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Presentation will show the ‘Rocket Science’ of teaching and learning to read

Dr. Louisa Moats will give the free lecture Oct. 6

‘Teaching (and Learning) Reading Is Rocket Science’ by Dr. Louisa Moats When: 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6 Where: Newpark Resort, 1476 Newpark Blvd. Cost: Free, but registration is required Registration: eventbrite.com/e/teaching-and-learning-reading-is-rocket-science-tickets-421589564737 Web: parkcityreads.org.
Dr. Louisa Moats, an award-winning literacy expert, teacher, psychologist, researcher and author, will give her presentation “Teaching (and Learning) Reading Is Rocket Science” on Thursday, Oct. 6. The lecture, which is free and open to the public, is facilitated by PC Reads, a student advocacy nonprofit.
Courtesy of Louisa Moats

Teaching is both an art and science, according to Dr. Louisa Moats.

“It’s a social art,” she said. “It’s a creative art and it’s a science, because teachers need to have a deep knowledge of what is going on with the kids, and they need to have a toolbox of knowledge of practices and activities that will engage the kids to be successful.”

Moats, a nationally recognized and award-winning literacy expert, teacher, psychologist, researcher and author, will be in Park City to present “Teaching (and Learning) Reading Is Rocket Science” at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday, Oct. 6, at Newpark Resort, 1476 Newpark Blvd.



The free event will be facilitated by PC Reads, a local student advocacy nonprofit specializing in dyslexia.

In the long run our entire society will benefit from having highly skilled teachers with very strong professional development in this complex thing called teaching kids how to read…” Dr. Louisa Moats, award-winning literacy expert, teacher, psychologist, researcher and author

Registration is open at eventbrite.com/e/teaching-and-learning-reading-is-rocket-science-tickets-421589564737



The title of the presentation, which is open to parents and teachers, is culled from a paper Moats wrote called “Teaching Reading is Rocket Science,” published by the American Federation of Teachers 20 years ago. 

“We did a revision of it in 2020, and it is widely distributed in teacher-preparation courses,” she said. “It’s been my lifelong passion to understand what goes on when kids learn how to read and what goes awry when they struggle and what we can do about it.”

Moats’ interest in literacy and education blossomed while she worked at a neuropsychology laboratory in Boston.

“I was fascinated by the learning disorders that were exhibited by the kids who were coming into the clinic,” she said. “From there, I went on and got a masters degree in learning disabilities, and later, a doctorate from the Harvard Education School in reading and language.”

Moats’ career has taken some unusual turns, which has deepened her understanding of what needs to be done to help kids with reading challenges learn to read.

“I spent 15 years in private practice as a psychologist, evaluating people and consulting with schools, and then I moved into big-time policy work in California,” she said. “I directed a huge research project in high-poverty, minority schools in Washington, D.C. and for the past 20 years I’ve been directing most of my work in teacher preparation and professional development.”

Moats’ work in professional development is widely known and is currently being used in Utah, she said.

Throughout their studies, Moats has found a common element in kids who struggle to learn how to read, whether it’s due to lack of opportunities, dyslexia or subpar programming.

“The common denominator is difficulty learning to associate the speech sounds in spoken language with the printed symbols we use in the English writing system,” she said. “I say symbols rather than letters, because in English, some words represent the sounds of individual letters in a straightforward way.”

Because of that, just knowing the alphabet is not sufficient for kids to be able to read, according to Moats.

“You have to know there are combinations of letters that represent sounds,” she said. “You have to know the patterns in print, and you have to know (words) in print represent different meanings on certain levels.”

The challenge is based on the problem of underdeveloped skills in what Moats calls “phonemic awareness.”

“What that means is when a child hears or says a word, they have trouble taking it apart to its individual sounds, identifying what those sounds are and matching those sounds with printed symbols,” she said. 

To help teachers identify kids with phonemic awareness problems, school districts have started screening students, Moats said.

“Once they identify these kids, (schools) organize the system and classroom instruction so they can deliver more intensive instruction right away in these things that are harder for some kids to get,” she said. “That is the key to preventing reading failure, and making sure the kids are on the right track and not fall behind.”

Moats will discuss some of these topics, but also shed some light on her research.

“It will be about how reading takes place, and what goes on in a young child’s mind as they try to make sense out of what is on print,” she said. “I will also discuss how challenging that is and why it is challenging.”

The presentation will also address why some kids don’t become proficient readers.

“There are some filters in the brain that have to be constructed through teaching, and I’ll also talk about what has to take place and what parents can do to support good instruction in order to get kids to that end point, affluent reading,” she said.

Moats knows in this day and age of teacher shortages, burnout and turnover that she’s an idealist when she hopes to see an elevation of the standards for teacher knowledge and preparation. 

“When there are so many job openings in so many places, the tendency is to always skirt the standards and bring people into the field without licenses and make it easier to become a teacher,” she said. “My argument is that in the long run our entire society will benefit from having highly skilled teachers with very strong professional development in this complex thing called teaching kids how to read. And that requires good training, good mentoring and good support in the classroom.”


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