The science of language and reading

La Trobe’s Science of Language and Reading (SOLAR) Lab is helping schools to adopt well-established, scientific approaches to improve how they teach children to read

Professor Pamela Snow and Associate Professor Tanya Serry describe learning to read as a profoundly important achievement for children in the early years of school.

Early reading skills strongly predict children’s educational and vocational trajectories and their chances of being part of the social and economic mainstream in adulthood.

Snow and Serry’s Science of Language and Reading (SOLAR) Lab, founded in 2020, is helping schools to adopt well-established, scientific approaches to improve how they teach children to read.

The dynamic collaboration between researchers, teachers, school leaders and allied health professionals aims to integrate evidence-based approaches into classroom practice to promote success in reading, writing, and spelling – and create uplift across all subject areas.

Snow and Serry observe that while “talking and listening are biologically natural acts, reading and writing are biologically unnatural processes that require specific and well sequenced instruction at school.”

Extracting meaning from text, Snow explains, is based on decoding words, together with applying knowledge of language (such as vocabulary, grammatical structures, and inferencing) to extract meaning from text.

While some children will learn to read relatively easily, a significant proportion will struggle without a systematic teaching approach. Many of these children go on to develop emotional, social, and behavioural difficulties in the context of school, because of their inability to engage with text across the curriculum.

“The work of the SOLAR Lab emphasises structured literacy instruction,” says Associate Professor Serry. “It ensures all children are taught to decode by matching letters with sounds in an explicit, structured and sequenced way. This instruction is paired with ongoing support in developing oral language, vocabulary and background knowledge.”

The Lab is partnering with five schools, in Melbourne and regional Victoria, in a pilot project to develop bespoke professional learning and coaching around evidence-based reading instruction.

The SOLAR Lab also offers a series of online short courses on the science of language and reading, designed for classroom teachers, literacy leaders, principals, allied health clinicians, and parents who are interested to know more about the linguistic foundations of reading and evidence-informed teaching practices.

They been incredibly successful. Over 1000 people recently enrolled in the third iteration of the introductory short course on oral language and reading instruction. Feedback on these short courses has been extremely positive and most registrations come from word-of-mouth recommendations.

“In the end, it’s about shifting the needle on a profoundly important social justice issue,” says Professor Snow. “We think initial teacher education can do a better job, because there is a readily available, superior knowledge set on reading instruction that should be accessible to all teachers.”

“It has been rewarding to help make that knowledge and those skills available to all. Ultimately, we want teachers to have the proven, instructional approaches that will get all children across the reading bridge, not just those who were going to get there anyway.”

Find out more about the SOLAR Lab’s short courses for 2022
The Science of Language and Reading – An Introduction

The Science of Language and Reading - Intermediate

The science of Language and Reading - The Secondary School Perspective

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