Fall 2020

The Science of Reading: A Legacy and the Future

The science of reading. It’s a term in search of meaning or perhaps it is a body of knowledge that got lost in translation. In recent months, researchers, practitioners, parents, advocates, and many others have debated the meaning of “the science of reading.” Undoubtedly, they will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In light of the term being placed in state initiatives across the nation, there is a need for a clearly stated definition. In short, the term means the body of evidence that has been amassed from research into reading – how it develops and how to teach and support its development. As such, the term the science of reading must rest on a solid foundation of actionable conclusions drawn from scientific inquiry.

Science of Reading When discussing the science of reading, it seems important to highlight that actionable science is settled science. Some people highlight a need for more research. It seems inevitable that there always will be cries for more research, which bodes well for a center devoted to undertaking such research. Yet, some areas are settled science. For example, teaching reading requires direct phonics instruction coupled with exposure to print. This is settled. However, the best way to expose developing readers to print is still in question – as is the most effective means of providing phonics instruction to different students. It is also settled science that vocabulary and background knowledge support reading comprehension. Yet, how best to support students in growing their vocabulary and background knowledge to aid them with reading comprehension is an active area of investigation. And some students likely need more support in these areas than others – an area actively being explored through research.

While there is a need for clarity around the term and more research, an exciting shift is underway, highlighting additional needs. People are coming to appreciate that more transitional research is needed in how best to teach all children to read. This is because the settled science does a good job describing what reading is and how it relates to writing and other language aspects. However, what to teach, when to teach it, and to whom to teach it is something that we frankly need to explore more.

There is also a realization that educators need support with implementing practices based on what is settled science. This is an exciting development because it establishes a dichotomy between what is left to understand and what we can translate and act on at the moment. There is a need to explore how this happens, but just as importantly, there is a need to start making this vital work happen. Of course, translating science into practice and helping educators with doing so has been the center’s work since its inception long before the science of reading was a thing. So, while the need for this work may be a revolutionary idea to some, it is what we have always been doing here at the center.

In this newsletter, we explore topics related to the science of reading and showcase our long-standing tradition of translating research into practice. This work has been central to all that the center has done to make literacy – reading and writing – a reality for all children, even those who struggle to learn these critical life skills. And it will remain the center’s work long after the term “the science of reading” is retired and replaced by the next phrase that will take its place.



Tim Odegard, Ph.D., chairholder, Murfree Chair of Excellence in Dyslexic Studies
Tim Odegard serves as the editor-in-chief of Annals of Dyslexia and on the editorial board of Perspectives on Language and Literacy. These official publications of the International Dyslexia Association feature peer-reviewed research, as well as practical articles for educators, respectively.

Tennessee Center for the Study and Treatment of Dyslexia


@MTSUDyslexia Center