not go where the path leads;
Rather, go where there is no path and leave a trail."
Balanced Literacy Volume 5, Issue 12 - November 17, 2002
Over the past 20 years (and indeed for decades prior to that) a struggle took place between two polarized schools of philosophy pertaining to teaching reading and writing: the building with skills from the bottom up camp versus the holistic immersion into language experiences camp. In its last great standoff when I was in the classroom it was referred to as the "phonics vs. whole language" debate. Having been taught through systematic phonics as a child, I was receptive to the possibilities whole language had to over. Yet I didn't understand why it had to be an either/or standoff. Surely any practical person could see that emergent readers needed phonics skills to be able to successfully encounter unfamiliar text. But at the same time, no reasonable person would argue against experiences using quality children's literature to promote comprehension and a love of reading. In the growth of a beginning reader there were no polarized points of view - it all came into play!
With the advent of the No Child Left Behind act, balanced literacy is the U.S. Department of Education's prescription for bringing together the best of reading research from both philosophies. Balanced literacy employs the fundamentals of letter-sound correspondence, word study and decoding as well as holistic experiences in reading, writing, speaking and listening to create one integrated model that addresses all the facets of literacy. For two interesting treatments of balanced literacy, consider Rigby's graphic organizer at http://www.rigby.com/classroom/balancedlit.htm and Dorothy Strickland's quick reference list of common teacher questions at http://teacher.scholastic.com/professional/teachstrat/balanced.htm. This week I offer a digital dozen that presents the best the Net has to offer on balanced literacy. Thanks to Carol Vaage and Jerry Blumengarten for their recommendations on this timely topic for teachers!
Balanced Literacy - http://instech.tusd.k12.az.us/balancedlit/handbook/main.htm
The Tucson, Arizona Unified School District has put together some enlightening pages on their balanced literacy program, that includes great comparisons of different strategies and reading lists that support the goals of their program. It's a great insight into what balanced literacy can look like in action. This link is the K-5 program. See also http://instech.tusd.k12.az.us/BL/BLMS/bltablems.htm for the middle school program.
Early Literacy - http://www.earlyliterature.ecsd.net/
This is an excellent site full of information that provides an overview of balanced literacy for parents, educators, and all who want to familiarize themselves with this concept. Created by Carol and Terry of the TELUS Learning Connection, Early Literacy provides succinct summaries of research findings, practical explanations, and links and ready to use resources for the classroom.
Educational Leadership: Reading and Writing in the Content Areas - http://www.ascd.org/readingroom/edlead/0211/toc.html
This current (November 2002) issue of Ed Leadership focuses on balanced literacy as it applies to older students in the content areas. Articles available online include "Beyond 3rd Grade" by Marge Scherer, "From Efficient Decoders to Strategic Readers" by Richard Vacca and a special report on the RAND Report on Reading Comprehension. To join ASCD and receive every full issue of Ed Leadership please see http://www.ascd.org/joinascd.html.
Enhancing Components of Comprehensive Literacy Using the Internet in Kindergarten - Grade 3 - http://www.lite.iwarp.com/complit.html
Julie Coiro presents this wonderful analysis of comprehensive (aka balanced) literacy with some fabulous graphic organizers that quickly bring things into perspective and promote a functional understanding of this approach to literacy instruction. The session links are especially invaluable, sending you directly to online resources you can put to use in your own program. See also Putting It All Together: Guided Reading in a Comprehensive Literacy Classroom at http://www.lite.iwarp.com/sercsummr.htm.
The Department of Education of Tasmania presents this balanced literacy program for its children, which includes explicit literacy teaching, individual assessment of students with records of progress, and active parent involvement in children learning to read. See also http://www.discover.tased.edu.au/literacy/strat.asp for a nice overview and several case studies.
Four Blocks - http://www.wfu.edu/~cunningh/fourblocks/
Patricia Cunningham presents the Four Blocks literacy model on this site. The Four Blocks (Guided Reading, Self-Selected Reading, Writing, and Working with Words) was first implemented in 1991 in a first grade classroom and continues to gain popularity to this day. While this site is undergoing ongoing construction, the links on research, implementation and the mail ring all make it worth your time. See also http://www.teachers.net/4blocks/column.html for Cheryl Sigmon's Four Blocks articles.
Issues in Literacy Development - http://www.eduplace.com/rdg/res/literacy/index.html
John J. Pikulski and J. David Cooper present this overview of balanced literacy which is nicely anchored in research and historical context. The phrase balanced literacy wasn't coined when this piece was published in 1997, but it is so well-done that it is still worthy of recommendation today. Also see Pikulski's Preventing Reading Problems at http://www.eduplace.com/rdg/res/prevent.html.
The K Crew: Balanced Literacy - http://www.thekcrew.net/balancedliteracy.html
Here's a look at what balanced literacy can look like in action in a Kindergarten classroom. Bonnie Jackson, Leslie Gaines, and Shelley Vaughn showcase their work in balanced literacy in this homegrown website that touts the benefits of their program. Based on the TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills), this is a colorful example of how children can thrive in a balanced literacy environment.
Learning to Read - http://toread.com/
Links, links and nothing but links. John Nemes brings together dozens of online resources which - in one way or another - address some facet of the balanced literacy model. It includes references to everything from the process of taking running records to reader's workshops and interactive writing. He even includes brain research towards the bottom of the list.
Reading Recovery - http://www.readingrecovery.org/
Marie Clay's work on emergent literacy helped provide the framework for what we now call balanced literacy. Reading Recovery is the natural extension of her findings about how children learn to read, and this site is the official online presence of this phenomenal program. Targeting at-risk first graders, Reading Recovery's longitudinal numbers impressively document its success.
Teaching Reading: A Balanced, Comprehensive Approach to Teaching Reading in Prekindergarten Through Grade Three - http://goldmine.cde.ca.gov/cilbranch/teachrd.htm
This is a state of California document first published in 1996 which nicely presents the elements of a balanced literacy program. For another look at how school systems are implementing this approach see Providence, Rhode Island's program at http://www.providenceschools.org/balanced_literacy.cfm which includes frameworks for grades K-2 and 3-5. Also, the state of Idaho has an excellent report on its program replete with skills, interventions and assessments at http://www.sde.state.id.us/instruct/reading/default.htm.
Timely Topic: Balanced Reading Instruction - http://www.ncrel.org/sdrs/timely/britoc.htm
The North Central Regional Educational Laboratory presents this great summary of balanced literacy for educators, nicely bringing together the literature on this movement with a truly solid collection of online and offline resources to help you acquaint yourself with the concept. Because its NCREL you know there's no bias in the presentation - a great place to get up to snuff!
Topics in Early Reading Coherence - http://www.sedl.org/reading/topics.html
The Southwest Educational Development Laboratory presents this exceptional collection of articles on beginning reading, including a clarifying "What Does a Balanced Literacy Approach Mean?", "Understanding the Brain and Reading" and "Methods of Assessing Cognitive Aspects of Early Reading Development." The "Ten Myths of Reading Instruction" is also a thought-provoking read.
Next week's topic: "Teaching Students to use the Internet"
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©2002 Walter McKenzie