How to Implement Balanced Literacy for Kindergarten

Language should be treated as an entire symbol-and-meaning-based system in its instruction. There will always be an interplay between whole language concepts and phonics ideas to create meaning in writing and speech. Whole language emphasizes meaning and strategy whereas phonics focuses on decoding and spelling. The pedagogy of teaching both philosophies is known as Balanced Literacy. But what exactly does balanced literacy mean and how can it be implemented for young learners of language?

What Is Balanced Literacy?

Balanced literacy is a relatively new concept to the language pedagogy realm, surging in the 1990s. It was created in response to those worried about the instruction of language as either whole language or phonics-heavy. Whole language saturated children with a knowledge of semantic, syntactic, and graphophonic aspects of a language. Phonics taught learners to distinguish and manipulate phonemes in order to decode or sound out unfamiliar words.

Balanced literacy was, essentially, the attempt to balance instruction by integrating the two methodologies above. This pedagogy thrives in skill development of reading and writing. Instructors implement various activities to equalize time spent in both segments of balanced literacy.

Three Major Components of Balanced Literacy:

A well-developed and robust balanced literacy program will include three major components: reading work, writing work, and word work. Within these different factors comes further branching off of activities on an individual and group level.

Reading Work:

Reading workshops allow a proliferation of reading techniques to be accumulated within the students’ comprehensive abilities and knowledge. Workshops may take on a variety of forms; however, four major configurations are reading aloud, guided reading, shared reading, independent reading, and reading workshops. All three are interactive processes in which teacher and students unite to build comprehensive reading and listening skills.

Read aloud simulates what students often do when reading silently but in a verbal format. The teacher selects a text and reads aloud in order to reinforce language behaviors. Instructors will create small groups based on students’ particular reading levels in guided readings.

This targets skills and behaviors which need more honing on a smaller, more individualized level than group reading confers. Shared readings support further behaviors as students both listen to the teacher while also viewing the material, whether through a projection or a book. Independent reading creates an environment for a student to have more personal and in-depth access to a chosen text. Reading workshops focus on a variety of elements within a book, from author’s style to character development.

Writing Work:

Writing workshops are similar to reading workshops in that there are three modes of study within this branch: shared writing, interactive writing, independent writing, and writing workshops.

Shared writing is the time in which the class creates a written text together while the instructor physically demonstrates the process of writing. Interactive writing teaches students necessary skills in a larger group setting. Independent writing functions as a time in which students take these new strategies and implement them into personal writing activities. In writing workshops, the teacher determines a set topic and introduces it to the class. The students then write on this idea in independent practice.

Word Work:

Word work is a balance between students’ phonetic abilities and whole language perceptions. This branch of balanced literacy emphasizes the study of words on a level of spelling, sound, and meaning. Phonetic instruction allows the student to sound out and break apart a word by its phonemes which supports decoding and spelling abilities. Vocabulary is also highlighted in this study as students connect these decoded words to their symbolic representations.

How Can Balanced Literacy be Implemented?

So how can instructors implement this balance between whole language and phonics? The application of balanced literacy is wholly in the hands of the instructor. An essential part of this pedagogy is how language and literacy are being taught.

Teaching phonics and whole language may seem intimidating to accomplish at the same time. However, they naturally lend themselves to each other. In the start of the students’ journey, instructors can hone in on basic and consistent phonic skills that are represented through various texts. Choosing a book that lends to language patterns and repetitions creates an environment in which students see phonic skills as applied to larger pictures of literacy.

Employing the three major components of balanced literacy explained above is critical to implementation. Reading work, writing work, and word work all combine to present students with necessary skills and strategies. Time must be set aside for all parts in order to hone in on students’ learning of the topics.

The instructor must be willing and able to effectively and meticulously design lesson plans that implement balanced literacy. The various components must be given proper time and consistently introduced into the students’ schedules to establish a routine. Effective grouping is also key to implementation.

Instructors must form smaller groups keeping in mind individual performance levels and background knowledge. Every student will have a different performance level that the teacher must recognize and meet for successful learning.

Continual assessment in both formal and informal ways is another important part of balanced literacy. Standardized testing is only one form. Informal assessment presents more personalized and instructive data on a students’ progress. Teachers can include a variety of assessment modes, including checklists, work assessments, and even students’ personal opinion on their work. Communicating and showing these documents to parents creates a more thorough picture of individual reading and writing progress.

Balanced literacy establishes a teaching environment open to reading and writing of an original text. The interplay between these two methodologies is easy to see. Students need to understand meaning and strategy while also spelling and decoding to become familiarized with literacy.

This methodology’s components all balance together to create a thorough landscape of reading and writing acquisition. Implementing these concepts can be accomplished in a variety of ways. It all comes back to the instructor and the critical part they play as what one teaches is just as important as how.

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