The Science of Reading: A Defining Movement
Dr. Maria Murray, Founder and President of The Reading League
Release Date: September 28, 2021
The future depends on our children and one way to fully empower them is to recognize that literacy is a fundamental right in society. Join Dr. Maria Murray—founder and president and CEO of The Reading League—for an innovative podcast episode as she explains why the science of reading is now regarded as a defining movement and addresses the need to protect the integrity of its findings so that the promise of successful reading outcomes for our students can be realized.
In this podcast, Dr. Murray will discuss:
- Defining the Science of Reading
- Recognizing literacy as a human right
- What the Science of Reading is NOT
- ‘Science’ separates what the Science of Reading is
- What we have learned; What we still have to learn
- How to be good citizens for the Science of Reading
- Creating equity and much more!
You don’t want to miss this engaging conversation!
Dr. Maria Murray, Founder and President of The Reading League
Founder and CEO/president of The Reading League, a not-for-profit organization whose mission is to advance the awareness, understanding, and use of evidence-aligned reading instruction. Prior to founding The Reading League, Dr. Murray was an associate professor at the State University of New York at Oswego, where she taught courses related to literacy assessment and intervention. She received her Ph.D. in Reading Education from Syracuse University, where she served as project coordinator for Dr. Benita Blachman’s numerous federally funded, early reading intervention grants. Dr. Murray is passionate regarding the prevention and remediation of reading difficulty and consistently strives to increase educator knowledge and the connections between research and practice. Dr. Murray is an experienced associate professor with a demonstrated history of working in the higher education industry. She is skilled in Student Development, Research, Student Affairs, Curriculum Development, and Public Speaking.
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Narrator: Welcome to EDVIEW360.
Pam Austin:Should literacy be recognized as a human right?
Dr. Maria Murray: It's the defining human right of the 21st century. We urge you to join us by insisting that all children are afforded instruction that gives them the best chance to learn to read and write, regardless of ZIP code, ethnic origin, dialect, or language. Children who are readers and writers are empowered to refuse to be defined by the low expectations of others. And together, we can influence, activate, and tell the stories of lives that have been dynamically altered through a united commitment to transform educational equity through evidence-based practices. It's for the sake of children who depend on us to ensure that equity and literacy become the wings where they can soar into a bright future full of promise and purpose.
Narrator: You just heard from Dr. Maria Murray, president of The Reading League. Dr. Murray is our guest today on EDVIEW 360.
PA: This is Pam Austin. Welcome back to the EDVIEW 360 podcast series. We are so excited to have you back with us. I'm conducting today's podcast from my native New Orleans, channeling the heart of Voyager Sopris Learning in Dallas, Texas. Today, we are excited to welcome Dr. Maria Murray—founder, president, and CEO of The Reading League. Dr. Murray will dive into explaining why the science of reading is now regarded as a defining movement. Dr. Murray, welcome to the EDVIEW 360 podcast. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and how you became involved in education?
MM: Well, thank you very much, Pam. Thank you, EDVIEW 360. This is a huge honor for me to be invited and I will happily have a fun conversation with you about the science of reading, my passion. I became involved in education, starting with a secondary social studies certification here in New York state and quickly learning there was this thing called reading disabilities when students I worked with couldn't read. So that began the path. A lot of us have a winding path. At some point during that journey, I hit the Emerald City, I'll call it. I've never done that before, but that's what it felt like. I managed to be lucky enough to be introduced to Dr. Bonita Blackman, who then became my mentor, my advisor, and a dear friend. We're actually talking tomorrow at lunchtime. She's retired and living in Tennessee now, but, you know, she had her lineage come from Jeanne Chall and [Donald] Shankweiler and you get the idea. The Haskins Labs folks.
So she was on the cusp of discovering the importance of this thing called phonological awareness and she became a scientist because she wanted to know: How do we fix reading problems? How do we prevent them? And I was so blessed to be able to learn from her. I wanted to grow up and become a scientist just like her, but then something else entered my consciousness, which was, "Hey, nobody knows about this work we're doing or that others are doing in Houston or in Florida or whatever." There's good things happening, good things to inform us of how to assess and instruct, and how the brain does these things, and why aren't the people who need to know it aware of it? So that turned my head away from growing up and becoming a scientist to becoming a professor, which only scared me more because I realized I could teach it, but then what if they go into a school that's filled with people who don't know about it and...? So thankfully the idea of forming a social movement, a league of experts that care and know this stuff who are willing to give their time and treasure and talent, and we formed a reading league. So here I am. Hi.
PA: I just love your journey, Dr. Murray. The Emerald City connection, I think most of us will really get that. And it's just amazing how you do have a mentor, someone to support that help guide you from one step to the next, to the next, to the next. And here we are, so many literacy thought leaders. And with that in mind, Maria, why are literacy thought leaders now defining the science of reading as a movement?
MM: Well, I love this question. We've been at this for about a little over a year now. And a number of us were noticing that the term “science of reading” had become—and that's not a bad thing, necessarily–but it's a catchphrase now in education. You know, you hear of No Child Left Behind. You hear of RTI. You hear of these phrases that are not fully understood or appreciated and then people just go off and label what they're doing as such. And so, we've noticed a lot of misuse of the term. A lot of people would call the science of reading a philosophy or a fad or a pendulum swing or political agenda. They think it's a program of instruction. They think it's simply the Scarborough Rope or the Simple View of Reading. They think it's a specific thing like phonics. And we were starting to see people post on social media things like, "Oh, we tried the science of reading, but it didn't work, so we went back to X," or "We bought this program"—and they'd label it; I won't say it, but–"We were told it was the science of reading."
So how do you handle that? A) Maria Murray is thrilled to be able to say, "Hey, 10 years ago, we couldn't even say the phrase ‘science of reading’ without being shown to a school's door and asked to leave." I'm kidding. So, I'm thrilled that we can even say that term when before, you wouldn't do that. That's another story, but, you know, now that it's the belle of the ball or the popular catchphrase, I'm really worried—and so were others in this coalition that we formed—that perhaps people will only give it half-hearted use or implement it incorrectly without building their knowledge about it and then where will we be? It will be just another thing people try. They'll abandon it and then what do we do?
Where's the next best thing? Well, this is the best thing. This is our one moonshot to finally implement the findings that are the answer to this reading crisis we have, and what if we blow it? So, we decided, should we define it? Nobody should ever own words. Nobody should ever deign to own a definition, but perhaps we could at least say, “Here's what it is” clearly, concisely, and then “Here's what it's not” and so forth. So the coalition of the defining, we call it a defining moment, and then we decided to make it a defining movement so that we could constantly bring its message around to people and not make it just an on-and-off moment, make it perpetual.
PA: I just absolutely love it. So much more than a catchphrase, right? So much more than a fad. Just listening to you, words like “essential” and “timeless” went across my brain. A defining moment and a defining movement. I absolutely love it. I love the work that you are doing with your colleagues.
MM: Thank you. And it's people from all over the country that share the same passion. You know, we're not alone, and I love nothing more than bringing passionate people to the same room, to the same whatever. It doesn't have to be a room. To the same conversation. It's so powerful.
PA: And providing this essential, timeless understanding to teachers to benefit these students. Yeah. Got another question for you. Should literacy be recognized as a human right? And if so, explain [the] importance of recognizing literacy as a human right.
MM: Well, that is probably going to be the most beautiful question, thought, thing to ponder that I could ever imagine because literacy is indeed a human right and I hope it's not jumping ahead too much, but we have created an epilogue. We have a preamble to kind of situate why this movement is necessary and then we also created kind of a closing statement. We've also created a defining guide, which can be found by anybody right now on www.whatisthescienceofreading.org. That's the defining movement's website. So the defining guide will have this epilogue in it. And this was written by one of our coalition members, the amazing Dr. Tracy Weeden at Neuhaus Education Center.
“We believe that literacy success for all is the defining human right of the 21st century. We urge you to join us by insisting that all children are afforded instruction that gives them the best chance to learn to read and write, regardless of ZIP code, ethnic origin, dialect, or language. Children who are readers and writers are empowered to refuse to be defined by the low expectations of others. Our deepest gratitude to the dedicated educators, parents, and advocates of this defining movement. You are part of something bigger than any one of us individually, and together we can influence, activate, and tell the stories of lives that have been dynamically altered through a united commitment to transform educational equity through evidence-based practices.” So I won't give away the rest of it, but we end it by saying it's for the sake of children who depend on us to ensure that equity and literacy become the wings where they can soar into a bright future full of promise and purpose. Without words or access to words, you are not part of a literate society.
John Corcoran, a dear friend of mine who runs the John Corcoran Foundation and has an amazing story of becoming literate in his forties, talks about how there are societies that don't have a written code. They are oral-language-only, and that doesn't allow for the richness that we have with our words that we can put down on paper, our histories that we can put down on paper, our messages that we can put down on paper for people to learn from and participate with and engage with. So, of course it's a human right—and one that we take advantage of, I think. We just take it for granted, not advantage of. We take it for granted and don't really understand that the fact that two-thirds of our students not reading proficiently isn’t the norm. It's not the norm and it's not a child problem. That's an adult problem. We're not sitting up, paying attention, valuing what should be happening and what's possible. The reading crisis has an answer. It's the science of reading, I'm sorry. It's the science of reading. We have to sit up and take note.
PA: And you will get no argument from me, Dr. Murray. It is the science of reading. You know, just hearing that excerpt that you read highlighted what equity means, right? Affording instruction, quality and effective instruction for the sake of the children. So it's what we provide for them, correct?
MM: Yep, absolutely.
PA: I just absolutely love that. Thank you for sharing.
MM: You're very welcome.
PA: Many of us understand what the science of reading is, or we think we understand what the science of reading is, but can you explain what the science of reading is not? I think you alluded a little bit to that in our previous conversation. If you can really hone in on what the science of reading is not, so we don't have those misconceptions.
MM: I would love to. We had to kind of really, as a group, pay attention to what it is not as much as to what it is. And we expected some pushback in doing this work. We all accepted that it might be that there is pushback. That has not really happened. I'd like to touch first upon a little bit of the pushback that we did get; it's all the same. It's some people saying, "Hey, there are other kinds of research out there. Why are you favoring or suggesting that research that is scientifically based..."—you know, experimental, quasi-experimental, or replicable peer-reviewed, some of those highlights of the word “science,” what that means and the definition [of] science of reading, because the word “science” is really the key thing to pay attention to in that phrase “science of reading”—“…What makes that different than other kinds of research?”
Well, when I get pushback about “There's other kinds of research,” I say absolutely. Qualitative research, correlational, causal research, observational studies, meta-analyses. There's others, right? There's case studies. I love it all. I love reading all of it and I love valuing all of it equally, quite frankly. However, when I get that kind of question, I ask in return: Can you not say or agree that research that is scientifically based, experimental, quasi-experimental, that kind of research has not had its fair share on the stage in the last couple of decades? We don't see it in schools of education. We don't see teachers made aware of it. We don't see new teachers, novice teachers, or experienced teachers. We see this thousands of times: “I never heard of it. Why didn't anyone tell us about this?”
MM: So I'm not asking for this to be the belle of the ball. No, I'm just asking that it have its place at the table as part of what teachers learn about at some point in their careers so that they can use this particular set of tools or this particular bit of knowledge to help children learn to read. And this is not a fight over what is better or what is more useful. It's not, it's like food and water. We need it all, but enough is enough of shunning and pushing away the science of reading. Nobody's saying it's better than anything else. We're just saying we need it.
PA: We definitely do need it. Science is the key, right? I love when you said science is the key thing to pay attention to. Can you please give our listeners an explanation of what you mean when you say science separates what the science of reading is? Again, I think you began to lead toward answering this question with your previous one. Just expand on that for us.
MM: Yeah. The science of reading is a vast interdisciplinary body of scientifically based research—there's the key—about reading and issues related to reading and writing, and so vast. Yeah. Long time, five decades across the world. Thousands of studies—multiple languages, not just English, right? It's culminated in so much evidence about how proficient reading and writing develop, why some have difficulty, and how we can assess and teach effectively to improve outcomes for children. Boom. It's nothing fancy. We didn't invent a new definition, really, we just clarified it as much as we could. So yes, in italics, though, you'll see when you see this in print anywhere that when we say “body of scientifically based research,” we italicize those words because there's a lot of reading research out there, but when we talk about the science of reading, we're talking about the kind that's scientifically based. The kind of research that is a certain method or approach that has a certain design component, that can specifically answer questions about why individuals have difficulty learning to read and what practices are effective.
So it's a certain kind of research that we're talking about with certain designs and methods of identifying evidence. I remember when I started my doctoral program, I sat with Dr. Peter Mosenthol, and he's like, "So you want to be a quantitative researcher?" And I said, "Sure. You know, I want to work with numbers." And he goes, "Oh, so you want to figure out how to get kids from A to B." I'm like, "OK, that's a simple way of putting it, but yes, I want children to get from having difficulty to being successful, so A to B sounds like I'll sign up for that."
PA: You're thinking about the effects, right? What is effective? Because that's the keyword that runs through my brain, Dr. Murray, as I'm listening to you speak. Let's go back to what the science of reading is not. You gave us a wonderful definition of what the science of reading is. What is it not?
MM: OK, so we say that the science of reading is not a philosophy. We hear people say, “I believe…” or “I feel that…” Well, you can say that you believe or feel that the science of reading is whatever. But to me, science is not about belief. It's about fact. So it's also not a trend and it's not a new idea because it's been around for 50 years. I've had people say, “When you present, we don't want our teachers to think that this has been around a while, and they've missed it.” And I'm like, well, that's the truth, and I believe the truth always sets us free. So, it has been around for a long time, and I know that upsets some people that they haven't heard about it, but that's just how it is. It's not a pendulum swing. It's not something that anyone is ever going to come to a school and say to a group of educators, "You know that thing called phonological awareness? Well, oops, turns out it's not important for reading." That's never going to happen.
MM: You know, just like other sciences have evolved, science thuds and lands like a rock. It gets smoothed, it gets polished, but it doesn't swing. What swings are our practices and things we get from, you know, maybe publishers or policies. Those things swing as far as a pendulum. It is not a political agenda. You can hear the science of reading is a right-wing agenda or a left-wing agenda. It's not. It's not a political agenda. It is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is not a program of instruction.
So, you don't buy a book and all of a sudden do the science of reading, and it's not a single component of instruction like phonics. A lot of people say “We got a new phonics program to add to X, Y, or Z, so now we're doing the science of reading.” So, I hope that helps end some false beliefs about what it is. It's like, think about it as the science of medicine, right? Like we've had 100 years of discoveries or new understandings about our bodies and our psyches and things like that. So, you don't all of a sudden do the science of medicine, right?
PA: Not at all. Not at all. I can go back to those two words that keep floating through my brain: “essential” and “timeless.”
MM: Now I want a T-shirt that says that.
PA: I love it. So, can you give our listeners an explanation of what you mean when you say science separates what the science of reading is?
MM: Yeah. Succinctly put, the word “science” in there is the thing to key in on. Mainly, it's… When older versions and definitions of the science of reading used to take a little longer to say it, and I'm sure you've heard this, they would say “scientifically based reading research.” And we don't use that anymore. I don't know why. SBRR was the thing that was in a lot of the books and stuff we read, and it was in legislation—IDEA and so forth was I think the first time, though, that phrase appeared. However, that separates it from other kinds of research and methodologies of finding, of ways of knowing about reading and literacy.
PA: Oh, yes. In short, it's knowing what works, right?
MM: Knowing what works. And the cool thing is, is like the definition says, the science of reading is interdisciplinary. So what do we mean by that? Well, it's derived from research conducted in many, many multiple fields. Different fields. Cognitive psychology, communication sciences, developmental psychology, implementation science—that's cool, linguistics, neuroscience, school psychology education, special education. So researchers in all of these different fields have explored various aspects of reading and writing literacy. And what's very cool—and this is how science works over time—we find that their discoveries, their answers all kind of reach consensus. So I just said to someone today, it's like, when I cut open an onion, I don't expect to see this onion that I cut open look different than the other one in the bag. Like a brain is a brain. You know, we have areas of the brain that focus on language, that focus on memory, that focus on processing sounds and processing print and visual areas and emotional areas.
A brain is a brain, and so of course these different fields are going to find similar findings, be it whether they do it through an experiment having people read and memorize passages or a look inside the brain with FMRIs and whatnot. So over the decades, various experts and scientists asked similar questions and came up with similar answers because that's how it works. And then they converged to some things that we still have a lot to know. We're not ever going to be done, but there are some things we know with some certainty and that's what we can hang our hat on. Yes, this helps more kids who are learning English get from A to B and close that gap.
This helps more kids who have learning disabilities of whatever sort get from A to B. This helps children from different backgrounds, disadvantaged backgrounds, catch up to their peers. And so I don't know what else to say. Sign me up for that, you know? I mean, it's fabulous to be at this point in time. It's really very cool to be at this very point in time where we have at our fingertips such a long and established body of evidence that we can get answers from and that can point us to where to go get the next answers.
PA: Oh, yes.
MM: It's a pretty exciting time.
PA: It's very exciting. You know, that evidence is that affirmation, that certainty so that we don't waste time on a strategy that's out there in the world that might not work. It might be fun to look at. Might be beautiful to see, but does it work for these students? And you listed all sorts of students: our English language learners, our students who maybe have some oral deficiency, right?
MM: Absolutely. Why waste time? Why waste money? Why waste hope?
MM: I mean, fast and furious. I want kids to get the words off the page and then, you know, get that skill to them early on and then spend the rest of their educational careers just having the word fill them up with their world.
PA: Yes, and school's the first place they feel success. So we want that success to start as soon as possible. So, we've clarified the science of reading as a defining moment. Now, what have we learned so far? You gave us some information of items that we learned, maybe a recap on that, and what do we still need to learn?
MM: Well, that's a fabulous question. I'm so happy that one came up. So, our group said, “Well, let's create a definition,” but, you know, when you get a group of really smart, ambitious, passionate people in a room, they're like, “Well, we should also do this and this and this.” So that's why it took us a year because we wanted to come up with a rationale and explain our goals and say what the science of reading is not and what aspects make it the science and all those things you and I have talked about in the last number of minutes. We wanted to establish calls to action for all stakeholders. We wanted to, you know, have that beautiful preamble and that equity statement as bookends around it and talk about how this includes learners with linguistic differences. A lot of people say “The science of reading isn't for my population of children.” It is. It’s for all children.
We wanted to talk about MTSS, so there are different sections that we have written. We've tried to keep them short—no more than 250 words. We tried to keep them without jargon, you know, very simple. And these will all be published in a book, a defining guide, kind of like a field guide for the science of reading. Just how wonderful would it be if families, community members, policyholders, caregivers, pediatricians, private foundations, literacy associations… what if everyone had this at their fingertips and could have a common understanding of what we're talking about when we say science of reading? Then it'll ultimately be published into a tangible book if people want that for their purposes as well.
PA: Dr. Murray, I have to tell you, the idea of a field guide for a science of reading? What a great reference tool for all.
MM: I think so, and it can be a living thing, you know. We can have... as we learn more, we can adjust it. Who says it has to... you know, we want it to be something that grows as we do. So, there are a lot of instructional practices that we can say align with the science of reading—and just for example, phonemic awareness, right? And the instruction about having children attend to the phonemes and spoken words. That is important. We know that an emphasis on accuracy and automaticity while reading connected texts is valuable and things we don't yet have understandings about are... Well, the one where we have the most knowledge from the science of reading is related to word recognition, getting the word off the page, how to help kids decode accurately and learn their alphabet and the sounds accurately and automatically. What we don't have as much scientific evidence on are aspects related to language comprehension.
I mean, we know some common-sense things, right? Like doing read-alouds to build vocabulary and knowledge and things like that, but it makes common sense to have classroom conversations about text and instruction of inference and genre types and conventions of grammar and syntax and so forth. But there are some things that there just will never be, you know, scientific experiments set up, the expensive… you know, yearlong in a school with treatment and control groups. You won't do that. And there's also—one thing you'll hear about is our decodable texts based on the science of reading. That one you probably have heard. Well, that's going to be a hard one to set up an experiment on because you can't go into a school and say to an administrator or school board, “Would you mind if we took all your first-grade classrooms and gave some kids decodable text only and some kids a different kind of text like leveled text only, and then see what happens?”
You couldn't do that because kids need more than one kind of text. And, you know, so that kind of isolating the effects of decodable text is something we will unlikely ever study. I know people who have tried to do that in the doctoral programs, but they couldn't get it approved by the human subjects boards and so forth. And another other one is sound walls, right? It's fantastic that people are taking down their word walls and putting up sound walls, and people are like, “Well, we don't have any scientific proof that those work.” OK, but these are tools; decodable text and sound walls, these are beautiful tools that allow the instructor—who now hopefully has knowledge about the basic tenets of the science of reading—to help their student do what the science of reading shows, which is important. The structured literacy piece, that attending to the sound structure of words, systematic explicit instruction. How do you have systematic and explicit instruction with a scope and sequence if you don't use decodable text? I don't know.
PA: Right, yes.
MM: How do you achieve success in implementing your state's standards, which might say, “For fourth grade, you want children to be able to accurately and automatically read multisyllabic words, both in connected text and in isolation”? Well, how do you do that if you're not using texts that have kids learn how to do that? You know, instead of just memorizing words and using pictures, et cetera. So I want people to be able to be judicious and say, “Well, yes, there is no proof from an experiment by these authors at Yale on sound walls, but of course not.”
Even a pocket chart, chaining mat, these are tools we use to ensure that we are aligning our structured literacy or instruction to get kids to decode accurately or whatever in practice. So, it's like we're melding the findings from the science about how the brain has to process and learn how to read and go through the stages to successful reading with the art of teaching, so I love the idea that it's not just the science of reading. We have to combine that and the geniuses in the classroom with these beautiful tools. So, I hope that wasn't too rambly, but it's not something we talk about a lot, and I think it's important.
PA: Oh, I think it's important as well. I love the way you paired the science of reading with the art of teaching. I am a teacher at heart. You know, you outlined some practical tools such as decodable texts, such as the sound wall, and you were able to relate that and how it allows for the effective delivery of the science of reading. The science of reading and the art of teaching. They go hand in hand, don't they?
MM: Yep. They do.
PA: I want to introduce a phrase. The phrase is “good citizen,” and I want to use this phrase in conjunction with the science of reading. I want you to share with our listeners what it means to be good citizens for the science of reading.
MM: Oh, I am happy where we are right now. So, I'm very honored that Dr. Nathan Clemens—we spoke and were introduced via, again, Dr. Tracy Weeden, and she put out there on Twitter once a call for people like in this science of reading community: Is there a code of ethics we can establish for ourselves in this new community? It's growing in number rapidly, you know, there's a social media group out there with 110,000 members in it. I mean, this is insane. This is beautiful. And we're all passionate about it. And we want to do the best and we're eager and excited about this new… for many people, this new thing, this science of reading. And we want to know, are we doing every single thing right? And sometimes we have a little bit of infighting, you know? But I know that scientists would say in their long careers if they've been around a while that it's the arguments. Respectful.
It's the arguing in any scientific field that leads people to think more deeply, and wonder, and then go out and try to answer a question. So, should we introduce the letter name or the letter sound first? Should we connect them? Like, there's all these little questions. I'm never going to die on one of those hills. I'm like, “Teach them both and get it done.” You know, like, they're important. Phonemes and letters. Yes. Both. Let's get it done. Let's go. But Dr. Clemens wrote for this defining guide a proposed code of ethics for our science of reading community, and it's actually going to be a paper published [by] Clemens, Powell, and Vaughn. It'll be published this year, and they gave us some excerpts that we can include here, which include that we should fairly evaluate all evidence and apply a healthy critique to all the studies, even when those conclusions are inconsistent with your beliefs.
So, you know, to try to get rid of some bias and let's dig deeper, too, and seek clarification. Look at the sources that vendors or presenters are citing, and if you're not sure, ask them to clarify. Disagree respectfully. Debate is a sign of a healthy community. By all means, let's debate, but let's be respectful and decent when we do it. Otherwise, we're just going to break up in different camps and we don't have time for that. We've, at The Reading League, learned some lessons in that ourselves and feel we grew stronger as a result. Have courage to reconsider. So, you know, I love it when a teacher or an administrator sits back and says, “OK, what do we got to do?” You know, like, in the light of this new evidence, I'm willing to change my beliefs or practices. So, it goes on about recognizing the fallibility of anecdotes and personal experiences, disclosing conflicts of interest, and then self-critiquing.
And the last one is, “Base decisions on the quality of evidence, not on the popularity of an author or presenter.” So, wonderful things to keep as guideposts as we go on and forward in this work, and I want to say: Reading League, we consider ourselves knowledge brokers. We exist, and our mission as a nonprofit really is to not do same old, same old, you know? Not one-and-done PD. We want to literally transform the entire system that has kept teachers sidelined from the science of reading. So, we are knowledge brokers. How do we get the knowledge from the knowledge discoverers to the knowledge users? How do we do that? We do it with a conference, and we do it with the journal we created, and, you know, everything we can, we'll get our hands in if it gets the teachers the assistance they need, but knowledge is what you need in order to transform your beliefs.
And once your beliefs change, then you can transform—or you're willing to, rather, transform your practices. And then when you transform your practices, then you see the changes in your outcomes. But it all has to start with knowledge. You can't jump into the line. You can't cut ahead. You need knowledge to set you free to make you go, “OK, I used to believe this and now I see there's evidence to the contrary. I believe differently now, so I have to change what I do.” And lo and behold, our kids are now, you know, double-digit increasing year after year.
So, it's all about knowledge, everybody. Please start with the knowledge-building, not with the thing. There are so many publishers making wonderful products out there now—wonderful, aligned products. We try to stay agnostic and not recommend them, but we know that knowledge out there is going to create that wake for the publishers who are on board to get in there and get their products to the market. You know, and we hope that knowledge creates a wake for publishers that aren't aligned to genuinely transform and not make it about a publishing empire that's, you know, possibly harming children's reading. So big ambitions, but knowledge first.
PA: Knowledge first. Knowledge that helps to allow that transformation, right? Change the mind to change the practice. You know, I think that would be a good way for good citizens to advocate for science of reading. I was going to ask that question, but you answered it all along the way from the guide that you described. That would be one resource through what The Reading League is actually doing, providing that knowledge to help change the mind.
PA: You know, earlier in our conversation, you highlighted good instruction, what that looks like. Good instruction that's quality and effective for students and we talked about that word “equity.” How does the science of reading support equity in our classrooms? And I might've given you some tidbits to answer that myself. I think I was leading you there, Dr. Murray.
MM: Well, it seems like an obvious question with an obvious answer. Equity, as we all know, is allowing the same access opportunities in education for learning. You cannot have equity if you can't have reading, because without the reading—successful reading that we hope to get with implementing the science of reading—without that you are not afforded the instruction that helps you become proficient or, hey, even advanced. So how are you going to create readers and writers that are empowered rather than withered? I don't understand that, if… without using the findings from the science of reading that have, time and time again, without fail, in universities across this land, served to close those gaps. And there are too many broken systems, as we also say in our statement, that have perpetuated these inequities.
So, I say that we have this new social contract within the science of reading that can guarantee what we've been wanting for way too long. I hope we can wake up every unaware citizen of this country and beyond. I mean, this is not a United States problem. This is a Central America, I mean, Canada, Australia. I mean, wherever you go across the world, literacy is not as high as it should be. So–
PA: There's so many aspects of science of reading and I think you're sharing them quite nicely, I have to say.
MM: Thank you so much.
PA: You know, we are nearing the end of our podcast. Is there anything else that schools and districts should know about securing funding from ESSA or other funding options? Any special tips or suggestions that you might want them to be aware of?
MM: Well, I will take advantage of your question and use a call to action for district and school administrators, school boards, and school committees, and say that they should use their funding to prioritize PD on the science of reading. Not just for their educators, but for themselves as well, because they hold the power that teachers don't have to create that long-lived true transformation within a system that… where they don't have to constantly keep, you know, every retirement or grade shift of an educator could upset the balance. But district as school administrators, school boards, and school committees should prioritize the necessary support to adapt evidence-aligned assessments, resources, and practices that are available out there. And it's only with knowledge will they know which are and which aren't, because everybody is slapping a sticker on their products saying that they're aligned with the science of reading, but they might be using that catchphrase and abusing the term, which is not OK, as we talked about earlier.
So, I hope educators embrace opportunities to learn about the science of reading and reflect upon their practice and challenge approaches to reading instruction that aren't aligned with the evidence, and hopefully their administrators hear them because they also have learned about it. Oh, and then, you know, hey, while I'm here, publishers and PD providers, please promote and create products that are aligned and eliminate those that aren't from your offerings. Get it out of there. Pull the weeds.
PA: They hold the power for transformation, right? Absolutely love it. Finally, if you could wave a magic wand and change anything in the world of education, what would you change and why?
Wow. A magic wand. You don't often get that offer. Well, I guess it would be… the magic wand would be to wave it and be already done with this work. I would pull a future day to tomorrow because I know there is a future day where we'll look back and say, “What did we used to do?” I hope I'm not dead when that happens, but I truly believe that it will be the norm that teachers get prepared, and it will be the norm that those schools thusly become filled with prepared teachers, and it will be the norm that publishers… just because of supply and demand, right? That everything will align eventually, but I don't want to wait another minute for that. The magic wand would eliminate any waiting, because how many more children are going to not learn to read until we get to that time? It's not OK. So, I guess I would use a time machine instead of a magic wand.
PA: You've converted the wand into a time machine. I absolutely love it, Dr. Murray. That's absolutely OK. It's your prerogative. Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Murray, it's been a pleasure visiting with you.
MM: The pleasure is all mine. Thank you.
PA: Give us some more information. Tell us how we can learn more about you and follow you on social media and how we can learn more about The Reading League as well.
MM: Oh, so easy: thereadingleague.org. If you want to be a member, we're a professional organization, a national literacy organization, as well as a nonprofit. We're a lot of things, but it's free to join The Reading League and have your voice be part of this movement. You can also go to whatisthescienceofreading.org, our sister site, for the defining movement and add your name to that. This is kind of like a social movement, if you will. We need people. We need voices. We need numbers. If we can go march up the steps of a state ed department and say that there are tens of thousands of people, I mean, that might be our time machine creator right there, right?
We ask people to commit to lifelong learning, subscribe to the journal, come to our conference on... I'm sorry, October 13th. You can't come to it, but you can come to it virtually, actually. Register for it. It's super cheap and. inexpensive, rather. I don't know when this podcast will air, but if it airs after October 13th, you can still go to our website and register for it and watch the recorded sessions. So, we really want to make everything affordable and accessible for people at all steps of this journey.
PA: And I have to say from past experience, the conference is a powerful way to dive into the science of reading. Get affirmation, learn more, have the opportunity to collaborate, even virtually.
MM: And then, of course, how can I forget? We just started a TV show called “The Reading Buddies,” and that aired September 13th.
PA: How exciting. Can you name it again?
MM: The Reading League's “Reading Buddies.” So “Reading Buddies” is on our local PBS affiliate here in central New York, WCNY, but if you live outside of the region, you can catch it on our “Reading Buddies” YouTube channel. So, five episodes out of the 20 we've already produced are uploaded there and it's a charming, loving interaction between a woman and her pet dog and their robot friend Alphabot, and they do a lot of science of reading work that doesn't look like learning at all. It looks like fun, and it reinforces what beginning readers are learning in school or what they may have missed due to the pandemic.
So, we are excited to have our first season airing right now, and next spring we'll be producing season two with an expanded set and an expanded set of characters that is more diverse. We were limited due to filming during COVID and mask-wearing regulations and social distancing, but we'll have a lot more to offer even next year. But fall in love with it now, it's precious. It's Broadway actors that were displaced due to COVID, and we mixed them and their arts and entertainment and creativity and sparkle with the science of reading. So, it's all about that art and the science together.
PA: There you go. That's perfect. Once again, thank you for sharing your knowledge and your time. Thank you for spending time with us. This is Pam Austin bringing the best thought leaders in education directly to you.
Narrator: This has been an EDVIEW 360 podcast produced by Voyager Sopris Learning. For additional thought-provoking discussions, sign up for our blog, webinar, and podcast series at voyagersopris.com/podcast. If you enjoyed the show, we'd love a five-star review wherever you listen to podcasts and to help other people like you find our show. Thank you.