I see Guiding Literacy talk about the “literacy system,” but what is it?

In reading research, we’ve seen the development and iterations of various models that illustrate the skills and processes involved in reading. You may be familiar with Tunmer and Gough’s (1986) Simple View of Reading, Duke and Cartwright’s (2021) Active View of Reading, Scarborough’s (2001) self-titled Rope, and Kim’s (2021) Direct and Indirect Effects Model of Reading.

What is the primary commonality among the models? They strive to depict essential components and the complex, interactive, and interdependent nature of sub-component skills and processes involved in reading. They all emphasize that while components may be listed as distinct features, none are sufficient on their own, and we cannot expect one area to pull the majority of the weight without consequence to the student.

This interconnectedness is crucial as it presents us with a system approach. When we seek to understand our students’ strengths and areas for growth, we must recognize, through varied assessments and task observations, where there may be misconnections or connections that need strengthening. In doing so, we can better support all of our students in reaching skilled and proficient reading outcomes.

Over the years, I have spent much time thinking not just about the students’ literacy system (through the lens of the models above) but also its similarities to a school’s literacy system and how the two influence each other bidirectionally. In a student’s literacy system, components and subcomponents can serve as barriers or facilitators. The same can be said for the elements of a school’s system, and they also cannot function in isolation (more on this soon). Further, different strengths of connections can lead to varied outcomes, and a lack of connections across the school system can hinder change or negatively influence the ability to deliver equitable, inclusive programming that effectively meets diverse students and their literacy systems.

How might we conceptualize the school literacy system? Knoster’s Model for Managing Complex Change is a great change management model. That said, I felt that the model could be adapted to better illustrate the components in a way that aligns with the school context and topic of literacy. This framework is one tool in Guiding Literacy’s approach and toolbox.

Reflecting on your school’s literacy system is a valuable exercise. In future posts, I will ask some thinking questions about the key components and their subcomponents. In the meantime, time is well spent when you stop to consider – when was the last time we got ‘under the hood’ and tapped into our system, checking the strength of connections across it? How have these interactive components been addressed in our decision-making? Are we relying too heavily on, or investing too much, in one component? This reflection can help you to identify areas for improvement. 

Recently, Guiding Literacy introduced two different opportunities that can help guide you while digging into your system:

  • Get help from Guiding Literacy with a FREE one-hour consultation. There are only five spots currently available. This consultation is a great way to have Guiding Literacy serve as your thought partner and learn about your school’s literacy system, get expert advice, and have a starting point for continued improvement. It is also an excellent opportunity to dialogue before new initiatives take shape and the academic year begins.
  •  Guiding Literacy Growth’s New Explorer Opportunity. Discover how to efficiently assess and optimize your literacy programming with six guided sessions. Uncover strategies to amplify student outcomes in just two weeks and establish a clear path for sustained success.

Reach out via the Contact Me page to find out more information, claim your free consultation or sign up to take part in the Explorer Opportunity.


Duke, N. K., & Cartwright, K. B. (2021). The science of reading progresses: Communicating advances beyond the Simple View of Reading. Reading Research Quarterly, 56(S1), S25-S44. https://ila.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1002/rrq.411

Gough, P. and Tunmer, W. (1986). Decoding, reading, and reading disability. Remedial and Special Education, 7, 6–10.

Kim, Y-S. G. (2020a). Toward an integrative reading science: The direct and indirect effects model of reading. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 53(6), https://doi.org/10.1177/0022219420908239

Reading Rockets. (2024) Scarborough’s Reading Rope. https://www.readingrockets.org/videos/meet-experts/scarboroughs-reading-rope