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Current Trends in Literacy Instruction (page 2)

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010

Although this high-stakes standardized testing doesn’t begin until third grade, it has dramatically affected curriculum in early childhood classrooms. The emphasis on accountability measures has prompted a shift in early childhood programs, away from a developmentally appropriate focus on the intellectual, physical, social and emotional development of children and toward a direct instruction model limited to discrete skills (Geist & Baum, 2005; Hadaway, 2005; Neuman & Roskos, 2005b). Critics object to this academically oriented focus that devotes large amounts of time to teacher-led drill on literacy subskills (P. M. Cooper, 2005). This instruction includes drill on phonics and isolated sounds as well as vocabulary words (Hadaway, 2005; Venable, 2006). Children are no longer given the opportunity to learn letter sounds from authentic encounters with language, nursery rhymes, songs, and stories. To monitor student progress, teachers are expected to use regular tests of their phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension abilities (P. M. Cooper, 2005). In many places the five components are taught sequentially, focusing initially on decoding words and reading quickly but ignoring comprehension (Venable, 2006).

We know the process of becoming literate requires considerably more than phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension strategies. We know that reading is a meaning-making endeavor. As an alternative to skills-based instruction, which emphasizes skills out of context to the detriment of meaning, purpose, and enjoyment, we support more holistic teaching. While we agree that they are important, the five components must be taught in meaningful context. We are not alone in our concern that NCLB oversimplifies literacy (see e.g., Allington, 2002; Krashen, 2004; B. M. Taylor, Pearson, Peterson, & Rodriguez, 2003, 2005). Many literacy educators (e.g., Graves, Juel, & Graves, 2007; Krashen, 2004; Pressley, 2002, 2006a, 2006b; Routman, 2003; Xue & Meisels, 2004) support a balanced literacy curriculum. Balanced literacy instruction is a complex concept (Pearson & Raphael, 1999). Think about how difficult it is to maintain a balanced diet when you eat. Balance in literacy instruction must be considered across many continua, including authenticity of instruction, or how many real-life applications are included, and the teacher’s level of assistance, dictated by the students’ needs. There is balance of curricular control, which takes into account how much say the children and others get in deciding on the curriculum. Balance in classroom talk considers how much of the talk is teacher directed. Balance also needs to be considered when selecting materials, for example, the amount of fiction versus nonfiction text that is used (Au, 2003). Advocates of balanced instruction recognize that effective literacy instruction is multifaceted rather than based on one position (e.g., phonics) or another, and it addresses all of the criteria mentioned above.

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