Episode 45 - The Role of Background Knowledge and Literacy in the Community with Susan Neuman, EdD

Episode Summary

Susan Neuman, EdD, joins the READ Podcast for a discussion on integrating rich content, background knowledge, and language into literacy instruction. She breaks down code-based and meaning-based reading skills and explains the importance of background knowledge, language, and vocabulary within a comprehensive lens of reading instruction.  

She discusses her work and passion for building literacy in communities through what she calls a “360 surround” approach to ensuring students have access to high-quality and diverse print outside of school. Dr. Neuman offers practical implications for educators and community members to educate and empower young readers in their classrooms and communities. 

Top READ Bookmarks
Each episode, host Danielle Scorrano identifies key takeaways or “READ bookmarks.”

  1. The Role of Background Knowledge 
    Listen to 10:51 – 13:16 to learn more. 

“Many of our children are coming to school with different levels of background knowledge.” 

Dr. Neuman explains a comprehensive approach to reading comprehension, citing frameworks like Scarborough’s Reading Rope (2001). Background knowledge is an essential component for literacy development.  

“We want to see equal amounts of attention devoted to both helping children decode and understand how decoding works, and also to understand the language-basis of reading.” 

Content and language-rich instruction helps children build knowledge and vocabulary while they also learn to decode and read accurately and fluently.  

  1. Effective Classroom Practices to Try Now 
    Listen to 18:54 – 23:15 to learn more. 

  • Integrate rich content in reading instruction such as building in intentional instructional opportunities from across content areas (i.e., social studies and science) 
  • Carefully choose and “deep teach” vocabulary that is connected to, or present in, the text students are reading. 
  • Vary teacher questioning. 
  • Review previously learned content and skills through a distributed, spaced nature over time. 

“Distributed review has been shown in research to have tremendous impact and leads from short-term memory to long-term memory to deeper learning.” 

  1. Building Literacy in the Community and Beyond 
    Listen to 24:54 – 27:35 to learn more. 

Dr. Neuman’s work in the community focuses on neighborhood factors to support childhood literacy and development.  

“Neighborhood has a very important role in children's development.” 

Dr. Neuman approaches her literacy work in the community through a “360 surround” by partnering with other stakeholders in the community to provide children with access to print. 

“A 360 surround ensures that whether it's the grocery store, the laundromat, the bank, the car dealership children have access to print.” 

Dr. Neuman on the current movement in reading… 

“Some exciting things are beginning to happen. I think that one of the things that we're recognizing is that evidence matters. We need to ensure that our children are getting the best program possible.” 


Learn more about Dr. Susan Neuman   Connect with Dr. NeumanIntegrate classroom practices to support background knowledge and comprehension


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READ Podcast is produced by The Windward School and The Windward Institute. READ is hosted by Danielle Scorrano.

About READ: READ, the Research Education ADvocacy Podcast connects you with prominent researchers, thought leaders, and educators who share their work, insights, and expertise about current research and best practices in fields of education and child development.

Note: All information and insights shared demonstrate the expertise and views of our guests and does not constitute an endorsement by The Windward Institute or The Windward School.