The Missouri Reader Vol. 41, Issue 2 - Page 28


Resourceful Research

All students deserve learning experiences that empower them to be confident readers and writers. Balanced literacy is rooted in research that demonstrates the parallel development of oral and written language (Fresch, 2016). This parallel development signals specific assessment points for planning individualized and small group instruction. Understanding the reciprocal nature of language development allows teachers to identify individual strengths and target needs, thus providing challenging, yet appropriate instruction for every student (Fresch, 2001). Selecting instructional strategies that cross into word study, reading, and writing offers powerful approaches for developing proficiency in all areas.

Balanced literacy provides equitable, differentiated instruction for all students. My recent book, Strategies for Effective Balanced Literacy (Shell Education, 2016), presents instructional support to teachers to help find ways to meet individual needs, plan small group instruction, and engage students in joyful learning. Each section (word study, reading, and writing) is introduced with the theory and research that grounds the assessment and instructional planning suggested. Knowing that all strategies have an effective research base affords teachers confidence in how they meet the needs of their students.

Balanced Literacy instruction is guided by both formative and summative assessment. When planning instruction, teachers strive to simultaneously address written (writing/reading), visual (viewing/visual representation), and oral (speaking/listening) proficiencies.

The key elements of Balanced Literacy in grades K-8 are to:

● Target students’ needs and differentiate instruction,

● Plan lessons that simultaneously engage students in word study, reading, and writing,

● Teach students to self-direct learning, and

● Make students feel the joy of successful learning.

Word Study

Word Study encompasses spelling, phonics, and vocabulary. Over time, students learn the alphabet, letter/sound relationships, vocabulary, and the influence of Greek and Latin roots. Planning for this sequence is imperative, as a strong base of knowledge in these areas may not have occurred at home. “Hart and Risley’s research (1995) indicates that students who come to school with smaller vocabularies are at risk for learning gaps” (Fresch, 2016, p. 30). This gap continues to widen over the years. Therefore, primary teachers must be sure our youngest learners learn to identify the letters, then their sounds (phonemic awareness), and finally how those sounds blend (phonological awareness) to become words (Fresch and Harrison, 2013). Learning the sounds of English are necessary for reading (decoding) and writing (encoding).

Spelling instruction must move beyond memorization of lists to application of knowledge of a large cadre of words. Using word lists that students remember and independently use in their writing is the goal of any good spelling instruction. Additionally, just as we would never hand the same reading book to each child in our room (after all, they all have differing skills in word attack), so we should not hand every student the same spelling list (Fresch, 2000).