Literacy Research and Practice from the 1960s to the Present (page 4)

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

Balanced Literacy Instruction

A position statement by the International Reading Association, entitled Using Multiple Methods of Beginning Reading Instruction (1999), suggests that no single method or single combination of methods can successfully teach all children to read. Teachers must know the social, emotional, physical, and intellectual status of the children they teach. They also must know about the many methods for reading instruction. Only then can they develop a comprehensive plan for teaching reading to meet individual needs.

This perspective on literacy instruction, which emerged as a result of the whole language versus phonics discussion, is a balanced approach. A balanced perspective includes careful selection of the best theories available and use of learning strategies based on these theories to match the learning styles of individual children to help them learn to read (Figure ). More skill-based explicit instruction or some holistic and constructivist ideas, which include problem-solving strategies, might be used (Morrow & Tracey, 1997). According to Pressley (1998), explicit teaching of skills is a good start for constructivist problem-solving activities, and constructivist activities permit consolidation and elaboration of skills. One method does not preclude or exclude the other.

A balanced perspective is not a random combination of strategies. A teacher may select strategies from different learning theories to provide balance. One child, for example, may be a visual learner and not benefit much from instruction in phonics; another child, whose strength may be auditory learning, will learn best from phonics instruction. The balanced approach is a thoughtful and mature approach. It focuses more on what is important for individual children than on the latest fad in literacy instruction.

Balanced instruction is grounded in a rich model of literacy learning that encompasses both the elegance and complexity of the reading and language arts processes. Such a model acknowledges the importance of both form (phonics, mechanics, etc.) and function (comprehension, purpose, meaning) of the literacy processes and recognizes that learning occurs most effectively in a whole–part–whole context. This type of instruction is characterized by meaningful literacy activities that provide children with both the skill and desire to become proficient and lifelong literacy learners.

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