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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. The components of a 'balanced literacy' approach are as follows: The read aloud, guided reading, shared reading, interactive writing, shared writing, Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop and Word study. <Brotherton, S., & Williams, C. (2002). Interactive Writing Instruction in a First Grade Title I Literacy Program. Journal of Reading Education, 27(3), 8-19.>
In Reading Workshops, skills are explicitly modeled during mini lessons. The mini lesson has four parts- the connection, the teach (demonstration), the active engagement and the link. The teacher chooses a skill and strategy that she believes her class needs based on assessments she has conducted in her classroom. During the connection she connects prior learning to the current skill she is teaching that day. She then states the teaching point or the skill and strategy she is going to teach. She then shows kids how to do the skill by modeling the strategy in a book the students are familiar with. She often uses a "think aloud" to show students what she is thinking. Students then try that work out in their own books or in her book during the active engagement. During the link she reminds students of all the strategies they can do while they are independently reading. <Calkins, Lucy (2000) Art of Teaching Reading>
Writing Workshop follows the same flow. Students are explicitly taught skills and strategies for writing during a mini lesson. Then they go off and write independently. The choose the skills they are trying out that day. The teacher comes around and confers with students to help them with their goals. <Atwell, N. (1989). Coming to Know: Writing to Learn in the Intermediate Grades. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.><Anderson, Carl How's it going?>
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 mini lessons, 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 mini lessons, 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. 
Independent reading is exactly what it sounds like: students reading self-selected text independently. Students choose books based on interest and independent reading level.
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 during a mini lesson (see above description) 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.
Children are taught to use comprehension strategies including:
- Relating background knowledge
- Making inferences
- Comparing and contrasting
- 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 reader does when reading a text, thinking aloud about the mental processes used to construct meaning while reading a book aloud to the class.
- Active Engagement during the mini lesson students try the work they were shown by the teacher.
"link" Students are reminded of all the strategies they can do as readers and writers.
- Independent practice where children begin to work alone while reading books by themselves, trying out the work they have been taught by the teacher, not only on that day but any previous lessons as well.
- 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.
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." For other instruction approaches, see Analytical phonics, Phonics, Synthetic phonics and Whole language.
- Diller, D. Literacy work stations:making centers work. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers, 2003.
- Miller, D. (2002). Reading with Meaning-Teaching Comprehension in the Primary Grades, Portland: Stenhouse Publishers. ISBN 1-57110-307-4
- How to Save the Schools, by E.D. Hirsch Jr., New York Review of Books, May 13, 2010
- Fountas. Irene and Pinnell, Gay Su. Guiding Readers and Writers/Grades 3-6, Portsmouth, NH,Heinemann, 2001.ISBN 0-325-00310-6