Science of Reading initiative earns praise from local educators

ANDERSON — Occasionally, Karen Griner wears a T-shirt to Eastside Elementary School emblazoned with the phrase, “If they don’t learn the way we teach, then we teach the way they learn.”

Griner, a literacy instructional coach at Eastside, said the phrase is a perfect summary of the thinking behind her work with teachers in revamping their approach to reading instruction with the Science of Reading, which district officials introduced in the 2022-23 academic year.

“I think that’s the whole basis of what we’re doing here,” Griner said. “Our instruction was not showing the results that we wanted for our kids here in Anderson, and so we knew we had to make a move, and we had to make some changes.”

Science of Reading is a body of research that has been organized into five main focus areas, or pillars: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension. Part of a statewide literacy initiative funded by more than $100 million from the state and the Lilly Endowment, the Science of Reading has steadily gained support among educators and state lawmakers, who last year overwhelmingly passed a law mandating that, starting in 2024, Indiana schools adopt a new literacy curriculum that aligns with the Science of Reading.

Anderson Community Schools and South Madison Community School Corp. were among the nearly 70 districts around the state that opted into the program early. Officials in both districts said that because of its research-based approach, the Science of Reading addresses bedrock concepts connected to early proficiency in reading.

“Reading is not a natural thing for humans,” said Laura Miller, assistant superintendent for elementary curriculum and instruction at South Madison. “Language is natural, speech is natural, but reading is where you’re taking multiple parts of your brain to configure that (information) together.”

Miller said the instructional methods with the Science of Reading have given teachers additional understanding of some of the fundamental concepts that need to be effectively communicated to their students.

“It hits all the layers of reading, but I think the big piece is to make sure you ground that instruction in the foundational skills,” she said. “That’s the piece that’s probably most eye-opening — just to make sure that we really focus on that.”

For Griner and the teachers she works with, the process has shifted some paradigms. For example, she said, where teachers may previously have taught sounds associated with letters, now they’re teaching how those sounds are made.

“It’s a mindset shift of how instruction has looked in the classroom,” she said. “As a coach, I see all of the different science that’s attached to the learning, and those are things that I never knew as an instructional leader in a classroom.”

Educators in both districts said they’ll continue to monitor students’ progress ahead of the I-READ 3 testing window in March, and they won’t hesitate to address learning gaps or other issues that may crop up.

“There’s always room for improvement,” said Kathy McCord, director of curriculum for ACS. “We can always do better. We know it’s not going to happen quickly, but we are all in for showing that improvement.”

This article appeared in The Herald Bulletin.