The Art & Science of Literacy: Finding Joy in Reading

Why is reading so hard for some yet so easy for others?

For many of us, learning to read is a journey. Researchers Young, Lyon, and Hempenstall created the Ladder of Reading to illustrate this. For 5% of children, learning to read seems almost effortless.  For 35% of children, learning to read is easy with broad instruction. For 40-50% of children, reading proficiency requires more explicit and systematic instruction. Reading seems quite challenging for 10-15% and requires a very structured approach. Many of us did not experience such a structured approach when we were in school.

For years, educators debated between a phonics approach to reading and a whole-language approach to reading.  Quietly in the background, there was also research about how to best support children who struggled with reading due to dyslexia.  This research has evolved to encompass interventions once thought only to help struggling readers, but now has proven beneficial for all readers and is now popularly called a Structured Approach to Literacy and it comes from The Science of Reading. “The Science of Reading has proven that a Structured Literacy approach is a necessary foundation for reading success.”

While the Science of Reading is a large body of scientific research that supports a Structured Approach to Literacy, I have seen this approach be successful with many young readers firsthand.  

Last year, at Virginia Chance School, our kindergarten team began implementing a more structured approach to literacy after attending professional development and studying the book Shifting the Balance by Dr. Jan Burkins and Kari Yates. 

In my 24 years of education, this was the first time I had seen such a thoughtful, thorough, and engaging reading program. As we piloted this new method, we maintained using other proven techniques that have consistently enhanced children's reading abilities in our program. When our student assessments came in at the end of the year, we had quantitative proof that this combined method worked. Ninety-five percent of our kindergarten students were reading at or above grade level, an increase over prior years.


The art and science of reading

There are few things in life more enjoyable than reading with a child. Nothing can captivate an audience like a good read-aloud. So while young children will benefit from a structured reading approach, we want to remember there is joy in reading. In our classes at Chance, you’ll still see children listening to read-alouds, sharing a book with friends.

What you won’t see are worksheets, spelling lists, and the like. “If a child memorizes ten words, then the child can read ten words. But, if the child can learn the sounds of ten letters, the child can read…

350 three-sound words

4,320 four-sound words

21, 650 five-sound words.”


So yes, even children who learn to read easily will benefit as they learn the skills to unlock increasingly complex word patterns. Structured reading is essential for struggling readers and great for more natural readers too.

What does this mean at home?

How can we support children at home to become lifelong readers? Here are a few simple suggestions. 

Visit the libraries in Louisville, pick out books together, read them, and discuss them. Spending this time together will model how much you value reading and learning and build their vocabulary when they are first learning. 

As they start to show more reading independence, consider creating a cozy reading nook just for them at home, set aside a specific time each day for reading, and make it a routine. 

Show enthusiasm for reading yourself, and have them “catch” you reading for fun (if only for a few minutes- we know you are in a busy stage!) to model good reading habits.

If you notice that reading seems harder for your child, reach out to your child’s teacher to see what they are noticing. Children begin formal reading around kindergarten, so this is when you may first start to notice some struggles. By first or second grade, as those foundational skills solidify, you will know if your child needs extra support beyond what might be possible in the classroom. Reading is a journey, so if you’d like to learn more, please dive into the resources listed below.

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