Are you Stuck in a Reading Comfort Zone?

What is your favorite method of teaching reading?

Whether it is from teacher courses or the school at which one teaches, we develop a pedagogy for
teaching young students how to read, and we often settle in making it our comfort zone.

Teaching the early skills of reading comes down to basically two approaches:

  • Balanced literacy (BL)- which is rooted in the whole language approach.
  • The science of reading (SOR)- which stems from a systematic phonics approach.

In my 18 years of teaching in eight Christian schools in Washington and Arizona, I have experienced reading pedagogy from both approaches as well as a mixture of the two. As a clinical supervisor I’ve seen reading taught in numerous public schools as well. Though I adopted SOR at the beginning of my teaching career, as I moved and changed schools I found it easiest to adapt to whatever the current school’s reading practices.

After a review of SOR this past summer, I got out of my comfort zone and began applying science of reading in my second grade class.


ALL students benefit from systematic phonics instruction, even though a lot of students naturally take up reading in a whole language approach.

I was not one of the naturals. I am passionate about this early intervention for ALL students because I grew up in a whole language bubble and did not learn phonics until I got my masters in education in 2005.

My world opened up at age 42!

No wonder I can’t spell! One year I taught Riggs phonograms to kindergarteners – all sounds for all 71 phonograms before Christmas break. Most students were reading books over break because they knew the phonograms and they could decode most words. It was thrilling to see the results of focusing on just one stair step of SOR!

Unfortunately, many colleges and universities are not preparing teachers with adequate practice of SOR.
I have witnessed student teachers teaching the sounds of phonograms incorrectly because they just don’t know them. I was fortunate enough to graduate with a reading endorsement in which the “Big 5” was taught and encouraged.

It is the basic 5 components for proficiency in literacy. It is the science of reading, unchanged documented in data for
the last 35 years, because it works for ALL children.


What did I do to implement SOR in my class this year?


My list of priorities in teaching to fill the holes that will impede future reading and spelling skills are this:


  • Teach phonemic awareness (Heggerty). I found that even in 2nd grade there are students who
    cannot manipulate sounds in a word.
  • Teach all sounds for all phonograms (I recommend Riggs, Spalding, or Orton Gillingham’s types
    of lists)
  • Teach syllabication
  • Teach accurate spelling rules – not the “50% of the time” rules. (Riggs and Spalding are
  • Teach morphology – this is fun! My students love manipulating affixes on a base word to
    change the meaning.
  • Use reading groups at decodable levels, so every word can be deciphered in parts, until all is
    mastered. (I recommend Hello Literacy by Jen Jones).

Another change I made involves how my classroom library books are organized. DRA, Fountas and Pinnel, and A to Z leveled books are great for identifying grade level appropriate content. I then went a step further and took these books and leveled them according to Lexile which is more specifically accurate for readability. Using both identification processes guarantee my students are reading in their best learning zone.

The changes I made this year have made a great difference in my students’ abilities who struggle with reading. I have seen a child with dyslexia blossom before intervention was even put in place. Student confidence levels are high across the board, and they delight in finding spelling rules in a word, or showing me they can identify syllable types in a multisyllabic word. The students in my class are in their reading comfort zone!

Whose comfort zone is our goal?