Teaching Our Youth: Balanced Literacy Programs

Teaching reading can be challenging, and people have always strived to find the ‘best’ way to teach it. For a significant portion of the 20th century, choosing the best reading program has been a topic of much discussion and thought. There are many arguments over the best ways to teach children to read because it is such an important skill to be a successful adult. One of the current programs, called balanced literacy instruction, has taken the schooling world by storm.

Before balanced literacy programs came on the scene, there were many other methods that focused on different facets of reading, some focused on phonics, while others focused on whole language. As a whole, literacy instruction was quite unbalanced, and each new teaching method was met with resistance.

Advocates of a phonics based reading education believed that in order to be a quick and fluent reader, children needed to understand the letters at their most basic, with the sound they made. Phonics based reading education focused on the sounds of letters as well as the spelling of words, and, overall, phonics based instruction was successful, especially for students who were analytical and auditory learners.

Whole language based reading instruction, on the other hand, focused on the meaning of words and using words and writing as a means for expression. Proponents of whole language based reading instruction believe that phonics wasn’t a truly effective form of reading education because it only focused on word recognition without the meaning attached. Just like phonics, whole word based reading instruction was successful, and especially so with students who learn better with a hands-on approach as well as social learners.

Without differentiated instruction, there will always be a student who gets left behind. Every person learns differently, and to have a successful reading program, multiple learning styles must be taken into account. This is why balanced literacy instruction has taken center stage in the reading instruction war, because it offers an instructional technique with combined strategies, which have shown to be more effective.

Balanced Literacy Instruction

Balanced literacy instruction focuses on using both whole language and phonics together to create a more holistic reading approach. The most successful elements of each are incorporated into balanced literacy instruction, which allows for students with different learning styles to be successful.

The Five Facet Strategies of Balanced Literacy Instruction

The first strategy, called ‘the read aloud’, is where the teacher reads out loud to the entire classroom. This allows for the teacher to model correct reading skills, focusing on rhythm, intonation, and enthusiasm. This is a great way for students to learn to enjoy reading before they are able to read successfully on their own.
The second strategy, called guided reading, is where teachers group students by reading level and encourage students to read with peers who are on their same level.
The third strategy, called shared reading, focuses on having the teacher and students read together.
The fourth strategy, called independent reading, allows the students to choose the types of books they would enjoy the most, making reading an enjoyable experience.
The fifth strategy, called word study, is the phonics portion which focuses on letters and their sounds, eventually moving to prefixes, suffixes, and root words.

There is no correct way to teach reading, but there are ways that are more effective and reach more students, and the balanced literacy program approach is one of them.

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