How Does Balanced Literacy Benefit Your Child?

Balanced literacy is an approach to teach reading and writing to children, by combining whole language instruction with a phonics and decoding program.  Both types of instruction are essential in the classroom.

First, the teacher should model what he/she wants the children to learn. Next, the children attempt to practice the same skill by getting strong teacher support. Then the learners try to work independently as the teacher walks around to guide them.

The teacher should always be actively involved in making sure the children comprehend at all times. Teachers model by reading aloud to the whole group, while the children listen. They are paying close attention to how the teacher reads with expression, appropriate speed and by enunciating the words clearly. The teacher stops at different parts of the read aloud to check for understanding. Children are encouraged to look closely at the pictures on the page and describe the characters or setting. They may be asked to make predictions, give their feedback of the character’s actions, make connections to their own lives, discuss how the text made them feel and think critically. New vocabulary words are usually introduced and explained to the students. At the end of the text, teachers will ask the group to retell the story either orally, by acting out the events, or by drawing pictures and numbering them in the correct sequence of events. They can also draw and/or write what facts they learned,  what they liked or disliked about the text, and what lesson the author wanted them to learn.

Another part of the whole language approach is shared reading with the whole class.  The text that the teacher uses is on grade level but all the children are getting the necessary teacher support. Guided reading is different from shared reading because the teacher is working only with a small group of children that may be struggling on a specific skill and need extra attention from the teacher. These learners would be grouped together but they would each be using a different text that is on their own reading level, in order for them to practice the same skill being taught in the class. As the children read, the teacher listens, offers guidance, and confers one on one with each child in the small group to offer feedback and assistance.

Finally, learners also need time to read independently, so they can apply the skills learned in class during teacher modeling, as well as during small group instruction. These skills include comprehension, as well as sounding out unfamiliar words phonetically, and by using the context clues to figure out new words or substitute another word that would also make sense in the context.

After reading independently there is sharing time. This is when children react to what they read by giving feedback, and the teachers and students respond to them by giving them positive feedback.

A balanced literacy approach in the classroom is essential because it motivates children to have a desire to read on their own.  It helps to develop background knowledge, helps them focus and improve their reading comprehension skills.  In addition, it promotes oral language and listening skills through class discussions. Children are taught to turn to their partners, give them eye contact, and talk to each other about the text. The goal is to eventually foster children’s critical thinking skills, which includes the ability to infer and draw conclusions. This is why interactive read alouds and the whole language approach can be so valuable in the classroom.  It fosters deep thinking and learning to pay attention to specific skills. Teaching by using a phonics program in the classroom is also useful, because it enables each child to practice reading by sounding out new words and decoding them, improving their spelling and writing skills, and most important, to improve their communication skills with each other.

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