Friday, October 22, 2010

Balanced Literacy: Learning to Read at AE

According to Carmen Jorgenson, Balanced Literacy is a complex concept. Just as the octopus, it has many parts. If you ask 10 people what Balanced Literacy is, you might get 10 different definitions and understanding. The ultimate goal of balanced literacy is to develop proficient, independent readers and writers. It is all based on a premise called "Gradual Release of Responsibility."

Through read aloud's, shared reading, modeled writing, and interactive or edited writing, teachers model strategies that good readers and writers use. Teachers do a lot of the work during these lessons to share their own thinking, and to get children to understand the strategies and how to apply them. Teachers provide direct explanations about the strategies, think aloud to foster metacognition, and facilitate peer learning through shared texts and partner talk about those texts.

During the school day, students are given the opportunity to practice these strategies during small group teacher-directed guided reading or writing. This setting provides the appropriate amount of support each student needs to be able to apply the 'focus' strategy.

Then during times when the child is reading or writing alone, (s)he practices the taught strategies independently. Teachers monitor this independent practice time by conferring with the students to see how they are applying the strategies. During the conferring, teachers can evaluate a child's progress, reteach a strategy, and/or validate what a student is using and why to help develop more metacognition.

It's like teaching a child how to ride a bike. The child watches someone ride a bike as the first step. Then with the support of someone literally holding up the bike and the child peddling, the child attempts to ride a bike. The adult is still doing a lot of the work. Pretty soon the child can ride almost by himself with an adult just holding onto the seat, or there as moral support. The child is doing most of the work. Pretty soon he can ride the bike by himself.

Yes, comprehension (meaning) is the focus of all reading and writing instruction. All proficient readers read for meaning. Writers write to express their thoughts - creating meaning. Yes, there are separate skills that can/must be taught to assist students as they learn to read and write for meaning. Teaching students how to comprehend what they are reading is a heavy task. It includes everything from reading to learn information, to reading to understand the plot of an author's story, to understand the inferences and opinions in a text. It's a very complicated, higher-level thinking process.

Another aspect is teaching students how reading and writing are so closely connected. Literate people use what they know about reading and writing interchangeably.

Carmen Jorgenson is a former classroom teacher, reading specialist, and principal. She is an active member of the Alameda County Reading Association. Semi-retired from New Haven, she continues to work as a reading support teacher. Mrs. Jorgenson has worked with Dr. Adria Klein who has trained Alvarado teachers in Balanced Literacy. Dr. Klein was a force at the very beginning of the California Early Literacy Learning project (CELL) in 1994 and later ExLL (Extended Literacy Learning) both which were teachings training tools.

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