224: Incorporating Science of Reading

Show Notes:

Hi, fellow SLPs! In today’s episode, Hallie features Sara Marye, an accomplished educator, the CEO of The Stellar Teacher Company, and the creator/host of the Stellar Teacher Podcast. Together, we delve into advanced reading instruction strategies while exploring the science of reading and its application in the classroom for older students. Learn the five pillars of reading, Scarborough’s Reading Rope and gain insights into refining teaching methods with research-backed techniques, offering essential resources for educators and speech-language pathologists. Discover how to revolutionize your reading lessons and enhance student comprehension and vocabulary following Sara’s expert guidance and practical sentence writing routine.

Sara Marye is on a mission to empower elementary teachers to increase their literacy knowledge and become experts in their field. With over a decade of experience working as a classroom teacher, literacy specialist, and assistant principal, Sara enjoys pursuing opportunities that leave a big impact on the world of education.

Here’s what we learned:

  • The science of reading is a body of research that describes how the human brain learns to read.
  • The Five Pillars of Reading include Phonological Awareness, Phonics, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension.
  • Scarborough’s Reading Rope model is an essential framework for understanding how to develop proficient readers, intertwining word recognition with language comprehension.
  • Teachers should focus on aligning their reading instruction with the science of reading, incorporating practices such as teaching text structure, using graphic organizers, and explicit word study.
  • A simple sentence writing routine can help students build their understanding of syntax.


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Q: Why did the little girl hit her birthday cake with a hammer?

A: It was a pound cake.

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Hallie explores the benefits of role-playing in speech therapy to enhance vocational communication skills. Discover the practical strategies for SLPs to create realistic role-playing scenarios that prepare students for the workforce by developing language skills essential for professional success. Tailored for speech-language pathologists working with older students, Hallie offers insights into making therapy sessions relevant and engaging focusing on job interviews, client interactions, and team collaborations.

00:00:00 Hallie: Hey there, SLP. You are listening to this podcast, so I know that you love to listen to podcasts. And if that is the case, then I know that you are gonna love my secret private podcast, Secondary Secrets for SLPs. It's six short episodes will have you walking away feeling refreshed and inspired and ready to take on those challenging secondary speech students. So if you work with grades four through 12 and are in a planning rut or wanting some fresh new ideas to keep your students motivated, make sure you head to speechtimefun.com/secondarysecrets. You're not going to find this podcast in your iTunes podcast search browser. You can only get access by going to that link. So head to it now. 

00:00:52 Hallie: It is six short episodes that you can listen to it in under an hour, like totally Netflix binge-worthy. I made this just for you and I know you are going to love it. SLPs have been telling me already that it has changed their way for working with their older speech students. So head on over again to speechtimefun.com/secondarysecrets or use the link in the show notes and I can't wait to hear what you think. Now let's head on to this week's episode of SLP Coffee Talk.

00:01:29 Hallie: Welcome to SLP Coffee Talk, the podcast designed exclusively for speech-language pathologists who work with older students, grades 4 through 12. I am your host, Hallie Sherman, your SLP behind Speech Time Fun, the Speech Retreat Conference, and the SLP Elevate membership. And I'm thrilled to bring you conversations, strategies, and insights that will give you the jolt of inspiration that you need. Whether you're tuning in during your morning commute, on a break in between sessions, or even during a well-deserved relaxation time. I am here for you each and every week. Let's do this, SLPs.

00:02:09 Hallie: Hey, hey, and welcome to another episode of SLP Coffee Talk. Today, I don't have an SLP, but I have someone that I know you are going to love learning from. So, Sara from the Stellar Teacher Company, welcome to the show. 

00:02:23 Sara: Thank you so much for having me, Hallie. I'm very excited to be on today and to talk to your listeners. 

00:02:29 Hallie: Tell everyone a little bit about your educational background and how you got to what you're doing today.

00:02:34 Sara: Yeah, so I feel like I've done a little bit of everything. I started teaching in first grade and second grade, eventually moved up to fourth grade. I ended my school-based teaching career as an assistant principal, so I even have some admin experience. But for the last, I think six years or so, I have been out of the classroom teaching teachers and supporting educators full-time. I have a podcast of my own, the Stellar Teacher Podcast, a membership site where we support upper elementary literacy teachers in becoming more effective reading and writing teachers. So I just love encouraging teachers. I love supporting them. I love learning myself and then of course sharing my own knowledge and learning with my audience. So that's a little bit about what I've been doing. 

00:03:15 Hallie: And I know my listeners are going to love hearing from you because we SLPs are the last to like, know anything related to, like education. I feel like, and I know my district before I left it. We weren't talking about the science of reading at all. So I had to educate myself on it. And I'm sure many of my listeners are not familiar. What is the science of reading? Is it new? Tell us a little bit about this. 

00:03:39 Sara: Yeah, absolutely. So I actually think that even though SLPs are the last to know about things in education, I bet most SLPs when they hear about what the science of reading is, they're like, I got this. Because a huge part I know what SLPs do is to support students with language comprehension, which is actually a huge part of the science of reading.

00:03:57 Sara: But what the science of reading is, that simply refers to the body of research that talks about how the human brain learns to read. It's not new, it has been around for over 20 years. And it encompasses, like I said, a wide range of research. There's research on neuroscience, there's research from school psychologists, there's reading experts, there's all sorts of just research out there that tells us how the brain learns to read.

00:04:24 Sara: And ultimately, what it is based on, it's very connected to the five pillars of reading, phonological awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. And it really tells us how our instruction needs to be rooted in those five pillars. But oftentimes as reading educators, we think of those things as buckets, right? So it's like, I have my phonics lesson, check. I have my fluency lesson, check. I have my vocabulary lesson, check.

00:04:49 Sara: But with reading, reading is very much a complex process and all of those different aspects really need to be woven together for effective reading instruction. So there is a visual model that really explains the science of reading that I absolutely love. And that is called Scarborough's Reading Rope. I can share a link with you if you wanna share it in the show notes. Otherwise, if you just do a Google search for Scarborough's Reading Rope, you will see that. And what this is, is I want you to visualize a rope. And if you think about a rope, a rope is created by weaving two strands together. 

00:05:25 Sara: And so we can think of reading as the same way. In order for our students to become skilled and confident readers, we need to weave two different strands together. And we have the word recognition strand, which includes things like phonological awareness, decoding, sight word recognition. And then we have the language comprehension strand, which includes things like having background knowledge, vocabulary, understanding syntax and language structures, having the availability to do verbal reasoning, understanding literacy concepts like genre and text structure.

00:05:59 Sara: So students need to have all of those aspects in order to have the language comprehension strand. And as we weave these strands together, word recognition and language comprehension, the result is skilled readers. And the reason why I love this visual of the rope is because in order to create a long and strong rope, you need to constantly be weaving word recognition with language comprehension, word recognition with language comprehension. So it's not like we only teach word recognition in lower elementary, and then when students get to a certain point, we stop focusing on things like phonics or sight word recognition or phonological awareness. 

00:06:32 Sara: We continue to build those things up into upper elementary as well, but just at an advanced level. And the same thing in lower elementary, we still wanna focus on the comprehension side of things because our students need those tools as well to comprehend. So that's a little bit in a nutshell of what the science of reading is. But like I said, I know speech-language pathologists focus so much on language comprehension. So none of this is gonna be new to your audience. 

00:06:55 Hallie: No, but one thing that they might not be familiar with, what does reading instruction look like at the upper grades? So that my listeners, they work with fourth, fifth, sixth, and their students are still struggling readers. So I'm curious what reading instruction looks like when they might not be picking up on those skills like they should. 

00:07:17 Sara: Yeah, so I think there's a couple of things. One, you know, it's like every classroom, reading instruction is gonna look slightly different because the students in that class are gonna be different. But ultimately teachers in upper elementary can use Scarborough's Reading Rope and you know, the different aspects of word recognition and language comprehension to fill in the gaps with what their student needs. So a couple of things that we wanna make sure that we're doing first of all, is we wanna make sure in upper elementary that our focus is not on helping our students master the standards, which I know is very difficult.

00:07:49 Sara: When I was in the classroom, it was very much about, let's teach the standards and assess the standards. And that's probably because we have this lovely standardized test at the end of the year that we get so worried about. But it's like, okay, this week we're teaching, main idea. Let me find passages that align to, main idea. This week we're teaching plot structure. Let me find passages that are aligned to plot structure. And then let me assess my students on the standards. But the problem with that is, is we're really just teaching our students the standards for the sake of learning the standard. 

00:08:18 Sara: And ultimately, what we wanna do in upper elementary, and really all the grades, is we wanna teach reading for the sake of learning knowledge and learning about concepts. And so we really want to, first of all, in upper elementary, make sure that our instruction is content forward. So the first thing we're thinking about is what is the goal? So, you know, maybe you are really trying to align your instruction to help your students master a lot of the social studies or science topics that you're going to be teaching as well. So you're going to select texts based off of, what knowledge do you want your students to understand? 

00:08:50 Sara: And you're still gonna teach the standards, but you're gonna teach the standards in a way that is going to help your students master the end goal, which is comprehension of a text. So once you really have your texts aligned and decided, then you can start to think about, okay, what comprehension strategies or what vocabulary terms or what sentence structure concepts do my students need to have in order to understand this text. And really ideally when you're teaching a text to your students, you want to incorporate all of the aspects of language comprehension into that instruction. 

00:09:21 Sara: So before you begin reading, you wanna take some time to build background knowledge and find out what your students already know and maybe activate some of the knowledge that they might have, pre-teach something, maybe whether it's showing them a picture or an artifact that will help them warm up and understand what it is that they're gonna be reading about, you want to introduce vocabulary terms that they might see and explicitly teach vocabulary. You wanna preview the text structure so students understand the organization of the text and can anticipate the information that they're gonna be read. 

00:09:52 Sara: While you're reading, you want to be focusing on sentence structure, you wanna be highlighting sentences in a text that are going to, maybe be challenging for students, you know, identifying things like a conjunction in a sentence and point out the different ideas that it might connect. You wanna be asking your students a variety of comprehension questions. If you're teaching your students about, main idea, that obviously is an important seal for them to have, but that might not be the only type of question you ask them during a text. You might ask them a variety of other questions while you're reading as well. 

00:10:23 Sara: And then of course, I think after the reading experience, you want your students to be able to summarize what they are reading. You want them to write and process their reading. Once they've completed and so always including in some sort of written response as well So that's kind of just a big picture perspective of we want to be making sure that we're teaching with the end goal of comprehending a text but of course there are a variety of things that we do to help our students to get to that end goal.

00:10:46 Hallie: I love that and I think that Sara is so great, listeners, of teaching teachers about the strategies that we want them to be utilizing so that when they come to us, there's more evidence of maybe things not working or whatnot. So that is why it is so important that our teachers are aware of the effective reading instruction that is necessary for our students and the evidence behind necessary reading instruction and that it's all these different components and they need to be working on all of these things. 

00:11:17 Hallie: And by having that dialogue and conversation on a regular basis with our teachers, we can say, oh, you're still finding they're not able to grasp that main idea. Maybe that can be a goal we work on in speech. And we can be the one that focuses in on those little areas where they might be struggling. Or maybe the teacher might be noticing they're still not grasping those sentence structures things. We can be focusing on that in our speech rooms and explicitly in teaching them that in isolation. So that's why it's so important that there's communication. 

00:11:51 Hallie: So thank you, Sara. That was really, really helpful to like, know, I'm not aware of one, sometimes what is being done in the classroom and also what should be being done in the classroom is really important. What, like, why, what does it mean that teachers need to change the way they've been teaching reading? Like, what does that mean for teachers and like, why should SLPs know about that? 

00:12:15 Sara: Even though the science of reading has been around for a long time, I feel like within the last really two to three years, the first time I ever heard the phrase the science of reading was back in 2021. And it was actually I was giving a webinar. And a teacher was like, is this aligned to the science of reading? And I was like, I've never heard that term before. I have no idea what that means. So therefore, I don't know if what I'm doing is aligned to the science of reading or not. And it caused this moment of panic because I was like, I don't know what this is. 

00:12:41 Sara: And unfortunately, a lot of what we hear is like, we have to change the way that we've been teaching reading. We have to teach now with, science of reading aligned practices. I really think before you can make the decision whether or not you need to change a practice, you really need to have an understanding of what the science of reading is and you need to be able to identify, do you have any current practices that are aligned to the science of reading? 

00:13:02 Sara: And I know for me personally, when I started doing a lot more research on the science of reading, I recognized that there were things that I had been doing in the classroom all along, whether I knew they were aligned to the research or not, that were aligned to the science of reading. Things like teaching students about text structure and really having them understand the structure of a text and using graphic organizers before, during, and after reading that are aligned to text structure. Or things like explicitly teaching word study concepts, like teaching my students about Greek and Latin roots and prefixes and suffixes and helping identify those in the words. 

00:13:35 Sara: Those are all science of reading aligned practices. I was doing them, I just didn't know that they were aligned to the research. Now there were other things that I was doing like guided reading lessons, having students spend really long periods of independent reading, those things, they maybe don't have as much, like for sure, guided reading does not have anything that is backed up by research. So I was doing things that I needed to change, but I didn't need to overhaul everything that I was doing. 

00:14:02 Sara: So I think a lot of times when we hear it's like, okay, we need to change what we're doing, we need to align our instruction to the science of reading. Before any educator can do that, they need to have a strong understanding of exactly what the science of reading is, what those best practices are, and to recognize, do they have any of those currently happening in their classroom that they can either refine or improve? Or are there areas or gaps that they aren't doing things that are aligned to the science? 

00:14:25 Sara: I know for sure one of the things when I was in the classroom, a missed opportunity that I had was teaching and really focusing on sentence structure during our reading experiences. I taught sentences during writing, but I never focused on sentence structure from a reading comprehension perspective. And that is a huge part of language comprehension and being able to comprehend. So I think teachers don't necessarily have to automatically assume that because we are shifting towards the science of reading and wanting to align our instruction with the science. 

00:14:53 Sara: That doesn't necessarily mean that they have to change everything, but they might have to change some things. But in order for them to know what they're gonna have to change, they have to jump in, they have to start learning, they have to understand, you know, what are research aligned practices, and then start to put some of those in place in their classroom. 

00:15:08 Hallie: Are there any best resources for SLPs who wanna learn more about the science of reading and how they can incorporate the research in backed evidence into their practices? Where can they learn more about that? 

00:15:20 Sara: Yeah, absolutely. So I mean, I think because, you know, I know you and I have talked about how so much of what SLPs do is connected to language comprehension. You guys are helping students build their vocabulary. You are helping them understand sentence structure within a text. You know, you're helping them understand and all of those things there that are really labeled and targeted as language comprehension. Or if you're looking for podcasts that talk about language comprehension. Any of those resources, even if they are geared towards a classroom teacher, they are going to benefit speech and language pathologists as well because I know you guys are working to develop or help students from the language side of things. 

00:15:55 Sara: So look for anything that is really geared towards, like the language comprehension side of things. I know I have a lot of podcast episodes that talk about that. That is one of my favorite things that I talk about. A couple just like if you're looking for a good PD book, two of my favorites that I think really address the language comprehension side of things is The Reading Comprehension Blueprint by Nancy Hennessy just digs into the entire language comprehension side of things. And then The Writing Revolution by Natalie Wexler and Judith Hochman, while it is really focused just on obviously how to teach writing effectively, it covers a lot about syntax and sentence structure. 

00:16:30 Sara: And I think that is one of those areas that teachers and probably SLPs too, I think we don't understand how important sentence comprehension is and a student's ability to both write a complete sentence and read and break down and deconstruct a complete sentence. You know, I read somewhere in a book that comprehension begins at the sentence level. And so we need to spend so much time really focusing on sentences in order for our students to develop that comprehension. So those are two PD books that I have absolutely loved. 

00:16:59 Hallie: I love that. And yes, that's why I like, that's why I wanted to have Sara on the show because she teaches teachers that they should be focusing on this and we need to be focusing on it too. And if we, again, are both aligned in working towards that same common goal, think about how much more progress our students can be making. Like, can you share one of your favorite strategies that you like to tell your teachers to use, whether like for vocabulary, like sentence, like what are your favorite activity or strategy? 

00:17:26 Sara: One of the things that I encourage teachers to do, knowing how difficult syntax and sentence structure is both for teachers and students. We have created just a very simple sentence writing routine. And I'd be happy to share it with your audience if they're interested in grabbing it. But basically every day of the week, students are going to engage in a different sentence writing activity that is really gonna help them build their knowledge and understanding of syntax. So on Monday, they're going to expand a sentence by asking the 5W questions. So who, what, when, where, why. 

00:18:01 Sara: They answer just each question with one or two details and then they string them together to form a complete sentence. Super simple activity. It really helps students understand how sentences, how words work together within a sentence. The next day, students are going to look at a picture and write four different types of sentences. They're gonna ask a question, they're gonna write a statement, they're gonna write a command, they're gonna write an exclamation. 

00:18:22 Sara: I know so many students struggle with understanding how to write a question or how to write a statement. And so giving them regular practice with that. The next day students look at a fragment and they have to understand, how do I take that fragment and turn it into a complete sentence? Again, so many students write fragments, they don't know how to correct them, so we wanna give them practice with this as a fragment. Is it missing the noun phrase? Is it missing the verb phrase? What details do we need to add to form a complete sentence? 

00:18:49 Sara: The next day students are given two complete sentences and they have to figure out how to combine the ideas into a single sentence. So maybe that is taking two simple sentences and turning it into a compound sentence. Maybe that is taking two simple sentences and turning it into a simple sentence that has a compound subject or a compound predicate. And then the last activity is probably the student's favorite and that is where you give students a sentence that is all scrambled and mixed up and they have to unscramble the words to form a complete sentence. 

00:19:16 Sara: And you can do these activities really as single standalone activities. All of them help students build their, you know, syntax knowledge. It is really beneficial if you can connect each of these different activities to a text that you are reading, to a topic that you are reading so that we were connecting it back to that knowledge piece as well.

00:19:33 Hallie: I love it. And often so many of those activities that you mentioned often align with our goals. We might be working on conjunctions, compound sentences, complex sentences, complete sentences, detailed sentences. These are speech goals that are aligning to what they are doing in writing, in the classroom. So when we're trying to make our activities relevant SLPs, that is how, by making sure that what we are doing in our closets are aligning to what they are doing in the classroom and how it's going to benefit them. 

00:20:03 Hallie: They can't access the curriculum unless they have these skills and we want to be able to work on them. So we can support our teachers by knowing what they are doing in the classrooms, what they've tried, what has not been successful, and also what the research states is what is beneficial for our students. So.

00:20:20 Sara: Yeah, I was gonna say, and if I could just encourage your audience too, because I know your audience has so much knowledge about language comprehension, just being trained as a speech language pathologist, and there are so many classroom teachers that I think are still learning and understanding how sentence structure impacts comprehension or how vocabulary impacts comprehension. So as an SLP, if you're working on something with your students and you don't know if the teacher is doing it, share what you're doing as well. 

00:20:46 Sara: You know, it's like, I wish that the SLPs that worked with me would have come to me and been like, hey, this student actually might need some more practice with this because there were things that I was not doing in the classroom that I could have. So definitely don't be afraid to share what you're doing with the classroom teachers as well. Cause I know you guys have a lot of knowledge that is beneficial. 

00:21:02 Hallie: There's your encouragement, guys, to sometimes leave our speech closets and let the teachers know one, our role. And I was having a conversation with Sara before we started recording that sometimes teachers don't know that we're working on comprehension and language. They think we're just working on the R sound, lips, stuttering, which we are, making sure they're aware of our role and what we're doing with their students. Because if they don't know, they can't come to you with questions or whatnot. So thank you so much, Sara. Where can everyone learn more about you and everything you have to offer? 

00:21:36 Sara: Absolutely. So I am on Instagram at The Stellar Teacher Company. All of these things can be found on our website at stellarteacher.com. 

00:21:45 Hallie: Thank you so much, Sara. Go check her out, say hi. Tell your teachers to go check out her podcast. She has so much great value and information there. So thank you, everyone. I always end my episodes with a joke because jokes are language and they build rapport. So have one for you. Why did the little girl hit her birthday cake with a hammer? It was a pound cake. Multiple meaning words, pound. It's cheesy, it's dorky, it's dad jokes, but you know what, it builds rapport. 

00:22:32 Sara: It's fun.

00:22:32 Hallie: And it's fun, so why not? Thank you so much, Sara. Everyone, go say hi and check her out, and until next week, everyone, stay out of trouble.

00:22:45 Hallie: Thanks so much for tuning in to another episode of SLP Coffee Talk. It means the world to me that you're tuning in each and every week and getting the jolt of inspiration you need. You can find all of the links and information mentioned in this episode at my website, speechtimefun.com. Don't forget to follow the show so you don't miss any future episodes. And while you're there, it would mean the world to me if you would take a few seconds and leave me an honest review. See you next week with another episode full of fun and inspiration from one SLP to another. Have fun, guys!