S.P.I.R.E. and the Science of Reading

School districts across the country are looking to the Science of Reading to inform policies, strengthen instruction, and utilize assessments to align practice with what we know about how the brain learns to read. Equipped with the right curriculum tools, teachers can put this knowledge to work for the benefit of all their students.

What the Science of Reading Is—and Isn’t

To make the most of this flourishing discipline, a useful starting point is to define it accurately. According to Louisa Moats, “The Science of Reading is not an ideology, a philosophy, a program of instruction or a specific component of instruction. Rather, it is the emerging consensus from many related disciplines (developmental psychology, educational psychology, cognitive science, neuroscience, and reading education), based on literally thousands of studies supported by hundreds of millions of research dollars, conducted across the world in many languages. These studies have revealed a great deal about how we learn to read, what goes wrong when students don’t learn, and what kind of instruction is most likely to work the best for most students.”

“Intervention that applies the Science of Reading can lift 95% of students to average or better reading abilities”

It’s vital for educators to apply the knowledge from the Science of Reading to educational instruction and practice. The rewards can be considerable; according to Joseph Torgesen, with the implementation of intensive and systematic intervention that applies the Science of Reading, at least 95% of the total student population can attain average or better word reading abilities.

The Four Disciplines

There are four major disciplines of research that contribute to our knowledge of reading. Research in these Science of Reading disciplines has given us information on how students learn, how best for teachers to teach, what and when concepts should be taught, and what happens in the brain when different types of instruction are given and reinforced.

  1. Developmental and cognitive psychology tell us how students think and learn. It includes the study of attention, memory, perception, and problem solving. This research has led to the Principles of Instruction (Figure 2) of the Science of Reading.


    Principles of Instruction for the Science of Reading
  2. Educational Research gives us information on how to teach reading and includes the study of pedagogy, instructional methods and materials, teacher knowledge and student outcomes. The National Reading Panel’s findings in 2000 of the Five Big Ideas of Reading—phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency, and comprehension—come from the field of educational research.In 1986, Gough and Turner presented their theoretical model of reading called the Simple View of Reading (Figure 2). This model breaks the process of reading into a mathematical equation giving equal importance to both decoding and comprehension in reading. Both areas of reading must interact equally so that students can not only decode text, but also understand and comprehend what is read. If either component is lacking, then the reading process is unsuccessful. This model also gives emphasis to oral language comprehension.

    Gough and Turner: Simple View of Reading 
  3. Linguistics is the study of language and its structure. This field of research informs us on what to teach in reading, and provides the basis for Structured Literacy, the universally accepted approach for putting the Science of Reading into practice. The components of Structured Literacy are phonology, phonics, morphology, syntax, and semantics.
  4. Neuroscience is the study of the structures and function of the human brain, and shows us how reading intervention can change the brain’s activation and structure. This field of research defines the “why” of reading instruction, ensuring that what is being taught is changing neural pathways for students

S.P.I.R.E. Helps Teachers Apply the Science of Reading

One program that can help put the Science of Reading into successful practice is S.P.I.R.E. (Specialized Program Individualizing Reading Excellence), developed by Sheila Clark Edmands. S.P.I.R.E. has proven its value in classrooms for decades. With each edition, it continues to offer research-based instruction that is teacher-friendly and engaging for students.

S.P.I.R.E.’s scripted lessons are based on Science of Reading principles, providing easy-to-follow instruction that enables students to learn and retain information. S.P.I.R.E. is mastery-based, meaning that it leads students to demonstrate mastery at 80% before moving them onto the next concept. Each of the program’s eight conceptual levels includes cumulative review, providing multisensory and language-based practice in all strategies of the lessons.

“S.P.I.R.E. lessons use strategies known to activate the specific areas of the brain involved in reading.”

S.P.I.R.E. lessons are rooted in neuroscience, using the same strategies known to increase activation in the specific areas of the brain involved in reading.

S.P.I.R.E. provides total reading lessons that places equal emphasis on decoding and comprehension, connecting the phonological awareness and phonics of word decoding to vocabulary and comprehension of decodable text. S.P.I.R.E. also works on the fluency building automaticity of decoding that leads to more mental energy for the comprehension demands of text. S.P.I.R.E. lessons are rooted in neuroscience, using the same strategies known to increase activation in the specific areas of the brain involved in reading.

S.P.I.R.E. and the Strands of Skilled Reading

As educators review all the components of research that make up the Science of Reading, it’s important to consider Scarborough’s view of the many strands that are woven into skilled reading. As educators improve instruction and utilize assessments to align practice with the Science of Reading, the strands of each component of the process are strengthened. S.P.I.R.E.’s program-specific progress monitoring allows teachers to implement data-driven instruction, setting the stage for fluent execution and coordination of word recognition and text comprehension.

It’s vitally important for educators across the country to understand the Science of Reading and to apply the research to practice. S.P.I.R.E. is a program that applies the Science of Reading with Structured Literacy Instruction and follows the principles of instruction that all readers need. The lessons are scripted for teachers and use best-practice strategies that change neural pathways to enable reading skills. Assessments are built into the program and are quick and easy to administer.