La Trobe University researchers are leading a push to overhaul the way children are taught to read, with the launch of a virtual initiative that promotes the science behind reading and language development.
The Science of Language and Reading (SOLAR) Lab brings together teachers and allied health professionals, including speech-language pathologists and psychologists, to ensure new knowledge is incorporated into classroom practice.
SOLAR Lab Co-Director Professor Pamela Snow said many Australian schools are teaching children to read using methods for which the empirical evidence base is weak or non-existent.
“Methods for teaching children to read in primary school – and consolidating those skills in secondary school – vary greatly from one school to another. Some approaches have a firm basis in scientific evidence, but unfortunately many do not,” Professor Snow said.
SOLAR Lab Co-Director Associate Professor Tanya Serry said the Lab’s work is premised on the critical importance of word decoding skills and language comprehension.
“The practice in many classrooms is for early readers to memorise banks of sight words, read predictable texts and use pictures as cues to decipher meaning.
“Research shows us that students who are instead taught to systematically decode, and better understand the relationship between oral language and the written word, are more likely to develop into confident readers,” Associate Professor Serry said.
Professor Snow said the importance of schools using effective, research-backed methods for teaching children to read cannot be overstated.
“We know that children who are confident readers are more engaged with their learning, have fewer behavioural and emotional problems, are more likely to complete Year 12, and are less likely to have contact with the youth justice system or adult corrections.
“Getting reading instruction right for all children, regardless of the backgrounds and starting points, is absolutely vital if we are to give children the best start in life, and address some of society’s most pressing social and economic issues,” Professor Snow said.
The Lab’s foundations are most notably based on the Simple View of Reading (Hoover & Gough, 1990) and the Cognitive Foundations of Learning to Read model (Tunmer & Hoover, 2019). Its research also aligns closely with Multi-Tiered Systems of Support (MTSS; Hall, 2018).
The SOLAR Lab’s research will be used to inform future classroom practice and will also be incorporated into future reviews of La Trobe’s Education courses.