The Science of Reading begins with this understanding: the human brain is wired for oral language abilities, even though those abilities vary from one human to another. In other words, barring a disability, our brains have ready-made domains that process sound for meaning and develop words to represent meaning. We are wired to develop listening comprehension and oral expression abilities (both verbal and nonverbal), and this development begins in utero and progresses throughout life.

“Oral language is one of our more basic human functions . . . It possesses dedicated genes that unfold with minimal assistance to produce our capacities to speak and understand and think with words.” Maryanne Wolf

Reading and writing are the result of brain plasticity.
Plasticity occurs when new neural pathways are created using existing cognitive domains.

“Reading is not hardwired the way language is . . . Most of us must be taught the basic principles of this unnatural cultural invention.” Maryanne Wolf


Therefore, the reading and writing brain is developed over time by connecting oral language domains. Eventually the language system advances from two modes of usage (listening and speaking) to four modes of usage (adding reading and writing). Communication skills expand, growing vocabulary, grammar, expression, and comprehension. Researcher Virginia Berninger calls this language by ear, mouth, eye, and hand.


When we learn to speak, we connect our meaning and usage region (semantic and syntax systems) to our sound pronunciation region (phonological system). Once we learn to read and write, we layer in a new region for automatic word form memory and spelling (morpho-orthographic systems). Research informs the practice of teaching reading, writing, and spelling simultaneously. When we use a speech-to-print approach, we connect all phonics instruction to meaning, as described in this video:


Children need explicit instruction and methodical practice using many skills that must be developed and coordinated. These skills are summarized by researcher Maryanne Wolf using the acronym POSSUM which we more fully describe in the video below:


Because the English spelling system is complex, it takes a typical learner approximately three years to develop robust information highways for literacy. This includes independent spelling, which is needed for fluent writing, and fast and accurate word recognition, which is needed for reading fluency and comprehension. A student who struggles in learning to read and write, due to dyslexia, dysgraphia, or a developmental language disorder, will need many years to learn and gain independence.

At Rooted in Language, we follow key principles outlined in the research:

Teach from the oral language system to the literacy system using a sound-to-letter approach known as speech-to-print

From the start, teach reading and writing together in meaning-filled contexts

From the start, include robust spelling instruction that combines phonics, pattern recognition, and word structure to solidify word form memory needed for fluency

Include handwriting instruction and practice to aid writing fluency

Focus on writing to deepen word knowledge, grammar usage, and comprehension

Consolidate skills in reading accuracy, fluency, vocabulary, grammar knowledge, and background knowledge to support independent, grade-level reading comprehension


To learn more on the reading and writing brain, watch:


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