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Schools Chancellor advocates balanced literacy

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Balanced literacy is becoming poised to make a comeback at New York City public school classrooms since the advent Carmen Fariña to the position of Schools Chancellor, according to a front page feature news article that appeared in today's New York Times (June 26). This story can also be found on http://www.nytimes.com. This is something that teachers, administrators, parents, and students can think about during the long hot summer ahead. Today on the last day of school it gives educators something to think about as they begin their summer holidays.

What is balanced literacy? As an educator I can tell you that it is a way that teachers and students can switch roles within the classroom. For instance, the article points out that after the teacher reads a few sentences of books to her students, she lets children jump in and answer questions like "define the book's structure." “Turn and talk,” is another key phrase that teachers use to guide conversations and discussions about a reading, according to the article.

"The new schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, wants more schools to adopt aspects of balanced literacy, including its emphasis on allowing students to choose many of the books they read," adds The Times in the article today.

"The city’s Education Department turned away from balanced literacy several years ago amid concerns that it was unstructured and ineffective, particularly for low-income children. And Ms. Fariña is facing sharp resistance from some education experts, who argue that balanced literacy is incompatible with the biggest shift in education today: the Common Core academic standards," according to the report.

During her almost six months as chancellor, Ms. Fariña, a veteran of the school system, has reduced the role of standardized tests, increased collaboration among schools and shepherded through a new contract for teachers that includes more training and more communication with parents. But her push for a revival of balanced literacy may have some of the most far-reaching implications in the classroom.

Ms. Fariña, as a teacher and a principal "relied on balanced literacy." She said in an interview last week, according to The Times, that she did not believe balanced literacy worked against Common Core standards which are largely considered by education insiders as "a more difficult set of learning goals that has been adopted by more than 40 states," according to The Times article.

"She said that immigrants to the United States might not feel comfortable with Common Core standards.“They’re going to feel frustrated, alienated,” she said, added the report. “You need to put them on something they can accomplish and do fluently.”

The Common Core puts a lot of responsibility on students to read books at and above their grade level. "Some of its proponents take issue with the idea of allowing struggling students to read easier books," adds The Times.

"Balanced literacy, so called because it combines several approaches to reading and writing, has a relatively long history in American education. It emerged as a product of the progressive movement of education in the 1970s and ‘80s, when teachers were searching for an alternative to the top-down, textbook-driven approach to literacy in many schools," stressed the report. "It was based on the idea that children were natural readers and writers; teachers needed only to create the conditions to unleash their talents."

"Balanced literacy took off in New York under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who mandated the approach citywide in 2003 as one of his early efforts to shake up the school system, according to today's report.

"But after several years of experimentation, the department moved away from balanced literacy. School officials grew concerned that students lacked the knowledge and vocabulary to understand books about history and science," added The Times. "In 2012, a study found that a small group of schools that used balanced literacy lagged behind schools that used a differing approach known as Core Knowledge. (Education officials in the current administration said the study was too small to be meaningful.)"

"In the interview last week, Ms. Fariña emphasized that while she believed in balanced literacy, she would not mandate its use in classrooms or add it to the city’s list of preferred curriculums," according to the report. “I’m just asking people to have a common-sense approach,” she said to the media.

How can Staten Island students and parents adapt to balanced literacy? Over the summer months Staten Island students should catch up on their reading and parents should help engage their children in discussion about books at home. Summer camps that promote literacy are a great way to achieve literacy objectives over the summer months. While educators and administrators can start coming up with reading lists that are meaningful to today's students. Don't get left behind the balanced literacy curve! Summer is a great time that we can all catch up, catch our breaths, and reflect on the Chancellor's new initiatives at home. Common Core standards are not going away. Why not get a head start on next year's complex literacy testing and initiatives during summer break? Staten Island teachers, administrators, and parents let Examiner know about your beliefs on balanced literacy. Examiner welcomes your comments and feedback.

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