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The Science of Reading - SSP 'Cheat Sheet'

Science of Reading (SoR) Programs are popping up all over the world - which is fantastic! This site shows those that have been accredited or validated - eg DfE Validated Systematic Synthetic Phonics (SSP) Programmes. In the US and looking for accredited SoR programs?

The attainment of reading skill has fascinated psychologists and invited more study than any other aspect of human cognition due to its social importance and complexity.
—Moats and Tolman, 2009, p. 31

The past 40 years has yielded tremendous, interdisciplinary insights into the process of learning to read, gathered from developmental psychology, cognitive neuropsychology, developmental linguistics, and educational intervention research. Indeed, this is the most studied aspect of human learning. Dozens of journals publish empirical research on reading. Major research syntheses from English-speaking countries have been consistent in the findings on learning to read and teaching reading (NICHD 2000; Rowe & National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy, 2005; Rose, 2006; National Early Literacy Panel, 2008). Because of its volume, nature, and consistency, current research around reading embodies what is considered the science of reading.

Orthographic Mapping

' is currently impossible for schools to select basal reading programs that adhere to strict evidence-based standards (e.g., ESSA, 2015). As an alternative, schools must develop selection criteria for choosing classroom reading programs informed by the growing scientific evidence on instructional factors that support early reading development (e.g., Castles et al., 2018; Foorman et al.2017; Rayner et al., 2001).

Read paper.

The following will outline the scientific evidence

Science of Reading Research Dr Louisa Moats

A scientific report from an international team of psychological researchers aims to resolve the so-called “reading wars,” emphasizing the importance of teaching phonics in establishing fundamental reading skills in early childhood. The report, published in in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, shows how early phonics skills are advanced with a rich reading curriculum throughout the school years. 
Download report

Orthographic Mapping

The National Reading Panel found that, to become good readers, children must develop:

  • Phonemic awareness

  • Phonics skills

  • The ability to read words in text in an accurate and fluent manner   (fluency)

  • The ability to apply comprehension strategies consciously and deliberately as they read  (comprehension)


The Panel found that many difficulties learning to read were caused by inadequate phonemic awareness and that systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness directly caused improvements in children's reading and spelling skills.

The evidence for these casual claims is so clear cut that the Panel concluded that systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness should be an important component of classroom reading instruction for children in preschool and beyond who have not been taught phoneme concepts or who have difficulties understanding that the words in oral language are composed of smaller speech sounds — sounds that will be linked to the letters of the alphabet. Importantly, the Panel found that even preschool children responded well to instruction in phonemic awareness when the instruction was presented in an age-appropriate and entertaining manner.


The Panel also concluded that the research literature provides solid evidence that phonics instruction produces significant benefits for children from kindergarten through 6th grade and for children having difficulty learning to read. The greatest improvements were seen from systematic phonics instruction. This type of phonics instruction consists of teaching a planned sequence of phonics elements, rather than highlighting elements as they happen to appear in a text.

Here again, the evidence was so strong that the Panel concluded that systematic phonics instruction is appropriate for routine classroom instruction. The Panel noted that, because children vary in reading ability and vary in the skills they bring to the classroom, no single approach to teaching phonics could be used in all cases. For this reason, it is important to train teachers in the different kinds of approaches to teaching phonics and in how to tailor these approaches to particular groups of students.



Download the National Reading Panel Report


Science of Reading Research 'cheat sheet' for parents and teachers. 

According to SoR Research what kind of instruction is most likely to work the best for most students?


There are Six Essential Skills:


Oral Language
Phonemic Awareness
Phonics taught systematically





Phonemic awareness:

Phonemic awareness is awareness of the smallest units of sound in spoken words (phonemes) and the ability to manipulate those sounds. Phonemic awareness falls under the category of phonological awareness, which includes the understanding of broader categories of sounds, including words, syllables, and onsets and rimes. Although the NRP identified “awareness” as the goal, subsequent research specifically on orthographic mapping has yielded 8 an understanding that phonemic proficiency is both critical to and a result of orthographic mapping, and it continues to develop throughout the elementary grades (Kilpatrick, 2015).


Phonics is a way of teaching that stresses the acquisition of letter-sound correspondences (phoneme-grapheme representations) and their use in reading and spelling.

Fluent text reading:

Fluency is reading with accuracy, appropriate rate, and prosody (expression).


Vocabulary is the understanding of words and word meanings.


Comprehension—the understanding of connected text—is considered an “essential element” of reading, but it is more accurately the goal of reading and the result of mastery and integration of all the components of effective instruction.



Instruction must be explicit;

explicit instruction begins with direct instruction and includes guided practice with decreasing levels of support. In explicit instruction, the objective of the lesson is clear and teaching is intentional (Pearson & Gallagher, 1983; Archer & Hughes, 2011).

Instruction must be systematic;

systematic instruction provides a definite scope and sequence of skills from less complex to more complex and includes cumulative review. When instruction is systematic, nothing is left to chance; for example, all 44 phonemes are taught in a deliberate progression (NICHD 2000; Shaywitz, 2003; McCardle & Chhabra, 2004).

Instruction should be engaging.


When students understand the purpose for the learning tasks, are provided opportunities for incremental steps of success, and see their own realities reflected in the curriculum, they see learning as relevant to their lives and are therefore more deeply engaged (Pressley, et al., 2001; Chopra, 1994; Jackson & Zmuda, 2014).

Early instruction matters;

a prevention-oriented approach is more effective than intervention. There are devastating educational, social, and emotional consequences of reading failure that can be prevented with effective early instruction (Fletcher, Lyon, Fuchs, & Barnes, 2007; Foorman, 2003; Torgesen, 2002). Higher levels of literacy are possible when students achieve basic reading skills early in their school careers (Cunningham & Stanovich, 1998; Foorman, Francis, Shaywitz, Shaywitz, & Fletcher, 1997). Although older students with reading difficulties can improve, the later the intervention, the longer it takes (Torgesen, 2002); also, many times the effects of remedial instruction may dissipate over time (Quirk & Schwanenflugel, 2004).

 Instruction needs to be intensive.

Instruction is data-driven and focused on essential skills. All students receive high-quality, evidence-aligned tier one instruction. Students at risk are identified early on and are provided with specific, targeted instruction; progress is monitored and adjusted continually (Fuchs, Fuchs, & Vaughn, 2014; Kilpatrick, 2015).

LAURA STEWART Author and National Director for The Reading League

Speech Sound Pics Approach SSP SoR
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