Last week the New York City Board of Education announced that it is abandoning its relationship with the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and revamping their curriculum to be more aligned with the Common Core Standards. As a result, the balanced literacy framework, which grounds the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project curriculum, has come under fire.
In a New York Daily News article, Robert Pondiscio blames stagnant growth in reading achievement to balanced literacy. In his limited definition of balanced literacy, Pondiscio notes that within a balanced literacy framework, students only read texts that are “just right” for them and that are of interest to them. He claims that literacy pioneers like Lucy Calkins ignore what kids need to develop literacy skills and build knowledge and vocabulary, which is especially necessary in areas where students may have large gaps in background knowledge.
What Pondiscio, and others who have responded in a similar way, fail to realize is that a balanced literacy framework is much more than just letting students read out of texts that are interesting and at their level. In fact, a more informed explanation would be:
A balanced approach to literacy development is a decision making approach through which the teacher makes thoughtful choices each day about the best way to help each child become a better reader and writer. It is an approach that requires and frees a teacher to be a reflective decision maker and to fine tune and modify what he or she is doing each day in order to meet the needs of each child. (Spiegal, D.L., 1998. Silver Bullets, babies and bath water: Literature Response groups in a balanced literacy program. Reading Teacher, 52(2))
There are three blocks that fall within a balanced literacy framework: reader’s workshop, writer’s workshop, and language and word study. The key is striking a balance between all three on a regular basis, as well as balancing the types of texts used.
Click on "View the List" to read more about those three blocks.
Clearly there needs to be a balance when trying to raise the rigor of our instruction. We want to challenge our students, but we also need to meet them where they are and build those skills in a scaffolded way. We have to provide plenty of opportunities to interact with texts in a variety of genres and at a variety of levels, which adheres to the staircase of complexity the CCSS calls for. The most effective way to meet the demands of the Common Core Standards and ensure that balance within our instruction is to establish a balanced literacy framework, from kindergarten through 12th grade.
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