Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.
Kelly is a new teacher and he's really excited to start the school year. He has his classroom organized and can't wait to teach his students how to read.
There are many different ways to teach reading. One teacher in Kelly's school says that the best way to teach reading is with good old-fashioned phonics instruction. Another counters that that's outdated; whole language is the way to go.
Kelly's a little confused. He knows that whole language and phonics are two different ways of teaching reading and that people have different ideas about which is better. But what, exactly, is involved in each type of reading instruction? And could Kelly do both?
To help Kelly explore his teaching options, let's look closer at balanced literacy and how it combines phonics and whole language.
One of the teachers at Kelly's school says that phonics are the better way to teach reading, while another teacher counters that whole language instruction is better. Kelly doesn't know what to think!
Phonics involves explicit instruction on the parts of language. It is a way of teaching reading and writing that focuses on teaching the parts of language first. In phonics instruction, children learn their letters, and then letter blends (like 'sh'), and then learn words.
In contrast, whole language instruction involves teaching reading through the act of reading. Instead of spending time focusing on sounding words out and other phonics-related lessons, children in a whole language classroom are surrounded by lots of different types of written language, and they choose the books and texts that they want to read.
Both phonics and whole language have strengths and limitations, and Kelly wonders if there's a way to combine them so that his students can get the best of both worlds.
Balanced literacy is a combination of whole language and phonics. Just like the name implies, balanced literacy is about balancing explicit language instruction with independent learning and language exploration. For example, in a balanced literacy classroom, Kelly might read aloud to the class and offer an explicit phonics lesson, like different words that include the blend 'ch' in them. Then, he'd give the students plenty of time to read on their own or in small groups, allowing them to discover language and reading on their own.
Balanced literacy sure sounds right to Kelly! He can combine phonics instruction with whole language in order to help his students succeed. He can't wait to get started.
There are five elements of balanced literacy that Kelly can use in his classroom to help his students learn to read. They are:
1. Read aloud - This is exactly what it sounds like; Kelly, the teacher, will read aloud to the whole class.
2. Shared reading - In a read aloud, Kelly has a book and reads it to the class. But in shared reading, the whole class has copies of the book and follows along with him. In essence, the difference between a read aloud and shared reading is that a read aloud is about reading to the class, while shared reading is about reading with the class.
3. Guided reading - Guided reading happens in small groups. Students who are about the same level in reading can read the same book together. Usually, guided reading involves the instructor, but Kelly will take a backseat during guided reading because most of the reading and work happens with the students. He'll be there just to ask questions and guide their thinking.
4. Independent reading - During independent reading, students read on their own. They will select a text that interests them and read silently. Kelly might talk with a few students one-on-one or in a small group during independent reading, but most of the class will be working on their own and without Kelly.
5. Word study - Word study involves traditional phonics, grammar, and vocabulary instruction. For example, when Kelly teaches students about the difference in nouns and verbs, it's part of word study.
Each day in balanced literacy, Kelly will choose a few of these elements and combine them to help his students. Usually, he'll do either a read aloud or shared reading for a few minutes, then give time for independent reading. During independent reading, he might pull a few students together for a guided reading session. And he might include word study during or in place of his read aloud or shared reading.
You might be wondering why it's called balanced literacy instead of balanced reading. That's because Kelly can use the same general system to teach his students writing. He can model writing for the class, offer them opportunities to work independently and in small groups, and balance explicit phonics instruction with independent exploratory writing.
Phonics instruction focuses on explicitly teaching the parts of language, whereas whole language instruction focuses on allowing students to discover reading through the act of reading. Balanced literacy tries to balance these two types of reading, allowing students to discover reading while also being taught explicitly.
There are several elements of a balanced literacy classroom: read aloud, when the teacher reads aloud to the students; shared reading, when students follow along as the teacher reads; guided reading, when students read together in a group with minimal instructor guidance; independent reading, when students read on their own; and word study, or explicit instruction in phonics, grammar, and vocabulary.
When you are done, you should be able to:
- Describe the balanced literacy approach
- Compare phonics instruction to whole language instruction
- Discuss the five elements of the balanced literacy approach
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