Lesson 1: Balanced Literacy


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Please click here Balanced Literacy Activity to begin the first activity for this course.

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Balanced Literacy: What does it really mean?

First, what is literacy? Simply put, literacy is the ability to read and write. Why is being literate important? According to Fosset and Mirenda (2006), "the ability to read or write supports communication, provides access to information, and allows individuals to conduct both personal and work related business" (p. 412). Literacy fosters independence by allowing individuals to obtain information, and make their own choices.

Balanced literacy is a comprehensive program of language acquisition. The framework contains all of the required components for students to learn to read and write effectively. Balanced Literacy is a model for teaching students oral and written forms of communication based on the research of Marie Clay, Irene Fountas, and Gay Su Pinnell. In a balanced literacy program, emphasis is placed on reading, writing, speaking, listening, and observing.

Successful implementation of a balanced literacy program requires that teachers use an integrated approach to teaching language arts. (Trehearn, 2003) On a daily basis, children read and write independently and in various group settings. A balanced literacy approach that combines holistic and systematic, explicit instruction, and incorporates daily reading, writing, and word study is critical for all learners, including those with significant disabilities. (Carnahan, Hollingshead, Israel, and Williamson, 2012) Balanced literacy models focus on a variety of reading and writing experiences.

Reading Activities Include:

  • Read Aloud
  • Shared Reading
  • Guided Reading
  • Independent Reading

Writing Activities Include:

  • Interactive Writing
  • Shared Writing
  • Guided Writing
  • Independent Writing

Youtubeicon.jpg Components of Balanced Literacy

Components Broken Down

Read Aloud: The teacher reads text aloud to students. The students are engaging in a variety of activities, including, previewing, predicting, questioning, and responding.

Shared Reading: The teacher and students read text together. Shared reading promotes discussion and critical thinking. It affords students the opportunity to problem solve. Shared reading often includes big books, charts, and pictures.

Guided Reading: The teacher works with small groups who have similar reading abilities and require similar assistance. Proper book selection is critical in order to match the instructional level of students and support whole text reading. The teacher explicitly teaches a variety of reading strategies to the group. Assessment is continuous and grouping flexible to allow for change when necessary.

Independent Reading: Students select their own text based on their reading level and interest. Students read independently for a select period of time. While reading independently, students are practicing the reading strategies that were taught during read aloud, shared reading, and guided reading.

Interactive Writing: Together, the teacher and class compose a variety of written text, using what is called a "shared pen" technique. Through discussion, the class agrees on what to write. Together, the teacher and students navigate through the writing process.

Shared Writing: The teacher and students work together to create different forms of writing. Students provide the teacher with ideas, while the teacher serves as a scribe. The teacher's role during shared writing is to effectively demonstrate the writing process.

Guided Writing: The teacher works with small groups who have similar writing strengths and weaknesses. The teacher introduces techniques and strategies carefully chosen to match the students instructional levels. Assessment is continuous to ensure that learning is being facilitated. Grouping is flexible and may be changed as often as necessary.

Independent Writing: Students spend a specified amount of time writing independently. Writing topics may be selected by the teacher, but are most often self selected. During this times, students are practicing strategies that were explicitly taught during interactive writing, shared writing, and guided writing.

Effective Balanced Literacy

An effective balanced literacy program aids students in the development of reading and writing. Students are taught effective skills and strategies essential to master oral and written communication. Balanced literacy is most effective when students are given explicit, direct instruction, and provided with a variety of daily reading and writing experiences. Scaffolding must gradually dissipate in order to create independent learners. The goal of balanced literacy is to help children become readers and writers who enjoy and value literacy. Children quickly learn that what they say they can write, and what they write they can read. (Trehearn, 2003)


Additional Resources

Balanced Literacy: Classroom Examples

Fountas and Pinnell

Balanced Literacy Diet

Lesson 1 Reflection

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Before moving on to Lesson 2, see how well you can answer the following questions. Then go back to Activity 1. Has your answer changed any?

  • What are the necessary components of balanced literacy?
  • What makes an effective balanced literacy program?
  • How does incorporating daily reading and writing experiences in the classroom, help promote an optimal learning environment?

Return to Activity 1: Balanced Literacy Activity

Move on to Lesson 2: Students with Disabilities and the Struggles with Literacy