably have students in your class who are still struggling to read and decode text fluency.
And if that is the case, then your primary goal for these students is really to teach them the rules of English and help them build a strong phonics foundation, so they can understand how to read and write. And we know from Scarborough’s reading rope that students need these strong word recognition skills, if we want them to become a strong reader.
Decoding is not optional. It’s not something that we can skip. So if you have students who are still struggling to sound words out, you know, they aren’t accurate with what they’re reading. They make mistakes when they’re reading, then they need help with phonics. And your number one goal really should be to build up their word recognition skills, which means you need to be teaching phonological awareness, phonics and sight word recognition.
Because if your students don’t have solid word recognition skills, then they are going to struggle to understand any complex text you put in front of them, it does not matter how many graphic organizers you give them, how much time you give them, how many times you ask them to read the text over and over again, if they are lacking word recognition skills, they’re just going to struggle to read complex texts.
So you want to do your best to help fill in those gaps. So kind of practically what this could look like is you want to make sure that you have access to like a phonics screener, or some other assessment that will help you determine what phonics knowledge do your students already have and what gaps do you need to fill.
Because you might not have to go all the way back to the beginning and start teaching them you know, the names of the letters and the short vowel sounds. But for some students, you might, so you want to get a baseline of where they’re at and where you need to fill in the gaps.
And depending on if it is your whole class that needs help, or if it’s just a small group, you can decide how much instructional time do you need to commit to this, more than likely it’s going to be, you know, a small group. And so maybe that intervention can happen in your classroom, maybe you have an interventionist on your campus.
But really, ideally, you’d be using your small group time to work through decodable readers, and you’d be teaching them sound spelling patterns and sight words that they need to know. And these are going to help them become fluent readers.
And let me just say that this is hard. This is probably the hardest part about aligning your instruction in upper elementary to the science of reading. Because I think a lot of upper elementary teachers don’t have training or familiarity or background on how to actually teach decoding. And then you don’t have resources. And so this is hard.
So it’s going to require a lot of extra work on your part, to make sure that you’re doing this. You know, if you think about it, if you’re a third, fourth or fifth grade teacher, your grade level curriculum is not designed to support students who are still learning to decode.
But if you have students who are missing this important skill, I would encourage you to find the resources, find the support and figure it out. Because if we don’t take the time to fill in the gaps, these students are always going to struggle with reading, and they’re never going to become skilled readers.
So step number one are sort of, you know, if you want to align your instruction to the science of reading, make sure that you are giving all of your students strong word recognition foundations, so that way they can actually read the text.
The second thing that I think you should do is prioritize vocabulary instruction. And this is something that all upper elementary teachers should focus on. And understanding the meaning of words is directly related to a readers ability to comprehend.
And in one of the science of reading books that I often refer to, it talked about how adequate reading comprehension is dependent upon a person already knowing between 90 to 95% of the words in a text. And I know our students are faced with really challenging words and some really complex texts. And I would guess that you have students that don’t probably know 90 to 95% of the words that they are reading.
So if we want them to become skilled readers who can comprehend what they’re reading, then we really need to prioritize vocabulary instruction. So when you’re thinking about your vocabulary instruction in upper elementary, think about doing three things.
The first is teaching individual and isolated words, as needed. And this is because it would be really inefficient if you tried to teach every single challenging word your student might encounter as an individual word in isolation. But you can and should teach some words in isolation.
So thinking like your content words, you know, like vocabulary words from science, or math lessons, these can be great words to teach in isolation. Or if you’re doing a novel study, and there’s a specific or essential word that your students need to understand it. That can be a great word to teach in isolation. But we don’t want to rely on individual word instruction, which is why there’s two other things you should be doing.
The second thing is to teach word learning strategies. And this is when we give students tools that will help them understand the meaning of words and how words work. And this can be done by teaching Greek and Latin roots, prefixes and suffixes, multiple meaning words, context clues, things like that.
Because when students have an understanding of these concepts, they now have a set of tools that they can use when they encounter words that are new or unfamiliar to them. And there’s tons of different ways that you can focus on these words study concepts. I’ve talked about a lot of them on the podcast in the past.
You can do word or root of the week, you can do word building activities, you can do word sorts, word webs, semantic word maps, word walls. And these are the types of vocabulary activities that you want to prioritize in your classroom and use regularly like daily or weekly.
The third thing that you want to do when it comes to vocabulary instruction, is to create an environment where your students are word watchers. And the ultimate goal of vocabulary, or I often like to refer to it as word study instruction, is for students to apply their knowledge to their reading and their writing.
We don’t want them just to know these words, we want them to actually use them, and when they see them to like understand them, and that begins with awareness. And awareness can be as simple as asking students to be on the lookout for words in their reading. Look for words with the prefix U N, look for words with the root photo, look for one new word while you’re reading or look for a word that has multiple meanings.
So just highlight to students that words are important, and we want to pay attention to them. So we want our students to get in the habit of paying attention to words.
Okay, I’m going to cheat a little bit with the third one, and I’m going to share kind of two things at once. So the third thing that I think is really important for upper elementary teachers to do is to explicitly teach your students about text structure and sentence structure.
Now real quick text structure refers to how a text is organized. So in a fiction text, we often see a story organized using the story mountain. So introduce the problem, character, setting in the beginning, rising action climax, falling action resolution. And in nonfiction texts usually can be organized in one to five structures cause and effect problem and solution sequence compare and contrast description.
And sentence structure refers to how sentences are organized. And when students have a strong understanding of sentence structure, they understand that sentences can be simple, compound, complex, compound complex, but more than that students really understand the order and the types of phrases in a sentence.
They understand how independent and dependent clauses can be organized in a sentence. And they understand how to reorganize words in a sentence and still maintain meaning. And sentence structure and text structure are an essential part of comprehension.
You know, first, I think it’s important that students understand on the very basic level how words work together to form larger texts, because, you know, if you think about it, a text is just a giant set of or group of words working together to create meaning. And this is actually something that I talk about in my free private podcast, the Confident Writer System Series. The whole series is all about how to teach writing in upper elementary.
But in one of the episodes, I go in depth into understanding the building blocks of writing, and I talked about how words work together to form phrases, phrases work together to form clauses, clauses work together to form sentences, sentences work together to form paragraphs, and paragraphs work together to form texts. And all of these things from phrases all the way up to texts can be organized in a predictable way that allows us to make meaning from what we are reading.
So when we take the time to teach students sentence structure or text structure, we are giving them the roadmap that will help them navigate and make meaning of any text they are reading, which is such a great gift to give them.
So a few practical things that you can do are to explicitly teach both text structure and sentence structure. And I’ve done previous podcast episodes on both of those topics that I’ll link to in the show notes. But more importantly than that, connect their knowledge of sentence structure and text structure to everything.
I think we tend to get in these habits of teaching standards and skills and isolation and checking them off our standard list and moving on. So you probably teach a text structure unit, but we don’t want our students understanding of text structure to be limited to just a three week set of exposure. You know, the same is true with sentence structure.
So we want to make sure that anytime we’re reading a text, we talk about the organization of it and how having the knowledge of the organization allows us to do things like make predictions, make connections, use our background knowledge and really understand the text. And then anytime we’re reading, we can pick out a sentence or two and spend time talking about comprehension at the sentence level.
And so we don’t want to limit our students understanding of sentence structure to just a few grammar lessons during the year about simple sentences or compound sentences. And so we really want to make sure that we are explicitly teaching but then continuously talking both about text structure and sentence structure.
And if you want more support with learning how to teach writing in upper elementary and to learn a little bit more specifically about how to teach sentence structure, definitely sign up for my free private podcast, The Confident Writer System Series. You can find that at stellarteacher.com/writingpodcast, and I’ll link to that in the show notes as well.
So the fourth thing that you can do if you want to align your upper elementary classroom to the science of reading, is teach reading through the lens of content. So the goal is not for your students to learn a bunch of comprehension strategies, or have them learn a bunch of random word knowledge that they don’t do anything with. The ultimate goal of our reading instruction, and really, the science of reading is for students to understand the text that they are reading, and to apply all of the elements listed in the reading rope.
This is where I think there is a huge opportunity in upper elementary. We often do a really, really, really great job of teaching reading and writing skills. But then we forget to give our students ample opportunities to apply and practice those skills in real meaningful ways that results in an increase in knowledge and understanding.
So a few things that you can do thematic units, or cross curricular instruction can be great. Because this allows you really to teach reading and writing through the in depth study of a specific topic or subject.
You could also do a novel study with your students. And as you’re working your way through the novel, you’re teaching them bite sized reading lessons with small objectives. And you’re really only giving them the specific strategies and skills that they need to navigate their way through the novel. And you’re making your primary goal understanding the text.
So I would just encourage you to look for opportunities outside of your typical reading lessons, to practice and reinforce what you’re teaching. This can happen in math where you reinforce root word knowledge when you discuss new math vocabulary words. This can happen in science when you discuss the organization and structure of the text when you’re reading about ecosystems.
And just try not to teach everything as isolated skills, but really think about the big picture and what the goal of our reading instruction is. It’s not for students to get to a certain reading level. It’s not for students to pass a reading test. We want students to know how to read and understand real texts. So we need to make sure that they are getting enough opportunities to practice the application of what we’re reading.
So that’s it. Four things that upper elementary teachers can do to align their instruction to the science of reading. Now, these are not the only four things that you can do. But this is a good place to start: provide explicit and systematic word recognition instruction to students who are not fluent readers, prioritize vocabulary instruction, explicitly teach your students about text structure and sentence structure, and then finally, teach reading and writing through the lens of content.
I know I mentioned and refer to a bunch of podcast episodes in this episode, so I’m going to link to those in the show notes. But just know if you’re looking for something specific or have questions about anything I talked about or need additional help. I love connecting with teachers. Reach out to me on Instagram at @thestellarteachercompany if you have a question or need help with something I am happy to help anytime I can.
And be sure to tune in next week. Next week, we are officially kicking off our summer series. I’ve got some special things in store for you that I’ll be talking about on the podcast and you’ll be getting an email from me about it as well. So I will see you back here next Monday for the beginning of summer.