Balanced Literacy

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The goal of a Balanced Literacy Program is to teach students to become independent, strategic and avid readers and writers. Through careful observation and assessment, the teacher identifies a particular strategy or skill students need to learn. The teacher then selects the most appropriate approach for teaching the skill or strategy. By including a balance of modeled, shared, guided, and independent literacy activities, teachers are able to provide
appropriate instruction that meets the diverse needs of students.


Read Aloud
Teacher reads aloud to the whole class or small groups. A variety of genres are selected. Favourites are often reread.

• Enjoyment and motivation
• Book Language
• New Vocabulary
• Information

It is important for teachers to read a variety of materials to students: well-crafted picture books, short stories, poems, and expository text. Teachers should consider the following criteria when selecting books:

• Students’ interests
• Captivating language
• Engaging illustrations
• Representations of various cultures
• Novel situations
• Imaginative topics
• Interesting and relevant information
• Strong plots and characters

Preparation for the read aloud:

• Do the students have adequate background information to understand the concepts that are explored in the book?
• What tone of voice and manner should I use to provide students with a meaningful interpretation of the story?
• What are the points in the story where I will stop to have the students predict what will happen next, to savour language, or to express a personal response?

Before beginning to read:

• Students should discuss the title, and information provided about the author and illustrator. Students search the cover illustration for clues about the story before making predictions about the content. They are encouraged to support their predictions by citing personal experiences.

During the read aloud:

• Teachers should assemble students close to them to facilitate viewing book illustrations. Model turning the pages in a book and how to hold the book. Expectations should be established for appropriate listening behaviours.

Responding to the read aloud:

• Students reflect on materials that have been read to them. Reflection is essential to develop critical thinking skills.
• Students should be required to support their responses with evidence from text and personal experiences.

Teachers may ask students:

• Have you read other books about __________
• What does the story make you think about?
• Were our predictions about the story correct?
• What part of the story did you like best?
• Would you like to hear another story by this author?
• Was there anything in the story that surprised you or that you didn’t understand?
• What questions would you like to ask author?
• Who was you favourite character in the story?

Retelling Stories:

Following the read aloud, teachers support students in retelling by asking them to:

• Recall the sequence of story events. (Story Mapping)
• Determine the beginning, middle, and end of the story.
• Identify major and minor characters. (Character Mapping – Venn Diagram)

Shared Reading
The teacher involves students in reading together using an enlarged text. Reading and rereading often big books and charts such as language experience and interactive writing.

Shared reading is the key teaching/learning component of an early literacy program. This component provides students with essential demonstrations of how reading works, and what readers do to construct meaning. It is here that students learn the strategies needed to problem solve.

Drawing students into the power of this experience. Students see themselves as readers as they chime in with the reading.

A text to be shared with the whole class is selected by the teacher. Crucial to the lesson is the modelling of what a proficient reader does when interacting with the text. Teacher modelling remains essential during all Shared Reading sessions. Texts are revisited over 4-5 days.

Shared Reading includes modelling of:

• Effective oral reading
• Application of reading strategies and word solving strategies reading/writing connections

Whole texts are used for Shared Reading. Materials include stories (narrative), exposition, poetry, as well as song lyrics, chants, and rhymes. Because it is crucial that students see the texts, big books or texts with enlarged print are recommended.

The Shared Reading lesson can be divided into 3 sections:

• Introducing the text
• Working with the texts
• Responding to the texts

Day 1: Introducing the Text

The teacher introduces the text by drawing on the students’ prior knowledge . If students have had little experience with the topic, it will be necessary to extend their knowledge by supplying them with enough information to provide entry points into the text.

Student’s attention is focused on the title of the text. The teacher elicits student’s responses to make predictions about the story. Prediction is important since it engages the student’s in thinking about the content.

The teacher reads the text as students follow the print. The teacher reads the text as students follow the print. The teacher needs to guide the reading by moving their hand to indicate the line or word being read. Student interest in the content of the text is crucial and therefore, the teacher stops only to clarify ideas or to encourage further predictions.

After the initial reading, the teacher guides students in a discussion about the content of the text. If expository text is used, major concepts are recalled. It may be necessary for students to check illustrations for clarification. If narrative text is used, students are questioned about explicit information and implied information, as it relates to plot, characters, and situations in the story. REMEMBER: The purpose of Day 1 is to enjoy the story.

Days 2, 3, 4: Working with the text.

Teachers must select the most appropriate and most powerful teaching point in each text for instruction. Search for opportunities to examine phonics and study words in context. They can be found in many situations. For example:

• high frequency words ex. in, away, you
• punctuation ex. question marks, exclamation marks, quotation marks
• intial and final consonants, and later; medial consonants
• parts of words ex. compound words, in and to in into
• repetitive patterns
• rhyming words
• text features ex. italics, enlarged font, arrangement of words, speech balloons
• double letters

Each day includes a shared rereading of the text at the beginning of the session. The teacher uses a special wand or a pointer to guide the student’s reading.

Day 5: Responding To The text – Celebration of Learning

On the fifth day, the children reread the text with very little scaffolding from the teacher. The children are usually using fluent, expressive reading which has been modelled by the teacher.

A student may be doing one-one matching or following along with others. At the conclusion of this reading the teacher may plan for a culminating activity. Ideas include:
An Art Activity Reader’s Theatre
Cooking Activity Re-enactment of the Story

Guided Reading
The teacher works with a small group of students. The groupings are flexible based on common needs and/or interests. There is a specific purpose and teaching element for element for each lesson. Teacher introduces and selects text that is at an instructional level. The students read the text to themselves. The teacher supports students during and after the reading.
• Requires multiple copies of a text
• A new, unseen text
• Opportunities to read and reread the text
• Opportunities to discuss the text

Guided Reading Lesson:

• Introduction
• Independent Reading (Teacher observes or records during reading)
• Praise (For use of good strategies)
• One significant teaching point after the independent reading.

A strong introduction to the text is provided by the teacher to give the necessary support for independent reading. The teacher and students predict and discuss ideas contained in the title. During the introduction, remember to include names of characters, and tricky words specific to the text. Each student is given a copy of the text. While looking at some of the illustrations and predicting what might happen in the text, one or two familiar and or familiar words may be located. A purpose for reading has been established, interest has been aroused, and the necessary scaffolding has been provided for independent reading by the students.

Students read the entire text independently while the teacher observes the students, and provides support where necessary. Following the independent reading, students engage in discussion about the text and revisit prior predictions.

Observations made during the students’ independent reading allow the teacher to make informed instructional decisions which decide the ‘after reading’ teaching point.

After Reading:

Choose one most significant teaching point. Students may be asked to revisit the text, to use word-solving strategies with teacher support. For example:

• Let’s have another look at this word.
• Could it be ________?
• What else could it be? Why?
• What helped you to solve this word?
• What part did you already know?
• How did you figure out the word, ________?

Following this analysis of the text, students are always returned to the meaning of the text by putting the words back in context. Students are encouraged to read the text a few more times independently for practice.

Student Reading Cues:
1. Look at the pictures.
2. Use your finger detective.
3. Look at the first letter.
4. Get your mouth ready.
5. Sound out the letters in words.
6. Break down larger word into smaller chunks.
7. Skip the word if you have difficulty, and read the rest of the sentence.
8. Reread the sentence.

The Teacher’s role in introducing the text. • Activate students’ prior knowledge about the topic through brief discussion (text’s theme, storyline, setting and characters)
• Unfamiliar language (difficult names or expressions) woven into the introduction.
• Illustrations discussed briefly.
The Teacher’s role during reading. • Observe students as they read independently to note indicators of learning such as: directionality, one-to-one matching, self-monitoring for meaning, self correcting to make meaningful substitutions.
• Scaffolding for students who need support.
The Teacher’s role in extended reading. • Elicit students’ responses to the text to determine their understandings, and feelings.
• Provide praise of a reading strategy that one or several of the students used successfully.

Guided Reading Book Selection

When selecting text which are appropriate for guided and independent reading, the following criteria may be used:

Beginning Early Stage
• Varied sentence patterns
• Repetition of repeated phrases or refrains
• Blend of oral and ‘book talk’ structures
• Topics in child’s immediate experiences
• Illustrations provide moderate support

Early Stage
• Varied sentence patterns (repeated phrases or refrains)
• Repeated patterns in a cumulative form
• Written language structures
• More dialogue appears
• Conventional story
• Literary language
• New and more difficult vocabulary
• Illustrations provide moderate to low support
• Topics begin to move beyond child’s immediate experiences.

Late Early or Developing Primary Stage
• Elaborated episodes and events
• Extended descriptions
• Links to familiar stories
• Literacy Language
• New and specialized vocabulary for some topics
• Illustrations provide low support

Working With Groups:

While the teacher is working with each Guide Reading Group, other students are working engaged in a variety of literacy experiences, either individually, or with a partner. One way of organizing for working independently, involves the use of a Literacy Workboard.

It is necessary that the routines for using the Literacy Workboard are firmly in place to ensure that students are engaged in productive learning and the teacher is able to focus attention on the Guided Reading Group.

Assessment and Evaluation:
Observations made by the teacher during the guided reading provide the teacher with information about each students’ independent use of reading strategies and others that may need further demonstration and practice. Teachers observe and record behaviours of specific students using a combination of anecdotal comments and checklists. Teachers should be encouraged, on a regular basis, to do running records. For those students who are experiencing difficulty, it is recommended a running record be administered once a week to determine change over time and shifts in learning. For other students a running record should be administered no more than a month apart. This data base provides in depth analysis of the strategies a student is or is not using.

Independent Reading
Students read on their own or with a partner choosing a wide range of materials, genres. Most of their independent reading should involve materials at their independent reading levels.
• Book bags/tubs
• Students know where they can find just the right books

Independent reading is the component of the balanced literacy program that provides opportunities for students to read from self-selected and teacher-selected materials. Students must have time each day to achieve fluency by practising on appropriate materials. It is also important for students to have opportunities to browse well-illustrated books that are of personal interest, but are too difficult for the students to read independently.

Reading practice increases fluency and builds memory for language structures and vocabulary. Students who have not acquired a large sight vocabulary must read text appropriate to their ages or cycle placements.

Modeled Writing/Write Aloud
The teacher holds the pen and writes in front of the students, verbalizing his/her thought processes as well as what is being written. The students are the observers.

Modelled writing is an important teaching-learning experience for early readers and writers. Teachers engage the whole class in this process to provided students with opportunities to see teachers demonstrating many aspects of writing such as ‘think alouds’ as a model of how writers make decisions about writing. Teachers should model a range of forms, conventions, and writing processes.

The text that is generated becomes permanent record of class activities and learning, and an additional source of reading material for students. Students contribute to the content of the text and see that writing is an interactive process of editing and develop confidence in using the process themselves.

Shared Writing
This is a shared construction of text. The teacher and the students compose the text together. The teacher is the scribe and can negotiate vocabulary, clarify or revise ideas so that the students can read back writing independently. Language experience is a form of shared writing.

Teachers engage students in demonstrations of writing that help them to understand how writing works. Shared Writing can be used to create any text ex. daily message, student biographies, responses to reading, reports of excursions, and summaries of classroom visitors.

Students share in demonstrations that include:
• Concepts about print
• The use of upper and lower case letters.
• Simple punctuation
• Self-monitoring to ensure meaning
• Sound-symbol relationships

Whole class activity that is usually 10-15 minutes in duration, depending on the time of year and the length of the text. Completed texts are predominately displayed or stored for future access by students. This can be made into booklets, class books or hung on the wall.

The teacher and students negotiate a message which the teacher records. The teacher invites students’ assistance and suggestions in creating text.

• We have just carved our pumpkin. What did we do first?
• Where on the page should I begin to write?
• Where should I write the next word?
• Should I use a capital letter or small ‘p’ for Peter?
• Say cut slowly with me. It starts like Connor’s name. What letter do we need at the beginning? Do you think that it is a short word or a long word?
• What should I do know to be sure that it makes sense? (Teacher rereads with students)

Guided Writing
Students engage in a variety of writing text forms. Mini-lessons are provided to demonstrate the process of writing including composing, drafting and editing. Like a guided reading lesson, the teacher provides instruction on various aspects of writing.

Guided writing is an extension of shared writing, and is most beneficial to those students who are not yet ready to independently complete a piece of writing. Guided writing can take many forms:
• Informed student/teacher writing conferences
• Small group planning sessions
• Story mapping

Interactive Writing
As in shared writing, teacher and students compose the message or story. The teacher is the scribe and strategically shares the pen with the student.

Interactive Writing is an important writing component, especially for students who are reluctant writers, or require support to engage in writing. The teacher and students decide on a message and share the role of scribe. The text is negotiated by engaging the students in a pre-writing discussion, where it is decided what will be written. Initially, only one sentence of text is negotiated. The message will be recorded on chart paper.

The teacher shares the recording task, making certain that students record as much as they can – a letter, a part of the word, a high-frequency word. The goal of the writing is to develop children’s independence by encouraging them to use what they already know. Ongoing observations inform the teacher so that each child’s strengths can be utilized in the interactive writing session. It is crucial that student’s are fully engaged in the writing experience. As teacher becomes familiar with what individual students already know what they can do, every student can contribute to the writing in some way.

After the Writing Experience:

The text is read and predominately displayed for independent reading. Strategies learned from Interactive Writing will begin to transfer to student’s independent writing. Sample activities might include:
• Reading the text together with one-to-one matching
• Displaying the text for independent reading
• Writing or inserting a copy of the text in a class experience book (children can illustrate and date the entries)
• Doing a cut up sentence activity. Cut the word segments in front of the children. Cut one or two words into smaller segments using onset and rime ( m + an)
• Complete a word study: children add different initial consonants with magnetic letters to the rime, ex, man = pan, ran, fan
• Individuals rebuild the sentence together on the floor or in the pocket chart
• Place the text in the pocket chart for additional independent practice. Later, the pieces can be placed in an envelope and the front can be labelled with the sentence printed out correctly. In a few days you will have a variety of little envelopes for independent practice on familiar text.

Writers Workshop
The Writing Workshop provides a predictable, organizational structure for students to write daily, and to receive instruction based on their ongoing needs. The term workshop implies that students write in a well-ordered environment, and that they create written work that can be shared with others.

The Writing Workshop, including time for Independent Writing, is an important component of the Early Literacy program. With daily exposure to reading, as well as daily experiences with Interactive and Shared Writing, students will demonstrate considerable growth in their personal, independent writing. Early in this stage, students represent only the initial consonants heard in words, and later begin to include more letters in their approximations. Many high frequency words encountered in Reading and Shared Writing begin to be spelled conventionally in students’ writing.

The Writing Workshop provides a predictable, organizational structure for students to write daily, and to receive instruction based on their ongoing needs. The term workshop implies that students write in a well-ordered environment, and that they create written work that can be shared with others.

Students need to be provided with:
• Notebooks or teacher-prepared books
• A variety of paper (lined, unlined, paper of different sizes, colour, shapes)
• A variety of tools for writing (pencils, crayons, markers etc…)

The key to a smoothly running Writing Workshop is an organizational structure that is easy to manage for students and the teacher. It is essential for teachers to take the time that is required to establish predictable routines and procedures. Planning for the Writer’s Workshop is facilitated when the teacher understands the nature of the early writer.

Routines students need to learn include:

• Obtaining materials independently
• Managing personal materials
• Sharing ideas for writing with others
• Knowing how to work independently while the teacher works with others.
• Selecting another task when the writing is completed.
• Sharing the writing with an audience – both individuals and groups
• Retuning materials to the appropriate location

The Role of Instruction In Writing:

Students require frequent and regular demonstrations or mini lessons during the Writing Workshop. Demonstrations may be for large group, small group, or sometimes for the individual student.
Demonstrations are designed to develop:
• Routines for Writing Workshop
• Concepts about print ex. directionality, word boundaries, spacing
• Voicing ex. how to say words slowly and represent speech sounds that are heard.
• Self-monitoring strategies to ensure a meaningful message
• The use of capital letters for names and at the beginning of sentences.
• The use of punctuation
• The use of known high frequency words
• The use of classroom resources ex. charts, alphabet cards, alphabet books, word walls.
• Simple editing strategies.

Introducing The Writer’s Workshop

1. Read Aloud: Teacher will read a picture book with a clear beginning, middle and end. There should be a discussion about the story after the reading. Discuss characters, elements of the story, favourite parts, likes and dislikes. This read aloud lesson should demonstrate the sense of story structure and possibly give students ideas to write about.

2. Shared Writing & Mini Lesson: The teacher and students negotiate a message which the teacher records. The teacher invites students’ assistance and suggestions in creating text. This could be a class story relating to the text read. The shared writing may address common needs observed during the roving conference, or from assessment of the students’ writing. The mini-lesson may be designed to encourage students to write independently, using phonemic awareness. Students should learn to self-monitor by checking each word and each sentence to ensure a meaningful message. As students produce lengthier texts, they will benefit from mini-lesson about story structure (beginning, middle and end).

3. Topic Discussion: There should be a discussion of story topics before the student begins to write their story. The teacher should record some of the topics of the black board. Encourage ideas and elaborate topics and titles. Students may share ideas and titles.

4. Independent Writing: A major goal of the writing program is to promote independent writing. During independent writing, topics and forms are always self-selected. Students rely strongly on personal experiences, including information from being read to, and from their own reading. Students may write independently about they are doing or learning in the classroom.

5. Writing Conferences: A writing conference is a brief conversation with a student or a group of students about their writing. During the conference, the teacher engages the students in a problem solving process that can be applied to writing (ex. the spelling of a word, letter formation, clarification, about the use of a capital letter, punctuation, how to use resources, or what happens next in the story). The writing problems to be solved change as the year evolves.

Students at this stage of development are not expected to rewrite stories for display purposes. At the beginning of this stage, students rarely make revisions to their writing. However, revision may occur when the student determines that what is produced does not make sense. Examples of revision might be the insertion or deletion of a word , or the alteration of a word ending.

6. Sharing The Writing: The teacher conveys an important message to students by scheduling a few minutes for students to share their writing. To facilitate time management, it is recommended that different audiences be used to accommodate children who wish to share their writing. Sharing may occur with a partner, a small group or the whole class. Additional forums may include:
• Different audience (ex. parents, principal, former teacher, kindergarten students etc…)
• Displays in the classroom and elsewhere in the school
• School or classroom newspaper
• Resource center
• Author’s chair

7. Assessment & Evaluation: Teachers should keep anecdotal records of writing behaviours as well as information gathered from students’ writing samples. Checklists should be updated regularly by the teacher.

8. Self Assessment: Students may be asked to identify their best piece of writing and give a reason for their choice. The teacher or the student may record this reflection, attach it to the piece of writing, then place it in the students’ portfolio.