Wanted: A Science of Reading Comprehension Movement

Just in the nick of time for the last days of summer beach reading, there were a pair of big stories about reading instruction in TIME magazine and The New Yorker last month. That’s about as mainstream as media attention gets, and signals that maybe the tide really has turned on literacy instruction in American schools. Given the undeniable magnitude of learning loss after three successive school years disrupted by Covid, such a shift couldn’t be more welcome or timely.

A third recent piece got less attention than those other two but deserves no less. Last month, the Knowledge Matters campaign (I was a co-founder in 2015) released a statement from its scientific advisory committee, which rightly lauds the blossoming “Science of Reading” movement as “an important catalyst for improved and more equitable outcomes for all students.” But the statement wisely observes that this laudable and overdue enthusiasm for research-based instructional methods and materials has “often been interpreted far too narrowly as exclusively focused on foundational skills.” The statement continues:

Reading success requires much more than foundational skills. There are other factors critical for literacy development, including those that address language, meaning, and communication. Among the most important is knowledge. Knowledge is necessary to comprehend what we read. Foundational skills are literally meaningless unless readers can make sense of words and texts. This sense-making requires knowledge that must be systematically built (not just activated!) through instructional experiences and curricula that evoke curiosity and the desire to learn more. In short, knowledge matters.

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