Shifting Perspectives on Reading

A conversation on literacy with literacy leader Kari Yates

Leading Reading Classroom Library

February may mark I Love to Read month, but literacy is always an important topic.

As Ed Soul podcast guest Kari Yates recently put it, reading is head and heart work. Finding the balance of both starts with one strategy and shift at a time.

And Kari knows a thing or two about the topic — she is co-author of “Shifting the Balance: Six Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom” and an overall literacy guru. Recently she sat down with Sourcewell’s Rachel Logan to share both her journey as a literacy leader and strategies for bringing the science of reading into elementary classrooms.

Listen in on the conversation captured as a recent Ed Soul podcast episode, or, if you're more of a reader than a listener, checkout this quick summary.

Big takeaways:

  • Creating psychological safety in the classroom is essential
  • Oral language primes reading comprehension, oral language development, vocabulary development and intentional knowledge building
  • Background knowledge is the most significant factor when it comes to comprehension, you have to know something about a topic (Shift 1 in Grades 3-5)
  • The brain has to make sense of every word it’s going to store through orthographic mapping
  • When kids rely on compensatory strategies early on, reading falls apart when text gets more challenging
  • ‘Sight word’ is a status that words earn, not just high frequency words (Shift 4 in Grades K-2)
  • Learn to embrace (good) decodable texts; make sure they still give kids something to think and learn about
  • Kari’s personally ‘biggest shift’: Shift 5 in Grades K-2 on MSV cuing systems

Some key independent reading shifts discussed include:

  • The relationship between volume and time spent reading and becoming a better reader is much more indirect and more of a correlation (Shift 6 in Grades 3-5)
  • Research shows extrinsic motivators show a positive effect in the short run, but when it’s taken away, the motivation drops back even further than when a student started
  • It’s tempting to rely on extrinsic motivators like pizzas, points, and prizes, but making sure all kids have access to lots of high-quality texts (text sets, not leveled texts) is more important
  • Choice matters and is a motivator for kids, however it doesn’t need to mean completely open-ended choice all of the time, the teacher can and should still be involved in selecting texts
  • Levels can be a demotivator; the most important place for levels is resource for teachers, not students
  • No level can account for is what students bring to a text (background knowledge matters)
  • When you’re motivated to read a text, you’re willing to engage in a productive struggle

For additional context — and to check out similar conversations on a variety of topics — be sure to check out other Ed Soul podcast episodes at