Why Following the Simple View May Not Be Such a Good Idea

  • 07 March, 2020

Teacher question:

I am an instructional coach for a reading intervention program.  We are a pull-out program for K-8 LD students. 

We are implementing an evidence-based approach in our word level reading instruction, but we are struggling to lock down a framework to address reading comprehension.  As we pull students out of the core curriculum (1-3 hours daily for 2 years), we want to make sure that we are building skills that will transfer to any academic setting. 

Do you think it is worthwhile to spend time addressing comprehension? Or should we just be chipping away at our students' word level reading issues since improved decoding will have a higher rate of transferability outside of the

According to the Simple View of Reading decoding and language skills have two separate developmental trajectories. We wonder about the benefits of developing speaking and listening skills separately from decoding. Is this appropriate, especially for upper grades (4-8)? Could you direct me to a scope and sequence of listening comprehension skills? We need a tool to monitor progress and target instruction. 

Shanahan’s response:

The simple view of reading has been very useful, but if you take it too literally you’ll stray from evidence-based reading instruction real fast.

What has come to be called the simple view of reading can be traced back to the early 1970s (Gough, 1972; Venezky & Calfee, 1970). Its basic premise is that the only thing special about reading is decoding and that there is no such thing as reading comprehension. Once a reader is able to decode a text aloud, then listening comprehension takes over.

This approach has been useful for prioritizing early and intensive decoding instruction (if it is the only reading skill, then we better get it right). It also clearly conceptualizes reading as being a product of decoding and language and nothing more, which organizes research and practice in a neat way.

But over the past couple of weeks, I’ve run into three instances of people telling me that they were considering no longer teaching reading comprehension in favor of working on listening comprehension because of the simple view.

There are a number of problems with doing this.

First, listening comprehension and reading comprehension are correlated, but they are not equivalent. Research has long shown that people comprehend what they read and what they listen to at different levels of proficiency and that these proficiencies differ by age level (e.g., Goldstein, 1940; Mesherbi & Ehrlich, 2004; Sticht, 1974). That wouldn’t be the case if reading comprehension and listening comprehension were the same thing.

Second, a substantial number of studies show that oral language and reading comprehension are related, but that these relations are far less than a unity (NELP, 2008). What I mean by that is that if you got all students up to the highest levels of oral language proficiency, you would definitely reduce the amount variation in reading comprehension. But that would still leave a lot of variation in reading comprehension.

Third, there is a substantial body of research showing that oral language and written language differ in several ways (Chafe & Tannin, 1987). There are words that people don’t use orally that appear in text. Sentence lengths differ greatly across written and oral language which places different loads on memory. Style, proportions of adjectives and prepositions, degree of narrativity of the language, and so on all differ. Being a good listener means comprehending with easier and more involving language than what one confronts in text. Again, teaching students to listen may well be valuable (I think it is), but I don’t think that because it will improve reading comprehension.

Fourth, no study has found any reliable transfer of ability from listening comprehension to reading comprehension (van den Bos, Brand-Gruwel, & Aarnoutse, 1998). The reason I strongly support phonics instruction is because we have a extensive number of studies that consistently show giving such teaching advantages children in learning to read. If there were a similar body of studies showing that teaching listening improves reading comprehension, then I would encourage the teaching of listening and oral language as a good way to go. There not only isn’t a “body” of such research, there aren’t even single studies showing that teaching listening comprehension or other aspects or oral language improve reading comprehension. Teaching listening comprehension is not the teaching of reading comprehension, no matter its other value.

The one exception to this is with second language learners (August & Shanahan, 2008). If you don’t know English, that is a definite inhibitor of English reading comprehension. Building the oral English of English Learners can make a big difference in their reading comprehension and that should definitely be happening in school. Claude Goldenberg’s work shows that the informal development of conversational English is not enough to enable these students to do well in reading academic materials.

Given all of this, I would definitely encourage you to have both a strong decoding intervention (and I would include some text fluency for that), but another intervention that teaches students how to make sense of written language. NICHD reported many years ago the insufficiency of decoding instruction to meet the needs of a large percentage of struggling readers, and recently Rick Wanger and his colleagues have shown the great numbers of students who struggle with reading but who have sufficient decoding skills.  

The instruction in that kind of language or comprehension oriented intervention should focus on teaching students some of the intentional reading strategies that have been found to improve reading comprehension (NICHD, 2000) as well as how to deal with various features of written language including syntax, cohesion, text structure, depth of information, tone, and other features of text and content.

Of course, students should be reading text within such an intervention and I hope that those texts would be high quality and value in terms of both their presentation and the content that they include. It is important to make sure the kids came away both with greater proficiency for comprehending such texts and with content learning.

If kids are to miss as much content as you indicate, then I would strongly encourage you to consider what else can be done to ensure that these students learn about our social and natural world. Think expanded school days, parent involvement, media, text inclusion in your program and so on.

The simple view shouldn’t be the simplistic view. Until we have evidence that teaching oral language improves literacy, we ought to focus our teaching on those things most likely to advantage the students—that is what has successfully advantaged them previously. According to a great deal of empirical research, that is cognitive strategies and written language. Given your purpose, I’m not recommending a listening comprehension curriculum, but I would encourage you to focus on written language learning and getting those kids to read more than words.


See what others have to say about this topic.

Mark Pennington Mar 07, 2020 06:04 PM

Believe you have previously questioned spending large amounts of instructional time teaching discrete reading strategies e.g., main idea, inferencing, context clues, summarizing. How does this fit in with your call to teach reading comprehension? My take is that it's less about teaching and more about practicing reading comprehension that works. Your thoughts?

S Slakk Mar 07, 2020 06:07 PM

Thanks for adding the EL/EB piece here. Also, I've always said that decoding without comprehension is just word calling. Yes, decoding needs to be a strong skill since there is only a finite amount of cognitive energy and if it is all spent on decoding, then there is nothing left for comprehension. Thanks for giving me more ways to say this. Oral skill is needed but written discourse and reading are equally important as you comment. Listening comprehension and reading comprehension are distinct skills as you have pointed out. I smiled at the part where the premise is that they will comprehend if the can decode because they can then hear it orally? So we'll have a gaggle of folks reading aloud everything they need to process so that they can understand it? Yikes.
Thanks again for helping to keep us on the right path.

Julie Collins Mar 07, 2020 06:45 PM

Thank you for this column! This is some of what I wanted to discuss with you in October at the LEADER dinner. Shame on me for not contacting you about it by e-mail, but I was happy to find this in my inbox today!

J. Munro Mar 07, 2020 06:58 PM

If phonemic awareness is needed to learn to read effectively, does it follow that oral language skills are necessary to have strong phonemic awareness?

Laurel Waller Mar 07, 2020 09:34 PM

Spot on J Munro!

Jeff M Chanin Mar 07, 2020 09:42 PM

A lot of people don't realize that both meaning and visual-sound information affect the ability decode fluently. It makes little sense to teach either text decoding or text comprehension as isolated skills divorced from meaningful text.

Molly Mar 07, 2020 09:49 PM

Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the SVR. While I appreciate the concise model of what comprises successful reading comprehension, I do believe the SVR's components are not so simple when we consider which skills are required for word recognition and language comprehension. What are your thoughts on Scarborough's Reading Rope, specifically in reference to her analysis of language comprehension in the simple view of reading? She proposes that language comprehension is comprised of background knowledge, vocabulary, language structures, verbal reasoning, and literacy knowledge (genre, text structure, etc...). It is my understanding that these areas are related to reading comprehension. I look forward to reading your thoughts on this!

Harriett Mar 07, 2020 09:59 PM

I think I'm confused. In fact, I know I am when you write:

"Being a good listener means comprehending with easier and more involving language than what one confronts in text. Again, teaching students to listen may well be valuable (I think it is), but I don’t think that because it will improve reading comprehension."

I've always understood the SVR as much simpler than what you describe. Understanding what we read means both decoding words and understanding them as we encounter them in the text we are reading. Just because we can decode a word, it doesn't mean we can understand it, but we can determine its meaning and add it to our lexicon. In addition, we will need to attend to other comprehension strategies in order to understand the meaning of the entire text. I don't have to listen to text being read to me about photosynthesis; I just have to be able to decode the words in the text and and know how to navigate it to make sense of it, which is why there is such an emphasis now on knowledge-building in order to facilitate reading comprehension.

So, I've always understood the SVR to be descriptive rather than prescriptive: you don't understand what you've read unless you can read the words and 'know' them through language comprehension. But that doesn't mean you have to be a good listener. It means the more words you have in your working vocabulary, the easier it is to understand what you read--though the complexities of any given text don't guarantee complete comprehension beyond that word level.

Or am I missing something?

Anna Gill Mar 07, 2020 10:51 PM

If you have the right tool, speaking fluency can become reading fluency! 23 years in the making, Kinephonics is the right tool for fluency in reading and speaking..... and comprehension in both! The sad thing about all of this is that we have been so consumed with the science of reading that we have lost our confidence in the science of biology.

Sara Peden Mar 07, 2020 11:53 PM

I don't agree with your characterization of the Simple View of Reading. You say " Its basic premise is that the only thing special about reading is decoding and that there is no such thing as reading comprehension." I don't think that is the premise of the simple view of reading. I think that the simple view of reading says that in order to understand reading comprehension, we need to see that it arises as an interaction between decoding and language/linguistic comprehension. I see our two interpretations of the basic premise of the SVR as quite different. How am I wrong?

Tim Shanahan Mar 08, 2020 01:33 AM

Sarah— go back and read the original papers. The idea was that if a person was able to understand oral language (listening) then the only thing needed to be a reader was deciding because it would allow you to translate a text to oral language which would then be understood by listening. In other words no reading comprehension (they were trying to make a point about the importance of deciding).

Tim Shanahan Mar 08, 2020 02:46 AM

In your list of “strategies” you are mixing in various skills. Skills and strategies differ. There is a substantial body of research showing clear benefits to teaching strategies and those should be taught. However, when one compares the dosage evident in the studies and what is often recommended to the schools there is a striking mismatch. Way more time recommended than justified.

However, time should also be spent teaching written language (substantial body of research there as well). Kids need to develop vocabulary, morphology, syntax, cohesion, text structure, etc.


Tim Shanahan Mar 08, 2020 02:50 AM


Those language components are part of both oral and written language, but they play out differently in the two forms of language and do not automatically transfer from one to another, thus the idea that someone will teach decoding and oral language to facilitate reading comprehension is not a great idea and not one supported by the science of reading.


Tim Shanahan Mar 08, 2020 02:51 AM

The ,a gauge being discussed in SVR is oral language.


susan close Mar 08, 2020 05:28 AM

I believe we need to look at the findings on comprehension very seriously, Oakhill, 2019 in Kilpatrick et al 2019. I am paraphrasing because I do not have the text with me today: "There is little support for teaching comprehensions skills in isolation; a better way is to integrate the skills and guide learners to apply them as they read with a purpose or task in mind." Through an action research project focused on the approach suggested by Oakhill et al, we lifted the reading and writing achievement of an entire school district with the love of reading as a by-product. We used Words their Way as a way to build orthographic knowledge and now thanks to David Kilpatrick (2015, 2019) and Gentry et al(2018) we have added an orthographic component to the wordwork routine and added an orthographic mapping process to called Imaging a Word to our collection of cognitive processes called SmartLearning tools. Thank you for always being so research-inspired. Leaders like you help people in the field to know right directions to take. Learners' life chances are at stake.

Harriett Mar 08, 2020 06:24 AM

I’ve always seen references to SVR as decoding x ‘linguistic comprehension’ rather than ‘listening comprehension’. Is there a difference or are these two terms interchangeable?

Sara Peden Mar 08, 2020 06:55 AM

Here is what Gough and Tunmer said in 1986:
"We trust it is clear that by comprehension we mean, not reading comprehension, but rather linguistic comprehension, that is, the process by which, given lexical (i.e., word) information, sentences and discourses are interpreted." (At this point they were using Reading to label the dependent variable in their model, and Decoding and Comprehension as the labels for the two independent variables.)
Thus, no, the original did not specify (nor intend, I don't believe) that listening comprehension/oral language is 'comprehension' and there is no such thing as reading comprehension. It specifically spoke to 'linguistic comprehension' as a 'process by which {language is} ... interpreted."
So, I believe it's a bad misinterpretation to suggest that the simple view's basic premise is that there's no such thing as reading comprehension. Quite the opposite. It explains reading comprehension as a *product* of two variables. Using the arithmetical analogy, the statement that 6x7=42 is hardly suggesting that there is no such thing as 42.

Jeannette Mar 08, 2020 11:38 AM

Pulling students for 1-3 hours is a lot of time. It makes sense to bring in all components of reading; word work, fluency, and reading comprehension. Focusing on listening comprehension just doesn’t make sense but modeling fluency does by “demonstrating” what reading text is supposed to look like. However, with 1-3 hours why not!

In regards to transfer. I find that the biggest problem with transfer is expectations of student reading is so low. You know what I heard 3 x last week? “That student will never be more than a C student.” Meanwhile this student is poor, considered homeless, and smells like cigarettes daily. How about “this student needs to be in self contained.” “These kids can’t write.” It’s very frustrating to see how young children are defined so early in their lives.

Often teachers don’t notice the success and when they do it comes out on I Ready with a level of surprise. Many have made up their minds about what kids can do.

We can’t get anywhere if the expectations are so low. We need to seek answers when what we are doing is not working. Often the students are blamed for lack of success... or parents or that kids are “pushed through.”

Students need the opportunity to transfer and apply skills to text all the time even if students seem to have such cognitive limits. Bringing the text into the lesson before word work often works for me with kids. I have a student with challenges with working memory. It’s hard for her to hold a , apple /a/ long enough to decode a 3 sound word.

As far as listening comprehension. I’m seeing it misused and as a way out of teaching kids to read. It’s crazy to me. Books on tape or extensive read alouds are examples.

We all need to figure out the demands of reading instruction so that the most disadvantaged kids have the best chance for success. Especially at the elementary level. I’m beyond frustrated with the lack of common sense.

Tim Shanahan Mar 08, 2020 12:56 PM

Sara— so you believe that teaching oral language improves reading comprehension? Then why would you need any reading comprehension instruction when you could more easily provide oral language teaching (since reading comprehension is only a product of decoding and oral language)?


Tim Shanahan Mar 08, 2020 12:57 PM


The point is the same either way.... if reading comprehension is only the product of decoding and oral language then reading comprehension instruction is unnecessary.


Molly Mar 08, 2020 02:15 PM

Thank you for your response, Tim. I’m trying to understand the role of language comprehension in the SVR. Can you define “oral language” in the SVR as you are using it in your response? What is the connection between background knowledge,
vocabulary, and oral language...if any? Is “oral language” and “language comprehension” synonymous?

Deb Dwyer Mar 08, 2020 03:02 PM

I assume that your reference to Wanger was really to Richard Wagner. Is this the research you are referencing "A Large-Scale Study of Specific Reading Comprehension Disability" Richard K. Wagner and Caitlin Ridgewell (2009)? Is there something else I should read. As with all studies we need cut lines, however many of those that can decode at the 26th percentile, "adequate decoders", are still struggling with fluent reading within text. Using the lowest 5th percentile in comprehension as "poor comprehenders", misses a number of struggling comprehenders. I'm interested in reading more. Can you suggest anything?

Sara Peden Mar 08, 2020 03:28 PM

You said "Sara— so you believe that teaching oral language improves reading comprehension? Then why would you need any reading comprehension instruction when you could more easily provide oral language teaching (since reading comprehension is only a product of decoding and oral language)?

I believe that teaching vocabulary and background knowledge are most valuable for improving language comprehension, thereby positively impacting reading comprehension (think 'baseball study'). I think Willingham is 'onto something' when he writes (RCS=Reading Comprehension Strategies):

"And there is actually plenty of data showing that extended practice of RCS instruction yields no benefit compared to briefer
review. We know of eight quantitative reviews of RCS instruction, some summarizing studies of typically developing children
(Fukkink & de Glopper, 1998; Rosenshine, Meister, & Chapman, 1996; Rosenshine & Meister, 1994) and some summarizing
studies of at?risk children or those identified with a learning disability (Berkeley, Scruggs, & Mastropieri, 2009; Elbaum,
Vaughn, Tejero Hughes, & Watson Moody, 2000; Gajria, Jitendra, Sood, & Sacks, 2007; Suggate, 2010; Talbott, Lloyd, &
Tankersley, 1994); none of these reviews show that more practice with a strategy provides an advantage. Ten sessions yield
the same benefit as fifty sessions. The implication seems obvious; RCS instruction should be explicit and brief."


Sherrie Cole-Whitaker Mar 08, 2020 03:46 PM

Thank you for this well detailed response. I’d like to think that educational practices in 2020 have advanced based on past educational research. To limit our practice to the Simple View of reading is to return our practice to that of 1970’s at best! Our practice should remain student centered, rooted in empirically proven, replicated practice that is BALANCED in all elements of reading. Reading is a very complex process.

Sara Peden Mar 08, 2020 05:59 PM

In response to Sherrie Cole-Whitaker ...
I think that what you've said "To limit our practice to the Simple View of Reading is to return our practice to that of the 1970s at best!" is exactly why I object to Dr. Shanahan's characterization of the Simple View of Reading. I haven't been able to get my hands on the 1972 Gough article, but the 1986 seminal SVR article is very clearly NOT a return to the 1970s view. The SVR is mischaracterized by equating it with a view that only decoding matters. It is precisely the complexity of the reading process with the interaction / product of decoding and linguistic (not listening) comprehension, which the SVR captures. It's because we need to understand the complexity of reading comprehension that we NEED the SVR and for teachers to develop a strong understanding of language/linguistic (not listening) comprehension. If we want to remain rooted in empirically proven and replicated practice, we have to look at the SVR model ... it explains RC in a way that has been empirically proven/replicated in a way that no 'balanced literacy' model has been.

Donald Potter Mar 08, 2020 06:24 PM

For comprehension training, nothing has ever been published that can replace the McCall-Harby Test Lessons in Primary Reading or the McCall-Crabbs Test Lessons in Reading.

When I teach beginning decoding, I have the students make up sentences using the words they have decoded. I believe it is important for the students to make connections between the letter sounds, letter names (oral spelling), letter formation motor patterns, and the meanings of the words - so they are connected together from the very start.

Adrea Truckenmiller Mar 08, 2020 07:43 PM

There is some more recent evidence to suggest that conceptualizations of the Simple View of Reading that is supported by research can be useful for informing intervention. Here's an example that is freely accessible https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/ED572933.pdf

Harriett Mar 08, 2020 08:53 PM

I've been trying to pinpoint my areas of confusion about this relationship between listening comprehension and reading comprehension, so I've gone back and reread Kilpatrick's sections on SVR in his Essentials book as well as his chapter on understanding reading comprehension difficulties. I found his discussion of 'attention' interesting because it highlights a scenario in which listening comprehension scores are actually lower than reading comprehension scores. He says:

"Attention is an executive function that is required for comprehending oral and written language (Cain & Bignell, 2014; Kendeou, van den Broek, Helder, & Karlsson, 2014; Kieffer, Vukovic, & Berry, 2013; Miller et al., 2013). Some students with poor attention have listening comprehension scores that are lower than their reading comprehension scores (Aaron et al., 2002; Cain & Bignell, 2014). Presumably, they are more likely to mentally 'wander' during a passive listening task than an active reading task."

Deborah Goff Mar 09, 2020 12:55 PM

I agree with your conclusion that, based on evidence, we should work more on the foundational skills of PA ad phonics so that kiddos can decode words. I am wondering what evidence we have (besides the "baseball experiment") to support increased content knowledge as a key component necessary for reading comprehension. I don't doubt that this is important, but are there any other studies that support this idea? Thanks for this blog!

Stephen Parker Mar 09, 2020 04:28 PM

The SVR states that RC = D x LC where RC is reading comprehension, D is decoding skill and LC is language (listening) comprehension. If the SVR is accepted as a reasonable approximation of reading, then teaching reading comprehension (RC) is accomplished in two specific ways: by improving a student’s decoding skills (D) or by improving a student’s language comprehension (LC).

In point 1 of your blog, you criticize the notion that RC is equivalent to LC. But the SVR agrees with you. Only in the rare case that D = 1 (perfect decoding skill) would the model predict that RC = LC. In that case, Johnny, reading the text to himself, would achieve the same level of comprehension as Johnny listening to someone else read the text aloud to him. RC = LC.

But D = 1 is certainly not the case for many (most?) students in today’s schools. For these students RC is not equivalent to LC. Rather, RC < LC. Teachers can help these students by improving their decoding skills or by improving their language comprehension skills.

In point 2 you state “if you got all students up to the highest levels of oral language proficiency, you would definitely reduce the amount variation in reading comprehension. But that would still leave a lot of variation in reading comprehension.”

Again, the SVR agrees with you. Even if all students had the same high level of LC, there can still be a lot of variation in RC among those students due to the multiplication effect of D, the decoding score.

In your blog’s 4th point, you seem to throw out the SVR entirely. You state “Teaching listening comprehension is not the teaching of reading comprehension, no matter its other value.” But surely if D is held constant in the SVR model (RC = D x LC), then helping a child increase his LC score MUST increase that child’s reading comprehension score.

You also make these 2 statements about the SVR:

1) “Its basic premise is that the only thing special about reading is decoding”
2) “There is no such thing as reading comprehension. Once a reader is able to decode a text aloud, then listening comprehension takes over.”

I agree with the first of these statements. Printed text is sound that has been recorded on paper. If it can be decoded competently (D = 1), reading comprehension and language comprehension are the same thing. It’s irrelevant if printed text is usually more complex than spoken text in terms of sentence length or of “style, proportions of adjectives and prepositions, [and] degree of narrativity.” The SVR simply holds that if a complex written text is silently read BY Johnny, or if it’s read TO Johnny, Johnny’s comprehension of the text will be the same if D = 1.

Finally, I doubt Philip Gough or William Tumner, authors of the SVR, would agree with you that their model implies “there is no such thing as reading comprehension” or that “once a reader is able to decode a text aloud, then listening comprehension take over.” I interpret their model to say that once a child’s decoding skills are highly developed (D = 1 and RC = LC), reading comprehension doesn’t disappear, rather, RC and LC grow together (or stagnate together) for the rest of the child’s life.

I invite you to read my own blog on the SVR at https://www.parkerphonics.com/post/the-simple-view-of-reading-still-conclusive-after-33-years.

Stephen Parker

Karen Pina Mar 09, 2020 05:39 PM

As the poser of the original question, I was hoping you could provide some additional clarification around the following points:

1) What if LC instruction utilizes a text read aloud to students? This would expose students to language structures of written text and allow teachers and students alike to address language structure as opposed to decoding.

2) One study I have been reviewing for instructional ideas is the York Reading for Meaning Project. This study includes students who I believe Wagner would consider to have a specific comprehension deficit (decoding is fine, but still poor reading outcomes) and compares intervention groups comprised of text-based instruction, oral language-based instruction and a hybrid of both approaches. They found the best long term outcomes for the OL group, not because of improved LC, but due to growth in vocabulary. This led me to think that oral language strategies that take text out of the equation may be the best means of addressing comprehension in the intervention setting. Am I missing something?

3) Lastly, text to speech is an accommodation that is widely utilized for "dyslexic" students. This is great if their language comprehension is intact. However, the vast majority of our students fall in the "garden variety" poor reader category and have dramatic deficits in both language comprehension and decoding-- some due to status as ELLs and others due to other processing challenges or attention issues (the majority both). What accommodations would you recommend for these children to access core instruction? Harriet brought up an interesting point about attention and listening comprehension and I see these children continuously struggle to follow academic discussions and audio text. I worry that students who do not respond to our intervention and fall in these categories are left with no viable path forward; we can often only get them to semi-functional oral reading fluency levels and the most widely used AT accommodations are often unhelpful to them.

Lastly, thank you so much for your thoughtful response to my question. Our whole team is very grateful for your insight and it will truly guide the instruction delivered in our classrooms.

Karen Pina Mar 09, 2020 05:41 PM

Here is a link to York Reading for Meaning Project for anyone who is unfamiliar and would like to check it out:


Timothy Shanahan Mar 09, 2020 10:30 PM


Thanks for the info on the York Reading for Meaning project. I hadn't been aware of it prior to my issuing this blog entry. It is the only study of its kind that I have ever seen and at this point it still hasn't been replicated. That to me means this is exciting and interesting and suggests some possibilities, but I would not set policy on its basis. I would not only love to see several replications and near replications of this, I would like to see a more expansive reading comprehension condition (that considers not only cognitive strategies, but also written language instruction).

thanks again.

Timothy Shanahan Mar 09, 2020 10:36 PM


There are two major concerns about an oral language only strategy. One is the great difficulty in transfer. I don't know if you have every learned a foreign language, but if you have learned a lot more of oral or written than the other, you'd recognize that it isn't as simple as "if you know it, you apply it." Second, the differences between written and oral text. There is no question that you could read everything to the kids and then try to teach them the oral language (around that) which would make it more like reading, but if you really want kids to be readers, teaching them to be listeners instead makes little sense. This study is intriguing and well implemented admittedly, but it is only one study with one grade level and it has not been replicated in the decade since it was published. As the powerpoint shows, there are numerous studies showing improvements in reading comprehension from many text based interventions (more than 200 studies on cognitive strategies, and many on vocabulary, syntax, cohesion, discourse structure, etc.). I won't tout oral language instruction instead of reading instruction until there is a sufficient amount of credible evidence showing that to be the way to go.

Timothy Shanahan Mar 09, 2020 10:41 PM


I actually have spoken to Phil about this and I don't think that you entirely understand that part of his theory (though the rest of your explanation fits everything else that I know about it).

The only reason that I support phonics instruction is not because of the simple view theory, but because we have a plethora of research studies showing that providing kids with variations on decoding instruction it consistently benefits them. I'm holding the language portion of the theory to the same standard. There are many studies showing that teaching written language to kids improves their reading comprehension, but only one study (that I didn't know of when I wrote this) that found teaching oral language to first graders improved their comprehension. That's one piece of empirical evidence in that direction (beyond the several correlational studies that exist), but that isn't enough to design instruction around or to set educational policy.


Timothy Shanahan Mar 09, 2020 10:42 PM


Thanks. There are a slew of studies showing the importance or value of prior knowledge during reading. However, there are some problems with this research that I hope to write about soon. Your note will encourage me to make that sooner than later.


Timothy Shanahan Mar 09, 2020 10:44 PM


That's an important point. Just one of many differences that exist between listening and reading and between oral language and written language. Improving oral language and hoping it will transfer to reading comprehension, might work, but I won't endorse it without more evidence on that side of the ledger. Until then, if teachers want to teach reading comprehension, I think they should stick to text mainly.


Timothy Shanahan Mar 09, 2020 10:45 PM


Cool study. Unfortunately, it did not include a control group, so we can't tell if the improvement was due to maturation, core instruction, or the various interventions. And, of course, sorting that out is the point. thanks.

Timothy Shanahan Mar 09, 2020 10:48 PM


Maybe you should read the National Reading Panel or Daniel Willingham's American Educator review. It is pretty widely known that comprehension strategies improve reading comprehension, though indeed they are overtaught.
Do you know of any studies in which teaching information/knowledge improved reading comprehension? thanks.


Grace Vyduna/Haskins Mar 10, 2020 12:09 AM

Comprehension can be taught right along with decoding if we take the speech to print approach. If we teach children to encode words, moving them from simple to complex through slow pronunciation and supplying letters for the sounds they hear (aaa-mmm), we’re teaching phonemic awareness at the same time. If we start with spelling and define each word as we present it (I.e., am — I AM your teacher) we’re teaching vocabulary. Creating sentences (I am Nancy. I am six.) starts them on narrative. This is a natural progression, sounds to words to vocabulary to comprehension. And who is doing the work? The students, a whole classroom demonstrating time on task and all in about 20 minutes per day.

Sara Peden Mar 10, 2020 03:43 AM

Have you seen Dr. Tiffany Hogan's recent thread on Twitter? The whole thread is great: https://twitter.com/tiffanyphogan/status/1237121184606507008?s=20
Here's one of the links from it: https://pubs.asha.org/doi/10.1044/2019_JSLHR-L-19-0015

Sara Peden Mar 10, 2020 03:59 AM

Ameliorating Children’s Reading-Comprehension Difficulties: A Randomized Controlled Trial

Sara Peden Mar 10, 2020 04:09 AM

I don't know that you are understanding that I'm suggesting that we teach students the vocabulary and background knowledge they need to understand a particular text. I'm not suggesting that we don't work on helping students with reading comprhension. I'm suggesting that we do it by working with them to develop the language comprehension they need for understanding the text. I'm saying that the SVR predicts that student's won't comprehend what they read (RC will be low) when they don't comprehend the language in what they read (LC).

Tim Shanahan Mar 10, 2020 02:28 PM

Sara— in this entry I say that there are no studies in which oral language instruction transfers to reading comprehension. Readers have identified two such studies for me. However I both cases the studies (though well done) have not been replicated and that’s all there is. In both cases the authors of the studies themselves say that isn’t enough evidence on which to make educational policy on their basis, a science of reading demands that we make decisions based on empirical evidence rather than untested theory (and the idea of teaching oral language rather than written language is not sufficiently tested at this point). Teachers and state legislators are currently moving towards dropping written language instruction in favor of oral language instruction because of SVR. There is no question that we teach comprehension (and pretty much everything else) through oral language, and that oral language is important.... but the idea that teaching oral language automatically leads to improved reading comprehension is far from proven and anyone who has learned a foreign language is well aware of the gaps and difficulties of transferring facility from one form of language to another.


Miriam Mar 10, 2020 03:05 PM

When you say "anyone who has learned a foreign language is well aware of the gaps and difficulties of transferring facility from one form of language to another" are you thinking that it's equally hard to learn to link print to language when you already know the (oral) language as it is to learn the language when you can decode print? Depends on the writing system, but in my experience, if you have strong oral language, learning to read isn't that hard if the writing system is fairly transparent and/or it's taught well. Much faster and easier than actually learning the language (vocabulary, syntax, etc.)! Of course, both typically happen in parallel and reinforce each other, but I don't really understand the point you're making with this comparison. When I first started learning Russian as an adult, the first thing we did was learn how to decode (not that hard in Russian) and then slowly and painstaikingly built our facility with *the language* via speaking, listening, reading and writing. And we spent zero time on comprehension skills or strategies, but then of course we were all already skilled readers of English so we had internalized things like comprehension monitoring.

Harriett Mar 10, 2020 10:45 PM

This piece, Linguistic Comprehension: Not a Simple View of Language (https://eminamclean.wixsite.com/website/post/linguistic-comprehension-not-a-simple-view-of-language), provides and interesting analysis of the current discussion:

"So, what does all of this mean?

Teaching linguistic comprehension must involve teaching comprehension at the word level, the sentence level, and the extended text level (paragraph, chapter, book etc.).

The Simple View of Reading holds, if we agree to be clear on what Linguistic Comprehension includes and teach all components.

Many complex skills are required for Reading Comprehension to be achieved. These skills sit under the umbrellas of WR or LC.

How about we agree to describe and define LC in terms that are of benefit to instruction?"

Tim Shanahan Mar 11, 2020 02:39 AM


I very much like this piece, very thoughtful.


K Mar 13, 2020 08:23 AM

Thank you for your thoughtful piece.

You say listening comprehension and reading comprehension are correlated but not the same thing. So, if someone listens to written text being read aloud either by human reader, audio, or text-to-speech would you characterize the receivers’ understanding of that text as listening or reading comprehension?

You say that people comprehend what they read and what they listen to at different levels, demonstrating that reading comprehension and listening comprehension are not the same construct. Did you control for decoding ability? If someone’s decoding ability is weaker than their capacity to comprehend, then listening comprehension would be higher than reading comprehension. But, if you controlled for decoding, by reading the text aloud, you could more accurately measure understanding of the text.

Is it the case that when there is a difference in listening and reading comprehension, that listening comprehension is always higher, unless the person has an auditory processing deficit. ? If so, wouldn’t that be indicative of decoding being a confounding variable?

It would seem decoding sets the upper limit on what a student reading independently can comprehend, but when the words are read aloud, you will truly be able to measure the extent to which a student compress the text.

You say teaching listening comprehension is not sufficient in improving reading comprehension because written text contains more vocabulary, longer sentences etc. I would argue that conversational language is not the only way to teach or measure listening comprehension; listening to text being read aloud, and discussing its meaning while teaching content and vocabulary would be a way to improve reading comprehension.

Perhaps, designing a study in which students are provided with audio book, or text-to-speech, and then tested on their reading comprehension would show whether listenIng to written text does indeed improve reading comprehension.

I would appreciate your thoughts. Thank you.

Emily Mar 22, 2020 02:25 AM

Thank you for this post. Is the issue similar to the vocabulary hurdle we face in reading? That is, the vocabulary we encounter in texts is usually far more sophisticated than our spoken vocabulary (at least for me...I guess I shouldn't speak for everyone). I think it's similar with ideas like inferences and language structure. In theory, those could be considered solely "spoken language concerns." But in reality, text-based inferences and text-based sentence structures are way more advanced than what we experience in conversation. If this is the point you're making, I do think it's super important for teachers to understand so they don't misinterpret or misapply the SVR.

Amanda Mar 26, 2020 03:49 AM

Tim, you mention the one exception is second language learners. Are there any studies on students with mixed expressive receptive language disorders? Wondering if concentrating on oral language skills with these students may positively benefit their reading comprehension skills?

Wendy Cocks Aug 31, 2021 05:31 PM

I’ve just re-read this blog article on the back of reading Duke and Crtwrighr’s recent article on advancing the simple view of reading via their active reading model. I think it offers much in thinking about how we work with developing and struggling readers. What are your thoughts on the active reading model?

W Hess Sep 04, 2023 02:26 PM

The simplistic view gets one through state mandated testing but does not produce strong readers.

What Are your thoughts?

Leave me a comment and I would like to have a discussion with you!

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Why Following the Simple View May Not Be Such a Good Idea


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