What is Structured Literacy?
Educators who use a structured literacy approach teach students to read by connecting sounds to letters, then progressing to more complex words and texts, building skills deliberately, systematically, and sequentially, and in ways customizable to each student’s needs. Key elements include oral language development, phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, spelling and morphology, fluency, syntax, reading comprehension, and writing.
These dimensions of reading success are supported by decades of neuroscientific research on how our brains learn to read and write—and by teachers, who consistently say that structured literacy is a game-changer for helping struggling readers.
The Reading Crisis Affects…
The Science of Reading
The science of reading draws on decades of research in neuroscience, cognitive psychology, education, and linguistics that seeks to understand how children learn to read. The research shows that reading isn’t something we develop naturally by being exposed to books and text. Instead, it requires explicit, systematic, and cumulative instruction that builds on prior learning. Being taught to notice, think about, and work with the sounds in words (phonemic awareness) and understand the structure of the English language (syllable types, spelling patterns and the meaningful parts of words) creates a foundation for reading success.
Structured Literacy Approach
With structured literacy, children aren’t expected to infer or guess at something they’ve never been explicitly taught how to do. Teachers take a direct, step-by-step approach, helping their students learn foundational skills, practice each one, and move on to the next concept when the data show they’ve mastered earlier skills. The approach prioritizes strong decoding abilities and engages learners in multisensory ways, reinforcing new learning and building neurological pathways that strengthen the reading brain. With decoding and fluency as a solid early foundation, student readers can learn, build knowledge, and flourish.
“The most fulfilling thing for me about teaching is giving students the tools they need to create their own path. That’s one of the reasons why I find teaching reading particularly fulfilling—because literacy is power. And I feel like when I teach children to read that I’m giving them the power to choose who they want to be.”
Hilary Paquet, Special Educator, East Montpelier Elementary School
Components of Structured Literacy
A groundbreaking report in 2000 by the National Reading Panel summarized decades of research by outlining the essential elements of effective reading instruction and practice. Since that time, scientific consensus has shown what it takes to teach students how to read, what factors impede reading development, and which components provide the most benefit.
Phonemic awareness is the ability to hear, identify, and manipulate the individual sounds in spoken words.
Morphological awareness is the ability to understand and perceive the parts of words in language, such as roots, base words, prefixes and suffixes, and parts of speech.
Background knowledge is the knowledge that a reader brings to the text, such as prior learning about history, science, literature, art, and the world. It is essential for reading comprehension.
Writing is a challenging process that requires legible, automatic letter formation, accurate spelling, a strong vocabulary, an understanding of text, and higher-order processing. It helps us to organize our thoughts, solidify our understanding, and communicate with others.
Phonics gives us an understanding of the alphabetic principle—the relationship between sounds and letters. Students need to master sound-symbol associations, including the blending of sounds and letters into words and breaking down whole words into their individual sounds.
Vocabulary is knowing the meanings of words and how to pronounce them properly.
Fluency is the ability to read text accurately—at a rate that promotes meaning—and with proper expression.
Reading comprehension is the ability to read text and understand its meaning. Comprehension includes decoding, language comprehension, inference, and synthesis, and depends on strengthening vocabulary and building background knowledge.
What the Research Has to Say
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Is there research to prove the efficacy of Wilson Language Training® Programs?
Wilson Language Training programs, materials, and professional learning are proven effective in developing the reading skills of individuals with a language-based learning disability or who have otherwise struggled to learn to read. Read more at wilsonlanguage.com.
I want to apply for tuition funding. When and how do I do this?
The Stern Center’s Cynthia K. Hoehl Institute for Excellence (CKHIE) provides grants to reduce the cost of our programs for educators, helping to make vital professional learning more readily accessible. When you register for a course or workshop, we’ll ask if you want to apply for grant funding. Select “Yes,” and we’ll ask how the grant will help your work as an educator. You will be required to submit a paragraph or two about your professional learning goals.
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Castleton University: If you are registering for a course that offers graduate credit from Castleton University, you may add graduate credit up to and including the first day of class. We will happily accommodate you if you wish to add graduate credit later, within the university’s deadline. Please register by the end of the first day of class to avoid a processing fee of $25 in addition to the graduate credit cost.
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How can I become certified in Orton-Gillingham?
The prerequisites to become certified in OG include earning a bachelor’s degree from an accredited institution and satisfactory completion of Associate-level requirements; 100 hours minimum of coursework by a Fellow, or by a Fellow in Training as designated by the Fellow; and 200 hours supervised practicum over two academic years minimum, which includes ten entire 4–60 minute lesson observations of the trainee by a Fellow on-site, unedited video or web-based applications.
What is the Orton-Gillingham Approach?
The Orton-Gillingham Approach is the underlying foundation of all multisensory, structured language instruction. Orton-Gillingham (OG) systematically teaches the structure of the English language by incorporating multisensory modalities in a structured yet flexible approach, ensuring student success. The Stern Center’s Orton-Gillingham Institute is the only organization in Vermont that provides OG training accredited by the Orton-Gillingham Academy. We offer coursework and practicum opportunities toward three certifications: OG Classroom Educator, OG Associate Level, and OG Certified Level.
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