Using the Simple View of Reading to Simplify Your Work

Literacy leaders are overwhelmed by the number of decisions and stakeholders involved in their work, with the very high stakes of literacy achievement of real students, everyday. We have to juggle existing district initiatives; ideas, passions, and personal philosophies of families, community members, teachers, and administrators; budget constraints; and… the list goes on and on. So how can a literacy leader begin to work through the noise and form a focused plan? We have a “simple” solution: use the Simple View of Reading as a framework.

What is the Simple View of Reading? Is it really so simple?

The Simple View of Reading (SVR) is a theoretical model developed by Gough and Tunmer (1986) that describes reading comprehension as the product of word recognition (ability to read the words on the page) and language comprehension (ability to construct meaning from language). The formulas below demonstrate how difficulty in either or both domains will result in poor reading comprehension.

Is it that simple?! Yes and no. Within each of those domains lie many sub-skills. These requisite skills are detailed in what is known as the Reading Rope (Scarborough, 2001). Scarborough’s model depicts each skill as a strand woven together to form either language comprehension and word recognition, and then those two woven together to form skilled reading (reading comprehension). Students must receive instruction that supports all of these skills in order to develop into skilled readers.

I’m already swamped. How does SVR make things simpler?

Understanding of SVR and the Reading Rope truly can simplify your work as literacy leaders. These models can streamline your process to design and choose curricula, assessments, and instructional materials to actually improve literacy outcomes. We as a field have decades of research to inform us about what does, and does not, work in teaching literacy; there is no need for each of us to individually try to figure it all out! In short, SVR and the Reading Rope can be used to frame all of your literacy decisions.

Curriculum

For our purposes here, we are defining curriculum as the knowledge and skills all students are expected to learn, and are focusing on the Tier 1, or core curriculum. SVR and the Reading Rope help with choosing and designing curricula to improve literacy outcomes for all students. In the most straightforward application, the Reading Rope can be used as a checklist of skills that should be included in all literacy curricula, at all developmental levels.

What to look for:

All students should receive explicit and systematic instruction that intentionally builds:

  • Background knowledge (content and conceptual understandings)
  • Vocabulary (breadth, depth, and relationships among words)
  • Language structures (understanding and use of variety of grammatical structures, sentence types, etc.)
  • Verbal reasoning (inference, logical arguments, literary devices, etc.)
  • Literacy knowledge (print concepts, genre, etc.)

and

  • Phonological awareness (working toward phoneme level, or phonemic awareness)
  • Decoding (phonics and advanced decoding skills)
  • Sight recognition (building reading automaticity and fluency)
Shifting emphasis over time

Although all of the components should be taught to all students, the relative emphasis on each component of literacy instruction should shift over time. See Ohio’s Plan to Raise Literacy Achievement Appendix F for a visual of how the emphasis on specific skills shifts across grade levels, with relatively (not exclusively) more emphasis in instruction in foundational literacy skills in K-1, shifting to word reading and fluency in Gr. 1-3, and then to vocabulary and comprehension in reading and writing connected text in Gr. 4 and beyond.

Watch out for these common curriculum pitfalls:

  • Instruction in phonics only (letter sounds and spelling patterns, sounds + symbols), without focused instruction in phonological awareness (awareness and oral manipulation of the sounds in words, apart from the symbols used to represent them)
  • Instruction in phonics in early grades, but little to no advanced decoding or word study in later grades
  • Instruction in grammar rules, without systematic instruction in sentence types and parts, and without direct application in reading and writing
  • Lack of intentional instruction to build background knowledge

Assessment

Similarly, we must assess both factors of the SVR for two main purposes, to determine:

  • Strengths and deficits in core curriculum
  • Strengths and deficits of individual students to select effective interventions (more on this in a future post!)

A comprehensive reading assessment plan involves two main steps:

  1.  Screening students’ reading comprehension (once they are conventional readers). Screening at the reading comprehension level allows us to most effectively screen for both word recognition and language comprehension deficits at once. In other words, if a student meets the assessment criteria for proficient reading comprehension, we can safely assume they are able to: (1) read the words accurately and fluently, and (2) possess the language comprehension skills, to construct meaning from what they read.
  2. Diagnosing the cause(s) when a reading comprehension difficulty is identified. If a screener identifies a potential problem with reading comprehension, we need to work backward on the rope to determine whether the comprehension difficulty is due to gaps in word recognition skills, language comprehension skills, or both.

When we screen all students for reading difficulties and then work backward to diagnose the cause of reading difficulties, we can improve our outcomes in two ways:

  1. We can identify gaps in core instruction by examining trends, or patterns, in the data. For example, if large numbers of students are struggling with accurate and fluent word recognition (more than 20%), this could indicate a gap in word recognition instruction in core instruction.
  2. We can plan targeted interventions for students. Not all struggling readers struggle for the same reason. We need to dig into which skills are lacking in order to know how to intervene.

What to look for:

  • For all readers – Does the screener allow for efficient screening, beginning with reading comprehension for all conventional readers?
  • For students not yet reading – Do we assess for word recognition skills separately from language comprehension skills, for all students who are not yet conventional readers, to allow us to identify deficits in one, the other, or both components?
  • Do we use follow-up assessments to diagnose the causes for readers that exhibit reading comprehension difficulties? Do we assess for word recognition skills separately from language comprehension skills, to allow us to identify whether the deficit lies in one, the other, or both components?

Instructional Materials

Finally, SVR and the Reading Rope can frame what to look for when choosing instructional materials to purchase or develop, such as a core curricular program. You may be thinking, “But this core curriculum program is ‘research-based’ and ‘Common Core aligned’. What else is SVR going to tell me?” Unfortunately, marketing terms like ‘research-based’ and ‘Common Core aligned’ can be applied to a wide range of materials, without ensuring that they comprehensively support literacy development or have been evaluated for effectiveness.

Unfortunately, marketing terms like ‘research-based’ and ‘Common Core aligned’ can be applied to a wide range of materials, without ensuring that they comprehensively support literacy development or have been evaluated for effectiveness.

SVR as a framework for materials evaluation will tell you, first and foremost, whether there is evidence of both word recognition skills and language comprehension skills daily in the instructional activities for all grade levels, for all students. Remember, readers absolutely need both fluent word recognition and strong language comprehension skills to develop into skilled readers. If your core program does not include both, you will need to purchase or develop a supplemental program.

For example, some core literacy programs are focused almost solely on the language comprehension side of reading. Such programs likely include rich literature, teacher modeling and thinking aloud of language comprehension skills, vocabulary and knowledge instruction, and even grammar and writing instruction, but little to no instruction of phonological awareness, decoding and phonics, or sight recognition and fluency. In cases like these, the district will need to supplement with a program focused on the word recognition side of reading. Or vice versa, a program may focus heavily on phonological awareness, phonics and decoding, and reading fluency, with little to no instruction in sub-skills of language comprehension. In this case, you will need to supplement for instruction in the components of language comprehension.

What to look for:

  • Daily instruction in both word recognition and language comprehension skills, for all grade levels
  • Changing relative emphasis of skills across grade levels
  • Explicit and systematic instruction in all components (more on this in a future post!)

More Resources

Below is a list of additional resources to help with curriculum, assessment, and materials planning based on SVR.

The Path Forward…

Leading to raise literacy achievement at the building or district level is a colossal task. There are myriad parts and stakeholders involved. SVR and the Reading Rope are two foundational tools that will help you simplify your work, to improve the cohesion, comprehensiveness, and ultimately the effectiveness of your efforts.

Jessica Hoffman, SST 13 Regional Literacy Specialist

I have been an educator for almost 20 years, as a teacher, researcher, professor, coach, and consultant. I enjoy hiking, camping, and gardening with my husband and two kids.