Balanced literacy is a cluster of instructional literacy procedures, which include techniques for teaching individuals, small groups, and the entire class depending on interest and need. For this paper, we shall define balanced literacy as follows.
“Balanced Literacy stresses the essential dimensions of reading through explicit teaching of phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency and expressiveness, vocabulary, and comprehension.
Daily read-aloud, writing and reading workshops and systematic word study instruction are key aspects of the approach. Teachers express the practices and strategies of effectual reading and writing through different structures” (New York City Department of Education, 2011, n.p.).
This definition includes the use of instruction in learning words as well as reading and writing. Both the writer and the reader use words. Therefore, an efficient balanced literacy program should include understanding of phonetics, morphology and semantics. Besides, the definition recognizes the teacher’s role in transmitting knowledge and skills to the learners so they can be independent.
The history of balanced literacy traces back to the days of picture writing. Prior to the invention of letters, picture writing was rampant (Cheesman, McGuire, Shankweiler, & Coyne, 2009). Picture writing involved the use of symbols to represent words.
After the invention of the alphabets, reading became less difficult. Beginners had to learn just 26 letters and their sounds unlike in the past where they had to learn many symbols in picture writing. Later, in 1950’s, educators decided to introduce a new method called look-say. Look-say method involved guessing words by their shapes, first letters and context.
The method ignored the use of 26 methods and their sounds (Cheesman et al., 2009). Besides, look-say method failed to recognize that learners had limited memory capacity and that they could only maintain a few amount of words in their memory. Apparently, several children discovered how to read out words individually while others did not.
In the 1980’s, look-say evolved into another method called language experience. Language experience then evolved to psycholinguistics and later to whole language.
From whole language, the method evolved to balanced literacy. Balanced literacy is the modern day practice that uses instruction in learning words, reading and writing with the intention of helping learners to understand phonetics, morphology and semantics (Brown & Fisher, 2006).
The first recognized strategy that teachers use to help learners become better listeners is reading aloud. All balanced literacy programs have a room for listening to literature (Cheesman et al., 2009). Through listening, the learner can tell when a sound does not sound correct. Besides, listening to literature increases a learner’s vocabulary.
During reading, learners display listening comprehension. Learners can also make conclusions about characters and plots as they read. Reading aloud exposes the student to different aspects of literature. In addition, the student gets to hear the teacher and other good readers as they read fluently. Through this, the learner can figure out the model of fluent reading.
The second recognized strategy that teachers use to help learners become better listeners is modeled reading. Modeled reading is whereby the teacher reads text in a fluent way. The teacher can model learners in small groups, large groups, or on individual basis (Willows, 2005). The aim of modeling is to develop effective reading behaviour in learners.
The explicit preparation of definite reading outcomes for modeling involves looking for common phrases and words and guiding learners to create predictions concerning the story. In the course of modeled reading, the teacher takes full control of the process.
The role of students is just to listen and watch. The teacher should therefore make learners aware of the thinking process that he goes through when reading the text through thinking aloud.
The third strategy is shared reading. Shared reading is whereby learners read an enlarged document such as a chart, a big book, or an overhead transparency together with the instructor (Willows, 2005). Shared reading may take place in small groups, large groups, or one-on-one basis. First, the teacher reads the text for several times for the learners to hear.
Learners then join in when they feel most comfortable and they read aloud all that they can. Next, the teacher leaves learners to read on their own as the text becomes more familiar to them. After the learners finish reading the story, the teacher should ask them to narrate their feelings and thoughts about the experience. Learners listen attentively throughout so that they can answer questions at the end of the lesson.
One recognized strategy that teachers use to help learners become better speakers is book clubs/ literature study. Learners select books from several texts that the teacher recommends (Bitter &Gubbins, 2009). Such texts must be meaningful and written clearly. For instance, series books are not appropriate for use because they do not have topics that can sustain a meaningful discussion.
The teacher then assigns a small portion of the text to learners and instructs them to discuss and make notes so that they can recall key points. As the students carry out discussion, the teacher only listens and offers guidance when necessary. In other words, the teacher intervenes minimally.
Although learners may require active assistance from the teacher as the process starts, the ultimate goal of book clubs and literature study is to develop an independent student-governed conversation.
Material for discussion in book clubs includes short stories, novels, magazines and pictures. In the fifth grade, material selected should match the content of instruction. For instance, fiction novels talking about the earth would be very appropriate for learners to discuss and engage as they learn geography curriculum. Such discussions are valuable to students as they help them to develop their speaking skills.
Another recognized strategy that teachers use to help learners become better speakers is choral reading. Choral reading involves students reading a text all together. Learners are able to memorize words and develop fluency through choral reading.
This form of reading has many tongue twisters, which enable learners to develop word solving skills and command of language. Besides, learners memorize vocabulary to use in speaking during choral reading. As learners read, they are able to listen to themselves and their colleagues and that is how they strengthen their language.
Reading Aloud is also a recognized strategy that teachers use to help learners become better speakers (Frey, Lee, Tollefson, Pass & Massengill, 2005). Apart from enhancing listening, reading aloud also helps learners to develop speaking skills. As the teacher reads aloud, learners are able to master the tone and volume of different words and phrases. Besides, listening to literature increases a learner’s vocabulary that he can use in speaking.
One recognized strategy that teachers use to help learners become better readers is shared reading. This method of instruction involves the teacher reading content that is accessible to all learners (Pressley, Mohan, Raphael, & Fingeret, 2007). Learners may access the text read by a teacher through book copies or a digital projector.
Shared reading gives learners a chance to reflect and discuss about topics that surpass their actual independent reading capacities. For instance, a teacher may use shared reading in subjects like Mathematics and Sciences since they are usually written at a level of complexity beyond the aptitude of the reader.
Pressley et al. (2007) suggests that learners who are still growing reading, as a skill, should go through stimulating grade level content material. The instructor models the right mode of reading using the chosen text. He thinks aloud, identifies significant elements in the text, and maintains fluency as he reads.
Another recognized strategy that teachers use to help learners become better readers is independent reading (Pressley et al. 2007). Independent reading occurs when learners gain the maturity to read on their own. Moreover, independent reading occurs when the process of reading seems to increase the ability and skills of readers.
This is usually evident when the teacher offers short and explicit instruction before the independent reading classes. For instance, an instructor may start a reading workshop with a semi-lesson on character analysis.
The instructor then tells learners to reflect on characters during independent reading and to write down what they think about them. Next, the instructor discusses with individual learners about their perceptions on character. Through this process, the instructor assists the learner to develop comprehension capacity for use in independent reading.
During independent reading, the learner uses a notebook or a journal. The writer should record titles of works read and dates that he completed reading the work. The teacher may also follow habits of students reading and guide them where necessary. The response journal should also have a letter of response from the reader. The learner writes down all details of instructions that the instructor gives during daily semi-lessons.
The learner organizes his thinking and all learning that he obtains in the course of a week into an inclusive letter. The instructor then studies the letter and responds. The aim of an instructor’s response is to guide the thinking of the learner and build an independent context for reading.
A further recognized strategy that teachers use to help learners become better readers is guided reading. Guided reading is an instructional strategy whereby the instructor offers brief guides to learners (Frey et al., 2005). In this strategy, learners need to be in groups of no more than five.
The groups comprise of homogenous learners, depending on their reading capacities and other individual needs as established by assessment tests. As skills develop, teachers shift learners to next level groups. The teacher often conducts learner assessments to determine their correct group placement.
A guided reading lesson has four components including; text introduction, word work, reading and discussion. The instructor first gives an introduction on the reading text as he explains difficult words and tries to connect the task with learners’ prior knowledge. The teacher also scaffolds any comprehension of the task and creates interest among learners.
Introducing the task to be read is very significant in the teaching and learning process. Considering that the task matches with learners’ level of knowledge, learners can only succeed in reading if they have received adequate preparation to embrace the content. Next, learners read the text on their own.
Most learners prefer to read silently. However, the teacher may decide to monitor an individual reader while asking him queries about his reading. When all the students finish reading, the instructor conducts a discussion. This discussion focuses on details of the text and learners’ experiences in reading.
The instructor may also decide to introduce a new skill or strategy in the course of the discussion. Lastly, the teacher conducts some brief word work. This entails a recap on word solving actions or morphology.
One recognized strategy that teachers use to help learners become better writers is shared writing. The aim of shared writing is to show learners essential skills and ways of writing. The instructor introduces and models writing as learners give their ideas. Thus, both learners and instructors take part in creating stories and messages. The instructor offers a model of writing while paying special attention to sounds, words and letters.
Another recognized strategy that teachers use to help learners become better writers is interactive writing. In interactive writing, the instructor and learners collaborate in creating joint text, similar to shared writing. The only difference between interactive writing and shared writing is that in interactive writing, learners take part and interact with the process while in shared writing, this does not occur.
In the course of interactive writing, the teacher illustrates elements writing as learners create text. For instance, learners may write the first letter of a familiar word and then the teacher fills other words. Interactive writing aims at offering letter formation practice to learners. In addition, the process aims at giving learners an experience with punctuation and awareness of letters and words.
Although time-consuming, interactive writing is very valuable to learners. Students participating in interactive writing use different colored marking pens on a large piece of paper for easy referral. The teacher then uses these writings by learners as assessment tools to find learners’ level of writing.
Guided writing is as well a recognized strategy that teachers use to help learners become better writers. The aim of guided writing is to enable learners write independently by developing writing behaviors through shared and modeled learning. Guided writing may focus on one learner or small groups consisting of persons with the same needs. Every learner in a group writes individually with help from the teacher.
Learners hold the pen and write on their own. Teachers then conduct semi-lessons whereby they address the particular needs of learners through continuous assessment. Learners are able to create more comprehensive texts through this process than they can on their own.
Learners can become intelligent viewers of internet stimuli, television and media through image descriptions. Here, the instructor describes a picture orally and asks students to draw a picture out of his descriptions. Next, the instructor shows learners his picture and asks them to compare it with their own drawings.
Some aspects that learners can compare include; the closeness of their individual pictures to the real picture and the mistakes that they had done in their drawing. The instructor can also interrogate learners about the picture.
Some areas of interrogation may include whether it is a photograph; how and when it was made; what the picture all about; where the picture was taken; and at what time. In this process, the instructor should let learners guide the direction of the discussion.
Real Life Pictures
Learners can also become intelligent viewers by teaching them using real life images. This strategy involves sharing stories by looking at pictures. For instance, the teacher may show learners his own picture and share his story-life from the picture. This task relates to speaking and listening, which are central aspects involved in viewing the television.
Another method that instructors can make learners become intelligent viewers is through television and film pictures. The instructor first gets a suitable film/TV program and uses it to build nouns.
He then gives learners a copy of the image and asks them to name all the parts in the picture. After naming the parts, the instructor may add adjectives to the labeled parts. By doing so, the learner will grow fond of viewing images in the television and other media.
Visual presentation approach merges the creation of visuals and mental imaging for use in presentation. Besides, the strategy allows learners to show the core concepts and to simplify knowledge into a summary (Bingham & Hall-Kenyon, 2011).
Instructors start by demonstrating to learners how to pick the most suitable presentation layout for the information in print. Instructors may have to explain to learners about different presentation layouts. Learners then pick format designs that best suit their presentations.
A teacher can also help student become better writers through visual presentations such as charts, picture dictionary and media. First, the instructor introduces charts to learners and asks them to write about what they see. Eventually, learners end up with different stories, which they can share. Second, the instructor forms a picture dictionary for the classroom.
The dictionary has pictures and their meaning in words. Besides, the instructor can use PowerPoint to create and integrate words and pictures (Carnahan & Israel, 2012). Through these methods, the learner enriches his vocabulary, which he can use for writing.
Third, the instructor exposes the learner to different forms of advertisements. The teacher then asks learners to pay special attention to the writings on the advertisement. The teacher also asks learners to check the display of images and texts in the advertisement. Through these tasks, the learners develop writing skills.
Application: Expected Challenges in Student Teaching
Differentiating learners is challenging because the instructional needs may differ greatly. To solve this problem, I would place learners according to their assessment needs and keep them in flexible groups whereby I can shift them depending on their capabilities.
Besides, I would use individualized teaching to cater for learners specific needs together with scaffolding. Scaffolding refers to the progressive release of instruction from teacher to learner (Bitter &Gubbins, 2009).
Another challenge I might face is delivering whole-group instruction while focusing on individual needs of learners. To solve this problem, I will deliver instruction using clear language and a language that most learners can understand. I will also apply the explicit principle in reading and writing activities. The explicit principle involves modeling particular tests.
English Language Learners (Ell)
Dealing with English Language Learners is another challenge that am likely to face while implementing the balance literacy program. This group consists of learners who are not proficient in the English language. To solve this problem, I will set up my classroom in an inclusive style. This will include arranging ELL learners in small groups from where I can coach them ahead of whole-class instruction.
The aim of this strategy is will be to reduce anxiety. I will also promote a climate of acceptance among all learners and especially those who are not proficient in the English language so that all learners can take part. I will model and foster a culture whereby all learners must speak, read, write and listen. I will also reward all efforts by learners to meet these goals.
Lastly, I feel that some members of balanced literacy implementation team may lack total commitment. To execute balanced literacy program effectively, literacy teams are essential. A literacy team comprises special needs teacher, classroom teacher and other support staff.
These members must be ready for change and should have commitment toward executing best teaching methods. To make sure that I work with a dedicate team, I will conduct personal interviews on all potential team members and select only those who show a strong commitment to serve.
Balanced literacy is an inclusive program that seeks to cater for the needs of learners from a group level and at an individual level. I think that this program works for all students as it caters for diverse learners needs.
The program caters for needs of learners with difficulties in learning the English language Learners as well as learners who are learning English as a second language through differentiated small group instruction (Lee, 2012). The program then promotes learners to the next level depending on merit.
Besides, the program caters for learning of special groups through individualized education. Even in whole group instruction, the program recommends the use of strategies that are suitable for diverse learners.
In my teaching, I intend to engage my learners through strategies that fit their needs. This way, I will make sure that my learners do not experience frustrations. One theory that will be central to my practice is Vygotsky’s theory of child development. This theory suggests that teachers should teach learners concepts that match their development level.
I will introduce reading, writing, speaking, viewing and listening skill gradually depending on the learning levels of learners. I will also apply the above-mentioned teaching strategies for use in balanced literacy program. To foster listening in learners, I will practice shared reading, modeled reading and reading aloud.
To foster speaking, I will practice choral reading, reading aloud and literature study or book clubs. To foster reading, I will practice guided reading, shared reading and independent reading. To foster writing, I will practice interactive writing, guided writing and shared writing. To foster viewing, I will use image descriptions, real-life pictures and television/film.
I will also use visual presentations such as charts and media to make my students become better writers. Through visual presentations, learners can describe and write what they see. Besides, I will use PowerPoint to integrate words and pictures. This will enable learners to understand words and enrich their vocabulary.
Although am likely to face several challenges including differentiation, lack of commitment among team members and problems with dealing with learners who are not proficient in English, I have established clear ways in which I will handle these problems.
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