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NYC Helpline: How To: Teach Literacy

Understanding the Readers Workshop Component of Balanced Literacy 
Allison Demas

I like to think of Balanced Literacy as a tapestry, in which a variety of educational threads weave together into one beautiful creation. It is structured on the premise of to, with, and by. Aspects of the reading lessons will be done to the students, with the students and by the students. These are conducted during workshops which are generally broken into three parts. These parts are the mini-lesson, independent/small group work, and a share session.

Mini-Lesson Independent/
Small Group Work
Share Session
Read Aloud (to)
. Teacher has a purpose
. Group Discussion develops vocabulary and comprehension
 Guided Reading (with)
. Flexible and short term
. Common Needs are addressed
. Students become Teachers
. Share strategies
. Teachers gain insight
Shared Reading (with)
. Uses enlarged Text
. Teacher models skills
 Independent Reading (by)
. Use new skills
. Hone previously learned skills
. Respond to reading in written or verbal form

There are four (4) instructional aspects to the Readers Workshop. These are the Read Aloud (to), Shared Reading (with), Guided Reading (with) and Independent Reading (by). The Read Aloud and Shared Reading aspects would occur during the mini-lesson. Guided Reading and Independent Reading would occur during independent/ small group portion.

During a Read Aloud the teacher reads a text to the whole group of students. The teacher has chosen the text for a specific purpose. For example, it may be used to introduce vocabulary related to a content area topic. The text is generally above the reading ability of the students but is at the appropriate listening level. The teacher is not simply reading. It is a rehearsed reading which demonstrates reading skills such as fluent reading, intonation and pacing. The Read Aloud is followed by a group discussion, led by the teacher, about the text. This allows students to improve their comprehension and increase their vocabulary and knowledge of the topic.

Shared Reading focuses on an enlarged text. This could be a big book, a poem written on chart paper, an appropriate item from the Internet (enlarged) or even a small text enlarged through the use of an overhead projector. The text should be above the level of the students but not too difficult. You really need to know your students and their reading levels. The teacher reads the text aloud and the students join in. This frequently sounds like a slight echo. The teacher is demonstrating skills that readers use to understand text. During this time the teacher is modeling the use of phonics, grammar and meaning to decipher the text.

The beauty of the workshop model is that it lends itself to individualization of instruction. The guided reading part of the model addresses the specific needs of the students. The text chosen for these groups is student appropriate. Guided reading is conducted in small groups (no more than 6 students). These groups should be flexible and generally short term. They are composed of students with a common need. You may even have students of disparate abilities in the same group if they are exhibiting the same difficulty. The text for a guided reading lesson is focused on the needs of the students. The students have their own copies of the text and they read independently while the teacher observes their reading behaviors. The teacher explicitly guides the students in this portion and addresses whatever errors the students are making.

Independent Reading affords students the opportunity to use what they have learned and to hone those skills. The students select the text, although it must be at their own reading level. They use the skills which have been modeled during Read Alouds, Shared Readings and Guided Reading lessons. They can respond to their reading in written (response to literature) or verbal form (with a partner or literature circle). The teacher observes their behaviors, conferences with students and notes possible difficulties which need to be addressed. These difficulties may be addressed immediately, through discussion and demonstration, or they may require the need of a Guided Reading lesson. If the teacher notices that other students demonstrate the same difficulty, then those students would form a group for a Guided Reading lesson. If the majority of the students are demonstrating this behavior, then the teacher may plan to address this problem in a lesson conducted during a Read Aloud or Shared Reading mini-lesson.

The last part of the workshop is the Share Session. The students gather together and discuss their actions during the Independent/Small Group part. They might read their responses, or share how they employed a particular strategy during their reading. The teacher might draw attention to strategies he/she observed. The students might demonstrate how they used the strategy taught in the mini-lesson. They might even demonstrate how it didn't help them. This allows the students to become more critical of their abilities. It also allows the students to become the teachers. It provides the teacher with insight into the students' thoughts and provides suggestions for future lessons. See, it really does all weave together.


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