Science of Reading: Understanding Scarborough's Rope

Tyler Borek
August 11, 2022

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Understanding Scarborough’s Rope

As we continue to dissect the Science of Reading and how to apply it in a classroom setting, it’s important to address the Simple View of Reading, a formula for the two basic components of reading:

Word Recognition x Language Comprehension = Reading Comprehension

The Simple View of Reading holds that the goal of reading is reading comprehension which is the product of word recognition (the student’s ability to transform text into spoken language) plus language comprehension (the student’s ability to understand spoken language). If the student can read the text aloud and understand the text when it is read to them, then they should be able to read and understand the text on their own.

The Simple View has been validated by many research studies, but it’s not the complete picture, because Word Recognition and Language Comprehension can be broken down into a number of strands. The most popular representation of these strands is Scarborough’s Rope. We believe that understanding Scarborough’s Rope can help educators to assess reading weaknesses and provide appropriate instruction. So, let’s dive in!

It’s a simple, elegant concept that begins with two strands and brings us to eight strands:

Scarborough splits “Word Recognition” into 3 strands. If students achieve the following 3 strands, they have achieved “Word Recognition.”

  1. Phonological Awareness: Discriminate and manipulate speech sounds
  2. Phonics: Connect speech sounds to letters
  3. Sight Recognition: Recognize words automatically and effortlessly

And splits “Language Comprehension” into 5 strands. If students achieve the following, they have achieved “Language Comprehension.”

  1. Background Knowledge: Has the relevant knowledge to understand the substance
  2. Vocabulary Knowledge: Knows the individual word meanings
  3. Language Structures (aka Syntax): Can process how the words fit together in a sentence
  4. Verbal Reasoning (aka Semantics): Can go beyond the literal meaning of the text to make inferences and understand figures of speech
  5. Literacy Knowledge: Understands concepts of print and characteristics of different genres

If the student achieves strong word recognition and strong language comprehension, then they will show strong reading comprehension. Scarborough’s Rope is one of several frameworks we use to inform our product development to ultimately get all students reading at grade level. 

But how can educators actually implement the Scarborough’s Rope framework in the classroom? There are many hurdles – A single strand in the framework can include 20-100 sub-skills that require understanding. Each student has a different starting point, learning speed and style. And each teacher is fighting the impossible race against time. Like many other industries that have evolved and grown thanks to technology, therein lies the answer: Education is begging to be ushered into the 21st Century with the latest technology solutions.  And we hope to fuel that change.

But even if you’ve decided that you want to adopt new technologies in the classroom, finding and implementing the right solution can be a challenge of its own. That’s why we created a super simple checklist for you as you evaluate all the possible options: Science of Reading Technology Implementation Checklist

Check it out, let us know what you think. And tell us: Do you use Scarborough’s Rope or Science of Reading frameworks in your classroom? Have you noticed a difference in your students' literacy?