Balanced literacy

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A Balanced literacy program uses both whole language and phonics. The goal of a balanced literacy program is to include the strongest elements of each. There are five different components of a 'balanced literacy' program: The read aloud, guided reading, shared reading, independent reading, and Word study. In Reading Workshops, skills are directly taught to students during interactive read alouds. While the teacher reads the selection, s/he stops periodically to model the internal dialogue a good reader uses to help comprehend the work. For example the teacher might relate an event in the story to something that happened to him/her in real life (Schema/Text to self), make a connection to a similar event in another book (text/text), or a connection to the wider world (Text to world).[1]

Shared reading is when the students read from a shared text. Often this is a big book, a book on screen using a website or documents camera. If possible students should have their own copies also. Students and the teacher read aloud and share their thinking about the text. During both interactive read alouds and shared reading the class will create anchor charts. These anchor charts remind students how and when to use different skills and strategies.

Guided reading is a small group activity where more of the responsibility belongs to the student. Students read from leveled text. They use the skills directly taught during interactive read alouds and shared reading to increase their comprehension and fluency. The teacher is there to provide prompting and ask questions. Guided reading allows for great differentiation in the classroom. Groups are created around reading levels, and students move up when they note that the entire group is ready. During guided reading time the other students are engaged in reading workstations that reinforce various skills. They often work in pairs during this time. Stations can include library, big book, writing, drama, puppets, word study, poetry, computer, listening, puzzles, buddy reading, projector/promethean board, creation station, science, social studies. [2]

Independent reading is exactly what it sounds like: students reading self-selected text independently. The reading level of the text will often be slightly lower than the instructional level used in guided reading.

Sharing time after independent reading time students should be given an opportunity to share interesting things from their books.

Writing workshop follows a similar pattern as Reading Workshop. Skills are directly taught through the teacher modeling how to write a sentence, then a paragraph, a finally a whole paper. The next step is interactive writing where the class or small group writes together. Finally students write independently.


Balanced literacy is implemented through the Reading and Writing Workshop Model. The teacher begins by modeling the reading/writing strategy that is the focus of the workshop. Subsequently, students are engaged in practicing the focal strategy in small groups or independently as the teacher monitors and provides guidance. Selected students share their work. Then, students read leveled texts independently or write independently for an extended period of time as the teacher circulates amongst them to observe, record observations and confer. At the culmination of the workshop session, selected students share their strategies and work with the class.

It is recommended that guided reading be implemented during the extended independent reading period. Based upon assessment, the teacher works with small groups of students (no more than 6 students in each group) on a leveled text (authentic trade book). The teacher models specific strategies before reading and monitors students while they read independently. After reading, the teacher and students engage in activities in word study, fluency, and comprehension. The purpose of Guided Reading is to systematically scaffold the decoding and/or comprehension strategy skills of students who are having similar challenges.

Direct Instruction in phonics and Word Study are also included in the balanced literacy Approach. For emergent and early readers, the teacher plans and implements phonics based minilessons. After the teacher explicitly teaches a phonemic element, students practice reading and/or writing other words following the same phonemic pattern. For advanced readers, the teacher focuses on the etymology of a word. Students who are reading at this stage are engaged in analyzing the patterns of word derivations, root words, prefixes and suffixes.

The overall purpose of balanced literacy instruction is to provide students with a differentiated instructional program which will support the reading and writing skill development of each individual.

Comprehension strategies[edit]

Children are taught to use comprehension strategies including:

  • Sequencing
  • Relating background knowledge
  • Making inferences
  • Comparing and contrasting
  • Summarizing
  • Synthesizing
  • Problem-solving
  • Distinguishing between fact and opinion
  • Finding the main idea and supporting details

During the Reading and Writing Workshop teachers use scaffolded instruction as follows:

  • Teacher modeling or showing kids what a good reader does when reading a text, thinking aloud about the mental processes used to construct meaning while reading a book aloud to the class.
  • Guided practice gradually gives the students more responsibility with the teacher stepping in to help as needed. Students practice a comprehension strategy during discussion in a large group or in smaller groups with peers.
  • Independent practice where children begin to work alone while reading books by themselves, conferencing individually or in small groups with the teacher to make sure they are using a comprehension strategy correctly.
  • Application of the strategy is achieved when the students can correctly apply comprehension strategies to different kinds of texts and are no longer just practicing but are making connections between and can demonstrate understanding through writing or discussion.[3]

Throughout this process, students progress from having a great deal of teacher support to being independent learners. The teacher support is removed gradually as the students acquire the strategies needed to understand the text by themselves.


Critics of balanced literacy, such as Diane Ravitch, say that it teaches reading skills and strategies, but as implemented, it ignores the content. "Knowing reading strategies is not enough; to comprehend what one reads, one must have background knowledge."[4] For other instruction approaches, see Analytical phonics, Phonics, Synthetic phonics and Whole language.


  1. ^ McGregor, T. Comprehension connections, bridges to strategic reading. Heinemann Educational Books, 2007.
  2. ^ Diller, D. Literacy work stations:making centers work. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers, 2003.
  3. ^ Miller, D. (2002). Reading with Meaning-Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades, Portland: Stenhouse Publishers. ISBN 1-57110-307-4
  4. ^ How to Save the Schools, by E.D. Hirsch Jr., New York Review of Books, May 13, 2010

Further reading[edit]

  • Fountas. Irene and Pinnell, Gay Su. Guiding Readers and Writers/Grades 3-6, Portsmouth, NH,Heinemann, 2001.ISBN 0-325-00310-6