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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

Understanding the Language of Balanced Literacy Arlyne LeSchack

If you are a new teacher in New York City, you are most likely immersed in Reading Workshop and Writing Workshop as your primary tool in teaching students to read. If you were teaching before the city instituted the uniform curriculum and your school was doing something called "balanced literacy," you'll recognize some of the terminology since it has carried over into the current workshop models. If you don't recognize the terms you will find this article helpful in providing some background on the language of balanced literacy.

Reading Aloud
The first element in balanced literacy is "Reading Aloud." The model we're using now also includes "read alouds" accompanied by instances where the students "turn and talk" to each other about various story-related subjects. In the balanced literacy model, the teacher reads aloud to the whole class or small groups. The texts are carefully selected from children's literature and a variety of genres are represented. Favorite texts may be reread several times. This may remind you of the "Star Books" in the Kindergarten Units of Study.

Shared Reading
Here the teacher uses an enlarged text that all the children can see. The teacher involves the students in reading together, perhaps using a pointer. Big books, poems, songs or the classes own interactive writing may be used for this activity.

Guided Reading
In Guided Reading the teacher works with small groups who have similar reading processes. The teacher selects and introduces new books and supports the children who are reading the text to themselves. The teacher makes teaching points before, during and after the reading of the text. You might do this during independent reading time. When you use guided reading during a conference you allow the children nearby to benefit from the teaching point you’re giving to one student.

Reading Workshop
The children read on their own or with partners from a wide range of materials. Most important is that some of the reading is exactly at their reading level. If a student is going to learn to read by reading, then the books have to be "just right.”

Balanced literacy also includes writing.

Shared Writing
The teacher and children work together to compose messages and stories; the teacher supports the process as scribe.

Interactive Writing
As with shared writing the teacher and children work together to compose messages and stories, but these are written with a "shared pen" involving the students in the physical act of writing.

Guided Writing or Writing Workshop
Children engage in writing a variety of texts with the teacher guiding the process through mini-lessons and conferences.

Independent Writing
Children write their own pieces including stories, informational pieces, labels and lists, etc.

Next month I'll write about the value of each of these elements. If you have comments or questions, please contact me at aleschack@aol.com.


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