How Can We Artfully Teach the Science of Reading: Q & A with Dr. David Paige

FIND MORE ABOUT > fluency | literacy | phonics | science of reading
Ashley Perkins interviews Dr. David Paige, co-author of Artfully Teaching the Science of Reading, to learn more about this research and thinking on the topic of literacy.

Written By aperkins

On February 13, 2024

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I recently interviewed Dr. David Paige, a professor of Literacy and Director of the Jerry L. Johns Literacy Clinic at Northern Illinois University. His work and research are widely recognized, as evidenced by his publications in numerous academic journals in the field of K-12 literacy. He is the past president of the Association of Literacy Researchers and Educators. He currently serves on the Board of Directors for the Collaborative for Teaching and Learning and has recently co-authored Artfully Teaching the Science of Reading alongside educators Chase Young and Timothy V. Rasinski. This most recent publication sparked this interview:

Q: Why was the adverb “artfully” chosen to be a part of the title?

A: “Artfully” recognizes that teachers are individuals who leverage their unique assets to teach children. These assets include the teacher’s personality, how they structure instructional activities,and  how they react to students “in the moment” to name just a few. While the science of reading provides evidence of how students learn to read and what instruction is helpful, effective learning relies so much on how the teacher puts it “all together.” How teachers put it together reflects the “artful” part of teaching.

Q: What changes (bends, curves, turns, twists, merges) to the “road map” for pre-service and in-service reading teachers have been most significant over the course of your years in education? How are teacher prep programs responding?

A: For decades, reading instruction courses have been viewed, and actually called, “methods.” This suggests that if a teacher follows the instructional recipe, that all kids will learn to read. On the other hand, we’ve known for decades that this is not the case. Also, most universities have taught a “balanced” approach to teaching reading that has listed heavily towards comprehension with little on the research-informed instruction of how children become automatic word readers. Most states are now calling for schools of education to teach the research-aligned content that pre-service teachers must know to have a better chance at being effective. However, many professors are not up to speed on what this research actually is, or how to teach it. Keep in mind that many of the instructors who teach reading courses in higher ed spend their career teaching reading. At the same time, they were not taught research-informed reading principles. Additionally, elementary teachers need to understand how to assess the essential reading processes (alphabet knowledge, phonemic awareness, and letter-sound knowledge) critical to reading acquisition, which leads to forming small or flexible groups. Finally, a foundational and content reading course, along with a children’s literature course are woefully insufficient to understand the complexity of reading and its instruction, which is what most programs require. I’ll stop here.

Q: The book describes artful reading instruction as being authentic, aesthetic, and creative (p. 5). What does that look, sound, and feel like in a preschool, primary, elementary, and middle grades classroom?

A: The idea behind that is to start with the end in mind – good readers sound natural when they read. But, unlike learning to speak, reading acquisition is not a naturally evolving process. Students must be taught with explicit and systematic instruction. Early reading requires mastery of essential skills such as automatic recognition of letter names and their common sounds. But once these skills are mastered, students should be encouraged to read books that interest them. Students can be introduced to the aesthetic of the language, for example, poetry is a great entree into the rhythm of English and the beauty of descriptive language. Students should have exposure to texts that open them to perspectives of the world around them, to the richness of humanity, and to the fascination that can occur from well written informational text. The creative part of all this is up to how the teacher chooses to curate and connect various texts and their ideas. 

Q: Tier 1 instruction calls for teachers to regularly use grade-level, complex text (quantitative and qualitative). What argument would you make for the use of picture books in a middle grades’ classroom?

A: Certainly images are a major way that we all learn. I grew up in an era when westerns were popular. While I lived on Lake Erie, I loved the Big Sky scenes on TV of the American West and the Rocky Mountains, California, and the Southwest. The images were powerful and helped me develop a schema for places I couldn’t visit. I think so many of today’s students have limited knowledge of the world – I see this in my undergraduates. Pictures in books are powerful, including in middle and the secondary grades. Visual imagery spurs imagination and helps develop understanding and build schema by giving life to words. After children learn to read words, schema development is learning, and visual imagery is very helpful. 

Q: What approaches might school districts use to extend science based and artful reading instruction into homes? 

A: The research is clear that reading is a primary way of building knowledge. As such, children who read little learn much less than those who do. If there was ever a time during the instructional day when students could spend significant time engaged in reading, it is much less now. There is an urgent need to interest students in home-based reading, and the trick of course, is to hook them based on their interests. Additionally, it’s difficult to know what will spark an interest in a student.  I think one way to connect in-school inquiry or learning to at-home reading. For example, a student who finds an activity or lesson of particular interest will be more inclined to read about it at home….which takes us back to artful teaching.

Young, C., Paige, D., & Rasinski, T. V. (2022). Artfully teaching the science of reading. Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.