• M. Kovack

Connecting the Science of Reading with the Art of Implementation

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

Curiosity built around the Science of Reading? Check.

How this works in the real world of the classroom? (chirping crickets)

Although 2020 will be remembered for the few most obvious events, I will remember this as the year that drew teachers to the science of reading in droves. Granted, this curiosity was bourgeoning before 2020, but when the lockdown happened last March, teachers and administrators had the time and freedom to do their own research & to step around the status quo.

Petrie, J. L. (2021). [drawing]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/groups/256714862221038

As an experienced tutor for children with (often profound) dyslexia, I am confident about how to implement the science in a one-to-one setting. It truly is an art, and it never ceases to amaze me that there is so much to learn. Implementation into the general classroom, however, is a whole other kettle of fish.

Although the “Science of Reading” (what we have gleaned from the scientific method used by a variety of disciplines about how we learn to read) has been around for decades, the “Science of Implementation” (how we implement this information effectively and efficiently) has not had as much traction.

Technically, the “science of implementation” includes not only the study of research into practice via informed educators, but also the capacity building, decision making, and policy creation required on many levels (schools, school boards/divisions, ministries, etc.) to "identify, allocate, and effectively utilize them time and space needed to actually implement the programs or systems as intended" (Wilson & Duda, 2018, p. 7).

But while waiting for implementation science to secure systemic and longterm change, many teachers are overwhelmed with the knowledge they have been gaining this year, and are struggling to understand how reading instruction should now look in their classroom.

For a quick, simple, and easy-to-understand explanation of how one K-1 teacher made it through 2020/21 using what she has learned so far about the science of reading, watch this video. The best part is that she backs up everything she did with impressive data!

Below, I have outlined a quick overview of what I would envision my day to be like if I were teaching first grade students (and my school was not using a specific program). After an effective kindergarten program, where would I start to implement the science?

Note: To get science of reading knowledge, see Step Two: Training on this website.


Although I would allocate about an hour for math, and about 90 minutes for social studies and science (and SO much literacy learning would happen during these blocks), here is what I think would be an ideal typical morning routine for students in grade one:

1. Meet and Greet. As reading, spelling, and writing depend on children’s overall oral language proficiency, the first thing I would do is greet the children warmly, check in with each student personally, sing a few songs, and have them do an "oracy" activity in pairs. I would explore discussion prompts that would support their speaking and listening skills, social skills, and critical and creative thinking. View this video: https://www.edutopia.org/video/oracy-classroom-strategies-effective-talk I think primary students are far more capable, competent, and curious than we think! (and on that note, would also ask the students for input on topics :)


2. Large Group Activity. As systematic and explicit phonics instruction is a core strategy that will kickstart a lifetime of reading success for all, I would use a clear scope and sequence and introduce one new spelling pattern at a time (e.g., The Purple Page attached, and many like this that can be used/interwoven). I may not always go in exactly this order - I would differentiate this order depending upon my students strengths and needs:

2020 The Purple Page Sound Readers OG Se
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Let's use "ar" as an example. I would have students move through these activities fairly quickly (knowing that most of my time will be spent working with small groups):

  • Listen to me say several words and guess the "sound of the day" (e.g., star, cart, march);

  • Sort words into two piles ("or" words and "ar" words, for example);

  • Trace the spelling pattern 3x (on a white board, blackboard, carpet, etc.) (e.g., trace the letters and say "a" "r"; trace the letters and say "car"; trace the letters and say /ar/);

  • Build some words with magnetic letters on the board (e.g., car, far, bark, chart, shark) And then, “change (car) to (tar)”etc…

  • Tap the sounds in words using blocks/buttons/cubes (with red for the vowel pattern) or on their fingers (e.g., /t/ar/, /sh/ar/k);

  • Tap again, but this time say the letters that match the sounds;

  • Print the word and say the letter names as they print;

  • Go back to their seats and print 1-3 sentences (e.g., using /ar/words - they can write as I dictate, and/or make up their own sentences).

  • Have them find someone who is complete to help them edit these sentences.

Another large group activity would be "Interactive Writing" (which is a specific instructional technique that has been highly studied with good results). It is my understanding that this is a very effective use of time. I think I would put a lot of my focus here. A student's writing is a window into their phonemic awareness, phonics, and language comprehension soul!


3. Sound/Spelling Centres: While working with small groups (e.g., doing phonemic awareness activities using Equipped for Reading Success, sound-spelling activities, reading, and assessments, etc.), the rest of the students would go to playful literacy centres that promote orthographic mapping.

These centres would use the SAME GAMES every week - just using different spelling patterns. No need to explain instructions, no chaos. Fun! Everyone knows what to do. Engaging games get them reading LOTS of words that contain the new pattern they are learning, along with previously taught patterns. Different students would be working on different spelling patterns.

  • Mondays: Board and Bingo Games

  • Tuesdays: Card Games (like Sound Readers’ Crazy Cards ;) and Memory Games

  • Wednesdays: Dice Games & Scrambled Sentences

  • Thursdays: Spoon and Boom Games

  • Fridays: Spit It & Minute to Win It Games

After playing at least one game/activity, students would then print 3-5 words from each game, and write 1-3 sentences using words from the games (then read books to each other and/or listen to books using audio from Epic!


4. Reading Aloud. Again, as oral language is so critical to later reading and scholastic achievement, I would read aloud beautiful, stimulating, content-rich, high-quality children's literature to round off the morning (and afternoon!). I would nurture children's critical and creative thinking skills by asking questions like "What do you see?"; "What do you think?"; "Why do you think...?"; "Who do you think...?"; "What are you curious about?". I would make comments like, "I wonder if..." and "I wonder why...?". I would follow their lead, explain new words, and nurture a stimulating discussion - paying close attention to the children who require extra time and attention to express what they know.

Penfold, A. (2018). [Digital Image] Retrieved from: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36959643-all-are-welcome


In the end, students need lots and lots and lots of practice writing and reading real text that reinforces the spelling patterns they are learning (plus previously taught patterns). So much of what they are learning in their literacy block can also be reinforced in their science and social studies and math blocks. It is critical to gather as many parents, older students, and other volunteers as possible to listen to students read and practice sounding out unknown words using the spelling pattern knowledge they have been taught. Between this, a focus on comprehension and fluency, writing, and listening to (and responding to) good quality children's literature, I think it lays a solid foundation for access to, curiosity about, and motivation to pursue a lifetime of content knowledge.

And as the old adage goes - knowledge brings pleasure. :)


For a terrific BLOG about the "Practicalities of Teaching in a First Grade Classroom", read Tiffany Peltier's blogs!! (CLICK ON THE PICTURE ON THE LEFT)


Reading Meetings with Mark and Molly is a series of talks with experts on how to bridge the science with practice. Click above to go directly to the chat about building a daily schedule. If you only have 20 minutes, start at minute 55:00. I learned so much from this conversation!!



Eccles, M.P., Mittman, B.S. Welcome to Implementation Science . Implementation Sci1, 1 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1186/1748-5908-1-1

Wilson, B.A., & Duda, M.A. (2018). Theme editors’ introduction: The art and science of implementation. Perspectives on Language and Literacy, 44(4), 7-9.

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