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5.1 Science- and Trauma-Informed Literacy Education for 21st Century Learning

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the purpose of education and the reasons that people like you and I persist in this wonderful and frustrating profession. I’ve been thinking about how, as a young teacher, I simply taught the prescribed outcomes and used the teacher’s guide to creatively to design courses that had my own “flavour” and didn't really consider the systems that underpinned my courses. I’ve been thinking about that realization mid-career that changed my views on the whole education system and my place in it, my responsibility as a well-educated citizen. I’ve been thinking about the damage done by well-meaning reading teachers who employed methods that were unsupported by mounds of scientific evidence about how people learn to read. Those teachers were trained in a method and backed by their school district. The BC curriculum documents tacitly endorse this method by the inclusion of the references to “three-cueing” techniques found in whole language. I’ve been thinking that this has to change and that the only way to effect educational reform is to reframe the issue for teachers.

You can't learn when your "lid is flipped"

When students aren't calm and alert, their higher thinking brain will not be available to learning (Shanker, 2018). The neurosequential model of the structure of the human brain shows that literacy learning is possible only when a student feels safe. (ThinkTVPBS, 2:37) Dr. Perry's work highlights the intergenerational nature of stress responses and includes low literacy itself as a trauma.

I am so sold on Science and Trauma Informed Literacy Education (STILE) that I decided to pursue my Masters degree to have more influence in this field. I see reading as a basic human right, and I believe it is unconscionable to continue to victimize our most vulnerable learners with outdated and ineffective reading interventions. My district is caught between approaches and there has been some controversy, starting with the STILE pilot project at my school, which was funded by an innovation grant and hosted by our school psychologist (coincidentally now an associate professor who trains pre-service teachers). I have had countless feisty conversations with colleagues, administrators, and the school board about the need to implement evidence-based literacy interventions and to eliminate past approaches. I’ve been driving this message home in my school by giving presentations at staff meetings, reimagining school-wide literacy assessments with my administrator, and running PLCs and countless off-the-cuff collaborations. I’m very proud to be featured on the school district website under Leadership Capacity, as it encourages me that I’m having an impact. Check it out at I encourage you to seek out professional development opportunities that can help you develop your own voice.

photo credit Brit Anderson

As a change agent, I am dedicated to teaching teachers about the importance of using evidence-based practices and to helping them to examine their own practice. My work has been very well received locally, but it is a continuing source of frustration to me to look at the outdated language in BC’s Language Arts curriculum and know that it causes confusion for teachers who just want to do their job properly so their students can pull ahead. I think back to my days as an English and History teacher and the agony of discovering students in my classes who read so far below their peers that their chances of graduating high school were threatened. I think ahead to the economic and social repercussions of illiteracy in Canada and the necessity for innovation in teaching and learning for 21st century skills.

A Call to Action

BC’s draft Literacy Learning Progressions (2023), the revised English Language Arts Curriculum (2016), and the revised Early Learning Framework (2019) do not align with Structured Literacy, a science and trauma-informed, culturally responsive, and heavily endorsed approach. A group of BC educators have created a petition to ask for these important documents to be independently reviewed. Please see the Call to Action at

Please read the background information and the references. Consider the implications for BC children and our province’s future. How does that sit with you knowing what you now know about innovation in teaching and learning? Exercise your rights as a citizen of BC and call for change at the curriculum level.



Shanker, S. (2010). Self-Regulation: calm, alert, and learning. Education Canada, 50(3).

ThinkTVPBS. (2020, August 25). Stress, Trauma, and the Brain: Insights for Educators--How Stress Impacts the Brain [Video]. YouTube.


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