Balanced literacy: Teaching each student’s instructional need

Every day a teacher has the opportunity to make a difference in a child’s reading and writing life.  What other career can have such an impact on a student’s life? Teachers know students come to them with varying mastery of skills…varying depths of knowledge about vocabulary and content…and varying willingness to risk new learning. How do we meet individual needs, keep students engaged, and develop a sense of community?  Balanced literacy seeks to meet students where the greatest need exists. Some students may need additional practice reading to develop fluency and improve comprehension. Some students may need experiences in doing quality research to inform an upcoming writing task. And others may need to deepen their knowledge of English and the many words that will assist them in reading content texts.

Teachers want students to have fun and to maintain (or improve) their self-concept. But, allowing students to slide along and not be challenged to develop reading and writing skills does them no favor. In fact, it makes the teaching (and learning) task much harder. So, how do we stop the slide? We begin with formative assessments – those quick check-ups on how a student is using his or her literacy skills.  The word “assess” means to “sit beside” and these type of assessments do just that…allow us to sit beside our students and see them use their skills “on the run.”  How do they decode unknown words? How much prior knowledge do they bring to a reading text? What do they know of constructing their own written texts? How can we stretch, but not frustrate a student to guide them into new learning? We want students to feel the joy of learning and accomplishment. Targeting individual needs is key to building success. Success that lasts a life time.

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