denoting an approach to medicine, education, and other disciplines that emphasizes the practical application of the findings of the best available current research.

Many undergraduate students study for four years in a teacher-prep program and never actually learn the specific evidence-based practices to teach readings. So what does evidence-based reading instruction look like?

Explicit Instruction

Skills are directly taught; no assumptions are made about skills or knowledge children will independently acquire. Teachers provide supported and then independent practice, sufficient for student mastery. Clear and concise language is used, and always follows a scope and sequence that is sequential and cumulative. Teachers provide step by step demonstration of skill; this modeling is critical.


Evidence-based instruction includes a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework which is predicated upon early identification and intervention with students who show signs of possible reading difficulties; universal screening determines effectiveness of Tier 1 instruction. When needed, students can receive additional interventions in Tier 2, and possibly benefit from Tier 3 supports (special education) which are individualized and intensive and based on comprehensive evaluation.


The relationship between sounds (phonemes) and their corresponding printed letters (graphemes) is the key to developing reading strategies and skill. The use of this knowledge to read (decode) and spell (encode) is only possible when the rules of language are understood little by little. Children simply cannot guess at words, because this "strategy" will only set them up for eventual low literacy skill.

Encourages Phonological Awareness

Children must gain the ability to identify and manipulate the sounds in our language. This includes being able to isolate, blend, segment, add, delete, and substitute individual sounds (Phonemic Awareness) as well as syllables, rhyming, onset-rime, and whole words within sentences.

Provides Progress Monitoring

Progress monitoring is a way to assess student growth and evaluate the effectiveness of instruction. Progress monitoring may be a measure of a sub-skill or it may be a measure of, if, and how well subskills have collectively transferred to a general outcome. Progress monitoring can be implemented with an entire class, with selected students, or 1:1.


and Valid

Evidence-based instruction must be both reliable and valid. Reliability means a screening or assessment measure demonstrates consistency of results over time; validity means a screening or assessment tool is considered valid when it has been demonstrated to measure what it claims to measure.

Based on studies of early reading interventions, expert panels and individual researchers have recommended that students who are at risk for reading difficulties in the primary grades be provided with explicit, sequential instruction in decoding and word recognition (e.g., Gersten et al., 2008; National Reading Panel, 2000; Torgesen, 2004). Instructional programs of this nature typically include extended opportunities to practice skills in isolation and application in connected text. Research evidence also supports the provision of explicit instruction and practice in reading fluency (Chard, Vaughn, & Tyler, 2002) and comprehension (Shanahan et al., 2010).

Despite this research base, one of the most widely implemented approaches to early reading instruction in the primary grades in schools across the United States is Guided Reading (GR; Fountas & Pinnel, 1996). This approach deemphasizes decontextualized instruction and practice of reading-related skills in favor of extended time spent reading text under the guidance of a teacher who supports the development of effective reading strategies (Fountas & Pinnell, 2012–13). Despite its widespread implementation (Ford & Opitz, 2008), Guided Reading has rarely been empirically validated.

“We now have considerable evidence available concerning the effectiveness of intensive and explicit reading interventions for children who have struggled in learning to read. We know, for example, that it is possible to teach almost all children to accurately apply the alphabetic principle in decoding novel words, even if they have struggled to acquire this skill during the first 3-4 years of schooling.


We also know that the text reading accuracy and reading comprehension of children with relatively severe reading disabilities can be accelerated dramatically by carefully administered interventions that are more intensive than instruction typically provided in special education settings.”


Torgesen, J.K., Alexander, A. W., Wagner, R.K., Rashotte, C.A., Voeller, K., Conway, T. & Rose, E. (2001a). Intensive remedial instruction for children with severe reading disabilities: Immediate and long-term outcomes from two instructional approaches. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 34, 33-58.


The Whole Language Approach to teaching reading is based on the scientifically invalid notion that if you place a child in a literature rich environment, they will, over time, infer how to read.  Exposing children to rich and complex text and offering comprehension strategies is valuable, but not sufficient. So-called Balanced Literacy Programs are not, in fact, balanced. They are essentially Whole Language instruction in disguise. Reading instruction is never balanced. There must be different emphases at different grades. K-3 needs to be focused on directly, explicitly, and systematically teaching and assessing phonological awareness, phonics, morphology, spelling rules, grammar, vocabulary and oral comprehension instruction focused on building background knowledge. 

"The myth (perpetuated as fact) that people learn to read naturally just by being immersed in print results in misguided instructional practices [Whole Language and Balanced Literacy]."
Moats & Tolman, 2009