The Balanced Approach to Literacy Instruction

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will examine the elements and framework of balanced literacy instruction, including phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and reading comprehension.

History of Reading Instruction

Big hair and androgyny is not the only thing that went out of style after the 1980s. At that time, nearly all reading instruction focused on decoding words through phonics. Then in the late 1980s and 1990s, there was a big push to replace phonics-based reading instruction with whole language. Whole language instruction focuses on comprehension, vocabulary, and sight word development at the expense of phonics. These days, we realize that reading instruction should not go to either extreme, but should encompass all of these elements. Let's take a closer look at balanced literacy instruction.

Five Elements of Balanced Reading Instruction

The balanced literacy approach to reading instruction includes teaching phonics, phonemic awareness, vocabulary, fluency, and reading comprehension. Let's learn more about each of these elements.

  • Phonics is the relationship between letter symbols and the sounds they make. Beyond simply learning the sounds that each letter of the alphabet usually make, phonics instruction includes understanding more complex sounds that letter combinations create.
  • Phonemic awareness relates only to the sounds that create words rather than the letters that represent those sounds. Some phonemic awareness skills include: phonemic segmentation, phoneme identification, and phoneme blending.
    • Phonemic segmentation involves dividing words into their phonemes. For example, the word 'moth' would be broken into three phonemes: /m/ - /o/ - /th/.
    • Phoneme identification is using knowledge of the phoneme /m/ from 'man' to learn the word 'mat.'
    • Phoneme blending is connecting phonemes to create a word. For example, /d/ - /i/ - /p/ is 'dip.'
  • Vocabulary is learning new words either through explicit instruction or through context clues.
  • Fluency is the ability to read both orally and silently, and quickly and easily enough that meaning is not lost.
  • Reading comprehension is the ability to understand what is being read.

Framework of Balanced Literacy

These elements of reading instruction are taught through the balanced literacy framework, which consists of three basic components: reading workshop, writing workshop, and word work.

Reading Workshop

Reading workshop is comprised of explicit reading instruction using a variety of authentic texts, which are texts found in the real world. It is divided into three sections: shared reading, guided reading, and independent reading.

  • Shared reading includes read-alouds and choral readings that are done in a whole group setting with teacher support. Typically, the same books or poems are read for several days to encourage fluency.
  • Guided reading is generally done in a small group setting where students of the same reading level read a common text and are engaged in activities within their zone of proximal development (instructional level).
  • Independent reading provides students the opportunity to practice reading books that are at their own independent level.

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