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What Happened When Schools Used Science To Revamp How Reading Is Taught

Four years ago, when the staff at Danville Primary School found out they were going to learn a new way to teach reading, Mary Levitski thought: Here we go again.

Levitski, who had taught at the central Pennsylvania school district for 25 years, was a good teacher, but she was disappointed that she couldn’t get through to all kids. Every time Danville switched curricula, a new publisher promised that materials would help the outliers, with research-based methods that would unlock the key to literacy.

The 2015 training was different. Inspired by a tutoring center for kids with dyslexia in nearby Bloomsburg, Danville adopted a new approach that involved training every teacher using a somewhat old-fashioned method. Instead of buying glossy texts, it made its own workbooks.

And it worked. Danville’s method relies on new reading science. It has roots in an old way of teaching but is based on new cognitive neuroscience research that has revealed how brains process sounds and symbols. It borrows from linguistics, the study of language and its structure. Students do not memorize lists of words for spelling tests, yet the average Danville fourth grader is spelling at the sixth-grade level.