In a new article published in Educational Leadership, Dr. Beryl Irene Bailey identifies the reason for flailing literacy among elementary school students and proposes an innovative solution.
“Elementary school students are capable of thinking critically. I want educators to know that they can help students become empowered readers — equipped with content-based literacy and inference,” says national language and literacy consultant Dr. Beryl Irene Bailey ’81.
According to Bailey, recalibrating reading as a skill, rather than a subject, is key to advancing literacy and learning for elementary-level students. She unpacks this theory in a new article, “Bridging Content and Reading Instruction: Teachers Must Integrate the Reading of Science to Implement the Science of Reading,” published in Educational Leadership under the auspices of the Association for Supervision and Curricular Development (ASCD), an international organization devoted to supporting educators, learning, and equity.
Bailey’s article provides evidence for recent declines in literacy: “In 2022, only 32 percent of the nation’s 4th-grade public school students were reading at or above proficiency, down from 38 percent in 2015 (U.S. Department of Education, 2022),” she writes.
The problem is not the teachers themselves, but the culture around their teaching. “In the United States, you typically have English and language arts teachers focus on reading. This has created silos among K–12 teachers, which discourages math, science, and social studies teachers from addressing reading in their classrooms. Succinctly put, reading is a skill, not a subject, and it also exists in content areas like science, social studies, and math. Therefore, teachers must integrate the reading of science to implement the science of reading,” argues Bailey.
The Science of Reading
Bailey’s research emphasizes that reading is multifaceted and involves understanding language and how it is structured, along with content knowledge. “Phonics, Phonemic Awareness, Fluency, Vocabulary, and Comprehension provide the foundation, but it is the content that is read that facilitates the learning,” she says.
Oftentimes students practice literacy by reading fiction. “With fiction, students focus on character, setting, and plot,” says Bailey. “But scientific writing is structured around cause and effect, or compare and contrast. It also puts forth a hypothesis, provides a rationale for a given experiment, bases an argument or theory on solid evidence, and communicates to the reader in a persuasive way. By reading scientific writing, students learn high-level writing and communication skills.” Moreover, students will develop a scientific vocabulary (including analytical terminology, domain-specific words, figurative language, and morphology).
“Clearly, reading is embedded in content knowledge,” remarks Bailey. “Therefore, teachers of all subjects — and especially STEM-related areas — should be teaching reading and literacy.”
One strategy for promoting the science of reading is what Bailey calls “diversifying reading.” This demands a culturally responsible and DEI-motivated pedagogy. “For example, in the read-aloud book, Patricia’s Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight . . . students learn how ophthalmologist Patricia Bath used engineering practices to invent the Laserphaco Probe that removes cataracts from the eyes and restores eyesight,” writes Bailey. “A teacher might develop questions to ask students about the techniques and tools used by the doctor (What tools did Bath use to create her laser probe?), ask them to analyze and interpret data from the text (What was Bath measuring for when she used the different lasers?), or ask students to explain the solutions Bath designed (Can you describe Bath’s solution for removing cataracts from her patient’s eyes?)”
As Bailey reflects, “What better way to provide equity than by discussing how Bath exemplified engineering design principles and walking through her scientific thought processes and practices? Bath now becomes a role model for these students, and classroom discussions about her galvanize their critical thinking skills.”
Bailey’s research exemplifies how education is intimately tied to equity, which has been a guiding principle in her personal life and ensuing career. She remembers impactful exchanges with an inspirational teacher. “Coming from an impoverished family [in New Haven, CT], I asked my kindergarten teacher, ‘How can I stop being poor?’ She responded, ‘You can do well in school, graduate, go to college, and get a job. Then you will make money and will be able to take care of yourself.’ And that’s when I made the decision, at age 5, to become a teacher.” In her article, she amplifies the need for “a comprehensive education that celebrates the knowledge of all races. “I always say that the United States is not a more perfect union, but a pluralistic union.”
Fostering a Passion for Education at Simmons
Bailey initially became interested in Simmons after hearing about the institution from some older friends who had graduated from the same high school. While transitioning to college was at first a culture shock for Bailey (previously she had only attended racially-segregated schools in Connecticut), she remains grateful for the immense network of support from Simmons’ faculty. In particular, Bailey remembers Dr. Helen Moore, a mentor of hers who headed a student support center. “Former Dean and Professor Emerita of Education Elizabeth B. Rawlins was literally our matriarch,” recalls Bailey. “Professor of History Cynthia Hamilton showed me how to leverage my passion for education and taught me how to read and think critically about history. . . Going above and beyond her professorial obligations, Professor Hamilton allowed me to stay a week in her home so that I could begin my fieldwork when the dorms were closed due to winter break.”
Bailey developed a special rapport with Professor of English Kim Lanzilotti. “I loved that woman. She instilled in me a desire to write, recognized my potential, and edited my work. In doing so, she helped me become the writer I am today.” From these Simmons faculty members — many of whom are people of color — Bailey says, “I learned about genuine care, guidance, and support. My formative education in the humanities, civics, art, history, and education upheld these values.”
Experience Beyond the Classroom
However, Bailey’s greatest educational experience transpired beyond the confines of the classroom. She was an active member of Simmons’ Black Student Organization and recalls profound encounters with African American alumnae, which developed into long-term friendships long after her graduation.
“During my first attendance of the African American Convocation Summit at Simmons [now called the Black Alumnae/i Symposium], I met hundreds of successful African American women who looked just like me. By sharing their time, stories, and expertise, they gave me an education that I continue to carry. These women taught me about empowerment, civics, a sense of self, philanthropy, service, selflessness, integrity, commitment, joy, and much more.”
The Simmons Sisterhood
As a Simmons student and alumna, Bailey formed lasting relationships with many remarkable women of color, including former United States Ambassador to Senegal Harriet Lee Elam-Thomas ’63 ’00HD, attorney and former Chairman of Federal Labor Relations Authority Carol Waller Pope ’74, television journalist Rahema Ellis ’74 ’00HD, master educator Adunni Slackman Anderson ’73, and the late news anchor Gwen Ifill ’77. “When you think about the kind of power these women generated, they helped propel Simmons to become what it is today. . . Over the years, I have witnessed our growth. I call that the education at Simmons; we work together, we are collaborators, and we support one another.”
In 2017, Bailey hosted a launch party for a comic book and educational rap that she co-created with her son-in-law, Raymond Barnes. Entitled Punctuation Posse Patrol, this resource teaches children about punctuation marks. “Classmates and Simmons sisters Jacqueline Kidd ’81, Deborah Drew ’81, and Janine Coveney ’81 were right there to support me. Janine, who is an accomplished journalist, wrote an article on my project that generated so much publicity. The sisterhood at Simmons is real, and very powerful.”
Bailey’s current professional role resonates with Simmons’ commitment to lifelong learning. “As a language and literacy consultant, I coach, I facilitate, and I am a developer. I show educators how to use language and literacy skills. I help them experience the epiphany of learning as their students would. I don’t want to be the evaluator, so instead I assume the role of cheerleader. My work reinforces my belief in lifelong learning. . . Education is a journey, not a destination.”
Recommended read aloud books that support understanding of the Three-Dimensional Science Framework (i.e., science and engineering practices, crosscutting concepts, and disciplinary core ideas):
Janice N. Harrington and Theodore Taylor III, Buzzing with Questions: The Inquisitive Mind of Charles Henry Turner (Astra Publishing House, 2020). Life Sciences, 3rd–5th grade.
Josie James, Marie’s Ocean: Marie Tharp Maps the Mountains Under the Sea (Macmillan, 2020). Earth Science, K–2nd grade.
Michelle Lord and Alleanna Harris, Patricia’s Vision: The Doctor Who Saved Sight (Union Square and Co., 2020). Engineering, 3rd–5th grade.
Traci Sorell and Natasha Donovan, Classified: The Secret Career of Mary Golda Ross, Cherokee Aerospace Engineer (Lerner, 2021). Physical Science, K–2nd grade.