As 2024 opens, the “Science of Reading” continues to be on many people’s radar, from parents and teachers, to legislators and the general media. The urgency to deliver better results is real for those grappling with the challenges of helping all today’s students become the skilled readers, thinkers and communicators they need and deserve to be.

We know that evidence-based instruction matters. Educators making decisions about curriculum and instruction for our students understand that quality student materials and ongoing teacher professional learning have the potential to make a real difference. So it’s worth continually updating our understanding of what the science of reading tells us, along with spelling out exactly how Junior Great Books and Shared Inquiry align with the latest research. Not to mention, as we’ve said before — learning to help people read well is inherently a complex endeavor!

So what is the “science of reading” and how does it help students become better readers? As many of you probably know, the science of reading has used decades of research to identify the major aspects of effective reading instruction, sometimes called the five “pillars” or “big ideas.” This diagram from the National Center on Improving Literacy provides a helpful overview and is easy to share.

Reading comprehension, of course, is the ultimate goal of all reading instruction, thus understanding just how phonics and phonemic awareness and the other pillars contribute to reading comprehension is central.

The next diagram of the “Simple View of Reading” is often used as a starting point when describing reading comprehension — particularly the relationship between word recognition and language, or oral, comprehension. Phonics and phonemic awareness are essential foundations of word recognition (WR in the diagram below). Language comprehension (LC below) includes understanding all the words, concepts and information if the actual words are read aloud.

The Science of Reading

Source: The National Center on Improving Literacy
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The Science of Reading: Defining Guide eBook. The Reading League.
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Note that interactive read-alouds are a research-supported practice partly because this language comprehension ability can develop independently of word recognition skills. Also note that in this model, reading comprehension is the product of the two variables, not just the sum. Both variables must be more than zero for comprehension to occur.

A more complex understanding develops as we think about how students blend discrete reading skills together and become skilled readers over time. The diagram below, based on Scarborough’s Reading Rope, is often used to help visualize this. Here reading, especially reading comprehension, becomes increasingly strategic, automatic, and skilled over time, as students practice blending the discrete components that are identified on the left side below.

How Junior Great Books Builds Skilled Readers

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Engaging, complex texts rich in language and ideas support students in putting foundational reading skills into action—building students’ background knowledge, vocabulary, and comprehension through repeated interactive readings and collaborative discussion. Shared Inquiry helps all students acquire the habits and strategies of self-directed critical thinkers, readers, and communicators. For more details, download the white paper “Junior Great Books and the Science of Reading” from this page.

Great Books programs and the evolving science of reading share the understanding that listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking are interconnected skills that build on each other. Junior Great Books provides students with systematic practice addressing three of five key pillars as identified by the science of reading, most notably reading comprehension, with added benefits in vocabulary development and fluency—all while building vibrant, respectful communities of learners!

We would love to hear about your journey understanding the science of reading and how you’re supporting all your readers. Let’s connect on social media—tag us with the hashtags #JuniorGreatBooks and #SharedInquirySpotlight—and in our Shared Inquiry Learning Center. And watch this space for a periodic series of upcoming posts that will take a deeper dive into related topics, such as:

  • Gifted learners and the science of reading
  • MTSS
  • The impact of oral language development and social learning experiences on comprehension (especially for MLs)
  • Metacognition/self-regulation and Shared Inquiry learning
  • The importance of complex texts that are engaging and rich in language and artistry

Learn More

To learn more about how Junior Great Books programs meet science of reading tenets, and how you can best use our Shared Inquiry strategies in your classrooms, contact your Great Books K–12 partnership manager. They will be happy to guide you through all of our print and digital materials, as well as our renowned professional development in inquiry-based learning!