Saturday, October 8, 2016

What Is Balanced Literacy? Part One - Reading

Balanced Literacy.......this is my bible, my baby, what I TRULY BELIEVE IN.....when it comes to teaching kiddos how to read.  If you do nothing else in your classroom.....use balanced literacy.  Seriously.  So what is it? Balanced literacy is simply that.....a balanced approach to teaching children how to read and write.  Children are highly engaged in the reading and writing process.  The teacher facilitates their learning using different approaches that include whole group, small group and individual instruction.

So what are the components of a good great FANTASTIC balanced literacy program? Here's the list: Read Aloud, Shared Reading, Guided Reading, Independent Reading, Shared Writing, Interactive Writing, Independent Writing.  Today's blog will focus on the Reading Part of Balanced Literacy:

Read Alouds
Why should teachers read aloud to children? First of all, because they love it! What better way to teach children to love reading than to read good quality literature to them? They get engaged in the story, they laugh, they look forward to that quiet time when they just sit and listen to a good book.  But during this time we also teach children that there is a purpose for reading...we can read for enjoyment and we can read to learn new things.  We show them different strategies to help them comprehend a story.  We teach them how to use clues in the story to figure out unknown words and new vocabulary.  And.....we teach them how to listen.

I think the key in reading aloud is choosing quality books that have great story elements - a great plot, engaging characters, rich vocabulary, interesting settings.  When you choose books like this, you can draw the children in and then WHAMMO!! teaching them reading strategies becomes easy.  After reading a story aloud, this is when I introduce concepts like plot, characters and setting.  We compare stories using venn diagrams and T charts, we list the characters and the setting.  Basically we talk about the elements of the story and why they are important to our comprehension.

Shared Reading
Ok....I LOVE shared reading. People.....this is where you really get a lot of bang for your buck! This is the step where you truly teach kids how to read! Shared reading is when the teacher and student read together from an enlarged text.  This can be a book, a chart, a poem....anything really, but at this level - and this is IMPORTANT - it must have pictures that match the text.  Using pictures clues is one of the first reading strategies to help children learn to read. Please don't listen when people tell you that pictures teach children to, no, no.  Pictures teach children to use strategies like looking at the beginning sound of a word and matching it to the picture to figure out unknown words. Without pictures the only strategy a child learns is decoding.  Decoding is fine for CVC words, but we want them to develop a sight word vocabulary.  Sight words are memorized and pictures can help them in that memorization process.  Pictures also help the child with comprehension.  We need to teach them to look at the pictures and really think about what is happening in a story.  Sometimes subtle things are happening in the pictures that may not be mentioned in the text....this is where we teach them to REALLY LOOK at the pictures and understand the story.  

When we read together in Shared Reading  all of the children can see the text and the process of reading at the same time. Children get the opportunity to read aloud and demonstrate comprehension by answering questions about the story. Children see the front of the book, back of the book, how to turn the pages, read from left to right and find sight words that they know on the pages. They are taught the difference between print and illustrations in Shared Reading. They learn how to read fluently and how to make their voices expressive. This activity also helps give children the confidence to try reading books on their own.

There are many big books on the market that you can purchase and if you have unlimited funds (NOT!) then buy away! But if you are like many of us, our funds are non existent limited and we need to come up with other creative ways to make enlarged print stories.  I usually write my stories based on our theme and sight words for the week.  So, for instance, if you are learning about the farm and your sight words are "that" and "is" you could write a simple story like: That is a cow. That is a pig. That is a horse. etc....Each page would have very big print - large enough for the child to see it sitting in a group with you at the carpet and it would also include some kind of illustration.  Sometimes I draw my own or often times I will use a coloring page or a stock photo that I find online.    I make my own "big books", laminate them and bind them and VOILA!!! instant shared reading materials!  Cost = $0......LOVE IT!!! ❤️
Remember when you are creating your materials,  they need to be at the correct reading level to really help your students advance in their learning.  A Kindergarten teacher is going to be working with Level A at the beginning of the year.....a First Grade Teacher will be working at around a level C-D at the beginning of the year.  I think that Shared Reading is valuable at both grade levels, but your materials that you are using need to be geared toward the correct level.  Making a level D big book will look different than a level A.  

Guided Reading
In guided reading, students meet with the teacher in a small group.  They are given the opportunity to read and learn with books at their own level. They are guided by the teacher and read orally or silently. They are given the opportunity to answer comprehension questions and use strategies to figure out unknown words. Guided reading helps give children the confidence to choose books appropriate for them and to read on their own.  

Independent Reading
This is where the children "show what they know"....children should always have some sort of book box or bag filled with books at their level.  During independent reading children practice reading and using strategies that they have learned in Read Aloud, Shared Reading and Guided Reading.  At the beginning of the year, in first grade, I fill a book box for each of my students.  I use the recommended level that their Kindergarten teacher sends to me, to choose books for each child.  I usually start with about 6 books for one of my firsties in their book box.  After I do a beginning of the year benchmark, I may need to tweak those books.  Some children will fall back in the summer - that dreaded summer slide -  while others will push ahead - YEA!!!  

I like to begin independent reading on the first day of school - SAY WHAT????? Yep, first day.  Ok....I get it....they can't all read yet.  That's ok....we are going to build our stamina.  That's where we learn to sit quietly and do nothing but - READ.  So we begin with 1-2 minutes of quiet reading on the first day.  I read a story aloud to them first....usually something by David Shannon like "No David" or "David Goes to School" because they love those books.  When I'm finished I ask them if they would like to be able to read about David all by themselves and wouldn't it be cool if they could pick up this book and read it??? And of course they all yell YES!! AH HA!! Reel em I have them hooked.  So this is where I introduce "Read to Self" and tell them that we are going to build up our stamina so that we can eventually read this cool book to ourselves too.  I show them their book boxes and off they go to read quietly for 2 minutes.  We come back together and talk about how it went and did we read the whole time, etc. We do this every day until we eventually build up our time to about 20 minutes of silent reading (YES, THEY CAN DO IT!).  

So that wraps up the portion of Balanced Literacy that is Reading......this is the first of a year long series that I plan to do on Balanced Literacy.  I'll be posting different monthly ideas and pictures to help you along on your journey so please check back. Next week I will be posting about the Writing Portion of Balanced will include lots of cool ideas to get you started on doing some cool interactive writing with your kids.  Here's a sneak peak......hope to see you next week and please feel free to hit me up with any questions or comments!!