A Tipping Point for Knowledge

December 15, 2023 — Barbara Davidson

This year marked a pronounced shift in the Science of Reading conversation. In previous years, we could count only a handful of articles, at most, that clearly incorporated the role of background knowledge in reading comprehension, and our social media feeds generally featured the same voices. 

2023 was different. Journalists were more likely to make key points about knowledge and comprehension than to neglect them – from Emily Hanford’s bonus episode to New York Times coverage. New studies proved the point, widely-cited analyses focused on the knowledge gap in reading legislation, and a broad array of outlets covered those developments. The largest school district in the country is working to bring knowledge-building curriculum into its schools, and researchers announced remarkable effect sizes from use of one of the  “knowledge-rich” curricula

Knowledge, it seems, has begun to have its “tipping point.” 

Not coincidentally, it has been one of the busiest years for the Knowledge Matters Campaign. Our first podcast season debuted, and soared past 100,000 downloads in the space of a few months, inspiring a companion Study Guide. Our Scientific Advisory Committee published an acclaimed series in ASCD. We added two new curricula to our list of recommended programs. Perhaps most importantly, we debuted a new Review Tool to push the field towards renewed clarity about the essentials of reading comprehension, given the lack of precision of late. Sue Pimentel and I closed our year discussing the Tool on the Melissa & Lori Love Literacy podcast. 

The Campaign’s following has grown significantly in 2023, confirming our sense that the “knowledge community” is expanding dramatically.

All of this progress deserves celebration, yet we are far from declaring victory. Collectively, we have forged the “tip of the spear” for the knowledge movement, but most of the field still believes that “kids can just Google it,” so content knowledge can take a back seat. Too many knowledge-lite curricula have earned plaudits and gained market share. We feel the urgency of the moment: as districts move away from Balanced Literacy, they must move to truly excellent materials, or we risk another pendulum swing in literacy.

So in 2024, we expect to be busier than ever. State leaders are keen to make the most of this Science of Reading momentum and we look to work with them and others to ensure that the knowledge imperative is clear in their professional learning and curriculum recommendations. We will be back with another podcast season, and leaning harder into content area literacy and early childhood opportunities. If you are thinking alike, let’s connect in the New Year!

We wish everyone a happy and healthy close to this eventful year, as we all recharge for the work ahead. 

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