Theory & Practice


 The work of Theory & Practice is guided by peer-reviewed research

Select citations that form the research base of our work are below.


While Theory & Practice is not aware of a “one size fits all” ELA assessment tool that covers all areas of the reading rope, the research does provide guiding principles for an effective approach to literacy assessment. In one-on-one or small group settings, we recommend David Kilpatrick’s PAST assessment as a starting point. In whole-class K and 1 settings, letter naming fluency screeners take only one minute to administer and they are a strong predictor of future reading achievement. In grades 2-6, oral reading fluency measures with a retell component (two minutes per student) measure both word recognition and language comprehension.

Kilpatrick, D.A. (2014). Phonological Segmentation Assessment Is Not Enough: A Comparison of Three Phonological Awareness Tests With First and Second Graders, Canadian Journal of School Psychology, 27(2): 150–165. 

Culturally Responsive Education

We believe that literacy is a civil right. Inequitable reading achievement for marginalized groups tells us that we need to do better. The work of the researchers in this section tells us that students’ brains become more plastic and learning outcomes are improved when they feel that their lived experience, identities, and culture are significant assets in their classrooms. These findings indicate that reform is necessary at many levels, including curriculum, teacher training, and diversity of educators, curriculum designers, and school leaders.

Gay, Geneva. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching : theory, research, and practice. New York :Teachers College Press

Hammond, Z. L. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain. Corwin Press.

Khalifa, M. A., Gooden, M. A., & Davis, J. E. (2016). Culturally responsive school leadership: A synthesis of the literature. Review of Educational Research, 86(4), 1272–1311.


There is not currently a research consensus on how much homework is the right amount. However, when it comes to literacy homework, research tells us that while well-trained parents can be an important part of reading success, over-reliance on homework for reading achievement is an inequitable approach since it assumes that all children have access to a literate, English speaking adult every day.

Cooper, H. Robinson, J. C., & Patall, E. A. (2006). Does homework improve academic achievement? A synthesis of research, 1987-2003. Review of Educational Research, 76(1), 1-62.

Multisensory Pedagogy

For reading remediation, a multisensory approach such as that used in Orton-Gillingham is the only research-supported method. Research findings also indicate that this approach works for all learners - not just those who have been identified as needing reading remediation. To bridge the research to practice gap, Theory & Practice can provide engaging whole-group methods that are easily implemented in early literacy classrooms.

Campbell, M. L., Helf, S., Cooke, N. L. (2008). Effects of adding multisensory components to a supplemental reading program on the decoding skills of treatment resisters. Education & Treatment of Children, 31(3), 267-295. 

Phonemic Awareness

Phonemic awareness is a critical part of early literacy and therefore it should be part of early elementary curricula. The correct dosage of PA instruction is an emerging body of research. It is also unclear whether phonemic awareness instruction is most effective when connected to print or not.

National Early Literacy Panel. (2008). Developing early literacy. Washington, DC: National Institute for Literacy.


At Theory & Practice, we have seen the reading pendulum swing multiple times. While currently the shift is often characterized as phonics being the most important part of literacy instruction, this is a misinterpretation of the research. Phonics should be an important part of ELA instruction, particularly in grades K-2, but it must be accompanied by knowledge-building instruction that supports reading comprehension.

Ehri, L. (2020). The science of learning to read words: A case of systematic phonics instruction. Reading Research Quarterly, 55(1), S45–S60.

Reading Comprehension

A question that often comes up in Science of Reading circles is, “Should I teach strategies or knowledge?” This is another area where practitioners may be overcorrecting from strategies to knowledge. While knowledge-building should play a bigger role in ELA classrooms, there are decades of research that support the case for teaching strategies. Hence, strategies should be taught within the context of meaningful knowledge-building. Knowledge-building is not the end goal; it is the path to better comprehension, which students can apply to novel texts. 

Elleman, A. M., & Oslund, E. L. (2019). Reading comprehension research: Implications for practice and policy. Policy Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 6(1), 3–11. 

Sight Word Instruction / Orthographic Mapping

Many teachers have been trained to use a whole-word approach when teaching irregularly spelled high frequency words such as said. This approach is instructionally inefficient as students spend an outsized amount of time on a few words at a time. Research on orthographic mapping indicates that students should be trained to “map” sight words into orthographically regular and irregular parts. The /s/ and /d/ sounds in said are regular and only the /ai/ is irregular. This method avoids an overreliance on visual memory and allows students to apply what they already know (in this case, the sounds of consonants s and d) when mapping tricky words.

Ehri, L. (2014). Orthographic mapping in the acquisition of sight word reading, spelling memory, and vocabulary learning. Scientific Studies of Reading, 18(1), 5–21.


Systematic spelling instruction has been found to have a positive effect on spelling, writing, reading, and phonemic awareness skills. Regarding spelling assessment, Theory & Practice recommends dictation using novel, regularly spelled words rather than providing a weekly list that students must memorize, as the latter strategy relies on specific words rather than transferable spelling patterns.

Graham, S., & Santangelo, T. (2014). Does spelling instruction make students better spellers, readers, and writers? A meta-analytic review. Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 27(9), 1703-1743. 


Fluency of handwriting and typing are leading indicators of writing quality and fluency, and therefore they should be part of high-quality literacy instruction. Cognitive science tells us that it is far easier to learn something the right way the first time than it is to unlearn bad habits, so handwriting instruction should be explicit and students should receive feedback when their pencil grip or letter formation are not ideal. Research has not yet indicated that the same is true when it comes to typing. 

Feng, L., Lindner, A., Ji, X.R., & Joshi, R.M. (2019). The roles of handwriting and keyboarding in writing: A meta-analytic review. Reading & Writing, 32, 33-63.

Vocabulary Instruction

Vocabulary instruction is an essential part of high-quality literacy. The rigorous and complex texts that students should be exposed to will include unfamiliar and challenging words. Starting in second or third grade, morphology instruction will give students helpful background knowledge about suffixes, prefixes, and basewords that they can apply to new words. 

Rasinski, T. (2019). Vocabulary instruction: Essential for proficient reading. Tucson, AZ: Learning A-Z.

Writing Instruction

As we strive to do better in word-level instruction, Theory & Practice anticipates that writing will be the next frontier in the Science of Reading. Based on the work of Natalie Wexler, Judith C. Hochman, Steve Graham, and Joan Sedita, we recommend a scope and sequence that starts at the sentence level. Students should write about what they know, so in a knowledge-building curriculum, they should write about the topics they are learning about. The theory and practice gap is still fairly wide when it comes to writing. One way that Theory & Practice seeks to bridge that gap is by creating writing units that align to the disciplinary studies in each grade, tailored to the curriculum of specific schools. 

Graham, S., McKeown D., Kiuhara, S., & Harris, K.R. (2012). A meta-analysis of writing instruction for students in the elementary grades. Journal of Educational Psychology, 104, 879–896.

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