8. Curriculum and instruction


Children with unaddressed reading difficulties have not failed the system; the system has failed them. We now know that this is not inevitable, even for children who face significant challenges.

- Ontario 2003 Expert Panel on Early Reading Report at p 7

Science has shown that there are effective and ineffective ways to teach word reading. Reading scientists have studied how young children learn to read for decades. This body of scientific research, also known as the science of reading, has outlined how reading develops, why many students have difficulties learning to read, and how to teach early reading to prevent reading failure, among other things.

The science of reading

This report uses terms like the “science of reading,” “reading science,” “research-based,” “evidence-based” and “science-based” to refer to the vast body of scientific research that has studied how reading skills develop and how to ensure the highest degree of success in teaching all children to read. The science of reading includes results from thousands of peer-reviewed studies and meta-analyses that use rigorous scientific methods. The science of reading is based on expertise from many fields including education, special education, developmental psychology, educational psychology, cognitive science and more.

Although some approaches to reading are promoted as “research-based,” this research does not always follow good scientific methods.[645] Many approaches are based on theories or philosophies with no scientific evidence to support them. In contrast, the science of reading includes results from thousands of peer-reviewed studies that use rigorous scientific methods.[646]

Learning to read is a complex process. For most children, learning to read words does not come easily or naturally from exposure to language or reading. Reading is a skill that must be taught.[647] Ontario’s 2003 Expert Panel on Early Reading noted: “Children must be taught to understand, interpret, and manipulate the printed symbols of written language. This is an essential task of the first few years of school.”[648] These experts also noted that there is a critical window of opportunity, and age four to seven is the best time to teach children to read.[649]

Written language is a code that represents our spoken language. The goal of reading is to understand what we read. One important part of this is learning to decipher or “crack the code” – to become accurate and efficient at reading written words. To do this, students need direct and systematic instruction in the code of a written language (also called the orthography). Teaching the foundational skills of decoding and spelling written words in a direct and systematic way is also known as structured literacy. Structured literacy incorporates the findings from science on how to best teach foundational word-reading skills in the classroom, so that all children learn to read.

Reading science does not support approaches that rely on teaching children to read words using discovery and inquiry-based learning such as cueing systems. Many children fail to learn to read when these approaches are used in classrooms. These are consistent with a whole language philosophy, and are used in the current Ontario Curriculum, Language, Grades 1–8, 2006 (Ontario Language curriculum) and the balanced literacy or comprehensive balanced literacy approaches practiced in Ontario school boards.

The three-cueing instructional approach outlined in the Ontario Language curriculum teaches students to use strategies to predict words based on context cues from pictures and text meaning, sentences and letters. As well, balanced literacy proposes that immersing students in spoken and written language will build foundational reading skills – but significant research has not shown this to be effective for learning to read words accurately and efficiently. In these approaches, teachers “gradually release responsibility” from modelling reading texts or books, to shared reading with students, to guiding students’ text reading, to students’ independent text reading. These approaches are not consistent with effective instruction as outlined in the scientific research on reading instruction.

The inquiry examined whether the current Ontario curriculum and school board approaches to teaching reading reflect evidence-based approaches and are supported by rigorous scientific research. It found that overall, the way that early reading is taught in Ontario is not consistent with the science of reading. Although a few boards have made some attempts to incorporate isolated aspects of effective early word reading instruction, these approaches are piecemeal and do not meet the criteria supported by the science of reading.

The Ontario curriculum is based on the ineffective three-cueing ideology and instructional approach. Balanced and comprehensive balanced literacy are pedagogical approaches that are aligned with a whole language approach to teaching reading. These methods are ineffective for a significant proportion of students, many of whom are members of Code-protected groups, and may harm students who are at risk for failing to learn how to read.

The inquiry also reviewed the training teachers receive through Ontario’s 13 English-language public faculties of education (faculties). It found that teacher education programs for future teachers (also known as pre-service teachers or teacher candidates) and Additional Qualification (AQ) professional development courses for current teachers (also known as in-service teachers) do not prepare teachers to use approaches to teaching word-reading skills supported by scientific research on effective classroom instruction.

Future and current teachers looking to upgrade their qualifications by taking AQ courses offered by faculties in reading and special education receive little exposure to or learning about direct and systematic instruction in foundational reading skills (also called structured literacy). They are generally not taught how skilled reading develops, including the importance of strong early word-reading skills for future reading fluency and reading comprehension. They do not adequately learn how to provide instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding, word-reading efficiency and morphology. Instead, they mostly learn about the ineffective approaches for teaching reading skills in the Ontario Language curriculum. It is not surprising then that many teachers told the inquiry they do not feel prepared to teach reading, particularly to students who do not catch on to reading quickly or have reading difficulties.

Ontario’s high rates of reading failure are well beyond the number of students who could be expected to have reading disabilities, and show that prevalent approaches to teaching reading are not working for far too many students. Ontario’s failure to use science-based approaches to teach reading and respond to reading difficulties are causing far too many children to not learn this critical life skill. This puts these students at risk for lifelong hardships associated with not being able to read. It can result in discrimination under the Ontario Human Rights Code.

Despite the overwhelming body of evidence, reading experts have noted there has been strong, deeply rooted resistance to change in the education field.[650] The inquiry found there is strong resistance in Ontario as well.

Most of the inquiry boards are not aware they are using many ineffective approaches to teach reading. Even where boards recognize the need for more science-based instruction, their ability to implement it is hampered in several important respects. For example:

  • With a few small exceptions, teachers educated in Ontario English-language public faculties have not been taught evidence-based approaches to teach early reading
  • Teachers are required to follow the Ontario curriculum, which is inconsistent with evidence-based approaches. Teachers cannot reconcile two irreconcilable approaches to teaching reading
  • Boards and teachers have not been given sufficient guidance on how to implement evidence-based instruction in the classroom. They must determine on their own what programs, approaches and materials are best and how they can implement them
  • Boards must do their own research and find the funds necessary to implement these programs
  • There is strong resistance to change and strongly held beliefs supporting whole language philosophies in parts of the education sector
  • Boards are finding it challenging to conduct the necessary professional development related to literacy instruction. This expertise is often not found within a board.

The basic components of effective reading instruction are the same whether the language of instruction is English or French.[651] However, depending on the community they live in, students learning to read in French may have limited exposure to the French language outside of the classroom. School may be the only place they are exposed to French in a meaningful and consistent way. It is also a challenge to find French reading resources and private supports.[652] It is critically important that schools deliver effective reading instruction in French, both to ensure students learning in French can learn to read and to support Francophone students’ French-language education rights under section 23 of the Charter.

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The science of reading: evidence-based curriculum and instruction

Several key reports synthesize the large body of scientific research on how children learn to read and the most effective instructional approaches: the National Reading Panel Report in the United States; the Ontario Expert Panel Report on Early Reading; the Rose Reports in England; and the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network Report. These influential reports all endorse systematically teaching the foundational skills that will lead to efficient word reading: phonemic awareness, phonics to teach grapheme to phoneme relationships[653] and using these to decode and spell words and meaningful parts of words (morphemes), and practice with reading words in stories to build word-reading accuracy and speed.


National Reading Panel

In 1997, the United States Congress asked the Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development to work with the U.S. Department of Education to create a National Reading Panel.[654] The panel included 14 people of different backgrounds, including leading scientists in reading research, representatives of faculties of education, reading teachers, educational administrators and parents.[655] The panel was asked to review all available research on how children learn to read and reading instruction (over 100,000 reading studies) and determine the most effective, evidence-based methods for teaching children to read. The panel also held public hearings.[656]

The panel released a report in 2000, Teaching children to read: An evidence-based assessment of the scientific literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction.[657] This report identified these key aspects of effective reading instruction: phonemic awareness, phonics, reading fluency, vocabulary and reading comprehension. It also stressed the importance of teacher preparation and using computer technology.

The panel’s analysis made it clear that the best approach to reading instruction incorporates:[658]

  1. Explicit instruction in phonemic awareness. Phonemic awareness is the ability to identify and manipulate individual sounds (phonemes) in spoken words. There are about 44 phonemes in the English language and 36 phonemes in French. Phonemic awareness is a foundation that supports children learning to read and spell. The panel found that children who learned to read through instruction that included focused phonemic awareness instruction improved their reading skills more than children who learned without attention to phonemic awareness. The panel also found that approaches were most effective for teaching reading and spelling when they moved quickly from oral phonemic awareness into teaching children to blend sounds and segment words while using the corresponding letters.
  2. Explicit and systematic phonics instruction. Phonics encompasses teaching the relationships between phonemes (sounds) and graphemes (the printed letter(s) that represent a sound), and how to use these to read and spell words (for example, blending to “sound out” and read words, and segmenting words to spell out each sound in a word). Systematic instruction starts with the easiest grapheme-phoneme associations and teaches using these to read words (to link the written form of the work with its pronunciation and meaning), and progresses to more complex orthographic patterns in words. Most phonics approaches include teaching simple and frequent affixes (a set of letters generally added to the beginning or end of a root word to modify its meaning, such as a prefix or suffix) relatively early in the process (for example, ed, s/es, ing). The panel found that explicit phonics instruction, starting in Kindergarten, results in significant benefits for young students and for older students who have not developed efficient word-reading skills.
  3. Teaching methods to improve fluency. Fluency is reading texts accurately and at a good rate compared to same-age peers, as well as with appropriate expression when reading aloud. Word reading efficiency is an important part of fluency. The panel concluded that along with effective word reading instruction, repeated oral reading of texts, with corrective feedback, increased students’ reading fluency.
  4. Teaching vocabulary. Vocabulary refers to knowing what individual words mean. The panel found that intentional vocabulary instruction and supported opportunities to use and understand the new vocabulary in the classroom are important.
  5. Teaching strategies for reading comprehension. Reading comprehension strategies are cognitive procedures that a reader uses to increase their understanding of a text. The panel found teaching cognitive strategies to be an effective component of reading comprehension instruction.

These elements have been termed the Five Big Ideas in Beginning Reading or The Five Pillars of Reading Instruction.[659]

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Expert panel on early reading in Ontario

In June 2002, the Ontario Ministry of Education (Ministry) convened an expert panel to study reading in Ontario. The panel’s goal was to identify ways to raise the level of reading achievement in Ontario classrooms.[660]

Then-Minister of Education and Deputy Premier Elizabeth Witmer said that the government at that time had established this panel of education experts to determine the core knowledge and teaching practices that are required to teach reading and specifically referenced research-informed instructional practices and phonemic awareness:

Teachers and principals will soon gain the benefit of additional tools and strategies. For example, as part of the implementation of the early reading strategy and the early math strategy, teachers will receive resources and training in a wide range of research-informed instructional techniques. This will include how to create and enhance children's [phonemic] awareness.[661] [Emphasis added.]

The expert panel was made up of teachers, consultants, principals, school board administrators, academics and researchers from English, French, and First Nations, Métis and Inuit communities. In 2003, the panel released its report, Early Reading Strategy: The Report of the Expert Panel on Early Reading in Ontario (the Ontario Expert Panel Report).

The Ontario Expert Panel Report contains a comprehensive discussion of the important elements of reading instruction that are necessary for all students, regardless of their gender, background or special learning needs.[662] It noted that reading instruction must be evidence-based and that there is a clear consensus in the scientific community about how to teach reading in a way that prevents reading failure:

Despite the widely different conclusions and practices advocated by individual research papers or particular programs, there is an important consensus in the scientific community about the teaching of reading. Good research informs educators about the components of an effective reading program. The research is clear in showing that effective reading instruction compensates for risk factors that might otherwise prevent children from becoming successful readers.[663] [Emphasis added.]

The panel also addressed common myths associated with learning to read, including some ideas that are prevalent in whole language approaches:

Although some children learn to read at an early age with little formal instruction, it is a fallacy to assume that this happens simply because they have been exposed to “good quality” books. Most children require explicit, planned instruction – as well as plenty of exposure to suitable books – to crack the complex code of written language and become as fluent in reading as in speaking.

Consistent with the evidence, the expert panel confirmed the importance of teaching phonemic awareness and letter sound knowledge as foundational reading skills. It stated: “The evidence also shows that phonemic awareness can be taught and that the teacher’s role in the development of phonemic awareness is essential for most children.”[664]

The expert panel also addressed the importance of teaching letter-sound relationships and phonics:

…it is important that children receive systematic and explicit instruction about correspondences between the speech sounds and individual letters and groups of letters. Phonics instruction teaches children the relationships between the letters (graphemes) of written language and the individual sounds (phonemes) of spoken language. Research has shown that systematic and explicit phonics instruction is the most effective way to develop children’s ability to identify words in print.[665] [Emphasis added.]

The Ontario Expert Panel Report stated that teachers’ instruction in letter-sound relationships and how to use these to read words should be planned and sequential so that children have time to learn, practice and master them.[666]

The expert panel also identified other important skills needed for reading, including oral language skills, enhancing vocabulary, and understanding the meaning of phrases and sentences. Efficient word-reading is one critical aspect of reading skill.

Ontario’s own expert panel did not promote the use of cueing systems or balanced literacy approaches to teach word-reading skills. As discussed later, the panel’s recommendations were not incorporated into Ontario’s 2006 Language curriculum or the Ministry’s Guide to Effective Reading Instruction: Kindergarten to Grade 3 (2003).

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Rose Reports

In 2005, the Secretary of State for Education in the United Kingdom (U.K.) commissioned Sir Jim Rose to conduct an independent review of best practices for teaching early reading and meeting the needs of children with literacy difficulties (especially dyslexia). The 2006 Independent Review of Teaching Early Reading interim report and final report in 2009, also known as the Rose Reports, state that the Simple View of Reading is a good framework for considering the necessary component skills to target in reading instruction. The Simple View of Reading is a model of reading that has been supported and validated by many research studies. It says that reading comprehension has two components: word recognition (decoding) and language comprehension. Together, skills in these two components are “essential for learning to read and for understanding what is read.”[667]

The Simple View of Reading and the research that has supported it emphasize that strong reading comprehension requires the ability to read words accurately and quickly. Decoding includes being able to sound out words using phonics knowledge, and to recognize familiar words quickly.

In reading acquisition, early decoding based on letter-sound associations leads to fast and accurate reading of familiar and unfamiliar words, whether they are presented in context or in isolation. For example, a student with strong decoding skills can read familiar words quickly, can sound out unfamiliar words in a list of unrelated words, and can even sound out non-words (such as lund or pimet). This decoding process leads to building up immediate recognition for most words students encounter in texts. Conversely, not being able to decode negatively affects a student’s ability to read printed words accurately and to build up rapid recognition for most words. This in turn impairs a student’s reading comprehension.

Dr. Louisa Moats, an expert on science-based reading instruction and teacher education, explains:

…reading and language arts instruction must include deliberate, systematic, and explicit teaching of [written] word recognition and must develop students’ subject-matter knowledge, vocabulary, sentence comprehension, and familiarity with the language in written texts.[668]

Although the full range of skills, knowledge and pedagogical approaches that are encompassed within a complete language curriculum are beyond the scope of this report, the importance of critical instruction to build word-reading skills cannot be overemphasized.

The Rose Reports recommended that England replace the “searchlight” model of teaching reading, a model based on cueing strategies like Ontario’s current Language curriculum, with high-quality, direct and systematic phonics instruction starting by age five. The reports said that pre-reading activities should be introduced earlier to prepare students for phonics instruction. High-quality, systematic phonics work means teaching beginner readers:

  • Grapheme/phoneme (letter/sound) correspondences (the alphabetic principle) in a clearly defined, incremental sequence
  • To apply the skill of blending (synthesising) phonemes in order as they sound out each grapheme
  • To segment words into their constituent phonemes to spell out the graphemes that represent those phonemes.[669]

The Rose Reports concluded that high-quality phonics work should be the primary instructional approach for teaching children to read and write words. High-quality phonics teaching allows students to learn the crucial skills of word reading. Once they master this, they can read fluently and automatically, which allows them to focus on the meaning of the text.

The Rose Reports offer many strategies for phonics instruction, such as incorporating writing the letters and spelling in phonics work, and manipulating letters and their corresponding phonemes within words. The reports also provide advice on the sequence of teaching phonics skills, and the pace of instruction.

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Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network Report

In 2008, the Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network produced a report, Foundations for Literacy: An Evidence-based Toolkit for the Effective Reading and Writing Teacher.[670] The components of the report focused on science-based information for teachers on language and reading acquisition, and on science-based instructional methods for critical components of reading and writing. The report identified these essential components:

For reading:

  • Print awareness: understanding that print represents words that have meaning and are related to spoken language
  • Phonological and phonemic awareness
  • Alphabetic knowledge (knowledge of letter names, shapes and letter-sound associations), phonics and word reading
  • Vocabulary
  • Reading comprehension.

For writing:

  • Spelling
  • Handwriting
  • Composition.

This report provided detailed guidance on the important elements of effective instruction, including for “special populations” such as multilingual students who are learning the language of instruction at the same time as they are learning the curriculum (also referred to in the Ontario education system as English language learners or ELL students), learners from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, students in French Immersion and, importantly, students with reading disabilities, particularly in word reading/dyslexia. The report noted that “structured, systematic, and explicit teaching, with structured practice and immediate, corrective feedback is important in teaching all students, and is especially important in teaching students with dyslexia…” The report also said: “regardless of the child’s starting point, all students can benefit from high-quality instruction focused on phonics.”[671]

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Models that help explain how children learn to read

Scarborough’s rope model[672] is a science-based framework that breaks down the two major components in the Simple View of Reading, explaining how word-reading skills and oral language comprehension each contribute to reading comprehension. Dr. Hollis Scarborough, a psychologist, literacy expert and leading researcher in reading acquisition, compared skilled reading to the strands of a rope, with each strand representing a separate skill. The strands are woven together as readers become more skilled. If there is a weakness in any strand or skill, the rope will be weaker. The two major strands are word recognition and language comprehension (the ability to get meaning from words, sentences and texts at a listening level).[673] The sub-strands of word recognition include phonological awareness, decoding and spelling, and recognizing familiar words “by sight” (quickly and effortlessly or automatically). The goal of word-reading instruction is that with increasing skill development, children come to recognize almost all words by sight (the written word becomes linked in memory to its pronunciation and meaning). In this way, knowledge of spoken words and their meanings is linked to learning word forms and supports students’ decoding of words that have not yet become sight words.


Figure 2

Open strands of rope: language comprehension – background knowledge, vocabulary knowledge, language structures, verbal reasoning, literacy knowledge; word recognition – phonological awareness, decoding (and spelling), sight recognition. Rope woven together, to become increasingly strategic/automatic – skilled reading: fluent execution and coordination of word recognition and text comprehension.  Reading is a multifaceted skill, gradually acquired over years of instruction and practice.

Dr. Linnea Ehri’s Phase Theory of Learning to Read Words[674] is a useful model that explains the developmental process of learning to read words accurately and efficiently, and is supported by an abundance of research. Dr. Ehri, an educational psychologist and leading researcher on reading acquisition processes, identified four phases representing the connections between the written letters that form words and spoken words that developing readers gain as they move from novice to skilled readers:

  1. Pre-alphabetic phase: students read words by memorizing their visual features or guessing words from their context
  2. Partial-alphabetic phase: students recognize some letters of the alphabet and can use them together with context to remember (a few) words by sight
  3. Full-alphabetic phase: readers possess extensive working knowledge of the graphophonemic system, and they can use this knowledge to fully analyze the connections between graphemes and phonemes in words. They can decode unfamiliar words and store fully analyzed sight words in memory
  4. Consolidated-alphabetic phase: students consolidate their knowledge of grapheme-phoneme relationships into larger units that recur in different words.

This model explains how reading proficiency needs to develop. Preschoolers and very young students start off reading some very common words from memory (such as STOP on the stop sign), but then begin to use the grapheme-phoneme knowledge they have learned to decode words, at first letter by letter, but then more efficiently by connecting complete graphemes and phonemes and larger letter patterns (such as rimes and syllables). Students then progress to efficient reading, when they can recognize many words and large chunks of words (orthographic patterns and morphemes) automatically – known as reading words by sight or from memory. Dr. Ehri explains:

The evidence shows that words are read from memory when graphemes are connected to phonemes. This bonds spellings of individual words to their pronunciations along with their meanings in memory. Readers must know grapheme–phoneme relations and have decoding skill to form connections, and must read words in text to associate spellings with meanings.[675]

This model can help teachers understand where their students are starting from, and the types of knowledge and skills students need for their word-reading skills to develop.

In these models, the orthographic representation of a word (in other words, its spelling) becomes integrated in memory with both the word’s pronunciation and meaning. Teaching phonics is integrated with accessing the meanings of the words the students are learning to read from the beginning, and continues through to reading words with more complex orthographic patterns and with more than one syllable and/or morpheme. Researchers have noted: “The Simple View is consistent with Perfetti’s (2007) lexical quality hypothesis, where acquiring and integrating information about both word form and meaning are necessary for on-line reading comprehension.”[676]

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Summary of reports and models

These influential reports and models, which are based on a substantial body of scientific research, all confirm that a critical focus of early reading instruction must be on skills that will lead to efficient word-reading: that is, teaching phonemic awareness skills, the links between phonemes and graphemes, and how to use this knowledge in decoding/reading (and spelling) words (explicit phonics instruction). They all conclude that teaching students these skills in a direct and systematic way is a critical and necessary component of teaching them to read.[677]

The science of reading shows that contrary to whole language beliefs, strong language comprehension does not lead to good reading comprehension without well-developed word-reading skills. Poorly developed word-reading skills act like a bottleneck for comprehension. On the other hand, the better a reader’s word recognition skills, the more attention they can put towards making meaning to understand texts.[678]

There are additional, critical components in a full reading instruction program. For example, effective vocabulary instruction is especially important for students with language disabilities or from less advantaged backgrounds.[679] Research in Canada and the U.S. shows that effective vocabulary instruction in Kindergarten to Grade 6 may be lacking.[680] Research studies have helped identify instructional approaches to support students in gaining the vocabulary knowledge needed to make expected yearly gains in reading comprehension.[681] Similarly, students need explicit instruction in text structures (genres), reading comprehension strategies, and the knowledge base of different domains to support reading comprehension. Also, motivating and culturally responsive instruction and texts need to be incorporated.[682] Although outside of the scope of this report, the body of research known as the science of reading addresses these many components of classroom language and reading instruction. A complete reading program requires evidence-based instruction in each area to more fully address inequities in reading achievement across Kindergarten to Grade 12.

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Universal Design for Learning and Response to Intervention

Experts agree that directly teaching the specific foundational reading skills described above saves most children who come to school at risk for failing to learn to read well:[683]

…classroom teaching itself, when it includes a range of research-based components and practices, can prevent and mitigate reading difficulty…informed classroom instruction…beginning in kindergarten enhances success for all but a very small percentage of students with learning disabilities or severe dyslexia.[684]

Direct and systematic teaching of the skills that are good for all students, and essential for students at risk, is consistent with Universal Design for Learning (UDL), an educational approach that emphasizes designing curriculum and instruction to make it effective and accessible for all students.[685] The goal of UDL is to give all students an equal opportunity to learn and succeed. By using evidence-based approaches that teach the necessary foundational reading skills in sequence from easiest to most difficult, with simultaneous differentiation for learners who need more focused and highly scaffolded instruction, almost all children can gain the knowledge and skills that are being taught. That is, it allows almost all children to learn to read words in text accurately and efficiently.

In its submission to the inquiry, the Ontario Association of Speech-Language Pathologists and Audiologists emphasized that students with typical development as well as students with reading disabilities, intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder and hearing disabilities all benefit from instruction that builds skills for decoding words and language comprehension (as set out in the Simple View of Reading).

A tiered approach to instruction, coupled with universal screening or assessment and early intervention also reflects principles of UDL.[686] Response to Intervention (RTI) or Multi-tier Systems of Supports (MTSS) are frameworks for delivering inclusive education that use UDL, and can be effective for addressing the challenges of teaching reading.[687] In an RTI/MTSS framework, students receive increasing levels of support according to their needs, but always using high-quality classroom instruction and interventions consistent with the scientific research. Many such frameworks have three tiers, and critical to each tier is reading instruction based on evidence.

Tier 1 is considered the key component of a tiered approach. At tier 1, all students receive high-quality classroom instruction using an evidence-based, scientifically researched core curriculum. Teachers must have sufficient and ongoing professional development to deliver the tier 1 core instructional program in the way it was designed.[688] An important feature of tier 1 is that all students are screened to see if they are responding to instruction as expected (gaining the required skills and knowledge). This universal early screening means students are identified and receive the programming they need before they start to experience significant difficulties. When evidence-based word-reading instruction is delivered properly, tier 1 meets the needs of most students (estimates are about 80 to 90%).[689]

At tier 2, students whose skills and knowledge are not progressing adequately to meet expectations with only tier 1 science-based instruction, receive additional instruction or intervention in small groups. These are about 15 to 20% of students who are not at the expected levels, as identified through an evidence-based screening/assessment process, and are at risk for failing to learn to read well. While continuing to receive high-quality tier 1 instruction, these students receive tier 2 support in smaller groups with increased intensity (daily instructional time, explicitness and scaffolding of instruction, supported practice and cumulative review). Evidence-based tier 2 interventions in Kindergarten and Grade 1 will be most effective for the most students.

Tier 3 supports are intended for the very small percentage of students whose reading skills do not come into the expected range with tier 1 and tier 2 instruction. These students are at high risk for failing to learn to read, or have already experienced time in the classroom without being able to meet the reading demands. Intervention at this level means smaller groups or individual interventions of increased intensity (more time, more explicit and scaffolded, with ample supported practice to master skills).

The Association of Psychology Leaders in Ontario Schools’ inquiry submission emphasized the importance of strong RTI/MTSS approaches, noting: “a combination of effective classroom instruction and targeted small group instruction has the potential to meet the needs of 98% of struggling readers.”[690]

With appropriate instruction, multilingual students (referred to in the education system as English language learners or ELL students) can learn phonological awareness and decoding skills in English as quickly as students who speak English as a first language.[691] The specific difficulties that English language learners may face are fairly predictable and can be addressed with proactive teaching that focuses on potentially problematic sounds and letter combinations.[692] English language learners will also need instruction in other aspects to fully address reading comprehension and written language.[693]As described by Dr. Esther Geva, an Ontario psychologists with expertise in culturally and linguistically diverse children, and her colleagues:

Instruction for [English language learners] should be comprehensive and include instruction in the core areas of reading (phonological awareness, phonics, word level fluency, accuracy and fluency in text-level reading, and reading comprehension), as well as in oral language (vocabulary, grammar, use of pronouns or conjunctions, use of idioms) and writing. It is often the case that [English language learners] continue to develop oral language and vocabulary skills while building core literacy skills.[694]

Multilingual students, then, need instruction and intervention on the same foundational word reading skills as other students.

This section of the report deals with tier 1 classroom instruction. For more on how school boards are implementing other aspects of RTI/MTSS, see sections 9, Early screening and 10, Reading interventions.

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Ineffective methods for teaching reading

Balanced literacy or comprehensive balanced literacy approaches, cueing systems and other whole language beliefs and practices are not supported by the science of reading for teaching foundational reading skills. They have been found ineffective in many studies, expert reviews and reports for teaching all students to read.[695] The consequences of using these approaches and programs are particularly serious for students with reading disabilities and other risk factors for failing to learn to read. Research does not support that a balanced literacy approach, which focuses on teaching cueing systems for word solving and rejects a structured literacy approach, is as successful as science-based approaches, which include direct and systematic instruction in foundational word reading skills, for teaching children in at-risk groups to read.[696] Despite this, they remain prominent teaching strategies in Ontario.

Balanced literacy, cueing systems and whole language proponents assert that children learn to read naturally, largely through meaningful and authentic literacy experiences and exposure to books and other literacies. They largely reject structured literacy approaches that encompass direct and systematic instruction in the foundational skills supporting word-reading acquisition, and formal reading programs that support teachers to deliver this instruction. Whole language and its offspring, cueing and balanced literacy, emphasize learning whole words in meaningful contexts. In whole language, there is little or no systematic, direct instruction in phonemic awareness. Phonics and decoding and sounding out words are not emphasized.[697] Dr. Moats noted that balanced literacy, cueing systems and whole language approaches are characterized by:

  • Little teaching about speech sounds and their features
  • Not enough instruction in blending and pulling apart or segmenting the sounds in words
  • Confusing phonological awareness and phonics
  • Instructing teachers to avoid breaking words into their parts and teaching the letter-sound relationships
  • Telling students to guess at a word from context and the first letter
  • De-emphasizing “sounding out” the whole word from beginning to end
  • Not systematically presenting sound-symbol relationships and/or practicing decoding words
  • Using leveled books instead of decodable texts.[698]

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Cueing systems

The three-cueing system follows from a whole language approach and is a central part of balanced literacy. It was first proposed in 1967 by Dr. Ken Goodman, a professor who has been described as the founder of the whole language approach. Dr. Goodman described reading as a “psycholinguistic guessing game.” Dr. Goodman argued that reading is not a precise process that involves sequentially identifying letters, words, spelling patterns and language units. Rather, Dr. Goodman suggested that as people read, they play a guessing game to predict words on the page using cues: semantic cues (what would make sense based on the context); syntactic cues (what kind of word could this be, such as a verb or a noun); and graphophonic cues (what do the letters suggest the word might be). Dr. Goodman’s theory, which was based on how he thought fluent adult readers read, became the basis for the three-cueing approach for teaching young children to read.

Dr. Goodman’s theory of skilled reading and the cueing systems approach were not validated by later scientific studies of skilled reading or how to teach developing readers. One educational psychologist explained:

The three-cueing system is well-known to most teachers. What is less well known is that it arose not as a result of advances in knowledge concerning reading development, but rather in response to an unfounded but passionate held belief. Despite its largely uncritical acceptance by many within the education field, it has never been shown to have utility, and in fact, it is predicated upon notions of reading development that have been demonstrated to be false. Thus, as a basis for decisions about reading instruction it is likely to mislead teachers and hinder students’ progress.[699]

Dr. Goodman also identified miscue analysis as a way to assess students’ use of cueing systems. A miscue analysis is an observational method where the teacher listens to a student read a passage of unfamiliar text that is at least one level higher than their current reading level within a leveled reading system. The teacher observes the student’s mistakes, or miscues, to assess how the student approaches the process of reading, which cueing strategies they need to work on, and their overall comprehension of the passage. A running record is a similar observational tool that teachers use to assess a student’s oral reading behaviours.

In a 2020 article “What Constitutes a Science of Reading Instruction?” Dr. Timothy Shanahan, an internationally recognized educator, researcher and education policy-maker focused on literacy education, confirmed that “no research has shown that learning benefits from teaching cueing systems.”[700] In another recent study, seven independent reading researchers reviewed Dr. Lucy Calkin’s program which is based on the three-cueing system and widely used in the U.S. They concluded:

The program…strongly recommends use of the three-cueing system…as a valid procedure for assessing and diagnosing a student's reading needs. This is in direct opposition to an enormous body of settled research…[701]

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Balanced literacy

Balanced literacy has not been scientifically validated. According to Dr. Irene Fountas and Dr. Gay Su Pinnell (Fountas and Pinnell), who have developed materials that are heavily relied on in Ministry resources and used in Ontario schools, balanced literacy is a “philosophical orientation that assumes that reading and writing achievement are developed through instruction and support in multiple environments using various approaches that differ by level of teacher support and child control.”[702] [Emphasis added]

Another author explains:

[A] Balanced Literacy approach recognizes that students need to use a variety of strategies to become proficient readers and writers. It encourages the development of skills in reading, writing, speaking and listening for all students.[703]

She writes that a balanced literacy program should include (with suggested time targets for reading and writing):

Suggested targets for reading:

  • Modeled reading (10 min/day)
  • Shared reading (15–20 min/three days in a row for two weeks)
  • Guided reading (one text/group; 15–20 min/week)
  • Independent reading (20 min/day).

Suggested targets for writing:

  • Modeled writing (every other day; 10–15 min)
  • Shared writing (every other day; 10–15 min)
  • Guided writing (2–3 times per week for 40 min)
  • Independent writing (25–30 min per day). Create a body of work for reflection, assessment and growth.

A report titled Whole Language Lives On: The Illusion of “Balanced” Reading Instruction, shows how the term “balanced literacy” was adopted to conceal the true nature of whole language programs.[704] Even though balanced literacy proponents often argue it uses scientific approaches, balanced literacy fails to incorporate the content and instructional methods proven to work best for students learning to read. This is particularly harmful for at-risk students, including students with dyslexia and many others who come to school with few pre-reading skills for different reasons. Balanced literacy relies on teaching cueing systems to guess at words in text, rather than direct, systematic instruction to build students’ decoding and word-reading skills.

One expert concludes:

In summary, whole-language derivatives are still popular, but they continue to fail the students who most need to benefit from the findings of reading research. Approaches such as…balanced literacy do not complement text reading and writing with strong, systematic, skills-based instruction, in spite of their claims. Only programs that teach all components of reading, as well as writing and oral language, will be able to prevent and ameliorate reading problems in the large number of children at risk.[705]

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Ontario’s approach to teaching reading: the Ontario Kindergarten Program, Grades 1–8 Language curriculum and related resources

Ontario’s Kindergarten Program

Ontario’s Kindergarten Program, 2016[706] sets out what four- and five-year-olds across the province learn “through play and inquiry.”[707]

Kindergarten is a critical time in a child’s reading development, where they must develop some core early reading skills. Students who do not have these skills by the time they enter Grade 1 or 2 are often considered at risk for difficulties learning to read.[708]

Empirical studies have shown significant variation in pre-reading skills and oral language abilities among children entering school.[709] Research has also clearly established that children entering school with less-developed pre-reading skills and oral language abilities are at a greater risk for later reading difficulties.[710]

Kindergarten programs that target reading and oral language skills using age-appropriate approaches have been found to close gaps and promote later reading success, in ways that programs that do not have this focus do not.[711]

Research also suggests that current approaches, similar to those in Ontario’s Kindergarten Program, are not enough to change young students’ developmental trajectories related to later word-reading skills, or to provide the critical vocabulary and background knowledge needed for later reading comprehension.[712]

Although the focus of this report is on word reading, the science of reading addresses other areas such as the importance of early vocabulary instruction.[713] Observational studies have shown an “overwhelming lack of attention” to vocabulary instruction, even in the earliest school years.[714] In a U.S. study examining classroom approaches like those in Ontario’s Kindergarten Program, planned vocabulary instruction was largely absent across 55 Kindergarten classrooms, and impromptu instruction about words occurred for only about eight minutes per day[715] (see similar Canadian research for older grades).[716] In classrooms with students from largely lower socioeconomic backgrounds, even fewer words were introduced per day, and fewer of these were more challenging words.[717] These findings highlight critical inequities in early literacy learning opportunities.[718]

The OHRC examined the literacy component of Ontario’s Kindergarten Program[719] as it relates to children’s skills related to decoding and word-reading development. The Kindergarten Program is deficient in several key ways.

The program does not pay enough attention to the importance of phonemic awareness skills and how to teach these in the classroom. While there are references to phonological awareness, phonemic awareness and phonics in several specific expectations, there is little discussion of the importance of these skills. There are no clear sets of reading skills that teachers are expected to teach and students are expected to learn.

There is also insufficient information on instruction for alphabetic knowledge and decoding skills, including no mention of daily phonics instruction in the Kindergarten classroom. Also, the program does not discuss the importance of monitoring students’ skills in these areas, or supporting students who are struggling in developing these reading skills.

An “Educator Reflection” in the Kindergarten Program document states: “We noticed that, when we taught a whole class about phonological and phonemic awareness, we were not really meeting anyone’s needs.” This negative anecdotal statement about class-wide instruction in phonological and phonemic awareness is inconsistent with decades of research showing that all students benefit from this form of instruction. It feeds into a myth that only some students need this explicit instruction, and discourages class-wide instruction with sounds and letters to build these foundational skills.

One Kindergarten teacher who is teaching foundational skills in a direct and explicit way in her classroom told the inquiry: “Every [student] is benefitting. My [students] are fantastic spellers, and they love it [referring to the structured literacy instruction].” She also expressed concern that Ontario’s play and discovery-based Kindergarten Program does not provide enough guidance on how Kindergarten teachers should teach foundational word-reading skills, putting students at a disadvantage when they enter Grade 1:

In Ontario, the play-based [K]indergarten [P]rogram is interpreted by some (many?) to mean play all day and no direct explicit instruction. Teachers placing a bunch of magnetic letters in the rice table is not going to teach children how to read, nor is it going to catch early strugglers. There needs to be clearer guidelines for the teaching of reading or pre-reading in kindergarten, in direct response to early screening – using a fun and playful structured literacy program.

The evidence is clear that instruction in phonological awareness, letter knowledge and sounds, and simple decoding should be included in daily instruction for all Kindergarten students. Approaches for phonological awareness start with easier, oral language activities in Kindergarten Year 1 (formerly referred to as Junior Kindergarten), such as singing and learning nursery rhymes, learning to recognize and produce rhyming words, and playing with the chunks of sound that make up words, like syllables and beginning sounds. In Kindergarten Year 2 (formerly known as Senior Kindergarten), students need to develop the critical phonemic awareness skills of identifying phonemes in the beginning, end and middle of words, and then blending and segmenting individual phonemes in words.

At the same time, Kindergarten Year 1 and Year 2 students should be taught, using engaging and age-appropriate methods, letter names and letter-sound associations, and how to use these to read simple words. Through Year 2, students should master (be both accurate and quick) the most common letters representing the roughly 44 English sounds and 36 French sounds (grapheme-phoneme associations) through explicit teaching and practice using these to read simple words, sentences and stories that are made up mostly of words students are able to decode with the associations they have already learned. Writing is an important activity in Kindergarten, and students should develop and reinforce these skills through instructional writing activities, as they learn to segment sounds in words and represent these with letters.[720]

Several inquiry school boards were concerned that a proportion of their students start school at a disadvantage. They clearly recognize that many of these students will remain at a disadvantage unless something is done. However, what was less clear was their understanding that schools can provide instruction that will help these students close the gap with peers who start school with more developed skills. The boards suggested that access to better pre-school programs and services were the solution. Although better pre-school supports could help, science-based Kindergarten classroom programming can address many of these disadvantages, such as those related to phonemic awareness and word reading.

Unfortunately, the current Kindergarten Program in Ontario maintains, and does not alleviate, literacy disadvantages for the large numbers of students who start school with less-developed formal pre-reading and reading skills. This includes children who may have a biological predisposition to reading disabilities/dyslexia. Complete literacy programs must include instruction in word-reading skills, as well as the many other components that help develop strong and motivated readers. Emphasis on word-reading skills is essential but is largely absent in Ontario’s Kindergarten Program. This is a significant obstacle limiting the reading and literacy development of far too many Ontario children.[721]

The Association of Psychology Leaders in Ontario Schools[722] stressed the importance of introducing these skills in Kindergarten, in the context of play-based learning:

Foundational reading skills can be incorporated into regular classroom instruction in the early years and in ways that maintain the integrity of the play-based philosophy. Purposeful play is play nevertheless. There exists an opportunity for boards to implement programs that teach foundational reading skills in the early years, and emphasize the oral language and phonological awareness skills that are critical for reading development. Not doing so would be to the detriment of our children.

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Ontario’s Grades 1–8 Language curriculum

Curriculum is set by the Ministry.[723] Of note, the Ontario Language curriculum is the oldest elementary curriculum in use in Ontario,[724] and one of the oldest elementary language curricula in Canada.[725] The Ontario Language curriculum was last updated over 15 years ago, in 2006. According to the Ministry, curriculum has a shelf-life of 10 to 15 years.[726] Based on its age alone, this curriculum is due for an update.

The Ontario Language curriculum outlines the knowledge and skills students are expected to achieve by the end of each grade. It sets out mandatory learning expectations, and what is taught in each grade must be developed based on these learning expectations. Teachers use their professional judgment to decide how to teach the curriculum.

The Ontario Language curriculum focuses on the use of the three-cueing system as the primary approach students will be taught to read words. The Ontario Language curriculum makes it clear that this involves looking for clues to predict or guess words based on context and prior knowledge. It defines cueing systems as:

Cues or clues that effective readers use in combination to read unfamiliar words, phrases, and sentences and construct meaning from print. Semantic (meaning) cues help readers guess or predict the meaning of words, phrases, or sentences on the basis of context and prior knowledge. Semantic cues may include visuals. Syntactic (structural) cues help readers make sense of text using knowledge of the patterned ways in which words in a language are combined into phrases, clauses, and sentences. Graphophonic (phonological and graphic) cues help readers to decode unknown words using knowledge of letter or sound relationships, word patterns, and words recognized by sight. [Emphasis added.]

As explained by the validated models of skilled reading presented earlier, effective readers recognize words accurately and quickly. They do not need to use their attention to guess at words based on cueing systems. Context can help with recognizing the rare word whose orthography is unfamiliar and not easily pronounced. It should not be a primary or frequent strategy for reading words.

For young children learning to read, the written form of almost all words is “unfamiliar.” Starting to learn to read by integrating these cueing systems in texts is not effective for most children, and not efficient for any child.

In the current Ontario Language curriculum, one of the overall expectations for each grade is that students will be able to “use knowledge of words and cueing systems to read fluently.” As discussed below, Ontario’s teaching guides also emphasize cueing systems as the primary approach for students to learn the written code of spoken language. Therefore, the curriculum emphasizes teaching cueing systems for word reading rather than directly and systematically teaching students the written code of spoken language. With this cueing system approach, many students fail to build accurate and efficient word-reading skills, which are the “hallmark of skilled word reading.”[727] Indeed, failing to directly teach skills and knowledge needed for accurate and efficient reading in the earliest grades can start the Matthew Effect in reading (described in section 4, Context for the inquiry), where students with poor early word-reading skills get further and further behind in all aspects of reading and the positive consequences of reading, such as building vocabulary and knowledge of the world.[728]

The Ontario Language curriculum defines phonological awareness, phonemic awareness and phonics but it does not require these be taught or provide guidance on how these should be taught.

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The Ministry’s Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading

The Ministry also develops resources to support instruction. One significant resource related to early reading instruction is the Ministry’s A Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading, Kindergarten to Grade 3, 2003 (the Guide). School boards reported that they rely on the Guide in delivering the Language curriculum.

The Guide emphasizes the role of the three-cueing system and related balanced literacy approaches for teaching students to read words. For example, it outlines the following word guessing skills in a table entitled “The Behaviours of Proficient Readers.”

Word-solving skills

Proficient readers:

Use semantic (meaning) cues:

  • use illustrations from the text to predict words
  • use their prior knowledge as an aid in reading
  • use the context and common sense to predict unfamiliar words

Use syntactic (structural) cues:

  • use their knowledge of how English[729] works to predict and read some words
  • use the structure of the sentence to predict words

Use graphophonic (visual) cues:

  • analyze words from left to right
  • use their existing knowledge of words to read unknown words
  • notice letter patterns and parts of words;
  • sound out words by individual letter or by letter cluster

Use base or root words to analyze parts of a word and to read whole words

Integrate the cueing systems to cross-check their comprehension of words:

  • combine semantic (meaning) and syntactic (structural) cues to verify their predictions
  • cross-check their sense of the meaning (semantic cues) with their knowledge of letter-sound relationships and word parts (graphophonic cues).

Although the description of graphophonic (visual) cues appears to suggest that the sounds and letter patterns in words are part of the three-cueing system, this is at best a passing reference to a few of the fundamental skills needed to read words. Instructions on how to use graphophonic clues often promote looking at the first letter/sound in the word and then guessing what might fit for the whole word in the context of the sentence. For example, in a section called Sample Questions and Prompts to Promote Students’ Use of the Three Cueing Systems, the Guide suggests the following questions to help students use graphophonic cues:

  • What were the rhyming words in this story?
  • What word do you see within that bigger word? (Prompt students to look for the root word in a word with a prefix or suffix, or for the two words that make up a compound word)
  • What is the first letter (or last letter) of the word?
  • What sound does that letter (or combination of letters) make?
  • What other words start with that letter and would fit into this sentence?[730]

These examples of how to process the letters within words are time- and attention-consuming – the exact opposite of skill acquisition where words become recognized more and more automatically. The National Reading Panel Report noted that some instruction in phonics as one part of graphophonic prompts is not sufficient:

Whole language teachers typically provide some instruction in phonics, usually as part of invented spelling activities or through the use of [graphophonic] prompts during reading (Routman, 1996). However, their approach is to teach it unsystematically and incidentally in context as the need arises.

Although some phonics is included in whole language instruction, important differences have been observed distinguishing this approach from systematic phonics approaches.[731]

The Guide has a later section on phonemic awareness, phonics and word study. However, the three-cueing system is presented throughout as the primary instructional approach to reading words in text. Even within the discussion of phonemic awareness, phonics and word study, guessing strategies are promoted. For example, in a section on word-solving and word study, teachers are once again encouraged to have students predict words, think about what word would make sense in context and look at the pictures for clues.[732] Decoding or sounding out words is often presented as one of the last strategies for word analysis when it should be the first[733] and based on effective classroom instruction on how to decode words.

Combining cueing systems with decoding strategies is not an effective approach to reading instruction and results in confusion for students. The U.K.’s Primary Framework for Literacy and Mathematics noted:

…attention should be focused on decoding words rather than the use of unreliable strategies such as looking at the illustrations, rereading the sentence, saying the first sound or guessing what might “fit.” Although these strategies might result in intelligent guesses, none of them is sufficiently reliable and they can hinder the acquisition and application of phonic knowledge and skills, prolonging the word recognition process and lessening children’s overall understanding. Children who routinely adopt alternative cues for reading unknown words, instead of learning to decode them, later find themselves stranded when texts become more demanding and meanings less predictable. The best route for children to become fluent and independent readers lies in securing phonics as the prime approach to decoding unfamiliar words.[734] [Emphasis added.]

For children learning to read, almost all words are unfamiliar words.

Another recent report by leading reading researchers confirms that three-cueing as the way of teaching students to read and as a first strategy for students reading unfamiliar words is problematic and inconsistent with the scientific evidence:

Th[e] endorsement of the three-cueing system gives teachers explicit permission to center instruction on the three-cueing system rather than the more productive and research-based incorporation of phonics instruction. The best and overwhelming body of research strongly supports that letter-to-sound decoding is the primary system used by proficient readers to read text while it is only poor readers who rely on use of partial visual cues to guess at words…. The promotion of the three-cueing system…will dilute the work of the phonics materials by prompting teachers to focus on analyzing running records for errors based on meaning and syntax rather than leveraging taught foundational skills.[735]


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Other Ministry resources

The Ministry of Education publishes several resources on early literacy and special education. It states that these resources support instruction, and educators may choose to use these resources if they find them useful.

The inquiry reviewed these resources and found that they also fail to promote an effective and systematic evidence-based approach to teaching students how to read. This is not surprising, given that the Ontario Language curriculum and the Guide are the primary resources for teachers, and any additional Ministry resources follow the curriculum.

Consistent with the Ontario Language curriculum and Guide, these resources promote whole language approaches. For example, a Ministry guide to support boys’ success in literacy, Me Read? No Way! A Practical Guide to Improving Boys’ Literacy Skills, 2004 acknowledges that gender is a significant factor in reading achievement and that boys score lower on reading tests, are more likely to be placed in special education classrooms, have higher dropout rates and are less likely than girls to go to university.[736]

This resource identifies 13 “strategies for success” for improving boys’ reading. None of the strategies reference teaching early foundational reading skills effectively to improve word reading, including teaching phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding. All the strategies suggest that if boys find reading more interesting, relevant and fun, they will be better readers. This guide promotes the problematic balanced literacy approach as a best practice.[737]

Focusing only on a lack of student engagement to explain why students do not read well perpetuates stereotypes about students who do not learn to read without instruction and students with reading difficulties. It suggests that if students simply find something they are interested in and apply themselves, they can improve their reading. It fails to recognize that if students are not able to read the words in texts, it limits their reading comprehension, does not increase reading skills, and has a negative impact on their desire to engage in reading. The notion that some students, especially boys, are not motivated to learn is constructed on negative and gendered stereotypes.

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The Ministry’s basis for adopting the three-cueing system

The three-cueing system and balanced literacy models in the Ontario Language curriculum, the Guide and other Ministry resources were not recommended for developing early word-reading skills by the Kindergarten to Grade 3 expert panel in the Early Reading Strategy: Report of the Expert Panel on Early Reading in Ontario.

The OHRC asked the Ministry why it decided to adopt the three-cueing system, and what scientific support it had for the three-cueing system. The Ministry advised that cueing systems were referenced in Literacy for Learning: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy in Grades 4 to 6 in Ontario (2004).[738] This Grade 4 to 6 expert report states that it builds on the foundations for literacy that are laid in a child’s early years. It also says that it builds on the earlier work of the Kindergarten to Grade 3 expert panel. However, this panel did not recommend three-cueing or balanced literacy approaches for word reading.

The Grade 4 to 6 expert report appropriately suggests that cueing systems can be used by students in Grades 4 to 6 to “make meaning from increasingly complex texts.” It does not suggest that cueing systems be used to teach foundational word reading skills to students in Kindergarten through Grade 3. The research shows that context is important to reading comprehension or making meaning from text after words have been decoded.[739] However, using context is not useful as a primary word decoding strategy. When children encounter a word they have not seen before, their first approach should be to use decoding skills to sound it out.[740]

Therefore, the evidence gathered in the inquiry shows that the Ontario Language curriculum, the Guide and related resources were not developed in response to the expert or scientific evidence available at the time. There was not, and still is not, a sufficient basis to support the use of the three-cueing system and balanced literacy for teaching early word reading in Ontario.

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School board approaches to teaching reading

Given the prevalence of three-cueing and balanced literacy in the Ontario Language curriculum, the Guide and other resources, it is not surprising that the eight inquiry school boards all reported using these ineffective approaches to word-reading instruction in their schools.

The OHRC asked the boards to provide documents, data or information explaining their approach to teaching reading. The OHRC also asked questions in its meetings with each board to better understand if they are teaching phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding and word-reading, and their views on whether current approaches are consistent with the science of reading.


Emphasis on three-cueing and balanced literacy

All boards reported following the Ontario Language curriculum as required, as well as relying on the Guide and other Ministry resources. The boards said that in addition to cueing systems, they use either a balanced literacy or comprehensive (balanced) literacy approach to teaching reading. The key elements that appear to distinguish comprehensive balanced literacy from balanced literacy are an emphasis on oral language, reading, writing and media literacy, as well as teachers having flexibility to divide time among the four primary teaching strategies (modelled, shared, guided and independent reading) in response to the perceived needs of their students.[741] The majority (59%) of educators[742] who responded to the OHRC’s educator survey also identified balanced literacy as the predominant approach to teaching reading in Ontario.

The inquiry school boards also reported relying heavily on resources from whole language and balanced literacy proponents such as Drs. Fountas and Pinnell, Dr. Brian Cambourne, Dr. Marie Clay, and Dr. Lucy Calkins for instruction, assessment and intervention. These include PM Benchmarks, Running Records, Observational Survey of Literacy Achievement and Miscue Analysis for assessment as well as Levelled Literacy Intervention (LLI) and Reading Recovery® for interventions (for a detailed discussion of assessment and intervention, see sections 9, Early screening and 10, Reading interventions).

One school board described its understanding of literacy development, based on Cambourne’s Conditions of Learning:

…educators must understand that: literacy is developmental; not all children reach the same developmental phase at the same time; attitude can play a large part in the success of the student; reading and writing tasks must be linked to prior knowledge and experience; and learning language requires much social interaction and collaboration. [Emphasis added.]

Unfortunately, these types of misconceptions can lead educators to believe that students who are not learning to read are not developmentally ready or are not trying hard enough. Many students and parents reported being told that delays in learning to read are normal, or that students are not learning to read because of a lack of effort. However, these delays were later recognized as early signs of failing to learn to read due to the lack of direct and systematic instruction in foundational word-reading skills. These reported observations are consistent with findings from research.[743]

The boards were asked if they believe they are following a whole language or structured literacy approach to teaching reading. Two boards acknowledged that their literacy programs follow a whole language approach. One board reported following a structured literacy approach. Other boards felt their approach incorporated elements of both. However, the overall approaches of all the school boards, with a few possible exceptions (described below), do reflect a whole language philosophy.

School board leaders opined that a whole language approach is not at odds with teaching phonological awareness or that whole language and direct instruction/structured literacy approaches can be combined. In fact, whole language approaches do preclude systematic and explicit instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics, because a central belief of whole language is that individual reading skills are not taught outside of “authentic” or real-world reading activities. Further, the three-cueing system that is the primary approach to word-reading instruction within this framework is directly opposed to direct and systematic teaching of decoding skills.[744]

Board representatives were asked if they believe the current Ontario Language curriculum and their approaches to reading instruction are working well or should be changed. It was apparent that many board leaders were not familiar with the overwhelming evidence that cueing systems and balanced literacy are far less effective approaches for teaching early reading skills and leave many vulnerable students at risk for not learning these skills. Boards described balanced literacy as “very highly regarded as the way to teach reading,” as it is “still taught in faculties of education” and believed balanced literacy researchers “are still at the forefront.” One board said it felt “confident” that balanced literacy is the way to teach students to read and to get most students reading at grade level, even though a significant proportion of this board’s students, particularly students with learning disabilities and special education needs, are not meeting provincial standards on EQAO testing.

Boards that recognized the need to improve literacy outcomes for more students could not always identify how their current approaches to teaching reading are not working for these students. It was unclear how these boards expected to increase student success in reading without fundamentally changing how students are taught to read. They did not appear to know about the scientific evidence on effective instruction in early reading skills.

Several boards suggested that the current approach simply needs minor adjustment to provide a bit more guidance on how to approach phonological awareness and “word work,” or clearer expectations for what should be taught and learned in each grade. One board noted that teachers are more comfortable with using cueing systems than with delivering direct and systematic instruction in foundational word-reading skills, and could use “some additional guidance” on the latter. Several boards commented that the Ontario Language curriculum provides little guidance on what the expectations are for each grade, so they are left to interpret the curriculum to decide what to focus on in each grade. These boards suggested that clearer guidance on what should be taught in each grade could be helpful and promote greater consistency across Ontario.

One board clearly acknowledged that the current Ontario Language curriculum and approaches to teaching reading are not consistent with the science of reading. This board said that their speech-language pathologists and psychologists have informed them that the current curriculum does not support direct, systematic instruction in foundational word-reading skills or structured literacy. The board noted that teachers must follow the curriculum, which is not consistent with the science of reading. The board reported being concerned about how to “honour the Ontario curriculum as required while also adapting to what the science of reading is telling them.”

Several school boards explicitly said they believed that they sufficiently address “word work” or “word study” within their current approaches. For example, one board reported allotting 2–3 minutes each day for letter or word work in their guided reading block, which they felt was enough to help students “become quick and flexible at using principles that are important in solving words at this level.”[745] Other boards were not able to provide any specifics on how much time is spent on “word work” or “word study,” indicating that this is left to each teacher’s judgment with no means to monitor whether any direct and systematic instruction of foundational word-reading skills is taking place.

When asked if teachers are required to teach phonological awareness and phonics, one board said that “required is a strong word” and suggested teachers may spend some time working on phonological awareness with the whole class as “an exposure ideal,” but would more likely do so with smaller groups of students. This was consistent with the inquiry’s finding that if these skills are addressed at all, it is through “mini lessons” with small groups of students at the teacher’s discretion. This is not the systematic instruction in the written code that is supported by decades of research.

As well as asking the boards about their approach to reading instruction, the OHRC, with the help of its experts, reviewed the documentation the boards provided. With a few exceptions, the OHRC found little information in the documentation or outlined classroom materials showing that boards include a direct and systematic approach to phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding and word reading fluency (and word structure or morphology in more advanced lessons). Further, the instructional cycle of focusing on books through modelled, shared, guided and independent reading leaves little room for any emphasis on direct instruction to teach children the code of written language.

Lessons most often take the form of short “mini lessons” that appear to be based on what teachers notice the students need, such as an aspect of reading comprehension, vocabulary or graphophonic information. This model of ad hoc instruction does not incorporate and is inconsistent with direct and systematic whole-class instruction in the foundational skills of word reading that aims to increase all students’ decoding skills.[746] Indeed, the reported approaches are inconsistent with Universal Design for Learning and RTI/MTSS frameworks for inclusive education.

The inquiry found that school boards are relying on Ministry documents either as their primary teaching resources or by largely reproducing the contents of these Ministry documents in their own board-specific, teacher-related documents. In some boards, brief summary sheets contain more variety of information, but there is a lack of detail for how these briefly mentioned practices might be integrated into an effective approach to early reading instruction.

As discussed earlier, the Ministry Guide has a section on “Phonemic Awareness, Phonics, and Word Study.” When these are incorporated into school board documentation, boards focus primarily on the “word study” component – largely referring to learning high-frequency words and using word walls. One board has defined “word study” on its teacher planning sheet as “high-frequency words, word families, chunking, word structure and meaning, letter/sound, phonemic awareness.” Word study is one of 11 literacy areas listed in the teacher planning sheet. While this was one of the only examples of a board specifically referencing letter/sound relationships and phonemic awareness in its written materials, these important skills are presented as one among many strategies to problem-solve words. No guidance is given on how to teach these necessary foundational skills from simplest to most difficult (in other words, systematically), with sufficient practice reading words and cumulative review to build up skilled word reading.

Overall, with a few small exceptions, the inquiry found little evidence of boards using consistent and effective early literacy instruction in the materials provided. Hamilton-Wentworth appears to be making a concerted effort to address early literacy, and has appropriately recognized the Five Big Ideas in Early Reading as a science-based framework (for more details, see discussion below). Even so, not all components of effective early decoding instruction have been considered and adequately addressed in recommended teacher approaches and materials. Without a complete program based on explicit and systematic instruction in learning the code, it is unclear if the approaches will be effective. A few other boards reference phonological awareness and phonemic awareness but without specific detail, and phonics and decoding are left out in these references. This falls far short of the explicit and systematic approach called for by scientific studies of reading instruction.

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Spending on unscientific resources and supports

The Ministry provides funding for purchasing all learning and teaching resources and for specific programs. However, school boards and schools decide which resources to select, buy and use. Several inquiry school boards confirmed that the choice of materials is often a school-level decision. The Auditor General has noted that the Ministry does not track which resources schools select or use, or how much funding is spent on these resources.[747] School boards also do not track the use of resources within schools.[748]

Various boards reported purchasing resources to support delivering the curriculum that are not consistent with the science of reading. These include expensive programs, kits, books, readers, assessment tools and intervention programs. Several sources told the inquiry that boards buy programs and resources, sometimes for millions of dollars, because someone at the board is familiar with or likes the product, and not because the board considered whether there is research into its efficacy.

Boards could not show that they made sure there was research or literature to support the scientific validity of these programs and materials before selecting them. Several boards reported that they did not have the capacity to undertake this kind of review to confirm that a resource was scientifically validated. They said that they would find it helpful if the Ministry would do this analysis and tell them which resources are evidence-based.

School boards receive special funding from the Ministry for specific purposes, yet it appears that the Ministry does little to make sure they are spending it on materials or programs supported by research science.[749] The Ministry told the inquiry about funds to support students in the area of literacy. For example, from the 2008–09 school year to the 2018–19 school year, funding was provided to school boards to design and facilitate professional learning and capacity-building projects to support educators working in collaborative teams to assess and respond to the literacy learning needs of targeted groups of students who need extra support with literacy.

The Ministry reported that a large emphasis of the program was identifying students based on data analysis and reporting on student and educator outcomes, as well as on how funding was spent. However, it does not appear that the Ministry set criteria to make sure funding was used to provide extra support in literacy using approaches consistent with the research science, or that follow-up was done to ensure that proper data analysis (for example, to measure student outcomes) occurred. Given the Ontario Language curriculum and the inquiry’s findings, these funds may not have been used for evidence-based programs or resources.

Another example of special funding is the money the Ministry provides to boards for summer learning programs. These programs are intended to reduce summer learning loss and improve literacy and numeracy skills through a mix of high-quality instruction and recreation programming for vulnerable students who face academic and socioeconomic challenges in learning.[750]

The inquiry heard that not all boards use these funds to offer summer programming for struggling readers. When the money is used to support literacy, the programs they use may not be adequate to help students catch up. One school board told us about their three-week summer camp program targeted to students who need extra support with reading. Based on the description provided, this program appeared to largely follow the approaches used in regular classroom instruction. Although boards have good intentions, spending money on programs based on ineffective approaches will do little to advance the reading skills of at-risk and struggling students.

The Ministry of Education must provide enough dedicated funds to implement the recommendations in this report. The province has invested significantly in improving student performance in math.[751] The findings in this report show the Ministry must also provide significant funding for literacy. However, steps are also needed to make sure boards spend these funds on resources that are supported by the science of reading. As indicated by the boards, since they lack capacity to do the necessary research, it is vital that the Ministry identify evidence-based resources and provide an approved list.

The Ministry currently maintains the Trillium List, a list of textbooks approved by the Minister of Education, after “rigorous evaluation,”[752] for use in Ontario schools. The Ministry should do the same for programs, kits, books, readers, screening and assessment tools and intervention programs – and the evaluation must include alignment with explicit and systematic instruction in the foundational reading skills, including word-reading. Experts in structured literacy approaches should be consulted in composing this list. This list must be reviewed often and kept up-to-date based on the latest research.[753] As the Auditor General noted, this could also allow school boards and schools to take advantage of bulk purchasing to buy resources at a lower cost.[754]

Further, Ministry funding for literacy should address the need for adequate professional development and ongoing coaching and support. That way, funds will be well spent, there will be greater consistency between schools and school boards, and students will be better served.

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Piecemeal attempts to incorporate the science of reading

The inquiry found that some boards are trying to incorporate some elements of science-based approaches. This appears to often stem from advice from board professionals, in particular speech-language pathologists and psychologists. The primary focus tends to be on one aspect of science-based approaches: phonological awareness. This is an important early skill, and efforts to incorporate it systematically in Kindergarten are a good start. However, a prolonged and overly heavy focus on phonological awareness can shortchange other areas such as phonics and decoding instruction. The purpose of instruction in phonemic awareness is to facilitate gaining word decoding skills, rather than as an end in itself. Focusing on phonological awareness alone will not be enough to teach most students to read words proficiently. Phonological awareness skills must be combined and integrated with instruction in phonics and decoding skills.

One school board, Hamilton-Wentworth, said it follows a structured literacy approach and has a documented Early Literacy Strategy. The goal of this strategy is to have 75% of Grade 1 students reach a minimum grade of B- in reading. The board provided documentation stating that phonological awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension are required elements to achieve this goal.

To this end, Hamilton-Wentworth does have some aspects of programming that are supported by evidence-based approaches. The board has also identified “high-priority” schools, and has provided dedicated resources to improve reading outcomes in those schools. The board is taking steps to collect student report card data to analyze progress towards achieving its reading achievement goals. However, it is not clear how a grade of B- relates to assessing foundational word-reading skills, or whether Grade 1 report card grades are a good measure of the board’s reading achievement goals.

Even with some understanding of the science of reading and more concerted efforts to implement components in the classroom, elements appear to be missing. For example, the Kindergarten Literacy and Language in the Classroom program (KLLIC) does have phonological awareness as one focus, but then links appear to be provided to other documents (such as Fountas and Pinnell resources) that are not part of a beginning reading program supported by research. It does not appear that a systematic phonics approach is being consistently recommended or used.

Further, these aspects of the science of reading are presented in the context of documents that emphasize ideas in education that are not supported by research, such as teachers and students completing “Multiple Intelligence Profiles” or teaching approaches based on students’ learning styles.[755] There seem to be good efforts and some consideration of the research, but not all components of effective early decoding instruction have been adequately incorporated within recommended teacher approaches and materials. More guidance, support and resources could help boards that have begun the important work of moving towards structured literacy, to implement it in a systematic and effective way.

London Catholic also told us about some recent efforts to supplement the Ontario Language curriculum with approaches that are consistent with evidence. The board told us about a pilot program they implemented in 12 schools in 2019. Kindergarten teams were given professional development on the Five Big Ideas in Early Reading, and follow-up support was provided by speech-language pathologists. The pilot included early literacy assessment using an Early Literacy Assessment tool. Training was provided on the importance of the skills being assessed, how to teach those skills within the classroom, and how to support students within the classroom who have been identified as not meeting learning benchmarks. Unfortunately, no documentation was available on the details or evaluation of this pilot program so it was difficult to assess. It is also unclear whether this program will be offered across the board and if steps will be taken to implement the Five Big Ideas in Early Reading beyond Kindergarten and in an adequately comprehensive way.

Some boards have purchased online resources to support classroom instruction. For example, London Catholic reported that it piloted purchasing Learning A-Z Headsprout licenses as a resource for early reading, with year 1 ending on November 30, 2020. Teachers were told that the resource was available, and they could use their professional judgment to determine when and how to use it. London Catholic explained that with the onset of teacher-led distance learning due to COVID-19, they received extra licenses and all primary teachers (Year 1–Grade 3) are actively using this resource. London Catholic hopes to continue to buy yearly classroom licenses for the Early Reading Component of Headsprout targeted at Kindergarten to Grade 2. The plan is to have this as their universal tool/resource for learning to read. The effectiveness of this online tool as currently used should be evaluated to inform this larger roll-out.

Several boards mentioned that phonological awareness and phonics programs (such as Jolly Phonics or Class Act Phonological Awareness Program) are available as an optional resource individual teachers can choose to use. However, they also reported that teachers are not required to use the programs, and no data is collected on whether teachers are using them. Therefore, beyond saying the programs are available, boards could not report on their use. Having access to these optional programs is a token attempt to include phonics and some other isolated elements of a science-based approach.

Overall, the inquiry found that a few boards have identified the need for more science-based early reading instruction. These boards have tried to incorporate more explicit instruction in some foundational skills within the context of a curriculum and balanced literacy model that de-emphasizes instruction in these skills. While the OHRC applauds these boards for their efforts, this type of localized, piecemeal and incomplete approach is not likely to effect large changes in students’ achievement, and falls short of the explicit, systematic approach needed to make sure all Ontario students learn to read.

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Challenges for educators and other professionals trying to promote the science of reading

The inquiry learned that there are educators and other professionals, including many who work in school boards, who are trying to address deficiencies in current approaches to teaching reading to all students. However, they are encountering significant challenges, and at times, active resistance to making changes that conform with the evidence.

People who work within school boards described a lack of consistency in approaches to teaching reading at an individual school or classroom level. They said that what happens at specific schools often comes down to the knowledge of individual teachers and school principals.

The inquiry discovered there are “silos” between the people responsible for curriculum and instruction and people responsible for special education, with a lack of understanding about how the two areas are connected. The inquiry also heard reports of board “politics” standing in the way of doing what is best for students.

Board literacy specialists are often called on to support other teachers in reading instruction and students who are struggling with reading, and to provide professional learning to their colleagues. However, the inquiry learned that they are often trained in approaches and programs like Reading Recovery® and Leveled Literacy Intervention that do not align with the scientific studies of reading instruction. Job descriptions for literacy positions often state that training in and experience with these largely ineffective programs is required or an asset. Several senior board administrators the OHRC met with were also trained in such programs. People who work within school boards told the inquiry that when senior board leaders or board staff who are considered to have the greatest expertise in reading are invested in approaches derived from whole language, it is even harder to promote the science of reading within the board.

The OHRC heard about disagreements between staff who support continued use of three-cueing and balanced literacy approaches to early reading instruction, and staff who advocate for science-based approaches. This tension was even apparent during OHRC interviews with some boards, where board staff appeared to have differing views on the best approach to teaching reading. This was also apparent in the responses in the OHRC educator survey, and in interviews conducted with school board staff from across Ontario who came forward to share their experiences.

We received 1,086 survey responses from Ontario-educated teachers. When asked which approach to teaching reading should be used in primary grades, 39% chose structured literacy and 35% chose balanced literacy. This suggests that educators who responded are roughly equally divided in their preference, with a slight preference for structured literacy. The OHRC received 220 survey responses from Ontario professionals (such as speech-language pathologists and psychologists). When asked which approach to teaching reading should be used in primary grades, 80% chose structured literacy and only 9% chose balanced literacy.

Educators and other professionals who work within various Ontario boards approached the OHRC on a confidential basis to describe the challenges they have faced trying to advocate for or implement change in their boards. These knowledgeable professionals described being ignored, or worse, being told to stop advocating for science-based approaches or risk facing career repercussions. This included being “told to find other jobs if [they] don’t get on board” with prevalent whole language and balanced literacy philosophies. They talked about seeing colleagues involuntarily reassigned to different positions after advocating for approaches consistent with the science of reading. This “culture of retribution” has contributed to a “culture of fear” around raising concerns about ineffective approaches to teaching reading and other issues of concern to students with disabilities. This type of dysfunctional school board culture has been found in other reviews, for example in the 2020 Review of the Peel District School Board.[756]

These individuals said “the teaching profession is a closed culture and teachers need to be educated by people outside their own profession.” They reported trying to show board leaders the data and evidence supporting science-based approaches and being rebuffed. They also described a concerning tendency of boards to subvert human rights and equity principles to prevent use of science-based approaches to learning to read that would promote greater equity for students. For example, they said that they are not permitted to talk about “at-risk” students from certain Code-protected groups as this is considered racially biased. They also described boards’ exclusive focus on socio-cultural approaches to teaching reaching and culturally responsive pedagogy to the exclusion of all else, including instruction in foundational reading skills (for more details, see discussion below).

We also heard about fear and intimidation in the surveys we received:

Somehow, INTIMIDATION needs to be eliminated from the field of beginning reading instruction. The intimidation that some teachers have experienced (me, included for most of my career) is FEROCIOUS. We need permission to say that structured literacy is okay. We need permission to say that direct instruction is okay. We need permission to say that systematic and explicit phonics is okay. We need permission to say that the science of reading is okay. We need permission to explore and be enthusiastic about it and not fear the Reading Recovery® teachers/teacher-trainers, and balanced literacy gurus, and school board literacy consultants. We need permission in writing so that we have backing. We need to be backed. We need respectful discussion.

Even teachers who are not trying to advocate for board-wide change but who just want to use direct instruction in their classrooms reported being prevented from doing so. They described feeling they are not “allowed” to teach “anything directly and explicitly” or if they do, they must keep it secret. These efforts to teach students using effective approaches must be supported rather than punished.

The Code’s protections against reprisal include protecting individuals who refuse to infringe the human rights of another person. The OHRC’s position is that educators who advocate for the rights of students with disabilities or other Code-protected characteristics, including by advocating for science-based approaches to reading instruction, screening and intervention, are protected under the Code from employment-related consequences for doing so.[757]

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Problems with professional development

Several school boards told the inquiry about challenges with professional development around reading and literacy. They said that new teachers are not graduating from faculties of education prepared to teach reading or with enough information about special education. As a result, boards must conduct significant in-service training for new teachers through the New Teacher Induction Program (NTIP) and other in-service professional learning initiatives.

Several boards said there are ways the Ministry can better support professional development in reading and literacy. They advised that over the past few years the Ministry has required them to focus on professional development for math, making it more challenging to provide professional development in other areas, including literacy. They reported difficulty with providing large-scale training to primary teachers on reading. For example, one board reported they have not been able to provide comprehensive training for all staff on reading instruction since the early to mid-2000s. However, other boards said they did not find the provincial focus on math to be an issue.

Boards described professional learning opportunities that are no longer available or harder to implement because they are unable to provide release time for teachers to take part. Boards reported that lack of funding from the Ministry has resulted in having to cancel or reduce initiatives that support job-embedded professional learning such as Professional Learning Communities.[758]

Boards also reported having fewer opportunities to collaborate with, learn from and achieve consistency with other boards, including fewer opportunities for regional literacy meetings and provincewide symposia. They said when they can come together with other school boards, due to the province’s focus on numeracy, their discussions often concern math.

The OHRC asked the inquiry school boards for documentation on in-service training or professional development. Boards’ formal training on reading and literacy tended to focus on specific board programs or resources rather than learning about effective reading instruction. Often, the training was on board programs or resources that are inconsistent with the science of reading. For example, one board told us about training they have provided on using running records, guided reading, balanced literacy, Levelled Literacy Intervention and Reading Recovery®. The OHRC acknowledges the challenges boards described with professional development related to reading, but also notes that when training has been provided it has mostly been on ineffective approaches and programs boards are currently using.

Two boards, London Catholic and Hamilton-Wentworth, described professional development more aligned with the science of reading, such as the Five Big Ideas in Early Reading, including phonological awareness and phonics. Hamilton-Wentworth in particular appears to have considered the need for systematic and comprehensive professional development to support its Early Literacy Strategy. Broadening the scope of professional development and supporting all Kindergarten to Grade 3 classroom teachers in explicit and systematic instruction in foundational word-reading skills will be a large undertaking for these and other school boards.

Boards also said that rather than investing in professional development events, they are using “at the elbow” training where a teacher works with a colleague to implement a teaching practice (such as through team teaching, coaching, modelling). The OHRC acknowledges the importance of mentoring and learning from colleagues, but is also concerned that this type of training can result in significant variations in what teachers learn about how to teach students to read. Teachers must learn from colleagues who have been equipped with knowledge about approaches consistent with the research science.

In 2016, the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) asked participating teachers about the number of hours they had spent in formal professional development related to reading or teaching reading in the previous two years. In Ontario, 9% of teachers reported spending no time, 33% reported spending fewer than six hours, 27% reported spending six to 15 hours, 15% reported spending between 15 and 35 hours, and 17% reported spending more than 35 hours on reading-related professional development in the previous two years.[759] PIRLS noted that the relationship between teachers’ professional development and students’ reading achievement is not conclusive. However, an interesting finding from PIRLS is that in Ontario, there is a negative relationship between higher levels of teacher professional development and student reading scores.[760] This finding highlights the importance of quality over quantity when it comes to teachers’ professional learning. This may also confirm the inquiry’s finding that professional development in reading has not focused on effective practices that research has shown will improve students’ achievement.

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The role of teachers in meeting the right to read

Teachers play a critical role in determining whether students will learn to read well and in preventing reading difficulties. Faculties of education in Ontario universities have significant responsibility to prepare teachers to do this.

The effect of teachers on students’ reading achievement has long been recognized. Reports such as the National Reading Panel Report, Rose Reports and the Ontario Expert Panel Report have emphasized that teachers must have the skills and knowledge to deliver science-based reading instruction:

Teachers make a difference in the success of their students when they hold a fundamental belief that all children can learn to read and when they have the skills and determination to make it happen.[761]

Prominent researchers have noted:

It is now widely acknowledged that many students currently identified as learning disabled would not have been identified if instruction had been appropriately targeted and responsive.[762]

Several Canadian studies have shown the potential of good reading instruction. In a 2003 longitudinal study out of North Vancouver by Dr. Linda Siegel, an international authority on reading disabilities, and her colleagues, classroom Kindergarten teachers across 30 schools, teaching about 1,000 students, implemented a whole-class program that targeted phonological awareness, grapheme-phoneme connections and using these to read words, as well as components of oral language (syntax). Initially, 24% of English first-language and 37% of English second-language Kindergarten students were found to be low enough on measures of phonological and alphabetic knowledge that they were at risk for future reading difficulties or a diagnosis of dyslexia. However, when followed through Grades 2, 4 and 7, only 2–6% of students qualified as having dyslexia.[763] Remarkably, differences in reading achievement typically associated with socioeconomic disparities were no longer apparent by Grade 3.[764]

In a second 2018 Canadian study, Drs. Robert Savage and George Georgiou, researchers in reading development and dyslexia, and their colleagues delivered an effective early intervention. This intervention included teaching students phonics and an explicit strategy for dealing with variable vowel pronunciations in written words, and included text-reading practice. Dr. Georgiou summarized the findings for the Edmonton site of the larger study, which included students in mid-Grade 1 from 11 Edmonton schools who were below expectations in word reading.[765] With the early intervention of 30 minutes, three times a week for 10 weeks, the number of children experiencing reading difficulties went from 290 down to seven. Dr. Georgiou noted:

This tells you that with early identification, with training the classroom teachers on evidence-based practices, and with intensive intervention for the kids who continue to struggle, you can make miracles.”[766]

The Model Schools Literacy Project, a partnership between First Nations schools and communities across Canada and the Martin Family Initiative, also shows the importance of professional learning and support for teachers. This initiative to improve early literacy achievement for First Nations students in Kindergarten to Grade 3 focuses on professional learning for teachers and school leaders because:

…as research clearly shows, teaching is the most influential school-based factor in children’s reading achievement. Teachers in the partner schools are fully qualified. However, while teacher education programs in Canada and other developed countries prepare teachers with general pedagogical skills, they do not cover the specific skills needed to teach reading and writing to young children. In a recent international survey, up to 65% of teachers (including from Canada) reported they were not adequately prepared to teach early literacy effectively, especially to children who struggle.[767]

This project, which also includes formative assessment to guide literacy instruction and direct instruction in all core reading and writing skills, has been effective in increasing First Nations students’ early literacy achievement:

The plan’s effectiveness was demonstrated in the earlier pilot program (2010–2014). Before the pilot began, 13% of Grade 3 children were reading at grade level on the Ontario provincial assessment; when it ended, 81% reached or exceeded that level, and the percentage of children identified for speech and language support decreased from 45% to 19%.

In 2019, the EQAO conducted a literature review in response to Ontario introducing a mathematics proficiency test for teacher candidates.[768] The EQAO concluded:

  • Increasing the quality and quantity of required mathematics courses at the pre-service teacher education level was one of the most helpful steps toward improving student outcomes
  • Research from Quebec, where student math test scores are high relative to the rest of Canada, attributes that province’s student achievement to “a uniquely strong emphasis on requiring trainee teachers to undertake more courses in both mathematics methodology and mathematics content.”[769]

The EQAO also relies on studies about early reading to support its conclusions that teachers’ understanding of how to teach the subject matter effectively is “almost uniformly positive[ly]” correlated with student outcomes.[770]

Teachers have the power to be proactive and influential in their students’ reading success, starting in Kindergarten. To meet this mandate, teachers need a science-based curriculum and teaching guidelines to follow, robust pre-service and in-service preparation in science-based teaching of foundational word-reading skills, evidence-based approaches and programs with a clear scope and sequence, and lesson plans to support them.

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Empowering teachers with the science of reading

In 2020, the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), working with the Center for Development and Learning, updated and republished a report by Dr. Moats, Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science, 2020: What Expert Teachers of Reading Should Know and Be Able to Do (Teaching Reading is Rocket Science).[771] The AFT is a union of professionals that includes pre-Kindergarten through Grade 12 teachers, paraprofessionals and other school-related personal, higher education faculty and professional staff among others.[772] The Center for Development and Learning is a non-profit that specializes in using leading-edge scientific research, knowledge and best practices to reinforce teacher capacity and build teacher effectiveness.[773] Dr. Moats is a teacher, psychologist, researcher and professor who has been at the forefront of science-based reading instruction for five decades.[774]

In a preamble to Teaching Reading is Rocket Science, AFT President Randi Weingarten emphasizes the science of reading does not undermine teachers’ autonomy or professional judgement, and preparing teachers to use it in classroom instruction is not “disrespectful.” Rather, “embracing the science is, fundamentally, about giving teachers the freedom to teach.” He noted how being armed with the knowledge and skills based on the science of reading empowers teachers to help their students who are struggling to decipher words. It saves teachers time and effort as they no longer have to search for materials to supplement the inadequate and outdated materials they have been given.[775] The Association of Chief Psychologists in Ontario School Boards also emphasized that using a program of systematic and direct instruction still allows for teachers to use their professional judgement and good teaching strategies.

Teachers want to do the best for their students and see every child succeed. The inquiry heard from many educators who described feeling terrible about the students they could not teach to read. Teachers said that they want to be better prepared to teach reading:

ALL teachers DESERVE training in how to teach language (reading AND writing) to all students. This works for ALL – and it should not be a matter of bringing in specialists to work with the students who are struggling. Every student deserves a well-trained teacher and you would not meet a teacher who doesn't want to be able to teach literacy.

Teaching Reading is Rocket Science confirms that teaching reading is a complex process that requires teachers to have the necessary knowledge and skills. In part, this is because “academic English itself is complex, and requires systematic, science-based teaching to learn it.”[776] As noted earlier, decades of research studies have shown what is important to teach (for example, phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding, spelling, advanced word study such as morphology and other foundational skills in reading, including vocabulary, grammar, world or background knowledge and genre structures). This same body of research tells us that decoding-related foundational skills must be taught through systematic and explicit direct instruction, with enough support, practice and cumulative review for students to master the skills.

Research on how children learn to read and research with teachers has shown what teachers need to know and be able to do. Armed with the right knowledge, skills, supports and materials, teachers can successfully teach almost all students in their classroom to become proficient in word-reading, the most frequent obstacle to students becoming skilled readers. They can also better prepare the few students with severe dyslexia who will require additional interventions and accommodations.

Unfortunately, as Dr. Moats noted:

Unfamiliarity with the findings of research, insufficient knowledge of critical content, and philosophical opposition to theories and practices grounded in evidence are still too common.[777]

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What good reading teachers need to know

Dr. Moats identifies a core curriculum for teacher preparation and in-service professional development with four main components:[778]

  1. Knowing the basics of reading psychology and reading development
  2. Understanding language structure for both word recognition and language comprehension
  3. Applying best practices concerning all components of reading instruction
  4. Using validated, reliable, efficient assessments to inform classroom teaching.[779]


1. Knowing the basics of reading psychology and reading development

Teachers need to know that word reading is the most frequent obstacle to learning to read for young learners, and these children may lack phonological and alphabetic skills for different reasons, including dyslexia. In the early elementary grades, word-reading skills account for most differences between children in their ability to understand texts.[780] Students must learn to read words accurately, quickly and automatically to understand and make meaning from text. Even as learning and literacies are redefined in the 21st century, proficient word reading and spelling are still necessary and required for many current technologies (such as texting and Internet use) and for most academic pursuits.

Teachers must know the science related to how students first learn to read and how reading continues to develop. Part of this knowledge is how word reading develops and the instrumental role of both word-reading skills and oral language comprehension in understanding text. They must know that both these skill sets are necessary and require targeted classroom instruction. More specifically, as well as understanding that accurate and quick word reading will not lead to understanding text without adequate language comprehension skills, the opposite is also true: contrary to what is taught in balanced literacy approaches, strong language comprehension does not lead to good reading comprehension without well-developed word-reading skills. The better a reader’s word-reading skills, the more attention they have for the processes involved in understanding texts,[781] like creating detailed mental models of settings, characters and events in stories or novels, and of concepts and their relationships in non-fiction texts.[782]

Development frameworks such as Scarborough’s Rope Model and Ehri’s Phase Theory of Reading are helpful to understand this. These models relate to and can be used to support instruction about the Five Big Ideas in Beginning Reading. Understanding reading development will empower teachers to make informed decisions in teaching the foundational word-reading skills to their students (phonemic awareness, grapheme-phoneme associations and using these to decode words, knowledge of morphemes and fluent word reading), to learn the best teaching practices supporting reading development, and to identify the skills a student is struggling with.

With this knowledge, teachers can also avoid acting on or perpetuating common myths associated with learning to read and with reading disabilities/dyslexia. For example:


Myth: Reading develops naturally (just as children learn to speak naturally).

Reality: Human brains are not naturally wired to learn to read and write. These are learned skills that must be taught and take several years to master.


Myth: Children will learn to read if parents read to them at home 

Myth: Children will learn to read if they are surrounded with materials that interest them or are presented with a “literature-rich environment.”

Reality: Exposure to oral language and books supports some aspects of reading development and language comprehension and is highly desirable, but is not enough for learning to decode written language, particularly for at-risk groups including children with dyslexia. Systematic, direct instruction in foundational word-reading skills is needed.[783] This is the responsibility of the education system, not parents.


Myth: Some children just need more time (versus direct instruction) and will develop at their own pace (the wait-and-see approach).

Reality: If students are behind their peers and struggle with their word reading at the end of Grade 1, there is a very high probability that they will still struggle later in school and beyond.[784] Identifying reading difficulties and intervening as early as possible (in Kindergarten or Grade 1) is critical. The longer schools wait, lengthier and more intensive interventions will be needed, and they may not be as effective, especially in closing the gap in reading fluency.[785]


Myth: Children who cannot decode words are not as intelligent or motivated as their peers.

Reality: Word-reading skills are distinct from oral language comprehension and intelligence. Difficulty decoding does not mean a child cannot think and communicate well. Children with dyslexia are not lazy and are often working very hard.[786]

These myths have fueled many unfounded and even harmful education practices, and hurtful communications with students and parents.

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2. Understanding language structure for both word reading and language comprehension

Teachers need to learn about the structure of spoken and written English or French. They must have a thorough understanding and recognition of the units of spoken words – phonemes, onsets, rimes, syllables and morphemes. Teachers must also have facility in the skills they will teach – from identifying, blending and segmenting phonemes, to knowing frequent and less frequent grapheme-phoneme relationships in words, to analyzing morphology (the small, meaningful parts making up words). As Dr. Moats noted, they must have a comprehensive knowledge to be able to explain words and their parts, plan their lessons, and respond properly to student errors. A teacher with this knowledge can make all the difference when teaching children struggling to acquire word-reading skills.

The fundamental knowledge teachers need to teach word-reading and spelling is described in Teaching Reading is Rocket Science and in other comprehensive resources, like Dr. Moats’ Speech to print: Language essentials for teachers, which also has an exercise book to help pre-service and in-service teachers master the necessary knowledge and skills.[787] Other resources are also available.[788] In addition to the knowledge needed for teaching word reading, there are also critical concepts for teaching comprehension and writing, such as sentence and genre structures, but these are beyond the scope of this report.

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3. Applying best practices for reading instruction in foundational skills

Teachers need to use evidence-based practices to teach foundational word-reading skills, and avoid practices that do not have a research basis or have been shown to be ineffective. As discussed earlier, this means teachers must stop teaching students to use unreliable guessing/cueing strategies for word solving, such as looking at context, pictures or the shape of the word and other whole language approaches, which research has shown is not effective, particularly for at-risk students.

Teacher education should prepare them to directly, purposefully and systematically teach the code system of written English and French. Teachers need to know what to teach students and how to teach it.

What to teach

Curriculum typically sets out what teachers are expected to teach students. Teachers should teach the following specific foundational skills.

Phonological and phonemic awareness: Phonemic awareness is the most advanced type of phonological awareness, and a critical skill for advancing children’s early decoding and spelling skills. Instruction in phonemic awareness has the greatest impact of phonological awareness teaching, on reading and spelling for all children, including children at risk for decoding difficulties. This makes sense, as children need to learn the links between phonemes and graphemes, to blend individual sounds to read words, and to segment spoken words into sounds to represent these with letters in their spelling.

Some research reports suggest that focusing on the phoneme, rather than larger units (like syllables, onsets and rimes) from the start of Year 1 may be most beneficial.[789] Phonemes are the most important units for reading and spelling, and are also the most challenging for all children, especially for children with or at risk for word-reading disabilities/dyslexia, and for children entering school with lower phonological abilities for many reasons. Differentiated instruction for students, as soon as they are not progressing as expected, will give additional explicit instruction and scaffolded practice to reach mastery.

The National Reading Panel found that teaching two phonemic awareness skills (blending and segmentation) had stronger effects than teaching more and varied phonological awareness skills. Critically, incorporating letters as early as possible, when students have learned grapheme-phoneme associations, into instruction teaching children how to blend and segment phonemes, is more effective for increasing children’s phonemic awareness, decoding, and spelling skills.[790]

Alphabetic knowledge: For children just starting formal schooling, teachers need to provide instruction and activities that help all students learn the letter names, sounds and shapes and to start printing. Teachers can help children have fun with building their alphabet knowledge.

Phonics: Research since the National Reading Panel Report has continued to support the critical role of phonics in reading instruction for beginning readers and readers with or at risk for reading disabilities/dyslexia.[791] Further, since that report, research has indicated that synthetic phonics (teaching grapheme-phoneme correspondences and how to blend these to sound out/read words and spell words) appears to be better than analytic phonics (teaching patterns by students analyzing whole words)[792] and forms the base of the majority of rigorous research.

Teachers should teach students simple grapheme-phoneme correspondences, and routines for blending the sounds together to read words (pronounce the word and gain access to the word’s meaning) and segmenting words to spell. Blending the sounds together will be difficult for some children, who will need additional instruction and support with this skill.[793]

Teachers need to be provided with an evidence-based curriculum and programs that lay out the scope and sequence of phonics instruction best suited to developing readers, and instructional routines and lesson plans that can build confidence in their phonics teaching. This frees the teacher from scrambling to develop what and how they will teach each day, to focusing on teaching it well, and gauging students’ progress. Teachers will have the time and attention to identify students who are struggling in the daily lesson, and provide them with immediate small-group instruction to bring them back on track. Teachers will also notice when this differentiated instruction is not effective, and can draw on resources in the school for more intense, targeted and scaffolded reading interventions.

The figure below, replicated from a 2020 paper by Dr. Susan Brady, a U.S. psychologist and literacy expert, sets out the general skills that should be taught in phonological awareness and phonics from Kindergarten to Grade 2. Similar to most phonics approaches and programs, frequent morphemes are incorporated very early on in the teaching sequence, as an integral part of decoding and linking the spelling of words to their pronunciations and meanings.[794] In Grade 2 and beyond, the focus shifts to more complex orthographic patterns including syllables and morphology.


Figure 3

An Outline for Phonological Awareness and Phonics Instruction in Pre-K Through Grade 2 (by Kari Kurto & Susan Brady)




Grades 1 and 2

Phonological Awareness

Phonological Sensitivity

Early Phoneme Awareness

Advanced Phoneme Awareness

Awareness of larger speech sounds in spoken words: rhymes, onsets, syllables

Awareness of individual phonemes in spoken words using words with simple syllable patterns: CV, VC, CVC
Initial → Final → Medial

Awareness of individual phonemes in spoken words using words with complex syllables that have consonant blends: CCVC, CVCC, CCVCC


Alphabetic Principle

Insight/understanding that printed letters represent phonemes in spoken words




Beginning Phonics

Building Phonics, Spelling, & Word Recognition

Students begin to learn letter names and some letter sounds.

Students learn and practice grapheme- phoneme correspondences for single letter graphemes and three digraphs: sh, ch, th.   

Students learn and practice remaining phoneme- grapheme correspondences for all speech sounds in English.   

Syllable type instruction to provide students with strategies to recognize vowel patterns by noticing what letters follow the vowel (See Moats, 2020).


Advanced word study: Teaching more advanced word structures primarily happens from Grade 2/3 and up. This includes teaching syllables and more complex morphemic structures in words, how to use this knowledge to read and spell words, and figure out the meaning of unfamiliar words consisting of more than one morpheme (polymorphemic words). English has a morphophonemic orthography. This means that units of meaning (morphemes) have deep historic influences (such as Latin and Greek roots), and phonemic analysis alone does not fully decode some words. For example, the plural morpheme is written as “s” or “es,” but represents different sounds at the end of words, like the different phonemes at the end of cats, dogs and horses. Similarly, the sound(s) represented by the “ed” past-tense morpheme vary (for example, /t/, /d/ or /id/) depending on the phonological context.

Beginning instruction concerning simple morphemes (such as “ed” to mark past tense and “s” or “es” to mark the plural form of a word) is part of beginning phonics programs. More advanced morphological analysis skills are taught later. Evidence-based approaches[795] and systematic programs will be important for teachers here too. The meaning of common affixes (a set of letters generally added to the beginning or end of a root word to modify its meaning, such as a prefix or suffix) should be taught to increase word reading, reading comprehension, spelling and vocabulary knowledge.

This teaching of advanced knowledge of word structures has been written into many programs for students with reading disabilities/dyslexia, and may be integrated with or follow instruction in phonemic awareness and phonics:

Effective teachers of reading raise awareness and proficiency through every layer of language organization, including sounds, syllables, meaningful parts (morphemes), phrases, sentences, paragraphs and various genres of text. Their teaching strategies are explicit, systematic and engaging. They also balance skill instruction with its application to purposeful daily writing and reading, no matter what the skill level of the learner.[796]


How to teach

Research has shown that instruction needs to be explicit or direct, and systematic. Explicit instruction means that the knowledge or skill is directly taught to students. The International Literacy Association gives this phonics-related example:

Explicit means that the initial introduction of a letter-sound relationship, or phonics skill, is directly stated to students. For example, we tell students that the /s/ sound is represented by the letter s. This is more effective than the discovery method because it does not rely on prerequisite skills that some students might not have.[797]

Explicit instruction does not mean telling students once and moving on – it means teaching a skill directly and supporting its acquisition until it is mastered.

A systematic approach means teaching the whole system from the easiest to the most difficult skills. The International Literacy Association writes:

Being systematic means that we follow a continuum from easy to more complex skills, slowly introducing each new skill. Systematic instruction includes a review and repetition cycle to achieve mastery and goes from the known to the new in a way that makes the new learning more obvious and easier for students to grasp.[798]

Systematic instruction is critical for moving all children toward proficient word reading and spelling. It is essential for many students with reading disabilities or other risk factors for reading difficulties. It also allows students who already have some knowledge to gain facility and automaticity. This will increase their performance, particularly in spelling words and reading fluency.[799]

An example helps to show the difference between a systematic approach and one where a teacher tries to respond in an ad hoc way. A teacher might notice that children are struggling with a book that has the word “judge.” In an ad hoc approach, the teacher may then plan a mini lesson on the grapheme-phoneme association – “dge” representing the /j/ sound. More advanced readers may learn this, but other students will be left behind. Some will still be unaware that the sound /j/ is most often represented by the letter “j” and sometimes the letter “g” (when followed by the letter e, i or y). In a systematic program,[800] quite early on the teacher will have taught that the letter “j” represents the /j/ sound, and other letter patterns representing the /j/ sound will be taught later, with the progression of the program.

Through practice work in this session, some students who are more advanced will already have identified other letters/letter patterns that represent the /j/ sound. These more advanced students can take delight to see the unexpected letter pattern of “dge” making the /j/ sound. Instruction has been differentiated following the whole-class lesson, everyone has learned new knowledge and skills, and most important, no one was left behind. Students who would otherwise struggle have kept up because they have been taught in small increments of complexity, in a way that makes sense. Other students have gained more fluency with essential skills and advanced their knowledge of the complexities of the orthography. Such a systematic approach is key to a classroom UDL approach in early reading instruction.

As Dr. Moats noted, instruction also needs to be engaging and applied in purposeful reading and writing activities.[801] Students are more engaged when teachers are proficient with the lessons, teach with warmth and humour, present the lessons at a pace that keeps the students’ attention, and is interactive – with students actively taking part throughout.[802] Purposeful reading practice can happen in books that focus on the phonics skills acquired to date (decodable texts that accompany many phonics programs), or in less-controlled books, especially as the reader’s knowledge and skill advances. Purposeful writing can take many forms, and young children exercise their segmentation skills and grapheme-phoneme knowledge as they spell words.

Teachers must spend enough time every day teaching and practicing foundational word decoding and word-reading fluency skills. The focus of this will change with students’ increasing skills across Kindergarten to Grade 3. One suggested research-informed schedule for Kindergarten to Grade 2 teachers is to spend 90 minutes on daily literacy instruction with30 minutes on whole-group foundational skill instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, and practice decoding in connected text; and then additional time for differentiated small-group instruction in the reading and writing skills and knowledge needed by small groups of students.[803] 

As teachers gain skills in teaching these foundational word reading skills, they will become more adept at differentiating instruction when needed. If there are students who are advanced beyond their years in word-reading accuracy, word-reading fluency and spelling, they may engage in more advanced word study or reading and writing activities while the class is engaged in grade-level phonics instruction.

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4. Using validated, reliable, efficient assessments to inform classroom teaching

Regular screening and progress monitoring are essential components of predicting and observing reading difficulties, and responding quickly and appropriately. Teachers must be well prepared and supported to select and use reliable screening and diagnostic assessment tools to inform their instruction. They must use measures that have been thoroughly vetted by research. Assessment measures such as running records and miscue analyses are not valid indicators of foundational reading skills and should not be used.[804]

In reality, teachers do not receive adequate preparation to select assessment tools and conduct reading skill assessments.[805] Teachers are taught to use tools that are not supported by the science of reading and can inaccurately categorize young students as advancing or not advancing as expected.[806]  School boards are also promoting these same unproven assessments.


Studies on teachers’ preparedness to teach reading

The type of knowledge needed to effectively teach reading is largely not knowledge that adults have or can infer from their own experiences reading.[807] Teachers must learn what they need to teach.

Research studies show that in general, practicing teachers do not have the knowledge of the multi-layered structures of language and pedagogies for optimally teaching the foundational word-reading skills for beginning readers, and for students with or at risk for word-reading disabilities/dyslexia. A study that assessed teachers’ knowledge in this area concluded:

…teachers, on average, were able to display implicit skills related to certain basic language concepts (i.e. syllable counting) but failed to demonstrate explicit knowledge of others (i.e. phonics principles). Also, teachers seemed to hold the common misconception that dyslexia is a visual processing deficit rather than phonological processing deficit.[808]

Similar research studies have shown that overall, in-service teachers had little knowledge of concepts for teaching phoneme awareness and phonemes and some skills they should be teaching (such as phoneme segmentation).[809]

One study examined Canadian pre-service teachers, preparing to teach Kindergarten to Grade 3, near the end of their preparation program. The study examined the areas of “syllable counting ability, basic phonemic awareness knowledge and ability, advanced phonemic awareness knowledge and ability, phonics terminology, phonics rules knowledge, and morphology knowledge and ability.” The mean scores for these pre-service teachers across these areas ranged from 46 to 69%.[810] The authors deemed performance under 70% as concerning.

The research group conducting this study suggested that one reason why so many in-service teachers are not knowledgeable about the important concepts in spoken and written English that are needed to teach foundational skills in reading is because their university instructors are not knowledgeable in this area. Based on 78 survey responses by university instructors they found:

… even though teacher educators were familiar with syllabic knowledge, they performed poorly on concepts relating to morphemes and phonemes.[811]

In a follow-up study, based on in-depth interviews with 40 university instructors and addressing beliefs about best practices in teaching reading skills, the research group reported:

Eighty per cent of instructors defined phonological awareness as letter-sound correspondence. They also did not mention synthetic phonics as a desirable method to use for beginning reading instruction, particularly for students at risk for reading difficulties.[812]

This research shows that university instructors may not be knowledgeable in how reading develops, or in science-based approaches to teaching foundational word-reading skills to beginning readers and older struggling readers. As well, university instructors often do not view such science-based knowledge and teaching approaches as important for pre-service teachers to learn, or as critical components of a full-classroom literacy program.

This body of research, along with the data collected in the inquiry, strongly points to systemic issues leading to teachers not being adequately prepared to teach beginning readers or students at risk for difficulties in foundational word-reading skills. Indeed, many teachers told the inquiry they did not feel adequately prepared to teach early reading, particularly to the large numbers of students who come to school with less-developed pre-reading and reading skills.

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The role of faculties of education in preparing teachers

Faculties of education (faculties) prepare prospective teachers to work in classrooms and to teach children to read. They provide continuing education and support specialization in areas such as reading and special education. Faculties have a significant influence over the quality of instruction students receive. Faculties are where:

… prospective teachers gain a foundation of knowledge about pedagogy and subject matter, as well as early exposure to practical classroom experience. Although competence in teaching, as in all professions, is shaped significantly by on-the-job experiences and continuous learning, the programs that prepare teachers to work in K–12 classrooms can be early and important contributors to the quality of instruction.[813]

Appropriate pre-service and in-service teacher education on scientific, evidence-based reading instruction has been found to improve overall student outcomes.[814]

In addition to their role in preparing teachers, faculties play a critical leadership role in the field of education. Education stakeholders expect faculties to promote advances in knowledge, champion evidence-informed best practices, and provide expert advice within the education system. During the inquiry, boards of education and the Ministry noted that they often look to members of faculties in Ontario for guidance, for example in developing curriculum and to guide approaches to teaching reading. Ontario’s faculties of education acknowledge the importance of grounding their work in evidence-based research and their leadership role in transforming education.[815]

To assess if teachers in Ontario are being adequately prepared to support Ontario students’ right to read, the OHRC used its powers under section 31 of the Code to ask all 13 English-language public faculties of education in Ontario to provide course outlines, curricula, syllabi, reading lists, articles and textbooks for any teacher education program courses, Additional Qualification (AQ) courses, or Additional Basic Qualification (ABQ) courses related to:

  • Reading
  • Literacy
  • Inclusive education
  • Exceptionalities and special education
  • Screening and assessment
  • Intervention (including RTI/MTSS)
  • English Language Learners
  • Learning disabilities
  • Reading disabilities or dyslexia
  • Struggling readers
  • Kindergarten.

Faculties were also invited to detail any other ways their programs make sure teacher candidates or in-service teachers acquire knowledge related to any of these areas.

The OHRC acknowledges that course outlines, syllabi and reading materials may not capture the richness of a university course or all topics that may come up. However, given the complexity and importance of the knowledge and skills required to teach children foundational reading skills using the science of reading, the OHRC would expect to see evidence of sufficient, detailed, intentional learning in this area.

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Courses on teaching reading and students at risk for reading difficulties

As of September 1, 2015, completing a teacher education program in Ontario involves completing four semesters at a faculty of education and 80 days of practice teaching. Students in teacher education programs (also known as pre-service teachers) qualify to teach in two consecutive divisions:

  • Primary/Junior: Year 1 to Grade 6
  • Junior/Intermediate: Grade 4 to Grade 10 or
  • Intermediate/Senior: Grade 7 to Grade 12.

Across most English-language public faculties, students in Primary/Junior and Junior/Intermediate preparation programs complete one full course (six credits) on methods in English Language Arts. Most often, this is completed as two half-courses (three credits each). There is some variation of this format. For example, several faculties have either half or all the credits for English Language Arts methods integrated with another area, such as Social Studies or Technology.

Most faculties have a half-course (three credits) in one of inclusive education, exceptionalities or special education. These courses address procedures for meeting an individual student’s education needs, such as IPRCs, IEPs and accommodations, and the associated legal responsibilities of teachers. Many of the courses also cover several exceptionalities, often with one covered per week across part of the course. Assignments in these courses are practical, and students often develop lesson plans with differentiated instruction or accommodations for one of the exceptionalities covered in the course.

Faculties generally require a separate half-course (three credits) on assessment in the classroom. These are general assessment courses and cover different academic areas (such as math and reading), as well as broader principles of classroom assessment.

Faculties all have a half unit, and sometimes a full unit, of a required course on equity and social justice. When disabilities are covered in these courses, it is mainly from a critical disability studies perspective.

Several faculties have a course on reading difficulties, struggling readers and writers, or reading disabilities. These are most often elective half-courses. Several faculties require these courses, and in at least one instance this was a required quarter-course.

Many faculties have a half-course (quarter-course in one instance) focused on English Language Learners in the classroom. Faculties vary in whether these are required or elective courses.

Many faculties have half-courses related to the Kindergarten year (and sometimes the early years). These are primarily, but not exclusively, elective courses.

Thus, most faculties require a minimum of six credits or one full course in English Language Arts methods. Some also require various courses related to literacy learning (such as supporting English Language Learners or struggling readers in the classroom, or other literacy-related content). Pre-service teachers may be completing 7.5–9 credits of required course work directly related to teaching reading.

In general, there is little discussion in the syllabi and other materials on how the instructional practices and approaches taught in the faculty of education classroom are linked to practicum experiences. However, given that classroom teachers and faculty courses all rely heavily on the Ontario Language curriculum and Ministry teaching guides, it is likely that practicum experiences align with learning in faculty courses.

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Assessing how faculties are preparing pre-service teachers to teach reading

Faculty courses were assessed against the four components identified by Dr. Moats for a core curriculum for pre-service and in-service teacher education on effective reading instruction (see discussion above).


1. Knowing the basics of reading psychology and reading development

In most faculties,[816] pre-service teachers are not learning theories or frameworks that focus on word-reading skills as a foundational component of children’s reading acquisition and their ongoing role in reading comprehension (for example, Simple View of Reading; Scarborough’s Rope Model). Similarly, they are not learning about theories and established science about how word-reading and spelling skills develop (for example, Ehri’s Phase Theory of Word Reading Development). There are a few exceptions, where instructors are using Balanced Literacy Diet materials[817] to bring attention to the critical role of word reading in reading development. Balanced Literacy Diet materials are consistent with research, and should not be confused with the more often-used and problematic balanced literacy approach to teaching word reading.

This means that most pre-service teachers are not learning about how reading develops, the critical role word-reading skills play, and the foundation of phonological and alphabetic skills in word reading and learning to spell. They are also not learning how these skill sets are essential for strong reading comprehension and writing. Without knowing the trajectory from beginning to proficient word-reading skills, these future teachers may not understand their students’ education needs in this area, or how to use a course of instruction that will make sure almost all students reach the goal of proficient reading skills. They will also be ill-prepared to make sure students with reading disabilities/dyslexia or other risk factors, who may need more intensive interventions, have a strong tier 1 foundation.

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2. Understanding language structures that support teaching foundational word reading skills

Across the faculties’ required pre-service courses, little or no course reading material or instructional time appears to be devoted to ensuring pre-service teachers learn about the structures that make up spoken words (such as phonemes, syllables, rimes, morphemes), and the intricacies of how orthography maps onto these. In the most often required textbook for English Language Arts methods courses,[818] some terms related to phonological structures, morphology and phonics are defined, but these are not covered in enough depth to allow pre-service teachers to gain competence with this knowledge. One or two courses introduced some of the appropriate terms (such as phoneme, morpheme), but did not provide information about how these relate to learning to read or reading instruction.


3. Applying best practices for teaching word reading

Pre-service teachers have in-class time, learning experiences, readings and assignments that focus on becoming familiar with and knowledgeable about the Ontario Language curriculum and related teaching guides.

Faculties focus on the strands of literacy – speaking, listening, reading and writing, as well as multiliteracies, content integration and technology. These are all important aspects of a full literacy program, but are not a substitute for learning how to teach beginning readers to read and spell words accurately and efficiently.

Pre-service teachers are learning very little about direct instruction for teaching word-reading and related foundational skills. Most of the course outlines and reading lists place little emphasis on teaching pre-service teachers in the Primary and Junior preparation programs about instructional approaches to teaching phonemic awareness, grapheme-phoneme correspondences and using these to read words (phonics), or teaching more advanced word structures and analysis (for example, syllables and morphemes).

Commonly used textbooks in Primary and Junior English Language Arts methods courses have limited information on effective instruction in these areas. As well, courses in the Junior and Intermediate preparation programs do not emphasize morphological knowledge and analysis (the structure and formation of words and how to use this knowledge to pronounce, derive meaning from and write words).

While many English Language Arts Methods courses for Primary and Junior preparation include teaching pre-service teachers about phonics, the most common duration for this learning is one class, and this one class may be shared with other topics. Dr. Brady noted that this type of inadequate inclusion of science-based topics is a type of tokenism: “…making only a small or symbolic effort.” She further noted that in higher education and elsewhere, “This is a common strategy used to sidestep more extensive use of scientifically-based reading instruction.”[819]

Other courses avoid science-based topics almost completely, and focus on readings by the Drs. Ken and Yetta Goodman,[820] Dr. Frank Smith,[821] Dr. Calkins,[822] and Drs. Fountas and Pinnell,[823] who are all known to oppose[824] explicit, systematic phonics instruction, and promote balanced literacy and its predecessor, whole language.[825] Other English Language Arts syllabi have pre-service teachers learning about phonological awareness, phonics and the cueing systems in one class, followed by conducting miscue analyses in later classes. Introducing phonological awareness, phonics instruction and cueing systems together, whether within the same day or over a course, can be confusing to pre-service teachers. As discussed above, the whole language philosophy, cueing systems and balanced literacy have traditionally rejected “systematic and explicit phonics, spelling, or grammar instruction.”[826]

Some courses place relatively more emphasis on how to teach phonological awareness, grapheme-phoneme correspondences and phonics. One Primary/Junior English Language Arts course in Nippissing University introduces pre-service teachers to the course with a strong article by a prominent Ontario education scholar, which outlines components of literacy instruction, including phonological awareness and phonics in the early grades. However, these topics do not appear to be addressed in any significant way in the rest of the course.

Several English Language Arts methods syllabi cover phonological awareness and phonics in somewhat more depth or from a more research-based perspective, including through readings consistent with scientific consensus in the field. However, even in these courses, there are just one or two weeks covering this foundational knowledge in reading instruction. One of these at Queens University is a particularly strong half-course on evidence-based approaches to phonological awareness, phonics, word study and morphology, oral language and vocabulary, reading fluency and comprehension strategies, and writing. These topics are covered swiftly (for example, one class for phonological awareness and phonics combined), and the instructor is further constrained by the need to also familiarize the pre-service teachers with Ministry documents and approaches. Follow-up courses that could deepen this knowledge and related skills appear to be available as electives.

Finally, one course at the University of Toronto goes into these topics in relatively more depth. The first five weeks of the course are dedicated to understanding the role of word-reading in reading development, and the interconnected areas of phonological awareness, alphabetic knowledge and phonics, word study and fluency. Although pre-service teachers in this course may gain more familiarity with central concepts, it is not clear if they have a chance to read materials and practice approaches to teaching these foundational skills.

It is perhaps not surprising that the few faculties that are trying to incorporate some elements of science-based instruction for foundational word-reading skills are not giving adequate time and attention to these areas. The Ontario curriculum and the Ministry’s teaching guidelines do not emphasize these areas, but instead focus on ineffective approaches to teaching foundational reading skills. Faculties of education are required to prepare teachers to teach the curriculum.

One English Language Arts professor in an Ontario faculty who was interviewed for the inquiry highlighted the importance of the Ontario curriculum in what she teaches. She reported telling her students that “If [they] are not picking up Ontario Language Curriculum for every one of [their] assignments, [they] are doing it wrong.” She also noted that due to limited instructional time, and the breadth of the Ontario curriculum, there is little opportunity to teach pre-service teachers about anything that is not in the Ontario curriculum, including foundational skills for word reading. Thus, one obstacle to adequately preparing teachers is that the Ontario Language curriculum and Ministry teaching guides are not aligned with scientific studies of reading acquisition and instruction.

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Emphasis on inquiry-based and socio-cultural approaches

Faculties are focusing on inquiry-based approaches in English Language Arts. Inquiry-based learning means that students are left to discover, rather than being directly taught, how written language maps onto spoken language. Further, based on the materials provided by the faculties and what we heard from other sources, the faculties often emphasize a socio-cultural perspective.

One dominant focus is on increasing pre-service teachers’ awareness of the relationship between the reader and the text, and the wider cultural context of students and classrooms. Related to this, pre-service teachers are often given assignments requiring them to describe and reflect on their own literacy journeys. The overwhelming emphasis on these topics, while failing to prepare pre-service teachers to effectively teach foundational reading skills, is problematic.

The faculties appear to be preparing pre-service teachers to understand socio-cultural diversity and some aspects of related literacy learning and practices. Many faculties attempt to emphasize pre-service teachers’ understanding of racialized and marginalized student populations, focusing on societal factors and power structures that oppress segments of society, in the past and the present. Materials about culturally responsive pedagogies, as these are currently understood, are now being introduced across almost all faculties. These are important areas for teachers, and the faculties appear to be building expertise to guide pre-service teachers in tackling these complex issues. However, it is troubling that only one course appeared to make a link between the academic performance of historically marginalized student populations and providing direct and explicit instruction aimed at increasing student achievement. This course also includes approaches to classroom organization and instruction that apply more broadly-defined principles of culturally responsive pedagogy.

Unfortunately, focusing on socio-cultural approaches and culturally responsive pedagogy, without including a strong focus on scientifically supported reading instruction for word reading, may be harmful to many historically marginalized student populations. By failing to prepare teachers to teach the many students who do not start school as skilled as some other students, or who have other risks for reading difficulties, the faculties are contradicting their strongly proclaimed emphasis on social justice, equity and teacher empowerment, and undermining their goal of making sure teachers can meet the needs of a diverse student population.

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Preparing pre-service teachers to teach Kindergarten

Faculty of education courses on teaching in Kindergarten or the early years rely largely on the Ontario Kindergarten Program and other Ministry resources. Pre-service teachers are not learning about the evidence-based concepts outlined above, or how to teach these to build a strong foundation for all students in Kindergarten.

Kindergarten is a critical year for developing phoneme awareness, alphabetic knowledge and early decoding skills. Children come into their Kindergarten year with wide disparities in phonological awareness, alphabetic knowledge and beginning decoding skills.[827] Kindergarten is a year when educators can teach these foundational skills, so all young children can have the best start and be on their way to developing proficient word-reading skills.[828]

This instructional time is essential for children who come to school with lower skills in these areas for one or a combination of reasons such as:

  • Coming from less economically privileged backgrounds
  • Linguistic and cultural home environments that differ from those dominant in the school
  • Biological factors that may place students at risk for disabilities, such as dyslexia and language disorders.

Only one of the faculty courses about teaching in Kindergarten referenced the Ontario Expert Panel Report.[829] That report emphasizes the importance of instruction in phonemic awareness, sound-letter knowledge and phonics. The report also covers other foundations of early reading (such as oral language, vocabulary, syntax and knowledge). The Ontario Expert Panel Report is a good starting point for becoming familiar with these concepts in Kindergarten to Grade 3, but does not appear to be included in most university course reading lists. This may be because it was largely not followed by the Ministry when adopting the Kindergarten Program and Ontario Language curriculum.

Most of the course syllabi that focus on Kindergarten emphasize play-based learning (without specific attention to the above-mentioned skills through play), socio-cultural approaches to understanding language and learning, and inquiry-based curriculum. There is little time or instruction devoted to making sure pre-service teachers understand general language and early reading development.

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Special education, inclusive education and students with exceptionalities

Faculty of education courses on inclusive education, special education and students with exceptionalities appear to be teaching primarily about Ontario’s procedures for accommodations, Individual Education Plans, Identification, Placement, and Review Committees, and legal requirements related to these. The focus is on general principles that apply across students’ identified exceptionalities and education needs, including principles of differentiated instruction and Universal Design for Learning (UDL). These procedures and principles may be introduced and applied to one or more exceptionalities (or sometimes an area of educational need, such as language comprehension, decoding, attention regulation, etc.). Student teachers often choose an exceptionality as a focus of an assignment. In these courses, there is typically one week where they read and learn about learning disabilities (typically the term dyslexia is not used to describe word-level reading disabilities), similar to a week on each of autism spectrum disorders and behavioural disorders.

This general knowledge is important for pre-service teachers to understand the principles of special education and be better prepared to meet students’ education needs in the classroom. However, these more general courses do not compensate for the lack of content in English Language Arts methods, or in related courses on effective instruction and how to differentiate instruction and implement accommodations specifically for students with or at risk for word-reading disabilities/dyslexia. These topics need more in-depth coverage for future Kindergarten to Grade 12 teachers, and may need to be part of a course specific to reading difficulties, or be a series of classes in English Language Arts methods and classroom assessment courses. Currently, pre-service teachers are not learning enough about these issues.

Technology and software programs are often used in classrooms, sometimes as an accommodation for students with disabilities. However, it was not evident from the course outlines provided that courses devote adequate time or material to making sure pre-service teachers understand the types of instruction and support students need for this technology to be effective. For example, students with reading difficulties may often be given software programs for composing written text as an accommodation (see section 11, Accommodations). However, meta-analyses show that without direct instruction and scaffolding in written composition and direct instruction in the best use of the technology, this is not very effective in supporting students’ writing.[830]

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Training specific to reading difficulties

In general, pre-service teachers are not learning enough about reading difficulties, associated risk factors, and effective classroom approaches with these students. Further, it does not appear that courses cover material that would help pre-service teachers learn how to identify students, in the early elementary and later years, who need assessment and intervention for reading disabilities. This is particularly concerning in a system where decisions on which students to screen and how to screen them is largely based on teachers’ professional judgement (see section 9, Early screening).

As noted earlier, pre-service teachers are not taught much on the importance of word-reading and spelling skills, or on how to teach these foundational skills in the classroom. Pre-service teachers need a solid understanding of the foundations of word reading and spelling and effective classroom instruction in these skills, to develop the knowledge needed to understand reading difficulties, identify these students early and meet their education needs.

Several faculties have courses focusing on reading difficulties or disabilities, but these are most often elective courses. There is wide variation in how much these courses address phonemic awareness, phonics and word reading, and fluency for word-reading disabilities/dyslexia. For example, one required quarter-course on supporting Primary/Junior students who struggle with reading and writing only includes a half-class on phonological awareness and one class on phonics. Running records are taught alongside fluency and word analysis assessment. Other courses appear to take more of a socio-cultural or critical disabilities approach to understanding reading disabilities.

One course requires pre-service teachers to tutor students who are struggling with reading, but it is unclear what materials or approach is used. The book mentioned most often in these courses is I Read It, But I Don’t Get It.[831] This book focuses on comprehension strategies and does not include effective word-reading instruction and intervention. This book is referenced in some Primary/Junior courses, although it is intended for teachers of adolescent readers.

Pre-service teachers also do not appear to be learning about commonly available interventions (except for Reading Recovery®, which is not appropriate and may undermine progress and self-esteem for students with word- reading difficulties). It is important that pre-service teachers become knowledgeable about the types of instruction used in evidence-based interventions. This allows them to support these effective approaches in the classroom. It is very confusing for students learning how to properly decode words in an intervention to have the classroom teacher emphasize a cueing system approach to word reading. This potential for disconnect between interventions and classroom practices is yet another reason why it is troubling that pre-service teachers are not learning how to teach phonemic awareness, phonics and advanced word study.

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Multilingual students

Faculties have a mix of required and elective courses addressing multilingual students (referred to as English language learners or ELL students). These courses often include theories on second language acquisition, but there is wide variation on other included topics. Some courses focus on a socio-cultural perspective to understanding multilingual students, including increasing pre-service teacher understanding of cultural differences, inequities and related social justice issues. Other courses focus on instructional approaches to increase the academic performance and involvement of multilingual students in the classroom – although this mostly focuses on aspects of oral language, with little attention to developing word-reading skills. However, one strong elective course on Reading in a Second Language at the University of Toronto covers important theoretical and applied issues for working with multilingual students, including developing word-reading and spelling skills.

In many assessment courses across the faculties, a significant proportion of the material covered involves Ministry documents that emphasize the three-cueing system and balanced literacy. Other classes that use a textbook also refer to procedures outlined in these Ministry documents. The materials provided suggest that pre-service teachers are most often being taught to conduct running records and miscue analyses to assess reading. These approaches are not supported by the science of reading.

Often, information from running records and miscue analyses is used to make sure children are reading the “correct” level of books in class, and to mark each child’s progress in reading levels across the year. As discussed above, these assessment approaches are problematic for the same reasons as is teaching cueing systems for word reading. Running records and miscue analyses assess a student’s use of problematic guessing strategies, and do not provide any information about the foundational skills that show how a student’s reading is developing, such as the student’s phonemic awareness, knowledge of grapheme-phoneme correspondences and larger orthographic and meaning-based patterns (for example, morphemes), and the ability to use these to read (and spell) words efficiently. These foundational skills should be one major focus of earlier required courses on English Language Arts methods, and the assessment course should introduce valid and reliable screening and classroom assessment tools that provide critical information for classroom teachers on these foundational skills.

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Additional Qualification courses

In addition to offering teacher education programs for pre-service teachers, faculties also offer advanced learning programs for in-service teachers to expand their knowledge and enhance their classroom skills.[832] Additional Qualification (AQ) courses[833] provide ongoing professional learning on a subject or topic, and appear on a teacher’s Certificate of Qualification and Registration from the Ontario College of Teachers. They can support teachers’ career advancement and allow them to qualify for salary increases.[834]

The OHRC asked the 13 English-language public faculties to provide information about the AQ courses they offer related to reading and special education. There are three AQ courses in reading: Reading, Part 1;[835] Reading, Part 2[836] and Reading, Specialist.[837] Similarly, there are three AQ special education courses: Special Education, Part 1;[838] Special Education, Part 2[839] and Special Education Specialist.[840]

Eleven of the 13 faculties offered and submitted information about AQ courses. Ten faculties offered Reading 1; nine also offered Reading 2; and eight offered the Reading Specialist. In three of the 10 faculties that offered AQ courses in reading, syllabi were not available to the inquiry.

Across the eight faculties that had materials on Reading AQs, it appeared that in Reading, Part 1, three course outlines mention or have a reading on phonological awareness. One of these course outlines also mentions phonics, and one also mentions reading disabilities. One of the courses that includes these topics references the Ontario Expert Panel Report; although it is not possible to know how much this report is used in the course. One course states that it covers a structured literacy approach, but this is not readily apparent in most of the course reading materials.

For Reading, Part 2, of the six courses for which class reading lists and/or syllabi were available for review, one course mentioned phonological awareness and one mentioned reading disabilities. For another course, it was was hard to determine if it covers foundational skills at all, and the rest of the courses do not appear to cover foundational word-reading skills or dyslexia.

For the final course in the reading series, the Reading Specialist qualification, the faculties provided six course outlines and/or reading lists. One course gives more time and goes more in-depth into phonics, with a “Word Recognition” module that has 15 hours for topics in this area.

Except for one to two courses, most reading AQ courses reviewed for the inquiry gave little attention to developing proficient word-reading skills and linking these to reading difficulties, or to the importance of these to reading comprehension. They do not devote adequate time to learning about the structure of words and language; effective teaching methods in phonemic awareness, phonics, and more advanced word study; interventions for students with reading difficulties; or how to monitor students’ progress in the classroom.

The readings required most often in these courses are Ministry documents resulting in a focus on cueing systems, balanced literacy and related approaches. As with the courses for pre-service teachers, it appears that the lack of science-informed approaches in the Ontario curriculum and teaching guidelines is one obstacle to faculties preparing in-service teachers to teach foundational word reading skills and to understand dyslexia. This suggests that even teachers who obtain their Reading Specialist, who often become literacy leaders in their schools and school boards, are not receiving adequate preparation in instruction informed by the science of reading.

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Teachers’ perspectives on their preparation to teach reading

Many teachers told the inquiry they did not feel adequately prepared to teach reading. Out of the 1,769 participants in the inquiry’s survey for educators and other professionals, 1,086 (61%) completed a teacher education program from a faculty of education in Ontario. Only 4% of Ontario-educated participants agreed that they learned the necessary skills in their teacher education program to teach students with reading disabilities to read. Fourteen per cent somewhat agreed that they learned the necessary skills, 19% somewhat disagreed. The highest percentage of respondents – 55% – said they disagreed. Seven per cent said they neither agreed nor disagreed, and 1% responded as unknown.

In their survey responses, in emails to the OHRC and at public hearings, many teachers confirmed what the OHRC’s review of the faculty of education materials found:

…We were taught a whole language learning approach that is not systematic or evidence-based and does NOT address the cognitive and processing challenges that students with reading and writing disabilities experience. We were not given any strategies outside of helping students become interested in texts by looking at visual cues, discussing stories, prompting for comprehension and creating a positive environment around reading.


The program was very focussed on what was stated in the Ontario curriculum and ways to deliver the material. Very little time was spent discussing the diverse needs of students. I do not recall any courses discussing how to teach children to read and how to reach students who struggle. [Emphasis added.]

Even teachers who completed one or more reading AQ courses felt ill-prepared to teach reading, and reported learning little about science-based approaches and direct instruction to teaching reading or how to teach or support students with dyslexia and other reading difficulties.

Of the 1,086 survey respondents who completed a teacher education program from a faculty of education in Ontario, 295 said that they have an AQ in Reading, Part 1, 159 have an AQ in Reading, Part 2, and 134 have their AQ in Reading, Specialist.

Table 17 summarizes the survey responses about the training teachers who have one or more AQs in reading received on reading disabilities and how to respond to them.


Table 17: Training received in additional qualification courses in reading


AQ in


Part 1

AQ in


Part 2

AQ in



Received training in

reading disabilities

Yes: 51%

No: 49%

Yes: 60%

No: 40%

Yes: 57%

No: 43%

Received training on how to

identify reading disabilities

Yes: 42%

No: 58%

Yes: 53%

No: 47%

Yes: 49%

No: 51%

Received training on how to

remediate reading disabilities

Yes: 40%

No: 60%

Yes: 50%

No: 50%

Yes: 49%

No: 51%


Most respondents (54%) who completed the Part 1 AQ in Reading disagreed or somewhat disagreed that they have the necessary skills to teach children with reading disabilities to read. After completing Reading, Part 2, almost half of respondents (47%) still did not feel they had the necessary skills to teach children with reading disabilities. Even after receiving the Reading Specialist designation, almost half of teachers (46%) still did not feel they had the necessary skills to teach children with reading disabilities to read.

Teachers said that the focus of the AQ courses on reading continued to be on the three-cueing system and balanced literacy, with little to no instruction on science-based instruction in phonological awareness, phonics or decoding. They emphasized that the courses were aimed at teaching reading to the “general average, typically abled student population” with no focus on reading disabilities. Some even said that reading disabilities and other reasons why students do not learn to read were never addressed, even though the courses were intended to prepare teachers to be “literacy leader[s]:”

These AQ courses focus on [“reluctant” readers] almost entirely and there seemed to be no instruction on how to teach non-readers (those who have little to no phonological awareness).

Another teacher said: “Dyslexia or dysgraphia were never mentioned during any of these courses.”

Teachers reported taking these AQ specialist courses to build their capacity as reading teachers, and being disappointed that they were no better prepared to teach beginning reading or support struggling readers:

I was teaching Grade 1 while taking my [Reading Specialist] course and recall feeling frustrated by the stats and focus on read alouds and shared reading rather than how to help kids read independently.

Teachers who took AQs in special education similarly reported a lack of training on reading disabilities. They said these courses focused on leadership and advocacy for special education, legal responsibilities and legislation related to special education in Ontario, and writing IEPs. Teachers said little time was spent on working with students with reading disabilities, addressing specific needs, or developing effective reading programs. For example:

This course was more about legal responsibilities, leadership, procedures, not so much about the actual support and programming for children.


The focus was behavioural challenges, not learning challenges, which are related. Unfortunately, the course lacked remediation strategies, and focused more on identifying disabilities and writing IEPs.

Many of the survey respondents who completed a teacher education program from an Ontario faculty had taken one or more AQs in special education (841 of 1,086 respondents took Special Education, Part 1; 492 took Special Education, Part 2; and 365 had the Special Education, Specialist designation). Once again, these teachers reported not feeling prepared to teach students with reading disabilities. Sixty-one per cent of teachers who completed Special Education, Part 1 disagreed or somewhat disagreed that they have the necessary skills to teach children with reading disabilities to read. After completing Special Education, Part 2, just over half of respondents (51%) still did not feel they had the necessary skills to teach children with reading disabilities. Even after receiving the Special Education, Specialist designation, almost half (48%) still disagreed or somewhat disagreed that they had the skills to teach children with reading disabilities to read.


Table 18: Training received in additional qualification courses in special education


AQ in Special Education, Part 1

AQ in Special Education, Part 2

AQ in Special Education, Specialist

Received training in reading disabilities

Yes: 69%

No: 31%

Yes: 65%

No: 35%

Yes: 59%

No: 41%

Received training on how to identify reading disabilities

Yes: 45%

No: 55 %

Yes: 56%

No: 44%

Yes: 53%

No: 47%

Received training on how to remediate reading disabilities

Yes: 39%

No: 61%

Yes: 46%

No: 54%

Yes: 44%

No: 56%


Through surveys, emails, public hearings and interviews, many teachers reported they want to be able to reach every student, including students with reading difficulties, but feel let down by an education system that has failed to equip and support them to do so:

I wish I had more knowledge, more time to use [it]. I feel I am failing our struggling students.

Another teacher said:

I feel very sad that I don’t have the skills to teach students with reading disabilities to read. I know how to teach students to learn [s]ight words and build word walls and look for familiar words in a sentence and guess at the context. I have some idea on how to explain phonics rules, but I don’t know what order to teach phonics in or at what pace phonics lessons should go.

Teachers also noted that far too many children are being left behind. For example:

Based on much of my own self-directed learning about the science of reading over the past year teachers need more training in methods based in reliable proven science. Teachers are doing their very best but simply do NOT know. Too many students are falling through the cracks unnecessarily because of the gap that exists [between] this science and what is being taught at the faculty of ed levels, the ministry curriculum and all that is presented in mainstream resources.


There is so much at stake and lives are forever impacted by OUR failure to teach a child to read. We appreciate that there was a time when we did not know how best to teach reading, but that is not, and has not, been true for many years.

The teacher comments made it clear that there are systemic issues that have limited their effectiveness and self-confidence in teaching all children to read. In addition to better training, teachers said they would appreciate having more guidance in the Ontario curriculum. For example:

I don't think there is enough consistency. There [are] broad curriculum goals without direction on how to get there. Too much is open to interpretation and many children, in my opinion, get left behind because a teacher is using outdated methods or hasn't been informed about the best way to reach all learners.


I am only now just beginning to learn about teaching reading, and I am well into my career. I know that I would have been far more effective if I had learned about teaching reading in a way that would benefit ALL readers rather than just to those who would have picked it up naturally anyhow. I wish that there had been an entire course in Teachers' College on this subject! The curriculum is left to a lot of interpretation and that isn't helpful for a new teacher or one who isn't aware of the challenges that many readers face.

Some teachers said they would like to better support students who are being withdrawn from class to take part in intervention programs like EmpowerTM when they return to the regular classroom. Several inquiry school boards also noted that they would like to have regular classroom teachers reinforce the learning students receive in these programs, but feel that the proprietary nature of the programs limits their ability to do so. However, if teachers have the fundamental knowledge described in this report and are following a curriculum that reflects the science, they will be able to support students who are receiving evidence-based interventions outside of the classroom.

Many teachers described their efforts to supplement their knowledge, including doing their own research on the science of reading, and spending time and money on courses outside of the university and AQ system to learn about direct instruction or structured literacy. Some teachers even developed initiatives within their school board to try to fill in the gaps created by the Ontario curriculum and predominant balanced literacy approaches.

Thousands of teachers are independently seeking out resources and joining social media platforms to support each other and try to learn about and implement evidence-based instruction in foundational reading skills.[841] Some are signing up for education and training opportunities at their own expense.

Teachers need and want more education to gain the knowledge and skills to teach early reading effectively, as well as appropriate curriculum, materials/programs and ongoing coaching and support to reach all students, including students with reading disabilities/dyslexia. Adequately supporting teachers to ensure all Ontario students can learn to read will require changes to the Ontario curriculum, related instruction guides, teacher education, professional development, and materials and supports. Teachers want to do better but these systemic obstacles impede their efforts.

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Barriers to change

We have known the best way to teach early reading skills to all students for decades. The evidence is also clear that the predominant approaches to early reading instruction used in Ontario fail the most vulnerable students. Yet there are still many who are resistant to change. This is unacceptable.

Many in the education sector continue to ignore scientific evidence about what is proven to work, and insist on following disproven theories and outdated opinions that have a discriminatory impact on certain populations of students. We would not accept this in any other area and we should not accept this in education when our children’s lives and futures are at stake.

Some of the resistance to implementing science-based approaches may stem from ableist assumptions, negative stereotypes and related attitudes. Some educators, particularly people in influential positions, are unwilling to consider or acknowledge that the reason a significant proportion of students do not learn to read well is because of poor instruction and intervention. Rather than admit that the education system is failing these students, they erroneously believe that factors beyond their control such as perceived inherent limitations associated with disability, gender or socio-economic factors are the cause.

As well, some critics of direct instruction approaches think they are not good for “high performers” as they believe direct instruction, which they may mischaracterize as “drill and kill,” negatively affects the love of learning, or fails to promote higher-order thinking skills.[842] First, these assumptions about direct instruction are incorrect, as discussed throughout this report. Second, implicit in these criticisms of direct instruction is the ableist idea that the education system should not be designed for students who are at risk for reading difficulties, but rather that these students should be dealt with separately using different approaches to what are used with students who have higher skills in the classroom.

Withholding classroom instruction that is critical to many students is inconsistent with human rights principles of inclusive design and UDL. It discriminates against students with or at risk for reading difficulties. It is also wrong. The evidence does not show that students without reading difficulties or who have higher skills are negatively affected by receiving instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding. Rather, all students benefit from having this strong foundation in both their reading and writing.[843] A recent book examining the studies on direct instruction states:

The data also refute the idea that [direct instruction] is only for “certain” students, such as those from low-income backgrounds or who might be having difficulties in school…there is no evidence from our analysis that [direct instruction] is more effective with some groups of students than with others. The data show that it works well with all students, no doubt because human cognitive structures are universal. We all interpret communications that we receive, and if these communications are clear and unambiguous all of us can learn. Just as the structure of [direct instruction] allows those who are behind their peers to catch up, it can also allow those who learn more quickly to move ahead.[844]

It is also telling that the current approach to teaching reading is failing to instill a love of reading or reading confidence in many Ontario students. The EQAO’s student engagement questionnaire asks students how they feel about reading. In 2018–2019,  a little less than half of students (44% in Grade 3 and 42% in Grade 6) said they did not like to read. About one-third (38% in Grade 3 and 33% in Grade 6) said they did not think they were good readers most of the time.[845] This significantly undermines any claims that inquiry- or discovery-based approaches to teaching reading are better for motivating students to read or for developing a love of reading.

Some in the education field perpetuate the myth that teaching phonological awareness, phonics and decoding skills negatively affects students’ reading comprehension or ability to “make meaning” from texts. They stress that aspects of reading should not be taught as isolated skills, but rather should always take place within real reading activities and contexts, and should emphasize socio-cultural approaches. In fact, the evidence is clear that many children cannot learn to read by inquiry or discovery-based approaches.

Context is important for understanding what is read, but students must be able to read the words to make meaning from the text and the context. Context is not useful as a primary and initial decoding strategy. Beginning readers need to be taught how to read words, as all words are new or unfamiliar to them. Further, when children encounter a word they have not seen before, they need to use decoding skills to sound it out.[846] Research confirms that the ability to make meaning from texts requires a strong foundation in being able to read words (see the earlier discussion of the Simple View of Reading, Scarborough Rope Model and the accompanying studies that show this).

It is essential that students be able to read words accurately, quickly and automatically, to become good readers who can understand, absorb and think about what is read across a wide-variety of texts and topics. The Association of Psychology Leaders in Ontario Schools told the inquiry:

Inclusion of direct and systematic teaching of foundational reading skills in reading instruction does not deny the importance of the other crucial skills and factors such as reading comprehension, motivation to read, print exposure, etc. In other words, the reading process involves teaching multiple skills and abilities, the ultimate goal, of course, being the enjoyment of reading, fluent access to meaning and reading comprehension. In order to reach that goal, the foundational skills…and other areas of literacy development also need to be addressed.

Some opponents of direct instruction in foundational reading skills might critique this focus, pointing out that literacy is not restricted to being able to read and understand printed words on a page or screen. Rather, they promote a focus on multiliteracies, which include other forms of communication that reflect new technologies.[847] These people tend to downplay the importance of reading instruction that focuses on “alphabetic representations,” arguing that today’s youth will engage with “multimodal representations” including through different forms of digital media technology. For example, one online article says:

Meaning is made in ways that are increasingly multimodal – in which written-linguistic modes of meaning interface with oral, visual, audio, gestural, tactile and spatial patterns of meaning.

This means that we need to extend the range of literacy pedagogy so that it does not unduly privilege alphabetical representations, but brings into the classroom multimodal representations, and particularly those typical of digital media. This makes literacy pedagogy all the more engaging for its manifest connections with today’s communications milieu. It also provides a powerful foundation for a pedagogy of synaesthesia, or mode switching.[848]

Teaching children to become proficient in word-reading so that they may become skilled readers and having children engage with multiliteracies are not mutually exclusive. Word reading is the foundation for successfully interacting with a variety of communication forms. The inquiry heard many accounts of people with reading difficulties not being able to read a menu in a restaurant, read ingredients on a food label, read street signs, play video games that involve reading, search the Internet, look at websites or access other forms of digital media – not to mention to effectively interact and be successful in the classroom.

The inquiry heard from students, parents and teachers who noted the critical importance of reading skills, built on a strong foundation of word-reading, for full participation in today’s classrooms and society.

Unfortunately, opponents of direct instruction in general, particularly in foundational reading skills, exist throughout the education system, often holding positions of power. Consistent with the inquiry’s findings, researchers have identified three groups who are “the most powerful opponents of widespread implementation of direct instruction”: education policy makers and decision-makers, teachers and administrators, and education faculty members in universities who are often the most resistant:

Perhaps the most powerful opponents of [direct instruction] are faculty and administrators in schools of education in colleges and universities. Education schools provide preservice training for our nation’s teachers, but they also exert very powerful control over the nature of teacher certification and the discourse surrounding the nature of teaching and education. The vast majority of professors of education adhere to the philosophies of John Dewey and Jean Piaget, the intellectual forebearers of developmental and inquiry-type approaches to learning. Schools of education have largely ignored the research evidence regarding [direct instruction’s] effectiveness and the extensive research in cognitive psychology about learning. Education faculty’s ideology is reflected in the content of teacher education programs.[849] [Emphasis added.]

Dr. Brady noted that faculties of education are most often resistant to provide adequate education to pre-service teachers on the science of reading:

Professors who are committed advocates of meaning-based methods of reading instruction, and who never learned the concepts and methods implicated by the science are unlikely to embrace this goal enthusiastically. The consequence may be superficial discussion of phoneme awareness and phonics in a lecture or two (i.e., tokenism), or less.[850]

Reviews of teacher education programs in the U.S. have found that only a small minority of programs provide the extensive training needed to effectively deliver reading instruction. The inquiry found that the training provided by English-language public faculties of education in Ontario appears to be similarly deficient, with few exceptions.

One Language Arts professor interviewed for the inquiry said that the number of children who are not learning to read causes her to “lose sleep at night.” She said that she and her faculty colleagues “need to take some responsibility for the significant proportion of children not learning to read or not learning to read at grade level with some degree of fluency.” The inquiry’s analysis of course outlines and reading lists in Ontario English Language Arts courses is consistent with her conclusions.

Universities are often concerned with academic freedom. Some may believe that any efforts to establish standards for ensuring pre-service and in-service teachers are prepared to teach all students to read infringes on faculty members’ academic freedom. However, academic freedom does not preclude universities and teacher education programs from being accountable for the quality, effectiveness and consistency of their programs and adherence to human rights. Academic freedom also comes with a responsibility for faculties to make sure teachers are well-prepared to use evidence-based techniques that promote, protect and advance students’ right to read. Dr. Moats reasons:

While the academic freedom that professors often invoke has a place in teacher education, its claim is not as absolute as it may be in the humanities. Professional preparation programs have a responsibility to teach a defined body of knowledge, skills, and abilities that are based on the best research in the field. This is no less important in reading than it is in medicine or law.[851]

In October 2011, Universities Canada issued a Statement on Academic Freedom that defined constraints on academic freedom:

Academic freedom is constrained by the professional standards of the relevant discipline and the responsibility of the institution to organize its academic mission. The insistence on professional standards speaks to the rigor of the enquiry and not to its outcome.

Universities must also ensure that the rights and freedoms of others are respected, and that academic freedom is exercised in a reasonable and responsible manner.[852]

The 1997 UNESCO Recommendation Concerning the Status of Higher Education Teaching Personnel recognizes the need to balance different rights and interests such as academic freedom and institutional accountability.[853] Institutional accountability includes responsibility for fundamental human rights.[854] Recommendation 28 says “the right to teach without interference” is “subject to accepted professional principles including professional responsibility and intellectual rigour with regard to standards and methods of teaching.”[855]

A 2021 Superior Court of Justice (Divisional Court) decision found that Ontario’s Mathematics Proficiency Test was discriminatory because of its impact on racialized teacher candidates entering the teaching profession.[856] Ontario had considered mandating a math course instead of a proficiency test, but decided against this alternative “out of concern that it would interfere with the institutional autonomy” of faculties of education.[857] The Court found that a concern that faculties could lose some autonomy if Ontario had mandated a math course should not outweigh teacher candidates’ equality rights. The Court said this was not a situation where requiring a math course would have had a negative impact on the Charter rights of another group in society.

Legally, academic freedom and institutional autonomy are not absolute and must be weighed against the equality rights of students and teacher candidates. Ethically, these interests and rights should be considered within a student-centered approach to improve the educational achievement of all students in Ontario’s public education system.

Faculties must follow the standards set by the Ontario College of Teachers (OCT). The OCT accredits teacher education programs and AQ courses where it is satisfied that the programs and courses meet prescribed requirements[858] including:

  • The design of the program is consistent with and reflects the OCT’s “Standards of Practice for the Teaching Profession” and “Ethical Standards for the Teaching Profession;” current research in teacher education; and the integration of theory and practice in teacher education
  • The program curriculum is current, references the Ontario curriculum, includes the application of current research in teacher education, and represents a wide knowledge base in the divisions and components of the program
  • The teaching theory and foundation courses in the program include courses on human development and learning, and on the legislation and government policies relating to education
  • The program enables students of a professional education program to acquire knowledge and skills:
    • in the current Ontario curriculum and provincial policy documents that are relevant to the student’s areas of study and curriculum, including planning and design, special education, equity and diversity, and learning assessment and evaluation
    • to use current research in teaching and learning
    • in the policies, assessments and practices involved in responding to the needs and strengths of all students, including students identified as requiring special education supports.

Therefore, it is possible to establish core standards and curricula for all Ontario teacher education programs and additional qualification courses in reading. As well, if the Ontario curriculum is changed to reflect the science of reading, Ontario faculties will be required to change their approach to preparing teachers to teach reading.

The American Federation of Teachers noted giving teachers the tools to teach reading systematically and effectively supports teacher professionalism and autonomy. Educators who are equipped to teach reading in a way that will ensure success in almost all students will feel “empowered and rewarded.”[859] When teachers use direct instruction approaches and see the results they achieve with their students, they become enthusiastic advocates:

…the data refute the notion that teachers don’t like [direct instruction]. In fact, just as students’ desire to learn is reinforced by their own learning, teachers’ desire to teach is reinforced by seeing how much their students improve and learn.…In short, the data from our analysis support the theoretical contention…that the carefully developed sequence and guidelines make teaching more enjoyable and rewarding.[860]

One teacher told the inquiry:

I have lots and lots of kids in my classroom…and I get to teach every last one of them how to read because I’m using a structured literacy program in kindergarten, and it’s thrilling.…It is exciting and empowering.

Other sources of resistance to change include perceived challenges to professional identities, and economic incentives, among others.[861] For example, some proponents of current approaches may have developed or promoted particular programs, written widely used guidelines, or authored teacher education textbooks. Further, accepting that current approaches are not serving students may be threatening:

They [may] fear that acknowledging research that counter[s] views they [have] long supported…[may] diminish their own prestige and associated power and privilege.[862]

Some proponents of whole language approaches are finally starting to acknowledge that inquiry-based approaches to learning to read are flawed, and to recognize that students must be taught foundational skills including phonics. For example, in 2019, the International Literacy Association, an institute that strongly endorses critical literacy, multiliteracies, socio-cultural learning, teacher empowerment and social justice, released an International Literacy Leadership Brief that strongly supports explicit and systematic phonics instruction as part of a full literacy program.[863] Dr. Calkins, a long-time proponent of cueing systems and balanced literacy whose resources are widely used in Ontario, has also recently recognized the importance of direct instruction in phonics.[864]

When faced with the overwhelming scientific evidence, and the inquiry’s findings that students’ human rights are at stake, it is no longer acceptable for educators, education policy-makers and faculties of education to continue to promote ineffective approaches that have a discriminatory impact on certain populations of students.

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The OHRC makes the following recommendations:


Revise the Kindergarten Program and Grades 1-8 Language curriculum

27. The Ministry of Education (Ministry) should work with external expert(s) to revise Ontario’s Kindergarten Program and Grades 1–8 Language curriculum to:

  1. Remove all references to cueing, cueing systems and guessing strategies for word reading
  2. Remove all references to any other instructional approaches to teaching foundational reading skills that have not been scientifically validated
  3. Require mandatory explicit, systematic and direct instruction in foundational reading skills, including phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding, and word reading proficiency
  4. Beginning in the Kindergarten Program and continuing in the Grades 1–8 Language curriculum, explicitly state expectations for teaching phonemic awareness, letter-sound associations, word-level decoding (including blending sounds to read words and segmenting words into sounds to write words), word-reading proficiency or fluency (number of words read per minute) and knowledge of simple morphemes. The Grades 1–8 Language curriculum should include more advanced word study in and beyond Grade 2/3, and outline more advanced expectations with morphology, knowledge and analysis of words, through the middle grades and beyond
  5. Incorporate other aspects of a comprehensive approach to literacy which are addressed in the research science such as evidence-based instruction in oral language, reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge and spelling and writing.[865]


28. The Ministry should specify that all critical elements of explicit, systematic and direct instruction in foundational word-reading skills in the revised Kindergarten Program and Grades 1–8 Language curriculum are mandatory and not optional. The Ministry should provide specific and scaffolded grade-level expectations for each foundational word-reading skill. The Ministry should clarify that early literacy skills, such as phonemic awareness, knowledge of letter names and sounds and how to print letters, and decoding simple words are all expected in Kindergarten.[866]


29. The Ministry should develop the revised Kindergarten Program and Grades 1–8 Language curriculum on an expedited basis, but should include all the necessary steps in the curriculum review process.


Revise early literacy resources

30. The Ministry should work with external expert(s) to revise Ontario’s Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading (Kindergarten to Grade 3) and Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction (Grades 4 to 6) and other supplementary resources and materials to:

  1. Remove all references to cueing, cueing systems and guessing strategies for word reading
  2. Remove all references to balanced literacy and associated concepts such as teaching word reading with the use of cueing systems or through reading books within the current gradual release of responsibility model (instruction through modelling book reading with word problem-solving using cueing systems, shared reading with word problem-solving using cueing systems, guided and independent text reading focused on word problem-solving using cueing systems, and mini lessons)
  3. Remove all references to any other instructional approaches in teaching foundational word-reading skills that have not been scientifically validated
  4. Remove all references to running records, miscue analyses and other assessment approaches that have not been scientifically validated
  5. Remove all references to levelled readers and incorporate references to decodable texts in Kindergarten to Grades 1 or 2 (or in later reading interventions) and/or to practicing word reading in less controlled books that are nonetheless selected to provide practice for word-reading skills for young readers, and with appropriate reading materials, other than levelled readers, in later elementary grades.[867] Reading materials should be selected based on other criteria appropriate for developing reading competence, language and knowledge
  6. Replace cueing and balanced literacy for word reading with mandatory explicit, systematic and direct instruction in foundational word-reading skills including phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding skills, and word-reading proficiency (accurate and quick word reading)
  7. Beginning in the Kindergarten Program and continuing in the Grades 1–8 Language Arts curriculum, state the approaches (and Ministry-recommended programs) that will support the explicitly stated expectations in phonemic awareness, letter-sound associations, word-level decoding (including blending sounds and segmenting words into sounds to read and write words), word-reading proficiency or fluency (number of words read per minute). This will continue through to more advanced word study beyond Grade 2, including how to teach advanced morphological knowledge and analysis
  8. Incorporate other aspects of a comprehensive approach to literacy which are addressed in the research science such as evidence-based instruction in oral language, reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge and spelling and writing.[868]


31. The Ministry should release revised guides and supplementary resources before or at the same time as the revised Kindergarten Program and Grades 1–8 Language curriculum.


32. The Ministry should revoke any early literacy resources, including supplementary classroom materials published on the Ministry’s Curriculum and Resources website[869] or e-Community Ontario,[870] that promote cueing systems, balanced literacy, running records and miscue analyses or any other instructional and assessment approaches to word reading that are not scientifically validated.


33. School boards should update their early literacy policies, procedures, directives, documents, guides, training and professional development materials, and any other early literacy resources, to align with the findings in this report and, when available, the revised Kindergarten Program, Ontario Language curriculum, Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading (Kindergarten to Grade 3) and Guide to Effective Literacy Instruction (Grades 4 to 6) and other revised Ministry supplementary resources and materials.


34. The Ministry should work with external expert(s) to revise the Trillium list[871] of approved textbooks related to reading, if any, to align with the scientific evidence by removing all textbooks that promote instruction and assessment approaches that have not been scientifically validated, and adding only textbooks that reflect effective instructional principles associated with mandatory explicit, systematic and direct instruction in foundational word-reading skills including phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding skills, and word-reading proficiency (accurate and quick word reading).


Review textbooks and supplementary classroom materials

35. The Ministry should work with external expert(s) to develop a list of approved classroom materials (including programs, kits, books, readers, assessment tools and intervention programs) that are consistent with the revised curriculum and scientific evidence outlined in this report.


36. The Ministry should make clear that school boards must stop using and may no longer purchase textbooks or classroom materials that are inconsistent with the scientific evidence, and can only purchase or use materials related to teaching foundational word reading skills on the Trillium list and Ministry list of approved of classroom materials.


37. School boards should stop using textbooks and classroom materials that are inconsistent with the scientific evidence, as outlined in this report. School boards should only purchase textbooks and classroom materials on the revised Ministry approved lists. School boards should replace levelled readers in Kindergarten to Grade 1 or 2, with decodable texts.


38. The Ministry should provide school boards with the funds to purchase textbooks and classroom materials on the revised Trillium list and list of approved classroom materials.


Develop and deliver interim curriculum and measures

39. The Ministry of Education should work with external expert(s) to develop or identify an interim early reading curriculum (or addenda to the current Kindergarten Program and Grades 1–8 Language curriculum) and resources/guides/training to support school boards and teachers to immediately start delivering instruction in foundational reading skills that aligns with the science of reading while the Kindergarten Program, Grades 1–8 Language curriculum and instructional guides and other resources go through a full revision. The interim early reading curriculum and resources/guides/training should provide guidance to and require boards and teachers to immediately begin to implement mandatory explicit, systematic and direct instruction in foundational word-reading skills including phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding, and word reading proficiency including morphological knowledge. This interim curriculum and resources/guides/training could be selected from evidence-based pre-existing materials that have been vetted by the Ministry’s external expert(s) to make sure they conform with the reading science. The Ministry should make sure any interim resources/guides/training will be consistent with the future revised Kindergarten Program and Grades 1–8 Language curriculum, so they can continue to be used once these are released.


40. School boards should immediately begin implementing measures/resources/programs/guides/training to provide mandatory explicit, systematic and direct instruction in foundational word-reading skills including phonemic awareness, phonics, decoding and word study, while awaiting a revised Kindergarten Program and Grades 1–8 Language curriculum. These measures/resources/guides/training can continue to be used to support delivery of a revised Kindergarten Program and Grades 1–8 Language curriculum once they are released.


41. The Ministry should adopt a systematic approach to releasing an interim early reading curriculum and/or addenda to the current Kindergarten program and Grades 1–8 Language curriculum that is supported by professional learning, guides and supplementary resources and a supportive professional development plan for educators that is clearly communicated with school boards.


42. The Ministry should provide adequate funding to boards to implement and continue to use these measures/resources/programs/guides/training.


43. The Ministry should enhance funding support for summer learning programs offered by school boards for students in Kindergarten to Grade 5, as part of a strategy to help all students catch up on reading proficiency and respond to COVID-19 learning loss related to reading. The Ministry should require that summer learning programs to support reading provide mandatory explicit, systematic and direct instruction in foundational reading skills including phonemic awareness, phonics and decoding, and fluency.


44. The Ministry should develop an education recovery plan that includes intensive and accelerated reading programs for all students, but with an emphasis on targeting groups most disadvantaged by school closures related to COVID-19 (students with disabilities, students from low-income families, Black and other racialized students, Indigenous students and newcomers).


Build expertise within boards and ensure non-reprisal

45. The Ministry should provide stable, enveloped yearly funding to all school boards in the province to hire literacy-learning leads to coordinate and support board-level improvement efforts related to reading and literacy.[872] The Ministry should require that literacy-learning leads be trained in the science of reading, including systematic and direct instruction in foundational reading skills/structured literacy approaches.


46. School boards should draw on internal expertise, educators, administrators, speech-language pathologists and psychology staff who are knowledgeable about the science of reading, for systematic and direct instruction in foundational reading skills/structured literacy approaches.


47. Board staff who advocate for the science of reading or other measures to improve outcomes for students with disabilities should never be subject to adverse consequences/reprisals.


Ensure pre-service teacher preparation addresses critical concepts

48. Ontario’s faculties of education should embrace the science of early reading, and make sure future teachers understand critical concepts, including:

  1. The importance of word-reading accuracy and efficiency for reading comprehension; models of reading development
  2. How accurate and efficient early word reading develops
  3. How to teach foundational word-reading and spelling skills in the classroom
  4. The importance of teaching foundational skills in reading to address inequality for historically disadvantaged student populations and the needs of students with different difficulties and disabilities
  5. Other aspects of a comprehensive approach to literacy which are addressed in the research science but were beyond the scope of the inquiry, such as evidence-based instruction in oral language, reading comprehension, vocabulary knowledge and spelling and writing.


49. The Ministry should amend the Ontario College of Teachers Act[873] regulations to require that all Primary and Junior teacher applicants take a half-course (three credits) that focuses on critical components of word-reading instruction to support all students in becoming proficient readers. Faculties of education should make sure this course spends considerable time on and includes instruction to develop pre-service teachers’ knowledge of the content in Recommendation 48 above and:

  1. The structure of spoken and written words
  2. What systematic and direct instruction in word reading and spelling consists of at different grade levels
  3. The skills and knowledge necessary to implement best practices for teaching students phonemic awareness, phonics, accurate and efficient or quick word reading, spelling, fluency, and more advanced word study, including syllable and morphological knowledge and analysis
  4. How to gauge students’ progress in these foundational word-reading and spelling skills; identify students who need immediate follow-up; and provide immediate, focused instruction to students who need it.


50. Every Ontario faculty of education should make sure that further Language Arts methods courses, assessment courses, and courses on inclusive and special education/teaching students with exceptionalities further reinforce and deepen pre-service teachers’ knowledge and understanding of these concepts and approaches.


51. Every Ontario faculty of education should build on the foundational knowledge described in Recommendations 48 and 49, to prepare pre-service teachers to identify, instruct and support struggling readers and writers, including students with dyslexia, with other disorders, and students with no known exceptionality, with further instruction on:

  1. The core features of reading disabilities and dyslexia. Dyslexia should be named and explained
  2. Early warning signs of risk for reading difficulties
  3. Understanding and practicing using scientifically validated early screening tools and scientifically supported methods of classroom reading assessment to guide reading and writing instruction
  4. Understanding differentiated reading instruction to build foundational reading skills and support writing development for students with reading difficulties
  5. Effective accommodations and how to successfully implement them in the classroom
  6. Understanding early and later interventions that are evidence-based, with a focus on evidence-based approaches used in Ontario school boards, and how to support students in the classroom when they are receiving these interventions.


52. Every Ontario faculty of education should re-evaluate teaching running records or miscue analyses. Teachers should be taught how to use more valid and helpful ways to evaluate students’ reading progress and how to use assessment tools that measure skills related to word reading accuracy and proficiency separately from a student’s reading comprehension or oral language comprehension. Pre-service teachers should be taught how to administer short, reliable assessment tools to gauge students’ progress in these foundational skills.[874]


53. Recommendations 48 to 52 should be implemented regardless of whether and before the Ministry revises the Kindergarten Program and Ontario Grades 1–8 Language curriculum.


Ensure additional qualification courses and continuing professional development address critical concepts

54. The Ontario College of Teachers should require that any additional qualification courses on reading offered by any AQ provider in Ontario (Reading Part 1 and Part 2, Reading Specialist) provide advanced knowledge on:

  1. The foundations of word-reading and spelling
  2. The central role of word-reading in reading comprehension
  3. Models for understanding how proficient word reading develops
  4. Best practices for teaching students on phonemic awareness, phonics and word-reading proficiency, and more advanced word study, including syllable and morphological knowledge and analysis
  5. The core features of reading disabilities/dyslexia. Dyslexia should be named and explained
  6. Early warning signs of risk for reading difficulties
  7. Understanding and practicing using scientifically validated early screening tools and scientifically supported methods of classroom reading assessment to guide reading instruction
  8. Understanding differentiated reading, spelling and writing instruction
  9. Effective accommodations for reading difficulties and how to successfully implement them in the classroom
  10. Understanding evidence-based early and later interventions that are used in Ontario school boards, and how to support students in the classroom when they are receiving these interventions.


55. The Ontario College of Teachers should require that any additional qualification courses on special education/inclusive educations/students with exceptionalities offered by any AQ provider in Ontario (Special Education Part 1 and Part 2, Special Education Specialist) provide advanced knowledge in:

  1. The core features of reading disabilities and dyslexia. Dyslexia should be named and explained
  2. Early warning signs of risk for reading difficulties
  3. Effective reading instruction and interventions, and Response to Intervention (RTI)/Multi-tiered System of Supports (MTSS) models
  4. The critical place of evidence-based instruction as a key component of a Universal Design for Learning approach
  5. Effective accommodations for reading difficulties and how to successfully implement them in the classroom
  6. The difference between accommodations and modifications to curriculum expectations, and the limited role of modifications (see also section 11, Accommodations)
  7. Understanding evidence-based early and later interventions that are used in Ontario school boards, and how to support students when they are receiving these interventions
  8. How to support their school or board in using data collection and monitoring to inform RTI/MTSS.


56. The Ministry of Education (Ministry) should work with external expert(s) to develop a comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded in-service teacher professional learning program and resources that address early reading instruction and reading disabilities/dyslexia that includes:

  1. The foundations of word reading and spelling
  2. The central role of word reading in reading comprehension
  3. Models for understanding how proficient word reading develops
  4. Best practices for teaching students phonemic awareness, phonics, and more advanced word study, including syllable and morphological knowledge and analysis
  5. The core features of reading disabilities/dyslexia. Dyslexia should be named and explained
  6. Early warning signs of risk for reading difficulties
  7. Understanding and practicing using scientifically validated early screening tools and scientifically supported methods of classroom reading assessment to guide reading instruction
  8. Understanding differentiated reading, spelling and writing instruction
  9. Effective accommodations for reading difficulties and how to successfully implement them in the classroom
  10. Using evidence-based materials and programs in classroom and small-group applications
  11. Understanding evidence-based early and later interventions that are used in Ontario school boards, and how to support students in the classroom when they are receiving these interventions.


57. The Ministry should require and provide stable, enveloped yearly funding for every school board in Ontario to deliver this comprehensive, sustained and job-embedded professional learning.


58. While this professional learning is being developed, school boards, with funding from the Ministry, should provide educators the opportunity to take accredited structured literacy courses.




[645] For example, by relying on observation of students in the classroom; see: G Reid Lyon & Vinita Chhabra, “The Science of Reading Research,” (2004) 61:6 Educational Leadership: What Research Says About Reading 12, online: ASCD ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/mar04/vol61/num06/The-Science-of-Reading-Research.aspx [Lyon & Chhabra, “The Science of Reading Research”].

[646] The scientific method includes developing a hypothesis, identifying research methodology to test the hypothesis, collecting and analyzing data, and reporting findings. Independent review by researchers who specialize in the same area to evaluate the studies is considered a benchmark for trustworthiness. More than one study using solid research methodology also increases the accuracy and confidence of findings; see ibid.

[647] Jill Hawken, Foundations for Literacy: An Evidence-based Toolkit for the Effective Reading and Writing Teacher (Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network, 2008) at 12, online: LD School ldatschool.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Foundations-for-Literacy-Toolkit.pdf [Hawken, Foundations for Literacy].

[648] Ontario Ministry of Education, Early Reading Strategy, supra note 201 at 7.

[649] Ibid at 7.

[650] Moats, Whole-Language High Jinks, supra note 461; S Brady, “Strategies used in education for resisting the evidence and implications of the science of reading” (2020) 1:1 The Reading League Journal 33 [Brady, “Strategies used in education for resisting the evidence”]; R S Johnston et al, “Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching on the reading and spelling ability of 10 year old boys and girls” (2012) 25:6 Reading and Writing 1365 [Johnston et al, “Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching”].

[651] Ontario Ministry of Education, Early Reading Strategy, supra note 201 at 2.

[652] Ibid at 2–3.

[653] Comprehensive phonics programs are often more inclusive, and include teaching morphemes and other frequent orthographic patterns in words (for example, past tense – ed; plural s; and patterns such as tion; cy, etc.).

[654] National Reading Panel Report: Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-Based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and Its Implications for Reading Instruction – Reports of the Subgroups (2000) National Institute of Health Publication No. 00-4754 at 1-1, online (pdf): National Institute of Child Health and Human Development nichd.nih.gov/sites/default/files/publications/pubs/nrp/Documents/report.pdf [NICHD: National Reading Panel Report].

[655] Ibid at 1-1.

[656] NICHD: National Reading Panel Report, supra note 654.

[657] Ibid.

[658] Ibid. For a helpful summary see: Center on Teaching and Learning, “There are Five Big Ideas in Beginning Reading” (last visited 25 January 2022), online: University of Oregon reading.uoregon.edu/big_ideas/.

[659] For a detailed explanation of the Five Big Ideas, see: “Reading After Epilepsy Surgery: Part 1 Understanding the Big Five for the Early or Struggling Reader” (last visited 25 January 2022), online (pdf): The Brain Recovery Project brainrecoveryproject.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Part-1-Understanding-the-Big-Five-for-the-Early-or-Struggling-Reader.pdf.

[660] Ontario Ministry of Education, Early Reading Strategy, supra note 201 at 71. 

[661] Ontario Legislative Assembly, Standing Committee on Estimates, 4th Sess, 37th Parl (10 June 2003) at E-49, online: Ontario Legislative Assembly ola.org/en/legislative-business/committees/estimates/parliament-37/transcripts/committee-transcript-2003-jun-10.

[662] Ontario Ministry of Education, Early Reading Strategy, supra note 201 at 11.

[663] Ibid at 3.  

[664] Ibid at 16.

[665] Ibid at 17. 

[666] Ibid at 23. 

[667] Jim Rose, Identifying and Teaching Children and Young People with Dyslexia and Literacy Difficulties: an Independent report from Sir Jim Rose to the Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families, (June 2009) at 38, online (pdf): The Dyslexia-SpLD Trust thedyslexia-spldtrust.org.uk/media/downloads/inline/the-rose-report.1294933674.pdf [Rose Report 2009].

[668] Moats, Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science, supra note 22 at 5. 

[669] Jim Rose, Independent review of the teaching of early reading, (March 2006) at 20, online (pdf): Digital Education Resource Archive dera.ioe.ac.uk/5551/2/report.pdf [Rose Report 2006].

[670] Hawken, Foundations for Literacy, supra note 647.

[671] Ibid at 111.

[672] H S Scarborough, “Connecting early language and literacy to later (dis)abilities. Evidence, theory and practice” in S B Neuman & D K Dickinson, eds, Handbook of early literacy research (New York: Guilford Press, 2002) 97.

[673] P Gough & W Tunmer, “Decoding, reading, and reading disability” (1986) 7 Remedial and Special Education 6; W Hoover & P Gough “The simple view of reading,” (1990) 2 Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal.

[674] Linnea C Ehri, "Learning to read words: Theory, findings, and issues" (2005) 9:2 Scientific Studies of reading 167; Linnea C Ehri, “Orthographic mapping in the acquisition of sight word reading, spelling memory, and vocabulary learning” (2014) 18:1 Scientific Studies of Reading 5 [Ehri, “Orthographic mapping”].

[675] L C Ehri, “The science of learning to read words: A case for systematic phonics instruction” (2020) 55 Reading Research Quarterly S45.

[676] J M Fletcher et al, “A Commentary on Bowers (2020) and the Role of Phonics in Reading Instruction” (2021) 33 Educational Psychology Review 1249 at 1257 [Fletcher et al, “A Commentary on Bowers (2020)”].

[677] See also the following meta-analysis: K Galuschka et al, “Effectiveness of treatment approaches for children and adolescents with reading disabilities: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials” (2014) 9:2 PloS One e89900: “The results revealed that phonics instruction is not only the most frequently investigated treatment approach, but also the only approach whose efficacy on reading and spelling performance in children and adolescents with reading disabilities is statistically confirmed. The mean effect sizes of the remaining treatment approaches did not reach statistical significance”; D Murphy Odo, “A Meta-Analysis of the Effect of Phonological Awareness and/or Phonics Instruction on Word and Pseudo Word Reading of English as an L2” (2021) 11:4 SAGE Open, DOI: https://doi.org/21582440211059168: “Effect sizes were recorded for the effect of various PA and/or phonics instructional interventions on word and pseudo word reading. Results demonstrated that L2 PA and phonics instruction has a moderate effect on L2 word reading (g=0.53)… Based upon these conclusions, policymakers and educators can provide beginning learners of English as an L2 with PA and phonics instruction that will enable them to read, understand and enjoy English better”; S Graham et al, “Effectiveness of literacy programs balancing reading and writing instruction: A meta‐analysis” (2018) 53:3 Reading Research Quarterly 279-304: “Results show that treatment approaches using phonics, orthographic (graphotactic or orthographic phonological spelling rules), and morphological instruction had a moderate to high impact on spelling performance”; G McArthur et al, “Phonics training for English-speaking poor readers” (2012) 12 Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/14651858.CD009115.pub2:“Phonics training appears to be effective for improving literacy‐related skills, particularly reading fluency of words and non‐words, and accuracy of reading irregular words.”; R S Dessemontet et al, "A meta-analysis on the effectiveness of phonics instruction for teaching decoding skills to students with intellectual disability" (2019) 26 Educational Research Review 52.

[678] D LaBerge & J Samuels, “Toward a theory of automatic information processing in reading” (1974) 6 Cognitive Psychology 293 [LaBerge & Samuels].

[679] J A Scott et al, “Vocabulary instruction throughout the day in twenty-three Canadian upper-elementary classrooms” (2003) 103:3 The Elementary School Journal 269 [Scott et al, “Vocabulary instruction”]; N K Duke, “3.6 minutes per day: The scarcity of informational texts in first grade” 35:2 Reading Research Quarterly 202 [Duke, “3.6 minutes per day”]; S Neuman et al, “A double dose of disadvantage: Language experiences for low-income children at home and at school” (2018) Journal of Educational Psychology 102 [Neuman et al, “A double dose of disadvantage”]; T S Wright & S B Neuman, “Paucity and disparity in kindergarten oral vocabulary instruction” (2014) 46:3 Journal of Literacy Research 330 [Wright & Neuman, “Paucity and disparity in kindergarten oral vocabulary instruction”].

[680] Scott et al, “Vocabulary instruction,” supra note 679; Duke, “3.6 minutes per day,” supra note 679; Neuman et al, “A double dose of disadvantage,” supra note 679; Wright & Neuman, “Paucity and disparity in kindergarten oral vocabulary instruction,” supra note 679.

[681] Moats, Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science, supra note 22 at 20–21.

[682] S E Israel, ed, Handbook of Research on Reading Comprehension, 2nd ed, (New York: Guilford Press, 2017); B Honig et al, Teaching Reading Sourcebook: For All Educators Working to Improve Reading Achievement, 3rd ed (CORE Literacy Library Series, 2018).

[683] Moats, Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science, supra note 22 at 20; Holly M Menzies et al, “Early Intervention in Reading: from Research to Practice” (2008) 29:2 Remedial and Special Education 67, online: Sage Journals: https:journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0741932508315844; Linnea C Ehri et al, “Systematic Phonics Instruction Helps Students Learn to Read: Evidence from the National Reading Panel’s Meta-Analysis,” (2001) 71:3 Review of Educational Research 393, online: Sage Journals https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.3102/00346543071003393.

[684] Moats, Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science, supra note 22 at 5.

[685] See for example research on how students benefit from direct classroom teacher time as opposed to withdrawal with an educational assistant: Rob Webster et al, “A help or a hindrance?” (16 December 2009) 1.2 Teaching Times 64 complexneeds.org.uk/modules/Module-4.1-Working-with-other-professionals/All/downloads/m13p080b/tas_%20a_help_or_a_hindrance.pdf.

[686] Ontario Ministry of EducationLearning for All: A guide to Effective assessment and Instruction for All Students, Kindergarten to Grade 12 (2013) at 13, online: Ontario Ministry of Education edu.gov.on.ca/eng/general/elemsec/speced/learningforall2013.pdf [Ontario Ministry of Education, Learning for All].

[687] Lyne Bessette, “Using the Response to Intervention (RTI) Model to Develop Reading Fluency in Grade 2 Students” (27 May 2020), online: LD School ldatschool.ca/response-intervention-reading-fluency/ citing to S Vaughn & L S Fuchs, “Redefining learning disabilities as inadequate response to instruction: The promise and potential problems” (2003) 18 Learning Disabilities Research and Practice 137.

[688] Edward S Shapiro, “Tiered Instruction and Intervention in a Response-to-Intervention Model” (last visited 26 January 2022), online: RTI Action Network rtinetwork.org/essential/tieredinstruction/tiered-instruction-and-intervention-rti-model.

[689] Ibid. See also: Margaret Searle, What Every School Leader Needs to Know About RTI (Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2010), and “Response to Intervention (RTI)” (last visited 26 January 2022), online: the Reading Well dyslexia-reading-well.com/response-to-intervention.html.

[690] Barbara R Foorman et al, “Interventions Aimed at Improving Reading Success: An Evidence-Based Approach,” (2003) 24:2/3 Developmental Neuropsychology 613; Carolyn A Denton et al, “Perspective: Schools That ‘Beat the Odds,’” (2003) 24:5 Remedial and Special Education 258.

[691] Geva, “Issues in assessment of reading disabilities in L2 children,” supra note 453; Thompson et al “Effectiveness of supplement reading instruction for 2nd grade English learners with reading difficulties” (2003) 103:3 Elementary School Journal 221 [Thompson et al, “Effectiveness of supplement reading instruction”].

[692] Russell Monroe Gersten & Esther Geva, “Teaching reading to early language learners,” (April 2003) Educational Leadership, online: Research Gate https://www.researchgate.net/publication/292507514_Teaching_reading_to_early_language_learners

[693]For a review of these issues, see Esther Geva, “Second-Language Oral Proficiency and Second-Language Literacy” in D August & T Shanahan, eds, Developing literacy in second-language learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers, 2006) at 123–139, online: American Psychological Association APA PsycNet https://psycnet.apa.org/record/2006-10122-005 [Geva, “Second-Language Oral Proficiency”].

[694] Adelson et al, Identification, Assessment and Instruction,” supra note 452.

[695] Rose Report 2009, supra note 667 at 38; K Rayner et al, “How psychological science informs the teaching of reading” (2001) 2:2 Psychological science in the public interest 31; K Cain and R Parrila, “Introduction to the special issue. Theories of reading: What we have learned from two decades of scientific research” (2014) 18:1 Scientific Studies of Reading 1; Ehri, “Orthographic mapping,” supra note 674.

[696] Moats, “Whole-Language High Jinks,” supra note 461 at 12. 

[697] For a detailed comparison of science-based versus whole language approaches see: ibid at 18.

[698] Ibid.

[699] Kerry Hempenstall, “The three-cueing system in reading: Will it ever go away?” (28 November 2012, updated 29 October 2017), online: National Institute for Direct Instruction https://www.nifdi.org/resources/hempenstall-blog/402-the-three-cueing-system-in-reading-will-it-ever-go-away.

[700] T Shanahan, “What constitutes a science of reading instruction?” (2020) 55 Reading Research Quarterly S235 at S239 [Shanahan, “What constitutes a science of reading instruction?”]

[701] Marilyn Jager Adams et al, “Comparing Reading Research to Program Design: An Examination of Teachers College Units of Study” (Student Achievement Partners, 2020) at 10, online (pdf): Achieve the Core achievethecore.org/page/3240/comparing-reading-research-to-program-design-an-examination-of-teachers-college-units-of-study [Jager Adams et al, “Comparing Reading Research to Program Design”].

[702] Irene C Fountas & Gay Su Pinnell, Guided Reading: Good First Teaching for All Children, (Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann, 1996) [Fountas & Pinnell, Guided Reading].

[703] Janette M Hughes, “Balanced Literacy” (2007), online: Teaching Language and Literacy, K-6: Janette M. Hughes faculty.ontariotechu.ca/hughes/Contexts/BalancedLiteracy.html.

[704] Louisa Moats, “Whole Language Lives On: The Illusion of Balanced Reading Instruction,” (Washington, DC: Thomas B Fordham Foundation, 2000), online: LD Online ldonline.org/article/6394/ [Moats, “Whole Language Lives On”].

[705] Louisa Moats, Whole-Language High Jinks, supra note 461 at 21.

[706] Issued by the Ministry of Education under the authority of the Education Act, RSO 1990, c E2, s 8(1)(

[707] Ontario Ministry of Education, The Kindergarten Program 2016 (updated 21 August 2019), online: Government of Ontario ontario.ca/document/kindergarten-program-2016?_ga=2.95826076.1612652035.1618838133-1755829123.1583096645 [Ontario Ministry of Education, The Kindergarten Program 2016].

[708] T Shanahan & C J Lonigan, “The National Early Literacy Panel: A summary of the process and the report” (2010) 39:4 Educational Researcher 279 [Shanahan & Lonigan, “The National Early Literacy Panel]; Juel, supra note 65; Hugh William Catts & Tiffany P Hogan, “Dyslexia: An Ounce of Prevention is Better Than a Pound of Diagnosis and Treatment” (2021) 2:1 Reading League Journal 6, online: PsyArXiv Preprints psyarxiv.com/nvgje/ [Catts & Hogan, “Dyslexia”]; F R Vellutino et al, “Using response to kindergarten and first grade intervention to identify children at-risk for long-term reading difficulties,” (2008) 21:4 Reading and Writing 437.

[709] Shanahan & Lonigan, “The National Early Literacy Panel,” supra note 708.

[710] Ibid; J K McNamara et al, “A longitudinal study of kindergarten children at risk for reading disabilities: The poor really are getting poorer” (2011) 44:5 Journal of learning disabilities 421.

[711] Shanahan & Lonigan, “The National Early Literacy Panel,” supra note 708; Partanen & Siegel, “Long-term outcome of the early identification and intervention of reading disabilities,” supra note 65; N K Lesaux et al, “Growth in reading skills of children from diverse linguistic backgrounds: Findings from a 5-year longitudinal study” (2007) 99:4 Journal of Educational Psychology 821; N K Lesaux & L S Siegel, “The development of reading in children who speak English as a second language” (2003) 39:6 Developmental psychology 1005 [Lesaux & Siegel, “The development of reading in children who speak English as a second language”].

[712] M R Jalongo & M J Sobolak, “Supporting young children’s vocabulary growth: The challenges, the benefits, and evidence-based strategies” (2011) 38:6 Early Childhood Education Journal 421.

[713] L M Marulis & S B Neuman, “The effects of vocabulary intervention on young children’s word learning: A meta-analysis” (2010) 80:3 Review of educational research 300; S B Neuman & T S Wright, All about words: Increasing vocabulary in the common core classroom, Pre K–2 (Teachers College Press, 2015) [Neuman & Wright, All about words]; S B Neuman et al, “Building background knowledge” (2014) 68:2 The Reading Teacher 145 [Neuman et al, “Building background knowledge”]; S B Neuman et al, “Educational effects of a vocabulary intervention on preschoolers' word knowledge and conceptual development: A cluster‐randomized trial,” (2011) 46:3 Reading Research Quarterly 249.

[714] I L Beck & M G McKeown, “Increasing young low-income children’s oral vocabulary repertoires through rich and focused instruction” (2007) 107:3 The Elementary School Journal 251.

[715] Wright & Neuman, “Paucity and disparity in kindergarten oral vocabulary instruction,” supra note 679.

[716] Scott et al, “Vocabulary instruction,” supra note 679.

[717] Wright & Neuman, “Paucity and disparity in kindergarten oral vocabulary instruction,” supra note 679.

[718] Ibid; Neuman et al, “A double dose of disadvantage,” supra note 679.

[719] Ontario Ministry of Education, The Kindergarten Program 2016, supra note 707.

[720] G Ouellette & M Sénéchal, “Pathways to literacy: A study of invented spelling and its role in learning to read” (2008) 79:4 Child development 899. See also Ontario Ministry of Education, Supporting Early Language and Literacy (2011), Research Monograph 37 in What Works? Research into Practice, online (pdf): Carleton University Research Virtual Environment: https://curve.carleton.ca/system/files/etd/a2a0815a-dd24-466e-bde4-5f136060fc28/etd_pdf/1ca2c5c749eda2f561fd403d0a11af66/ouellette-pathwaystoliteracyastudyofinventedspelling.pdf

[721] Torgesen, “The prevention of reading difficulties” supra note 59; Shanahan & Lonigan, “The National Early Literacy Panel,” supra note 708.

[722] The Association of Chief Psychologists with Ontario School Boards (now named “The Association of Psychology Leaders in Ontario Schools”) is a voluntary professional organization. Its members are all Psychology Leaders in Ontario who have extensive training and experience in assessment, diagnosis and treatment of children with learning, emotional and behavioural problems, as well as in mental health prevention and intervention; see their website: “About Us” (last visited 26 January 2022), online: The Association of Psychology Leaders in Ontario Schools aploson.org.

[723] Education Act, s 8(1)2-3.

[724] Auditor General, 2020 Value for Money Audit: Curriculum, supra note 328 at 61.

[725] See Figure 7 of ibid at 21; only Alberta’s language is older and it is currently undergoing revision: Alberta, “Curriculum development” (last visited 26 January 2022), online: Government of Alberta alberta.ca/curriculum-development.aspx.

[726] Auditor General, 2020 Value for Money Audit: Curriculum, supra note 328 at 9.

[727] Yaacov Petscher et al, “How the Science of Reading Informs 21st-Century Education” (2020) 55:Suppl 1 Read Res Q S267, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/rrq.352 [Petscher et al, “How the Science of Reading Informs 21st-Century Education”]; see also: K E Stanovich, “Concepts in developmental theories of reading skill: Cognitive resources, automaticity, and modularity” (1990) 10:1 Developmental Review 72, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0273-2297(90)90005-O; K E Stanovich, “Word recognition: Changing perspectives” in R Barr et al, eds, Handbook of reading research, Vol 2 (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1991) 418.

[728] As summarized by leading researchers in their field:

Other instructional practices go directly against what is known from the science of reading. For example, the three-cueing approach to support early word recognition (i.e., relying on a combination of semantic, syntactic, and graphophonic cues simultaneously to formulate an intelligent hypothesis about a word’s identity) ignores 40 years of overwhelming evidence that orthographic mapping involves the formation of letter-sound connections to bond spelling, pronunciation, and meaning of specific words in memory (see Ehri, this issue). Moreover, relying on alternative cuing systems impedes the building of automatic word-recognition skill that is the hallmark of skilled word reading (Stanovich, 1990; 1991). The English orthography, being both alphabetic-phonemic and morpho-phonemic, clearly privileges the use of various levels of grapheme-phoneme correspondences to read words (Frost, 2012), with rapid context free word recognition being the process that most clearly distinguishes good from poor readers (Perfetti, 1992; Stanovich, 1980). Guessing at a word amounts to a lost learning trial to help children learn the orthography of the word and thus reduce the need to guess the word in the future (Castles et al., 2018; Share, 1995).

See Y Petscher et al, “How the Science of Reading Informs 21st-Century Education” (2020) Read Res Q, online US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8128160/. Using context to guess at occasional, unfamiliar words while one has overall well-developed decoding skills is significantly different than teaching children the written code of their spoken language through integrating these cueing systems.

[729] The French version of the Guide contains a similar statement at 1.8:

            Indices syntaxiques

En lisant, ils peuvent prédire des éléments tels que l’ordre des mots dans la phrase (p. ex., place de l’adjectif) ou l’emploi de prépositions et de mots de relation. Les élèves doivent apprendre à se poser des questions comme : « Cela se dit-il ainsi en français? ».

[730] Ontario Ministry of Education, A Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading: Kindergarten to Grade 3, (2003) at 6.9, online (pdf): eWorkshop eworkshop.on.ca/edu/resources/guides/reading_k_3_english.pdf [Ontario Ministry of Education, A Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading].

[731] NICHD: National Reading Panel Report, supra note 654 at 2102.

[732] Ontario Ministry of Education, A Guide to Effective Instruction in Reading, supra note 730.

[733] Ibid.

[734] U.K., Department for Education Primary National Strategy, Phonics and early reading: An overview for headteachers, literacy leaders and teachers in schools, and managers and practitioners in Early Years settings, (UK: Department of Education and Skills, 2006) at 9, online: StudyLib studylib.net/doc/8836766/phonics-and-early-reading--an-overview.

[735] Jager Adams et al, “Comparing Reading Research to Program Design,” supra note 701 at 13.

[736] Ontario Ministry of Education, Me Read? No Way! A practical guide to improving boys’ literacy skills at 4 (2004), online (pdf): Ministry of Education edu.gov.on.ca/eng/document/brochure/meread/meread.pdf [Ontario Ministry of Education, Me Read? No Way!].

[737] Ibid at 14. 

[738] Ontario Ministry of Education, Literacy for Learning: The Report of the Expert Panel on Literacy in Grades 4 to 6 in Ontario (2004).

[739] See: L Phillips et al, “Reading comprehension instruction” in Encyclopedia of Language and Literacy Development (London, ON: Canadian Language and Literacy Research Network, 2007). Using context for comprehending text is not usually referred to as a cueing system.

[740] Hawken, Foundations for Literacy, supra note 647 at 13.

[741] For example, TDSB & LCDSB.

[742] Persons who completed a teacher education program from a faculty of education in Ontario.

[743] Vellutino et al, “Response to intervention as a vehicle for distinguishing between children with and without reading disabilities”, supra note 41; Catts & Hogan, “Dyslexia,” supra note 708.

[744] Petscher et al, “How the Science of Reading Informs 21st‐Century Education,” supra note 727.  

[745] In contrast see: Direct Leadership Forum, The Science of Reading Implementation Guide: Ideas and Tools for Integrating Scientifically Based Strategies into Early Reading Instruction (2019) at 24, online (pdf): International Dyslexia Association Ontario idaontario.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/EAB-2019-Science-of-Reading-Implementation-Guide.pdf. This guide recommends a minimum of 45 minutes per day for work on foundational skills in K–Grade 2.

[746] L Spear-Swerling, “Structured literacy and typical literacy practices: Understanding differences to create instructional opportunities” (2019) 51:3 Teaching Exceptional Children 201.

[747] Auditor General, 2020 Value for Money Audit: Curriculum, supra note 328 at 38.

[748] Ibid at 38–39.

[749] See also ibid at 2—3; Annual Report (4 December 2019) at s.1.08, vol 4, (“Ministry Funding and Oversight of School Boards, Follow-Up on VFM Section 3.08, 2017 Annual Report”), online: Office of the Auditor General auditor.on.ca/en/content/annualreports/arbyyear/ar2019.html [Auditor General, 2019 Annual Report].

[750] “What is the Summer Learning Program?” (last visited 26 January 2022), online: Ontario Summer Learning ontariosummerlearning.org/about/.

[751] Ontario, News Release, “First Year Investment of Ontario’s Four-Year Math Strategy Announced,” (28 August 2019), online: Government of Ontario news.ontario.ca/en/release/53479/first-year-investment-of-ontarios-four-year-math-strategy-announced [Ontario, “First Year Investment”].

[752] Ontario Ministry of Education, “The Trillium List(last updated 1 September 2021), online: Ministry of Education trilliumlist.ca/.

[753] The Auditor General has identified concerns with textbooks.

[754] Auditor General, 2020 Value for Money Audit: Curriculum,” supra note 328 at 39.  

[755] “Belief in Learning Styles Myth May Be Detrimental,” 30 may 2019, online: American Psychological Association apa.org/news/press/releases/2019/05/learning-styles-myth .

[756] Chadha et al, supra note 283.

[757] Unlike discrimination, which does not require an intention to discriminate, reprisal requires showing there was an intention on behalf of the education provider to retaliate or reprise against a person for claiming a right, attempting to enforce a right, or refusing to infringe a right; Noble v York University, 2010 HRTO 878 at paras 30–31, 33–34. See Valle v Faema Corporation 2000 Ltd, 2017 HRTO 588 where an employee was terminated as reprisal for refusing to violate human rights.

[758] For a description of Professional Learning Communities, see Ontario Ministry of Education, “Professional Learning Communities: A Model for Ontario Schools” (October 2017) in The Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat Capacity Building Series, Special Edition #3.

[759] Brochu et al, PIRLS 2016: Canada in Context, supra note 327 at 55.

[760] Ibid.  

[761] Ontario Ministry of Education, Early Reading Strategy, supra note 201 at 45.

[762] D M Scanlon et al, "Reducing the incidence of early reading difficulties,” (2008) 18 Learning and Individual Differences 346 [Scanlon et al, “Reducing the incidence of early reading difficulties”].

[763] Lesaux & Siegel, “The development of reading in children who speak English as a second language,” supra note 711; Partanen & Siegel, “Long-term outcome of the early identification and intervention of reading disabilities,” supra note 65.

[764] A D'Angiulli et al, "Schooling, socioeconomic context and literacy development,” (2004) 24:6 Educational Psychology 867 (D’Angiulli et al, “Schooling”).

[765] Lingley, supra note 60; for original multisite study see: R Savage et al, “Preventative reading interventions teaching direct mapping of graphemes in texts and set-for-variability aid at-risk learners,” (2018) 22:3 Scientific Studies of Reading 225 [Savage et al, “Preventative reading interventions”].

[766] Lingley, supra note 60.

[767] O’Sullivan, J.T. (2021) Model Schools Literacy Project: Investing in Children. Martin Family Initiative: Montreal, Canada, at p 12, online (pdf):  https://themfi.ca/investing-in-children. Teachers in the project have intensive professional learning support for four years. Professional learning is specifically designed for each of Kindergarten and Grades 1, 2 and 3. The report also found (at p 18):

Findings are clear that the more often the literacy block is taught by a [Martin Foundation Initiative] trained teacher, rather than a substitute, the higher the children’s reading achievement.

[768] A 2021 Superior Court of Justice (Divisional Court) decision found that Ontario’s Mathematics Proficiency Test was discriminatory because of its impact on racialized teacher candidates entering the teaching profession: Ontario Teacher Candidates’ Council v The Queen, 2021 ONSC 7386 [OTCC].

[769] See ibid, para 21, referring to Education Quality and Accountability Office, Literature Review of the Empirical Evidence on the Connection Between Compulsory Teacher Competency Testing and Student Outcomes (August 2019) at 1314, online (pdf): People for Education https://peopleforeducation.ca/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/EQAO-Literature-Review-Math-Qualifying-Test.pdf [EQAO, Literature Review].

[770] B Kelcey & J F Carlisle, “Learning about teachers’ literacy instruction from classroom observations” (2013) 48:3 Reading Research Quarterly 301, cited in EQAO, Literature Review, supra note 769 at 34.

[771] This report is a second edition to the original Teaching Reading is Rocket Science published by the American Federation of Teachers (AFT). It is a product of the collaboration between the AFT and the Center for Development and Learning. Moats, Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science, supra note 22.

[772] “About Us” (last visited 26 January 2022), online: American Federation of Teachers aft.org/about.

[773] “Closing the Achievement Gap Through Teacher Effectiveness” (last visited 26 January 2022), online: The Center for Development and Learning cdl.org/who-is-cdl/.

[774] Moats, Teaching Reading is Rocket Science, supra note 22 at 3.

[775] Ibid.

[776] Ibid.

[777] Moats, Teaching Reading is Rocket Science, supra note 22 at 7.

[778] Ibid at 5.

[779] Ibid at 5, 14.

[780] J R García & K Cain, “Decoding and reading comprehension: A meta-analysis to identify which reader and assessment characteristics influence the strength of the relationship in English” (2014) 84:1 Review of Educational Research 74, DOI: https://doi.org/10.3102/0034654313499616; F R Vellutino et al, “Components of reading ability: Multivariate evidence for a convergent skills model of reading development” (2007) 11:1 Scientific Studies of Reading 3, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10888430709336632.

[781] LaBerge & Samuels, supra note 678.

[782] W Kintsch, “Learning from text” (1986) 3:2 Cognition and instruction 87; W Kintsch, “Psychological models of reading comprehension and their implications for assessment” in J Sabatini et al, eds, Measuring up: Advances in how we assess reading ability (Plymouth, UK: Rowman & Littlefield Education, 2012) at 21.

[783] Moats, Teaching Reading is Rocket Science, supra note 22 at 14.

[784] Juel, supra note 65; Scanlon et al, “Reducing the incidence of early reading difficulties,” supra note 762.

[785] Torgesen, “The prevention of reading difficulties” supra note 59.

[786] Sako, supra note 74; Zettler-Greeley, supra note 86; Jacobson, supra note 86.

[787] Louisa C Moats, Speech to print: Language essentials for teachers, (Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co, 2020); Louisa C Moats & B Rosow, Speech to Print Workbook: Language Exercises for Teachers (Baltimore, MD: Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co, 2020).

[788] For example Lily Wong Fillmore & Catherine E Snow, “What Teachers Need to Know About Language” (January 2000), online (pdf): Research Gate researchgate.net/publication/266478500_What_Teachers_Need_to_Know_About_Language; “The Science of Reading Implementation Guide” (last visited 26 January 2022), online (pdf): EAB https://eab.com/research/district-leadership/toolkit/the-science-of-reading-implementation-guide/; United States Department of Education, Foundational Skills to Support Reading for Understanding in Kindergarten Through 3rd Grade (July 2016), online (pdf): International Dyslexia Association of Ontario idaontario.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/What-Works-Clearninghouse-2016-Foundational-skills-to-support-reading-for-understandingin-Kindergarten-through-3rd-grade.pdf.

[789] K L Carson et al, “Effectiveness of preschool-wide teacher-implemented phoneme awareness and letter-sound knowledge instruction on code-based school-entry reading readiness,” (2019) 41:1 Communication Disorders Quarterly 42, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1525740118789061.

[790] In its executive summary, the National Reading Panel reported:

Instruction that taught phoneme manipulation with letters helped children acquire PA skills better than instruction without letters. Facilitation from letters was observed among at-risk readers and normally developing readers below 2nd grade. (2-28)


Teaching children to manipulate phonemes using letters produced bigger effects (on reading) than teaching without letters. Blending and segmenting instruction showed a much larger effect size on reading than multiple-skill instruction did (2-28 – 2-29).


Children who were taught to manipulate phonemes with letters benefited more in their spelling than children whose manipulations were limited to speech. (2-29)

NICHD: National Reading Panel Report, supra note 654.

[791] S A Brady, “Perspective on Research Findings on Alphabetics (Phoneme Awareness and Phonics): Implications for Instruction (Expanded Version),” (2020) The Reading League Journal, online: The Reading League thereadingleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/10/Brady-Expanded-Version-of-Alphabetics-TRLJ.pdf [Brady, “Perspective on Research Findings on Alphabetics”]. For a full discussion of the research see: Fletcher et al, “A commentary on Bowers (2020),” supra note 676; J Buckingham, “Systematic phonics instruction belongs in evidence-based reading programs: A response to Bowers” (2020) 37:2 The Educational and Developmental Psychologist 105; Johnston et al, “Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching,” supra note 650.

[792] R S Johnston & J E Watson, “Accelerating the development of reading, spelling and phonemic awareness skills in initial readers” (2004) 17:4 Reading and Writing 327; S de Graaff et al, “Benefits of systematic phonics instruction” (2009) 13:4 Scientific Studies of Reading 318; Susan A Brady, "Efficacy of phonics teaching for reading outcomes: Indications from post-NRP research" in Susan A Brady et al, eds, Explaining individual differences in reading: Theory and evidence, (Psychology Press, 2011) at 69–96;

Brady, “Perspective on Research Findings on Alphabetics,” supra note 791; Johnston et al, “Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching,” supra note 650.

[793] Teaching blending with a continuous speech stream, or connected sounds, has been shown to be better than pronouncing disconnected sounds. That is, “Teach students to decode by sounding out graphemes and blending them to form words without breaking the speech stream (e.g.,sssuuuunnn rather than ssss-uuuu-nnnn).” See the passage on Sight Word Learning Supported by Systematic Phonics Instruction, by Dr. Linnea Ehri in Tiffany K Peltier, “Dr. Linnea Ehri’s List of Instructional Guidelines for Enhancing Orthographic Mapping and Word Learning” (18 April 2021), online (blog): Understanding Reading understandingreading.home.blog/2021/04/18/dr-linnea-ehris-list-of-instructional-guidelines-for-enhancing-orthographic-mapping-and-word-learning/.

[794] S Graham & T Santangelo, “Does spelling instruction make students better spellers, readers, and writers? A meta-analytic review” (2014) 27:9 Reading and Writing 1703.

[795] A P Goodwin, “Effectiveness of word solving: Integrating morphological problem-solving within comprehension instruction for middle school students” (2016) 29:1 Reading and Writing 91; A P Goodwin and S Ahn, “A meta-analysis of morphological interventions in English: Effects on literacy outcomes for school-age children” (2013) 17:4 Scientific Studies of Reading 257; J F Baumann et al, “Vocabulary tricks: Effects of instruction in morphology and context on fifth-grade students’ ability to derive and infer word meanings” (2003) 40:2 American educational research journal 447.

[796] Moats, Teaching Reading is Rocket Science, supra note 22 at 20.

[797] International Literacy Association, Literacy Leadership Brief: Meeting the Challenges of Early Literacy Phonics Instruction (2019) at 3, online (pdf): Literacy World literacyworldwide.org/docs/default-source/where-we-stand/ila-meeting-challenges-early-literacy-phonics-instruction.pdf [International Literacy Association, “Literacy Leadership Brief”].

[798] Ibid.

[799] NICHD: National Reading Panel Report, supra note 654; R F Hudson et al, “The complex nature of reading fluency: A multidimensional view,” (2009) 25:1 Reading & Writing Quarterly 4 [Hudson et al, “The complex nature of reading fluency].

[800] This example is based on experiences in an early reading classroom, where all children, regardless of skill level, were actively engaged and motivated throughout the lesson. The program was the Open Court Foundational Skills kit.

[801] Louisa Moats, “Teaching Decoding” (Spring/Summer 1998) American Educator 1, online: American Federation of Teachers aft.org/sites/default/files/periodicals/moats.pdf.

[802] W Blevins, “A Fresh Look at Phonics” (2020) 100:2 Principal, online: NAESP naesp.org/resource/a-fresh-look-at-phonics/.

[803] N J Fien & H Fien "Incorporating Evidence-Based Instructional Practices in Tier 1 to Support At-Risk Readers” (2021) 2 The Reading League Journal 13.

[804] Moats, Teaching Reading is Rocket Science, supra note 22 at 22.

[805] Ibid at 21.  

[806] D C Parker et al, “A brief report of the diagnostic accuracy of oral reading fluency and reading inventory levels for reading failure risk among second-and third-grade students” (2015) 31:1 Reading & Writing Quarterly 56 [Parker et al, “A brief report”].

[807] M Seidenberg, Language at the Speed of Sight: How we Read, Why so Many Can’t, and what can be done about it (Basic Books, 2017).

[808] Erin K Washburn et al, "Teacher knowledge of basic language concepts and dyslexia" (2011) 17:2 Dyslexia 165 [Washburn et al, “Teacher knowledge”].

[809] A E Cunningham et al, “Disciplinary knowledge of K–3 teachers and their knowledge calibration in the domain of early literacy” (2004) 54 Annals of Dyslexia 139; E Binks-Cantrell et al, “Peter Effect in the preparation of reading teachers” (2012) 16 Scientific Studies of Reading 526; L C Moats, “The missing foundation in teacher education: Knowledge of the structure of spoken and written language” (1994) 44 Annals of Dyslexia 81.

[810] E K Washburn et al, “Preservice teacher knowledge of basic language constructs in Canada, England, New Zealand, and the USA” (2016) 66:1 Annals of dyslexia 7.

[811] Joshi R Malatesha et al, “Why elementary teachers might be inadequately prepared to teach reading,” (2009) 42:5 Journal of Learning Disabilities 392 at 392.

[812] Ibid.

[813] Michael J Feuer et al, “Evaluation of Teacher Preparation Programs: Purposes, Methods and Policy Options” (Washington, DC: National Academy of Education, 2013) at 1.

[814] NICHD, National Reading Panel Report, supra note 654.

[815] See for example “Making a difference through research and teaching excellence” (last visited 27 January 2022), online: Western Education edu.uwo.ca/about-us/index.html.

[816] Exceptions were two, possibly three faculties, where there was brief coverage in half-courses.

[817] “The Balanced Literacy Diet: A Framework for Understanding and Teaching Literacy” (last visited 27 January 2022), online: The Melissa Institute Literacy Website oise.utoronto.ca/balancedliteracydiet/Home/index.html; not to be confused with the most frequent use of the term Balanced Literacy.

[818] J Bainbridge et al, “Constructing meaning: Teaching language and literacy K-8” (2019) Access and Diversity, Drane Library, University of British Columbia. 

[819] Brady, “Strategies used in education for resisting the evidence,” supra note 650 at 34; Johnston et al, “Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching,” supra note 650.

[820] K S Goodman, “Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game” (1967) 6:4 Literacy Research and Instruction 126; K S Goodman & Y M Goodman, Making sense of learners making sense of written language: The selected works of Kenneth S. Goodman and Yetta M. Goodman, (Routledge, 2014).

[821] F Smith, Unspeakable acts, unnatural practices: Flaws and fallacies in "scientific" reading instruction, (Heinemann Educational Books, 2003) [Smith, Unspeakable acts].

[822] L M Calkins, The art of teaching reading (Prentice Hall, 2001). However, Dr. Calkins may be changing her opinion: “The group headed by Lucy Calkins, a leading figure in the long-running fight over how best to teach children to read, is admitting that its materials need to be changed to align with scientific research. In an internal document obtained by APM Reports, the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project at Columbia University, where Calkins has served as founding director for more than 30 years, says it has been poring over the work of reading researchers and has determined that aspects of its approach need rebalancing.” E Hanford, “Influential literacy expert Lucy Calkins is changing her views,” AM Reports (16 October 2020), online: AM Reports apmreports.org/story/2020/10/16/influential-literacy-expert-lucy-calkins-is-changing-her-views.

[823] Fountas & Pinnell, Guided Reading, supra note 702.

[824] Smith, Unspeakable acts, supra note 821.

[825] Brady, “Strategies used in education for resisting the evidence,” supra note 650; Moats, Whole Language Lives On, supra note 704; Johnston et al, “Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching,” supra note 650.

[826] Moats, Whole-Language High Jinks, supra note 461.

[827] C J Lonigan & T Shanahan, Developing Early Literacy: Report of the National Early Literacy Panel. Executive Summary. A Scientific Synthesis of Early Literacy Development and Implications for Intervention, (National Institute for Literacy, 2009).

[828] Lesaux & Siegel, “The development of reading in children who speak English as a second language,” supra note 711; Partanen & Siegel, “Long-term outcome of the early identification and intervention of reading disabilities,” supra note 65.

[829] Ontario Ministry of Education, Early Reading Strategy, supra note 201.  Ontario Ministry of Education

[830] S Graham & M Hebert, “Writing to read: A meta-analysis of the impact of writing and writing instruction on reading” (2011) 81:4 Harvard Educational Review 710; A Gillespie & S Graham, “A meta-analysis of writing interventions for students with learning disabilities” (2014) 80:4 Exceptional children 454.

[831] C Tovani, I read it, but I don't get it: Comprehension strategies for adolescent readers, (Stenhouse Publishers, 2000).

[832] Courses are also offered by colleges, teachers federations, principals’ organizations, school boards, subject organizations and community organizations; see: “Additional Qualifications” (last visited 27 January 2022), online: Ontario College of Teachers oct.ca/members/additional-qualifications.

[833] Teachers can also take Additional Basic Qualification courses. These courses give teachers the certification needed to teach in another division (Primary, Junior, Intermediate, etc.) or another subject area.

[834] Ontario College of Teachers, “Additional Qualifications: Extending Professional Knowledge – Professional Advisory” (last visited 27 January 2022), online: Ontario College of Teachers oct.ca/Home/Resources/Advisories/Additional%20Qualifications.

[835] Pre-requisites are a certification of Qualification and Registration from the OCT and basic qualifications in Primary or Junior divisions or Intermediation or Senior divisions.

[836] Reading Part 1 and one year of teaching experience are pre-requisites.

[837] Reading Part 1 and 2 and two years of teaching experience are pre-requisites.

[838] Pre-requisites are a certificate of Qualification and Registration from the OCT and basic qualifications in Primary or Junior divisions or Intermediation or Senior divisions.

[839] Teachers must have Special Education, Part 1 and one year of teaching experience to take this course.

[840] Teachers must have completed Special Education, Part 2 and have 388 days of successful teaching experience, with at least one year with special education students under direct supervision that is certified by a supervisory officer (some superintendents require that one year of teaching be in a supervisory role); see: “Special Education, Specialist” (last visited 27 January 2022), online: ETFO etfo-aq.ca/courses/special-education-specialist/.

[841] See for example Facebook Group “Ontario Science of Reading – What I should have learned in College” https://www.facebook.com/groups/765753767374651/members - with 2.9k members.

[842] Jean Stockard at al, All Students Can Succeed: A Half Century of Research on the Effectiveness of Direct Instruction, (Lexington Books, 2020) at 147–48 [Stockard, All Students Can Succeed].

[843] PA Kirschner et al, “Why Minimal Guidance During Instruction Does Not Work: An Analysis of the Failure of Constructivist, Discovery, Problem-Based, Experimental, and Inquiry-Based Teaching” (2006) 42:2 Educational Psychologist; Greg Ashman, Power of Explicit Teaching and Direct Instruction, (Sage Publications, 2020); R E Clark et al, “Putting Students on the Path to Learning: The Case for Fully Guided Instruction,” (2012) 36:1 American Educator 6; see also NICHD: National Reading Panel Report, supra note 654.

[844] Stockard et al, All Students Can Succeed, supra note 842 at 149; see also: J Stockard et al, “The effectiveness of direct instruction curricula: A meta-analysis of a half century of research” (2018) 88:4 Review of Educational Research 479.

[845] EQAO, Elementary School Report 2018-2019, supra note 319 at 2.

[846] Hawken, Foundations for Literacy, supra note 647 at 13.

[847] The New London Group, “A Pedagogy of Multiliteracies: Designing Social Futures” (Spring 1996) 66:1 Harvard Educational Review, online: Simon Fraser University sfu.ca/~decaste/newlondon.htm.

[848] “Expanding the scope of Literacy pedagogy” (last visited 27 January 2022), online: New Learning Online newlearningonline.com/multiliteracies.

[849] Stockard et al, All Students Can Succeed, supra note 842 at 152–53.

[850] Brady, “Strategies used in education for resisting the evidence,” supra note 650; Johnston et al, “Long-term effects of synthetic versus analytic phonics teaching,” supra note 650.

[851] Moats, Teaching Reading is Rocket Science, supra note 22 at 12.

[852] Universities Canada, News Release, “Statement on Academic Freedom,” (25 October 2011), online: Universities Canada univcan.ca/media-room/media-releases/statement-on-academic-freedom/.

[853] ILO/UNESCO, Recommendation concerning the Status of Teachers (1966) and The UNESCO Recommendation concerning the Status of Higher-Education Teaching Personnel (1997) (2008) at recommendation 22(c), online: Right to Education right-to-education.org/sites/right-to-education.org/files/resource-attachments/ILO_UNESCO_Recommendation_Concerning_the_Status_of_Teachers_1966_En.pdf.

[854] Ibid.

[855] Ibid, at recommendation 28.

[856] OTCC, supra note 768.

[857]  Ibid at para 144.

[858] In O Reg 347/02 under the Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1996, SO 1996, c 12.

[859] Moats, Teaching Reading is Rocket Science, supra note 22 at 5.

[860] Stockard et al, All Students Can Succeed, supra note 842 at 149.

[861] Ibid at 158–60.

[862] Ibid at 159.

[863] International Literacy Association, “Literacy Leadership Brief,” supra note 797.

[864] Sarah Schwartz, “Lucy Calkins Says Balanced Literacy Needs ‘Rebalancing’,” (19 October 2020), online: Education Week www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/lucy-calkins-says-balanced-literacy-needs-rebalancing/2020/10.

[865] The curriculum should also lay out expectations for other important skills that were largely beyond the scope of this review, such as handwriting, oral vocabulary and syntax, oral language comprehension, and knowledge required in different school subjects, all of which are necessary to comprehend increasingly complex and multicultural texts.

Although beyond the scope of this report, the scientific studies of reading have also shown Kindergarten is also an important time to have specific oral vocabulary and knowledge expectations. Informative teacher resources: Neuman & Wright, All about words, supra note 713; Tanya S Wright, A Teacher's Guide to Vocabulary Development Across the Day: The Classroom Essentials Series, (Heinemann, 2020); S B Neuman and T S Wright, “The Magic of Words: Teaching Vocabulary in the Early Childhood Classroom,” (2014) 38:2 American Educator 4, online (pdf): ERIC files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1 043526.pdf; S B Neuman et al, “Building background knowledge,” supra note 713; JoAnne M West, Tanya S Wright, and Amelia W Gotwals, "Supporting Scientific Discussions: Moving Kindergartners’ Conversations Forward," (2021) The Reading Teacher.

[867] Levelled readers from prepackaged programs have not been shown to advance reading skills in later grades; see: Karen Vaites, “Leveled Reading Groups Don’t Work. Why Aren’t we Talking About it?” (2 November 2019), online (blog): Eduvaites eduvaites.org/2019/11/02/leveled-reading-groups-dont-work-why-arent-we-talking-about-it/#:~:text=It%20gives%20the%20kids%20in,texts%20lead%20to%20leveled%20lives.%E2%80%9D; Robert Pondiscio and Kevin Mahnken, “Leveled reading: the making of a literacy myth,” (24 September 2014), online: Fordham Institute fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/leveled-reading-making-literacy-myth; Catherine Schmidt, “Leveled Texts are ‘Exhibit A’ for the Soft Bigotry of Low Expectations,” (22 July 2020), online: Education Post educationpost.org/leveled-texts-are-exhibit-a-for-the-soft-bigotry-of-low-expectations/.

[868] As well, these guides should outline approaches and materials to support teaching the expectations for other important skills that were largely beyond the scope of this review, such as handwriting, oral vocabulary, oral grammar or syntax, oral language comprehension, and the explicit links to school domain expectations related to knowledge acquisition necessary to comprehend increasingly complex and multicultural texts.

[869] The Curriculum and Resources website, “Curriculum and Resources,” online: Government of Ontario https://www.dcp.edu.gov.on.ca/en/.

[870] A Ministry website for Ontario educators from provincially funded schools.

[871] See Education Act, ss 8(1)(4-7, 23) (powers of Minister of Education), 264(1)(k)(i) (duties of teacher); 265(1)(h) (duties of principal). See also RRO 1990, Reg 298, s 7 and Ontario Ministry of Education, Guidelines for Approval of Textbooks, (2008), online: Trillium List trilliumlist.ca/files/Textbook_Guide_English_2008.pdf.

[872] As was done to support Ontario’s Four-Year Math Strategy: Ontario, “First Year Investment,” supra note 751. 

[873] Ontario College of Teachers Act, 1996, SO 1996, c 12, O Reg. 176/10.

[874] Pre-service teachers will better understand how these tools support whole-class, small-group and individual instruction when they have learned the fundamentals of how word reading and spelling skills develop and best instructional practices for students with reading disabilities/dyslexia.