Balance Based Literacy: Is it the Best Solution?

Literacy has become an important consideration in the field of education. To address literacy problems, educators (Strickland, n. d. ; Frey et al. , 2004) use the Balance Based Literacy Program, which specifically stresses the use of varied approaches to teaching literacy. According to California Department of Education (as cited in Frey et al. , 2004), the term balanced literacy originated in California in 1996. This was made into a curriculum in response to low reading scores of students on a national examination. It promotes the concept that reading and writing must go hand in hand to promote literacy.

In contrast to using a specific approach to teaching literacy such as Phonics Approach or Whole Language Approach, Balance Based Literacy combines these approaches and more in order to ensure meeting the goal of literacy. Believing that every student has the capability to learn how to read and write, Balance Based Literacy allows students to achieve a certain literacy level through a combination of approaches relevant to their ability. The literacy model established with balance allows students to plan their own personal progress, and attempt new techniques in learning, with the support of teachers and resources.

Based on Frey et al. (2004), many authors believe that combining a balance of teacher-directed instruction and student-centered activities is the most effective way of teaching literacy. In addition, Asselin, and Pearson (as cited in Frey) believe that Balance Based Literacy must include elements of community, authenticity, integration, optimism, modeling, and student control and connectedness. Activities incorporated in Balance Based Literacy include reading and writing aloud, shared reading and writing, guided reading and writing, and independent reading and writing. According to Mrs.
Stewart’s Kindergarten Web site, one model of Balance Based Literacy being employed nowadays is the Literacy Collaborative Model. This comprehensive model is designed to provide a school-wide approach to improve reading and writing. This model includes a wide range of individual, small-group, and large-group reading and writing activities (Literacy Collaborative Web site). One component of Balance Based Literacy is Reading and Writing Aloud. In Reading Aloud, students learn the language through acquisition. It supports the idea that language is acquired, thus students are asked to read aloud a text to other students.
By doing such, the read language registers in the mind of the students, making them learn the language. However, beyond the purpose of learning, the goals of Reading Aloud are to promote enjoyment and emphasize the uses of print (Mrs. Stewart’s Web site). It exposes the students to the uses of printed materials, and develops discussion skills by motivating them to ask questions during the activity. During Reading aloud, students do not need to view the read text. The focus is not on the content of the text, but what the student reads or explains about the text.
The selection for such activities may be fiction or nonfiction, or it can be a narrative, or a picture book Another component of Balance Based Literacy is Shared Reading. During Shared Reading, students reformulate ideas from the context. Either the teacher or a proficient student reader reads to the class, while the rest of the students are invited to join in the reading. One important component of shared reading is an enlarged text which is readable by all children. The text used may contain songs, poems, charts, or lists created by the teacher or developed with the class during shared writing activities.
During the reading, the teacher or student reader points to or glides a locator on the reading material to guide the students in reading. This is to draw students’ attention to the print in order to promote familiarity with words in the text. Shared reading activities involve multiple readings of books over several days. During the initial reading, the teacher emphasizes reading for enjoyment while subsequent readings are done to increase participation, and teach vocabulary, ideas, author’s style, and intonation patterns.
Through repeated readings of a particular text, children become familiar with word forms and build up recognition of words and phrases used in the text (Bridge, Winograd, & Haley; Pikulski & Kellner, as cited in Frey et al. , 2004). The third reading component of Balance Based Literacy is Guided Reading. In this kind of activity, students are given more chances to express their ideas and feelings through inquiry. As such, it requires more student participation. In most cases, students are grouped together according to their level, and asked to read a text appropriate to their reading ability.
In this case, the teacher needs to carefully identify each student’s level to ensure proper assessment. The fourth reading component is Independent Reading. This activity allows the student to choose from a wide variety of texts. It aims to make students become confident, motivated and enthusiastic about their ability to read. Considered as an advanced approach to reading, this activity makes use of skills learned during the Reading Aloud, Shared Reading, and Guided Reading activities. The writing components of Balance Based Literacy also ensure variety in the application of approaches and resources.
One component is the Shared Writing activity. In this activity, the teacher and the students together decide to write a text in which the teacher acts as the scribe. The activity requires discussion of what they are writing about, and modeling of the teacher on the board how the text should be written. The students are asked to verbally interact with the teacher before, during, and after the activity to help make connections. The second writing component is the Interactive Writing activity. In this activity, either the teacher and the class, or students in groups collaborate to write a material.
The students articulate the words or sounds that they are about to write, and discuss with the teacher or group mates what they are writing about. The third component is the Guided Writing or Writing Workshop. This intends to allow students to spend time daily to write about things that interest them. Students are guided to experiment with a variety of genres. The ultimate goal is for students to develop a style of their own, and apply previous learning. In addition to the writing activity itself, the teacher offers a whole class session, small group lesson, or a conference where students can learn and share their written output.
The fourth component is the Independent Writing. This activity allows students to write independently by choosing their own topic and genre. By letting them write freely, students develop the natural habit of writing, thereby making them improve along the process. In this kind of activity, teacher evaluation is set aside in order to promote creativity. The components of Balance Based Literacy are directed toward a common goal: to ensure effective strategy in teaching literacy. They support basic literacy theories introduced in the past such as the constructivist, interactive, and experiential theories.
Encompassing these theories, Balance Based Literacy may be viewed as a holistic approach to literacy instruction. Taking from the behaviorist theory of B. F. Skinner, the Constructivism theory believes that all knowledge is constructed through a process of reflective abstraction (Huitt, 2003). In the constructivist classroom, the learner is presented with opportunities to construct new knowledge in addition to prior knowledge and experience. In particular, Reading Aloud and Shared Writing support this theory. As students read and write aloud, they learn new sounds and vocabulary, and benefit from the sharing done by their classmates.
Interactive Reading and Writing anchor on the Interactive theory. This theory believes that learning is best attained through interaction with others. As discussed above, during Interactive Reading and Writing, students are given the opportunity to listen to other’s ideas. All the components mentioned above support the experiential theory. This theory purports that learning will best occur through individual experience. By asking students to read and write aloud, express ideas in interactive activities, and read and write on their own, teachers promote experiential learning as the very basis of their instruction.
Although many educators believe in the effectiveness of Balance Based Literacy Instruction, some authors see disadvantages in its application. For instance, Wren (n. d. ) suggests that the needs of the learners must be the first consideration when designing an appropriate program of instruction. He claims that instruction should be patterned to the needs of the learners and not specific of one approach or a balance of many approaches. Another issue regarding application of Balance Based Literacy is the specific focus it gives on reading and writing.
This tends to neglect other skills such as speaking and listening, which are also important aspects of literacy. To mitigate problems arising from this neglect, the teacher should incorporate speaking and listening resources as tools for reading and writing instruction. For example, instead of focusing on printed materials, guided writing could use listening resources as motivation activities. Furthermore, technological resources should likewise be used to promote a holistic approach. Conclusion Balance Based Literacy has been considered by many as an ideal program to teach literacy.
Given its whole rounded and comprehensive approach to reading and writing, it purports not just base learning but mastery of skills in the target areas. In addition, the activities it introduces provide a way to monitor the progress of students, and allow them to experience learning in various ways. Studies validating the effectiveness of Balance Based Literacy have found its applicability to young learners. However, not much has been said about its applicability to adult learners who are more in need of a balanced instruction.
In this regard, it is highly recommended to conduct research on the applicability of the said program of instruction among adult learners. References Balance overview. (n. d. ) Retrieved March 19, 2008, from http://projectcentral. ucf. edu/Past%20Initiatives/BALANCE/index. html Dorothy S. Strickland (n. d. ) Balanced Literacy: Teaching the Skills and thrills of reading. http://teacher. scholastic. com/professional/teachstrat/balanced. htm Frey, Bruce B. , Steve W. Lee, Nona Tollefson &Lisa Pass. (2004). Balanced literacy in an urban school district. Retrieved 17 March 2008, from http://people. ku. edu/~bfrey/balancedliteracy.
pdf Kolb, David A. , Richard E. Boyatzis & Charalampos Mainemelis. Experiential learning theory: Previous research and new directions. Retrieved March 20, 2008, from http://www. learningfromexperience. com/images/uploads/experiential-learning-theory. pdf Literacy collaborative: Our purpose. (n. d. ) Retrieved March 19, 2008, from http://www. literacycollaborative. org/about/characteristics/ Martha Manson French, M. (1999). Planning for literacy instruction: Guidelines for planning and instruction for literacy. Retrieved March 19, 2008, from http://clercdev. gallaudet. edu/cc/Products/Sharing-Ideas/planning/guidelines.
html Root, Cathy (n. d. ) Balanced : Reading and writing in the first and second grade classroom an internet-based treasure hunt on balanced literacy. Retrieved March 18, 2008, from http://www. swlauriersb. qc. ca/english/edservices/pedresources/balancedlit/balancedliteracy. htm Thelen, Jeff. (n. d. ). A balanced literacy program for the upper elementary grades. Retrieved March 19, 2008, from http://curriculum. edenpr. org/~jthelen/languagearts/a_balanced_literacy_program. htm Wren, Sebastian. (n. d. ) What does a balanced literacy approach mean? Retrieved from http://www. sedl. org/reading/topics/balanced. html

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