There’s a lot of books about the Science of Reading. But which ones are the best for comprehension? Getting started? Small group? Today, I want to answer those questions. I’m sharing my favorite books for specific reasons. I know I have a lot more reading to do around the Science of Reading, but these ones have helped me along my journey.
(Click on any book image to purchase!)
Best Book for Getting Started: Know Better, Do Better: Teaching the Foundations so Every Child Can Read by David Liben and Meredith Liben
Know Better, Do Better might be the easiest entrance into the Science of Reading. This one feels like a warm welcome into structured literacy by people who have seen both sides. David and Meredith Liben are such great authors because they both talk the talk AND walk the walk. They were middle and high school educators who decided to open their own school in Harlem where 100% of the students came from low-income families. Pretty powerful, huh? They are honest in this book about their journey. They didn’t get it right at first, but they learned for the sake of kids and made a big impact.
This book covers most of the big topics. They discuss letter recognition, concepts of print, phonics, phonemic awareness, and fluency. They do not dig into comprehension (but don’t worry, we’ve got another book for that). If you are just entering into the world of the Science of Reading, this is such an invaluable resource. You know you can trust them because they have done the work themselves for their own school.
It looks like this book might be going out of print (I heard they will be updating it), so I would grab it while you can!
Best Book for Comprehension: The Knowledge Gap by Natalie Wexler
When I say this book changed my understanding of comprehension, I mean it. I love this book so much I own it on Kindle, a physical copy, and the audiobook. I’ve read it multiple times and each time I love it just as much as I did before.
If you were like me, you were taught that in order to teach comprehension, we needed to teach skills. I remember reading Strategies That Work from cover to cover, and then reading the updated version. I thought that the keys to comprehension lay in teaching main idea and supporting details this week, summarizing next week, inferencing the following, and so on.
Natalie Wexler is on a mission to change that notion. While there is some research to support some strategy instruction, there is nothing to support this prolonged lock-step kind of strategy work. Main idea cut and paste tables just aren’t going to cut it (I’m guilty of this one). Instead, we need to teach content. Our focus with comprehension should be building background knowledge and vocabulary. We should teach text structures so children know what they are looking at and provide vocabulary instruction that can be used in multiple contexts. Wexler discusses how we should stay with a topic so that children can expand their understanding. I’ve seen the benefits of this in my own intervention groups.
If you want to learn about comprehension, get this book. I promise it’ll make you think about the way we’ve taught comprehension!
Best Book for Planning Small Groups: How to Plan Differentiated Reading Instruction by Sharon Walpole and Michael McKenna
This is the best book I have read that can help teachers to move away from guided reading and towards more targeted small groups. What makes this text even better is that their groups are designed to be 15 minutes or less, and you are not given ivory tower ideas that cannot realistically be completed.
With this book, teachers put their children into 1 of 4 groups: phonological awareness and word recognition, word recognition and fluency, fluency and comprehension, or vocabulary and comprehension. Each group includes only a couple of different activities. For example, if you have students in a group for word recognition and fluency, the tasks are to practice high-frequency words, segmenting and blending, practicing words, and reading decodable texts. We know teaching reading is rocket science, but Walpole and McKenna make it feel like the stars are within reach.
If you buy this book for nothing else, buy it for the resources. Oh. My. Gosh. This book is so full of ready-to-copy resources! I knew that it was a good book before reading it because it had been mentioned time and time again in the Science of Reading community. But I had no idea that they had literally planned out almost all your small groups for you! They have dozens of decodable texts! I really like their decodables because they start with just words with that pattern before giving you sentences or a paragraph to read. It’s the perfect length for a small group. It’s not just decodables though. The resources are too many to count.
Best Book for Understanding the Rules of English: Uncovering the Logic of English by Denise Eide
This is the book that had me screaming WHY DID NOBODY TEACH ME THIS again and again. I had always, like many others, laughed about the ludicrousness of the English language. I taught my kids they had to memorize things because “English made no sense.” I would give them trick words like “starve” that had an e on the end because I thought it was a good challenge. Now, thanks to Orton-Gillingham training and this book, I have a MUCH better understanding of how English does make sense and what I can do to support my students. And that we have an e on end of starve because words in English don’t end in i, u, j or v!
The majority of this book is devoted to helping educators understand the rules of English in a way that makes sense. She includes definitions of key terms such as vowels and consonants. There are chapters on spelling rules, consonant rules, vowel rules, the jobs of magic e, and so much more. If you find yourself wanting a book that can help you make sense of it all, this is the book to go to.
Book with the Best Voice that doesn’t back down: Reading for Life by Lyn Stone
The best thing about Reading for Life is undoubtedly the voice of the author. Lyn Stone does not back down from calling out ineffective practices. For example, when she discusses word shapes, she says “There is not one single study in the entire history of this planet which shows any benefit from doing this. It is mindless busy-work and it detracts from the real business of learning to read and write”(Stone, 2019, p.29). This kind of hilarious rhetoric is interspersed throughout the book, including in chapters that compare some of the huge balanced literacy programs to a cult. Yes, a cult. And honestly? By the end of the chapter you’ll see it too.
Lyn Stone isn’t just witty: she knows what she is talking about. In Reading for Life, she includes a timeline of the big players in the Reading Wars. I had never seen this kind of work done, and I found it fascinating to read. She starts with Richard Allington and ends with Maryann Wolf, with 14 pages of key players in-between.
I found Lyn Stone so refreshing because she doesn’t just rehash what we’ve seen a thousand times when it comes to structured literacy and the Science of Reading. Instead, she gives us things I’ve seen in no other book, like a review of legislation both in and outside of the United State. If you are fully invested in the Science of Reading, you need this book. If you are still on the fence, wait a while. She’s not making any friends within the balanced literacy community!
If you’re stuck on what books to read, you can’t go wrong with these 5. Each one of them has moved me forward as an educator. I think they can do the same for all of us. What about you? What has been your favorite Science of Reading book? (I’m currently reading The Writing Revolution, so that might have to make it on this list for writing!