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DCE Magazine

The Science of Reading

A DCE certificate program teaches educators to become literacy specialists through various research-based methodologies.

Fall 2021

Tami Zylla

“I believe that it is teachers, as opposed to programs, who can and will improve student achievement, so investing into both informing teachers about and training teachers in the Science of Reading will be key.” Tami Zylla, Reading Certificate Instructor

Giving students the right tools to learn and thrive is essential to their future success — and no skill is as fundamental as reading. Teaching children how to read and comprehend effectively at an early age is the key to unlocking a world of knowledge and intellectual curiosity, not only in their schooling but life in general.

But the hard truth is most students haven’t been taught to read at an appropriate level. As a result, 15-year-old Americans rank 24th out of 72 countries in overall literary comprehension, and lowest among the world’s Englishspeaking nations, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD).

Past practices based on ineffective pedagogy continue to be utilized in many of today’s classrooms which is impacting reading development for a significant number of students, but that can be corrected with a well-researched, uniform approach called the Science of Reading, said Tami Zylla, instructor for the DCE Reading certificate program and Director of Instructional Support and Improvement for a regional school district.

“Children come to school primed to learn how to read,” she said. “They simply must be taught how through explicit means. Teaching all students to read by default creates a more equitable system as literacy is the foundation upon which all other disciplines are built. To show mastery of any subject, students must have good reading and writing skills.”

Unfortunately, teachers have been using methods based on faulty theories, from picture association to learning naturally, simply by being exposed to literature. The Science of Reading, a trending teaching model, supports a standardized method based on phonics — learning letter-sound relationships. It has proven to be the most effective way to teach reading, Zylla said.

“Students do not read or memorize whole words but rather sound-to-print relationships. Therefore, a sight-word is a word that students instantaneously recognize not by the shape of the word or by the whole word itself but by the letter-sound relationships in the word. The science tells us that students must be taught how to read rather than just be exposed to literature.”

The Science of Reading is a paradigm shift in foundational reading instruction, a concept that has “opened people’s eyes to the fact that most teachers are not taught how to teach reading in their teacher-prep programs, which shows there’s a great opportunity to make changes.”

The online DCE Reading program aims to give teachers the additional training needed to become reading and literacy specialists. Upon completion, the 10-month program qualifies credentialed K-12 teachers to apply for the Reading and Literacy Added Authorization (RLAA) with the California Commission on Teacher Credentialing (CTC). It also helps sharpen the skills of community college instructors, tutors, and anyone in adult education.

Zylla, named L.A. County Teacher of the Year in 2009, took the time to share her thoughts on the Science of Reading and how it can improve early education.

Can you give some background on the Science of Reading?

The science recognizes the fact that learning to read is not a natural process and must be taught. It refers to orthographic mapping — how parts of the brain work together to instantaneously recognize words. And how students must be able to work with sounds before being introduced to print, which leads to orthographic mapping. Students who have been taught to memorize words rather than learn soundto- print relationships will lack the ability to decode unknown words, particularly those that are polysyllabic. The Science of Reading contends that systematic and explicit phonics instruction benefits all students.

What are the most common misconceptions of how children learn to read?

One is that students learn to read words as a whole, leading to memorization of sight words. Many also believe that if students are exposed to a print-rich environment and immersed in literature that they will naturally learn to read. It’s also believed that there are many different ways to read unknown words, and this leads to students being taught to use pictures and context, identify the first letter in a word to guess the word or just skip words that they don’t know. Unfortunately, many don’t realize the role that phonological awareness plays in students learning how to read, which means that often this is underdeveloped in students. Most current curricula devote time to phonics but not necessarily explicitly, systematically, and cumulatively.

How have these been holding kids back in their early reading development?

Students with weak phonics skills struggle with fluency which in turn affects their ability to comprehend. It is very common for reading deficits to not be identified in students’ early academic years because learning to read is developmental. So, there is a spectrum within which students are expected to fall, but the problem is that by the time the deficit is identified, students are older and phonics is no longer addressed with the depth and emphasis that it is in lower grades.

Tell me about the DCE Reading program and how it prepares teachers to be more effective in this area.

The program covers many different topics within a broader concept. One course I teach focuses on the language comprehension elements of reading, such as vocabulary instruction, activating background knowledge, writing, narrative text structures, strategy instruction. These skills work in tandem with word recognition skills to contribute to and enhance comprehension. The second course focuses quite a bit on foundational literacy, including understanding the difference between phonological awareness and phonics, which is often misunderstood by teachers. We examine fluency, and how to use different assessments to target specific needs along with instructional strategies in these areas.

How is the Science of Reading being implemented in schools?

In my position as the Director of Instructional Support and Improvement, I’ve placed a heavy emphasis on improving foundational skills instruction. We have invested time and resources into developing and purchasing supplemental materials and training for primary teachers including those in our dual-language classrooms. I believe that it is teachers, as opposed to programs, who can and will improve student achievement, so investing into both informing teachers about and training teachers in the Science of Reading will be key.

Learn more about the Reading Certificate Program.