Is structured literacy on your mind as you plan your reading lessons? With the science of reading initiatives being implemented around the country, structured literacy is taking center stage as the go-to reading curriculum. But what if you are a proponent of balanced literacy? In that case, it might be hard to hear the science of reading advocates blame balanced literacy for inequitable literacy outcomes and teaching strategies harmful to students. However, you can combine structured and balanced literacy.
If you have difficulty letting go of what you’ve always done or want to learn how to combine structured and balanced reading, stay with me as I explain how these two programs can work in harmony. While you can keep reading for more information, you can also watch here!
What is Structured Literacy?
Structured literacy instruction uses evidence-based principles to guide instruction. The three essential components of structured literacy are it is:
- Systematic and Cumulative by introducing new concepts from easiest to most challenging. Cumulative means that as each new concept is introduced, students practice the new concepts with skills already taught.
- Explicit instruction uses the gradual release model of responsibility when teaching new skills and strategies. Teachers model concepts and gradually release students as they are ready to practice what they know.
- Diagnostic consists of ongoing assessment. Data guides instruction with the goal being automaticity so students can begin focusing on meaning when reading.
The Structured Literacy Framework
When you combine structured and balanced literacy, you want to look at both frameworks. The structured framework includes the following:
- Phonology: The study of sounds in spoken words
- Sound-symbol relationships: Mapping sounds to letters
- Syllables: Learning the types of syllables and how to syllable division patterns
- Morphology: The study of base words and affixes
- Syntax: Understanding the grammatical order of words
- Semantics: Understanding the meaning of words and sentences
What is Balanced Literacy?
Balanced literacy balances explicit language instruction with independent learning and language exploration. The balanced literacy framework consists of the following:
Many suggest the difference between balanced and structured literacy is that balanced literacy surrounds children with quality literature that teaches students the love of reading. In contrast, structured literacy teaches children how language is structured. My question is, why not combine structured and balanced literacy and get both?
Why Combine Structured and Balanced Literacy
Now you might decide that there is no need to combine structured and balanced literacy. Teachers already have a lot on their plates. However, I believe it would be worth the time and effort to blend these reading programs because of these two models:
- Simple View of Reading
- Scarborough’s Rope.
As you can see from the images above, these two models suggest the importance of a more balanced approach to reading. Reading comprehension is the outcome of good instruction, so we must give students the tools they need to become good readers.
So how can you combine structured and balanced literacy effectively? Here are a few ideas:
- Incorporate phonemic and phonological awareness into your daily schedule.
- Teach using a Systematic and cumulative phonics program – Balanced literacy doesn’t provide as rich of a systematic phonics program as structured literacy.
- Add decodable texts to your small group instruction. However, I wouldn’t only teach with decodable texts. Students need to learn how to make meaning when they read, but you don’t have to use MSV cues.
- No matter the program, Interactive read-aloud is vital to building language, background, and vocabulary.
- Also, build background and vocabulary by integrating content area subjects.
- Assessments are a must to make data-informed decisions. I love anecdotal notes, exit tickets, and mastery checks.
All of these are bits and pieces of both structured and balanced literacy. Not everything can be a one-stop shop, and that includes teaching reading!
One-Size-Fits-All-Approach Won’t Work
The best thing to remember is that one approach doesn’t have to be demonized just because another one works well. I believe both have a place in our reading classroom.
I think Lucy Calkins’s said it best in her response to the New York Times article defending her program.
She wrote, “All children are different. One-size-fits-all can’t be who we are, and no one approach works for everyone. Improvement in the teaching of reading will always come from responsive teachers and thought collaborative implementing an approach and then studying results, adjusting the approach based on what children show them.”
If this is what the expert is saying, I see no reason we shouldn’t combine structured and balanced reading to give students the best of both worlds.
Arm Yourself With Knowledge
As a literacy coach, I often gave the following advice to the teachers I worked with, and I will give it to you today: “Arm yourself with knowledge.”
As you prepare to return to school, you must understand why you teach reading (or anything else) the way you do. You need to understand the theory and the research behind the approach.
If you haven’t already, you should listen to the podcast, Sold a Story. While I think the podcast tries to paint a picture that proponents of balanced literacy were choosing profit over what was best for kids, it is still worth a listen.
What Can You Do Now?
As you reflect over the break and plan for the new year, add a new idea to your teacher toolbox to help improve language and build students’ background knowledge and vocabulary. These activities are essential as text difficulty Increases.
You can also add a little professional self-care to your list of things to do! Come back here every other Sunday to learn more about this and other topics that will help you teach reading and writing! If you aren’t on my mailing list, be sure to join by clicking the picture below, so you will know when my posts and videos go live.