Advancing Research, Improving Education
SEDL's Reading Resources
Cognitive Framework of Reading Reading Assessment Database Short Papers Reading First Links
Table of Contents


Cognitive Elements of Reading

Reading Assessment Techniques

Research Evidence

Using the Framework



PDF version

Related Resources
Glossary of reading terms

Instructional Resources - Literary References

Instructional Resources - Instructional Activities


The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory (SEDL) is a private, not-for-profit education research and development corporation based in Austin, Texas. SEDL conducts field-based research and provides research-based resources and information throughout the Southwest region (including Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas) in areas like the following:

  • linguistic diversity in schools
  • the use of technology to support instruction
  • comprehensive school reform
  • content areas such as mathematics, reading, and science

SEDL’s reading project is funded by the U. S. Department of Education and is administered by the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI) under contract RJ96006801. SEDL's reading project examines early literacy in grades K-2 and the prevention of early reading failure. The goals of this effort include the following:

  • developing a framework of the cognitive foundations of learning to read that organizes research information
  • using that framework to organize information about K-2 reading assessment, instructional resources and strategies, and state standards
  • providing tools and resources that facilitate tracking student achievement data
  • assessing the utility of the developed resources with practicing teachers

History of SEDL's reading project

In March 1997 SEDL had the opportunity to propose additional work under its regional educational laboratory contract. Given the critical nature of literacy needs in its five state region, especially in the early elementary grades, SEDL chose to propose work to build materials that would help teachers in the early grades better teach reading.

The idea proposed was straightforward. While the debate about how best to teach reading, whole-language versus phonics approaches, raged over the last 35 years, cognitive science was building a consensus view of the cognitive foundations upon which successful reading competence rested. The educational challenge was to find a way to provide this research base to teachers in an understandable, non-technical way. For if teachers could build their understanding of this research and then tie it to their knowledge of student assessment and teaching techniques, then they would be better able to teach to individual needs. And students would find more success in becoming competent readers in the early grades.

The challenge was to construct a tool that would give teachers access to the research base. To do so, SEDL proposed to build a framework of the cognitive foundations of learning to read, one that would both organize and synthesize the cognitive research on reading acquisition. The framework, including graphic and textual information, would need to show the building blocks upon which reading comprehension rests, defining both the individual components as well as their relationships to each other. Wes Hoover, SEDL’s President & CEO, worked with his mentor at the University of Texas at Austin, Philip Gough, to lay out the substance of the framework (its components and their relationships), much of which was based on Gough’s collective work in reading acquisition.

Sebastian Wren wrote most of the text for the framework and designed the framework graphic. Dr. Wren also designed the Reading Assessment Database for Grades K-2, and wrote the accompanying text, and he collaborated with Jennifer Watts and Iliana Alanis to create the Instructional Resources Database for Grades K-2. Deborah Jinkins used the framework to create the literacy portfolio and to organize the state standards for language arts in each of the five states that SEDL serves (Arkansas, Louisiana, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Texas). Dr. Wren and Dr. Jinkins collaborated with Brian Litke to create an interactive Internet-based version of these resources. Susan Paynter provided valuable assistance and feedback as well. The final online version of the framework was visually designed by Chris Sears with database programming by Brian Litke.


The framework, titled, The Cognitive Foundations of Learning to Read: A Framework, was developed with external consultation over a 22-month period from June of 1998 through June of 2000. The framework’s content and the organization are derived from scientific research conducted in a variety of disciplines, such as education, linguistics, cognitive science and psychology. The accompanying text was created to support teachers’ understanding of the elements and the structure represented in the graphical framework.

In the course of developing the framework and the complementary resources, SEDL staff collaborated with 71 elementary teachers representing seven elementary school campuses in two states. SEDL would like to sincerely thank the teachers at Algodones, Cochiti, Placitas, and Roosevelt elementary schools in the Bernalillo Independent School District in Bernalillo, New Mexico, the teachers at both the Learning Center and the Elementary School in the Fredericksburg Independent School District in Fredericksburg, Texas, and the teachers at Bruce Aiken Elementary School in the Brownsville Independent School District, Brownsville, Texas. These teachers sacrificed hours of their valuable time consulting with SEDL staff to develop these resources. They provided valuable feedback about the utility and applicability of the cognitive framework and other resources, and their time, experience and hard work are greatly appreciated. We would also like to thank the Bernalillo, NM, Brownsville, TX, and Fredericksburg, TX Independent School Districts for their support and assistance in this project; without their cooperation, these resources could never have been created.

In the course of completing the final drafts of these resources, SEDL consulted with reviewers and experts from a variety of fields. We want to thank Vicki Altland, Philip Gough, Sylvia Linan-Thompson, Keith Stanovich, William Tunmer, Krista Underwood, Theresa Watson, Jennifer Watts, and Jody Westbrook for their insightful comments and feedback on the framework document. We would also like to thank Carmen Alvarez-Rodriguez, Gloria Barrett, Maria Lydia Borrego, Stella Mata, Norma Muñoz, and Isabel Reyes for contributing activities for the instructional activities database that are appropriate for use with Spanish-speaking children. Finally, SEDL's reading project staff would like to thank our colleagues working on other projects within SEDL who took the time to examine these resources and provide valuable feedback. The time they took away from their own work to help in developing these resources reflects their tireless commitment to quality education. Creating these resources was truly a collaborative effort, and we appreciate the time and energy that people generously donated.

Archived Resource

The resources listed on this website are from a past project. The Reading Assessment Database and external links have not been updated since 2009.

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