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A Deep Dive into Structured Literacy

Let’s take a closer look at what Structured Literacy really is

As we navigate an educational system with many educators who did not receive this training in their preservice years from colleges and universities, we see a continued urgency to help people on their journey. To open the doors of discussion and learning when it comes not only to the Science of Reading but as we like to say, the Science of Learning.

To fully understand Structured Literacy, we have to start by looking at the five pillars of reading instruction.

The 5 Pillars of Reading Instruction

The National Reading Panel (NRP), which came out in 2000, determined five pillars of reading instruction necessary for student success. Since then, we have even more research that backs up these findings. 

The five pillars of reading are much more than phonics. They are:

  • Phonemic awareness   
  • Phonics  
  • Fluency  
  • Vocabulary  
  • Comprehension 

At the core of reading instruction, we need to address these five pillars. It helps anchor all of our understanding of what Structured Literacy entails. When we see programs with an over-emphasis on just one or a few of the pillars, that would be a program that is not based on Structured Literacy. A Structured Literacy approach will look at all five pillars and the role that they play in early literacy and reading instruction.  

What is Structured Literacy?

Structured Literacy is an approach that encompasses all of the components of reading instruction. This umbrella term coined by the International Dyslexia Association (IDA) was created to describe effective reading instruction vital for students with dyslexia and beneficial for all. It is not only effective for those with dyslexia but also beneficial for the majority of students. 

The Elements of Structured Literacy: 

The elements of Structured Literacy encompass each of the five pillars of reading instruction but also include the guiding principles for our Orton-Gillingham lessons. These are shown to be the most effective in helping students become proficient readers and writers.

These evidence-based elements work together: 

  • Phonology - The study of the sound structure of our spoken language. Phonemic Awareness is central to phonology. 
  • Sound/Symbol Correspondence - The mapping of sounds to print. This is where phonics and spelling come in with linking sounds to their orthographic representations. 
  • Syllables - This is the understanding and application of the six syllable type rules to assist in decoding and encoding. 
  • Morphology - Morphology begins early. It’s understanding and working with the smallest unit of meaning in our language.
  • Syntax - The set of principles that determine the sequence and function of words in a sentence.
  • Semantics - The meaning of our language. That’s comprehension.

Guiding Teaching Principles:

Instruction must be… 

  • Systematic and cumulative
  • Explicit 
  • Diagnostic 

To ensure all children have access to effective reading instruction, we want to ensure that our teachers have both deep content knowledge and specific teaching expertise in these elements and guiding principles. 

4 Tips to Support Others in Learning More About Structured Literacy

We are moved to help others on this journey, whether it be parents, teachers, schools, or colleagues, and we know you may be too. 

Here are a few tips for how we can all help others on the journey to learning more about Structured Literacy:

  1. Listen to the statement being made and determine the goal and purpose of the statement.
  2. Respond with research, not emotion.
  3. Continue to reference the Knowledge and Practice Standards (KPS) when choosing training or curriculum because we want to ensure that we are aligning with deep knowledge and background. 
  4. Seek out programs that explicitly teach the foundational skills of reading.

For our full conversation about Structured Literacy, check out our latest episode of the Together in Literacy podcast. If you like what you hear, don’t forget to rate, leave a positive review, and subscribe!

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