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What Is Balanced Literacy?

When teachers begin interviewing for positions at schools, they quickly find out which districts identify their English/Language Arts programs as those using a balanced literacy approach. Educators, administrators, and parents all widely discuss this approach, so what is balanced literacy? Research suggests that students who learn phonics as part of a balanced approach to real-world reading and writing incorporate their skills and use them fluidly as they read and write, whereas those who learn in isolation rarely generalize skills into real reading.

Does balanced literacy involve using programs?

Often teachers feel that balanced literacy can be confusing since there is no single method that encompasses the whole approach. Instead, a balanced literacy approach involves a variety of programs as resources either for structure or information. In the “what is balanced literacy” discussion, it becomes clear that teachers must be well-trained in literacy generally in order to use this approach effectively. Teachers must map out their required content and then define how many different ways they can incorporate authentic literacy purposes. A balanced literacy approach must contain a mix of Readers Workshop, Writers Workshop, Word Study, Interactive Writing, Shared Reading, Partner Reading, Guided Reading Lessons, Strategy Lessons, and Individual Conferences.

What is balanced literacy when combined with common core?

Common core is a set of standards students must meet before graduating from high school. Many of the common core standards have been divvied out across the grade levels. Teachers must make sure students meet these standards, and the best way to do this is to use a balanced literacy approach. When students choose the books they want to read while simultaneously meeting common core standards, they are likely to retain the new information. Schools that are not practicing balanced literacy will have more difficulty with their struggling readers meeting common core standards because they lack the foundation in literacy across the curriculum that students need. Lucy Calkins’ book Pathways to the Common Core: Accelerating Achievement can be a helpful resource for teachers who are still wondering what is balanced literacy when you must incorporate common core standard.

How is balanced literacy different from program-based literacy?

When teachers use a basal series that outlines lessons for reading and phonics using books written and designed particularly for this series alone, they can achieve success. However, the basal series method does not take into account individual students learning differences. A balanced literacy approach looks to locate books that can motivate individuals who change each year. Teachers using this approach identify the skills but use more inspiring and motivating books targeted at particular children’s needs. There are some wonderful basals out there using great children’s literature, but more and more teachers are being required to use a balanced literacy approach.

Helping children develop into literate people can be confusing when there are so many ideas and opinions available about what works best. A balanced literacy approach tends to be one where teachers can use what they know works best and adjust depending on the student they are trying to help. One thing is clear: teachers with more education and stronger records of professional development tend to fare better in the balanced literacy classroom.

Learn about the LSUS M.Ed. Curriculum and Instruction: Reading & Literacy online program.


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