How We Teach Reading

In KCSD Elementary Schools


At Keystone Central School District, we are deeply committed to delivering on the promise of educating and equipping every child with the ability to read -- and read well! Learning to read is an essential skill, not only to find success in school but also to thrive in society and experience the joy that reading brings. We are learning more about what research says about how children learn to read, how to make sure every student learns to read, and what to do when a child encounters difficulty in learning to read. The research that we’re learning about and implementing is called the Science of Reading.

The Science of Reading

“The body of work referred to as the “science of reading” is not an ideology, a philosophy, a political agenda, a one-size-fits-all approach, a program of instruction, nor a specific component of instruction. It is the emerging consensus from many related disciplines, based on literally thousands of studies, supported by hundreds of millions of research dollars, conducted across the world in many languages. These studies have revealed a great deal about how we learn to read, what goes wrong when students don’t learn, and what kind of instruction is most likely to work the best for the most students.” ~ Dr. Louisa Moats


If your family has been a part of KCSD for some time, you’ll notice some changes in how we teach reading; if you’re new to KCSD, jump on board, it’s going to be a fantastic journey! It’s an exciting time to be in education as we align our instruction with the Science of Reading!

Decades of research have determined that reading occurs in a specific way in the brain. It does not occur naturally the way that speech does. The process must be taught.

Our teachers have had the opportunity to participate in a lot of professional development about the Science of Reading. While our schools were closed in the spring and over the summer, our teachers were working hard. Not only were they teaching your child, but they were also learning and growing themselves! During that time, every teacher was trained in the Science of Reading.

Changes Rooted in Research:

Emphasis in Primary Grades

  • Children must first learn to decode/sound-out words before they can understand the meaning of text. We want our students to look at every letter in the words, apply phonics knowledge, and sound words out!
  • Grades K-2 especially will focus on acquiring the skills to crack the code of our alphabet to the speech sounds in English. There are 44 speech sounds in English and 250 ways to read and spell them!
  • We will no longer teach students to use the "three-cueing system". Three-cueing is the practice of teaching kids to identify words by using strategies other than decoding. In the three-cueing system, students are taught that they can identify a word by deciding if it makes sense (including having students look at the pictures to guess the word), if it would structurally/ grammatically ‘fit’ in a sentence, or if it looks right rather than closely examining the phonics patterns in the word and sounding it out. We want our students to look at every letter in the words, apply phonics knowledge, and sound words out!

ECRI & Heggerty
  • These are two new programs that have been implemented in KCSD this year that support the Science of Reading.
  • Students will progress through an order of phonics skills, progressing from simple to complex, that will be followed throughout the early grades.

Assessments/Early Intervention

  • Students will be assessed using AimsWeb Plus as our universal screener for all students in grades K-2 and MAP in grades 3-8. These nationally normed assessments give us an indication of how easy or difficult reading is for your child.
  • Teachers will give additional assessments as needed to find out which areas students need help with.
  • The best solution to the problem of reading difficulty is early identification and intervention. If your child shows a weakness in any area, they will be given interventions to help them become stronger in their area of weakness and will be frequently monitored so that we can see if the intervention is working and their skills are improving.

Phonemic Awareness

  • This is the ability to get to the individual sounds in words by listening and to identify and manipulate those sounds orally.
  • Research has indicated that phonemic awareness is extremely important.
  • While this skill will be emphasized in grades K-2, we will make sure all students at KCSD have this necessary foundation.

Small-Group/WIN Time (What I Need Time)

  • "Guided Reading" will now be referred to as Small Group or WIN Time.
  • Students will be grouped according to various reasons: needs in phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary or comprehension, but they will not be grouped based on a Guided Reading level.
  • Your child will NOT be assigned a Fountas & Pinnell reading level, such as A, or M, or R (any level A-Z) as in the past.

Decodable Texts

  • Our early readers will be working with decodable texts. These are books or passages that only include words that the students can ‘decode’ (sound-out) according to the skills they have been taught thus far.
  • Students need practice with the phonics skills they are learning and these books and passages provide that practice.

Knowledge Building and Vocabulary

  • The research tells us that building knowledge and vocabulary contributes significantly to their reading comprehension and should be taught beginning in the earliest grades.
  • Our students will have the opportunity to build a broad knowledge base of history/social studies, science, and the arts.
  • Kids will have access to complex text, often read aloud by their teacher, and in the process, will gain more complex vocabulary.


  • The ultimate goal of all reading instruction is for students to understand what they read.
  • The model of The Simple View of Reading (see below) demonstrates that reading comprehension occurs only when students have both Decoding/Word Recognition Skills and Language Comprehension skills.
Big picture

We now know a great deal about how the brain develops when learning to read and what instructional practices are most effective for all children. We are committed to following scientific research to ensure that we deliver on the promise of literacy for every KCSD student. Again, it’s an exciting time to be in education and we need you as our partners!