Ask 10 educators what it means and my guess is that you’ll get 10 different answers.
Maybe the reason for the confusion and difference in definitions is that there are so many things that need to be balanced in order to create high quality literacy environments. Below is a list of some of the most essential.
Predictable Routines / Flexible Content – Some things stay the same (schedule, routines, expectations) and some things will change based on student need and informed choice (content of lessons, texts, etc.).
Whole Group, Small Group, and Individualized Instruction – Instruction that is delivered using whole group, small groups, one-to-one conferring.
Level of Support – Using gradual release of responsibility, teachers continually adjust the level of support they are providing to students, increasing and decreasing based on student needs, always with an eye toward greater student independence.
Use of Meaning, Structure, and Visual Cues– Proficient readers use a system of cross checking between and among information sources when they read. When teaching children to problem solve unknown words, we must teach a balanced approach that relies equally on information from meaning (What would make sense?), structure (What would sound right?) and visual information (What does the print look like
Foundational Skills and Cognitive Strategies– Yes, students need instruction in specific foundational skills such as phonics and writing conventions in order to decode and encode words. However, they also need to learn cognitive strategies for making deep meaning of what they’re reading.
Student Choice and Teacher Choice- It is impossible to build strong, confident, independent learners, in classrooms where the teacher makes all of the choices. Allowing student choice within well-defined parameters is a hallmark of balanced literacy. When power to make authentic and meaningful choices, about what to read and write, is given to children, their engagement and sense of ownership soar.
Teaching, Assessment, and Planning – Teachers engage in a continuous instructional loop of teaching, assessment, and planning. If we teach without assessing what our students already know, or assess without pausing to use this information to inform our future instruction, optimal learning cannot occur.
Student Learning and Adult Learning – Teaching all children to read and write is rocket science. There is so much to learn and none of us knows enough yet. Until such a time that every child around us is an independent, self-sufficient, deep-thinking reader and writer, we all need to push ourselves to learn more.
Reading/Writing/Talking – There is a interdependent relationship among the literate acts of reading, writing, and talking. We become better readers when have chances to write and talk about our reading. We become better writers when we read broadly and have opportunities to develop our ideas through conversation. We become more skilled conversation partners when we expand our thinking through reading and practice organizing ideas through writing.
Easy and Challenging Reading – If children read only things that are easy for them, they will not be challenged to stretch and grow. If all of reading they do is challenging, they will not the kind of joyful, fluent reading that helps them fall in love with reading in the first place.
Student Needs / Teacher Care – Our students have so many needs and we entered this profession because we want to find ways to meet them. But an exhausted and depleted teacher is not able to provide the kind of thoughtful instruction her students need and deserve. When we make time in our personal lives for family, friends, hobbies, interests, travel, and personal reading, we come back to the classroom more interesting and engaged human beings. Taking care of ourselves, then, is an important gift we give our students.
Celebration and Urgency – In a profession that can be so mentally, physically, and emotionally draining, celebration is an important way to refuel our tanks. Taking time to celebrate with students, teammates, and entire schools forces us to look back and recognize what we have accomplished. Balancing celebration with a continued sense of urgency makes it possible to keep going. When we are able to recognize even small successes, we will find renewed energy for the next leg of the journey.
Have I left out an important element of balance? Please share your ideas at #simplestarts