All About Balanced Literacy

Springfield Township School

What is Balanced Literacy?

Balanced Literacy incorporates a variety of reading approaches realizing students need to use multiple strategies to become proficient readers. Balanced literacy combines phonemic awareness, phonics, word study, vocabulary, and reading comprehension strategies. It provides and cultivates the skills of reading, writing, thinking, speaking and listening for all students.

A Balanced Literacy Program includes:

· Modeled Reading (Reading Aloud)

· Shared Reading

· Guided Reading

· Independent Reading

Balanced Literacy
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Balanced Literacy Components

Read Aloud

In Interactive, Modeled Read Aloud teachers verbally interact with students before, during and after reading to help them understand and make a variety of connections with the read aloud selection. The selection can be a nonfiction or fiction narrative, a poem or picture book. During an interactive read aloud the teacher engages in a series of activities, including: previewing the book; asking students to make predictions and connections to prior knowledge; stopping at purposeful moments to emphasize story elements, ask guiding questions or focus questions; and using oral or written responses to bring closure to the selection.

Interactive Read Aloud

Shared Reading

Shared Reading is a link in helping students become independent readers. It allows the teacher to model and support students using prediction and confirming skills. It allows less confident students the chance to share stories/articles/poetry in a non­threatening situation. It focuses on the meaning, fun, enjoyment, characters and sequence of a story and allows them to relate it back to their own experiences. It promotes discussion, problem­ solving and critical thinking by students.

Shared Reading is an interactive reading experience. An integral component of Shared Reading is an enlarged text that all children can see. Children join in the reading of a big book or other enlarged text such as songs, poems, charts, and lists created by the teacher or developed with the class through Shared and Interactive Writing. During the reading the teacher involves the children in reading together by pointing to or sliding below each word in the text. The teacher deliberately draws attention to the print and models early reading behaviors such as moving from left to right and word-­by­-word matching. Shared reading models the reading process and strategies used by readers.

In the shared reading model there are multiple readings of the books over several days. Throughout, children are actively involved in the reading.

During the initial reading, the teacher:

· Introduces the book (shares theme, examines title, cover, illustrations, and makes predictions)

· Relates prior experience to text

· Concentrates on enjoying the text as a whole

· Encourages students to use background knowledge to make predictions

· Encourages spontaneous participation in the reading of the story

· Discusses personal responses to the book

Texts are usually read multiple times over a period of days or weeks. The first reading emphasizes reading for enjoyment. Subsequent readings aim to increase participation, teach about book characteristics and print conventions, teach reading strategies, help develop a sight vocabulary of high frequency words, and teach phonics.

During Shared Reading:

· Rich, authentic, interesting literature can be used, even in the earliest phases of a reading program, with children whose word­ identification skills would not otherwise allow them access to this quality literature.

· Each reading of a selection provides opportunities for the teacher to model reading for the children.

· Opportunities for concept and language expansion exist that would not be possible if instruction relied only on selections that students could read independently.

· Awareness of the functions of print, familiarity with language patterns, and word­recognition skills grow as children interact several times with the same selection.

· Individual needs of students can be more adequately met. Accelerated readers are challenged by the interesting, natural language of selections. Because of the support offered by the teacher, students who are more slowly acquiring reading skills experience success.

Guided Reading

Guided reading is an instructional reading strategy during which a teacher works with small groups of children who have similar reading processes and needs. The teacher selects and introduces new books carefully chosen to match the instructional levels of students and supports whole text reading. Readers are carefully prepared when being introduced to a new text and various teaching points are made during and after reading. Guided reading fosters comprehension skills and strategies, develops background knowledge and oral language skills, and provides as much instructional ­level reading as possible.

During guided reading, students are given exposure to a wide variety of texts and are challenged to select from a growing repertoire of strategies that allow them to tackle new texts more independently. Ongoing observation and assessment help to inform instruction and grouping of students is flexible and may be changed often.

Independent Reading

Independent Reading is a time when students self-­select and independently read appropriate books. Independent Reading provides an opportunity to apply strategies that are introduced and taught during teacher read aloud, shared reading, and guided reading. When materials are appropriate and students can read independently, they become confident, motivated and enthusiastic about their ability to read.

Children make great contributions to their own learning when they are given some control and ownership of the reading process. The self-­selection process of Independent Reading places the responsibility for choosing books in the hands of the student. This teaches them that they have the ability to choose their own reading materials and that reading is a valuable and important activity.

While students are free to choose what they like, they must be encouraged to select a variety of literature and to select materials at their independent reading level. Independent means 95% to 100% accuracy as defined by running records. These materials should be able to be read without teacher support. It is at the independent level that comprehension, vocabulary extension, and fluency are improved.

Small Group Instruction (Strategy Groups)

Teachers are to use Strategy Groups & Conferences to differentiate instruction for ALL students during the Workshop. Research shows that beginning readers benefit most from being taught explicit skills during intensive small-group instruction. The small-group, differentiated reading model enables teachers to focus on specific skills needed by varied groups of children.

Strategy Groups

•Students can be reading at a different level and different text

•Targeted strategy/goal oriented- one teaching point

•Similar structure to a mini-lesson

•Easier to have flexible grouping (students might be in two or more groups)

•5-10 minutes

•Scheduling example

Strategy Groups


Reading comprehension is understanding a text that is read, or the process of "constructing meaning" from a text. Comprehension is a "construction process" because it involves all of the elements of the reading process working together as a text is read to create a representation of the text in the reader's mind. It can be defined as the “intentional thinking during which meaning is constructed through interactions between text and reader” (Harris and Hodges 1995, 207).

Reading comprehension skills are explicitly taught in our literacy instructional blocks.

Specific skills include:

· Asking questions

· Author’s Purpose

· Creating images

· Decoding

· Determining importance

· Differentiating between Fact and Opinion

· Drawing Conclusions

· Expressive Language

· Fluency

· Generalizing Questions

· Inference

· Main Idea

· Making connections

· Monitoring understanding

· Point of View

· Reading with Fluency

· Summarizing

· Synthesis

· Theme

· Using Compare and Contrast

· Using Context Clues

· Using fix­-up strategies

· Using Prediction

· Visualization

Studentsreading development is monitored in grades kindergarten through five through the use of numerous assessments such as regular benchmarks, retelling, running records, and guided reading levels and progress. The implementation of leveling and monitoring student reading fluency and comprehension is being developed in the middle school years as student data allows and teacher training is designed.

Close Reading

Close Reading is a central focus of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). It requires students to get truly involved with the text they are reading. The purpose is to teach them to notice features and language used by the author. Students will be required to think thoroughly and methodically about the details in a text.

Close reading includes:

o Using short passages and excerpts

o Diving right into the text with limited pre-reading activities

o Focusing on the text itself

o Rereading deliberately

o Reading with a pencil

o Noticing things that are confusing

o Discussing the text with others

o Think-Pair Share or Turn and Talk frequently

o Small groups and whole class

o Responding to text-dependent questions

Close Reading- Sign Posts


Students are taught that writers make decisions about grammar (structural rules of sentences, phrases, and words) to more clearly communicate to the reader. Instruction occurs in whole-group, in small strategy groups, and in individual conferences. Teachers make decisions about which conventions to address based on the grade level standards and what each student is approximating. Our instruction is designed to arm each writer with the grammar skills they need to develop as a writer.

Grammar instruction is most effective in the context of reading and writing. While teachers use appropriate grammar vocabulary to describe conventions, students are assessed in the appropriate use of conventions.

Furthermore, each grade level is in the process of developing a series of Common Core aligned mini-lessons that will be integrated into their existing Units of Study.


Our district proudly supports handwriting instruction at every grade level. In Grades K-2, teachers model letter formation, spacing, and formatting, as well as provide direct small group instruction and independent practice as needed.

Currently in New Jersey, there is no core curriculum standard that addresses the need for cursive writing instruction, we still provide formal instruction in Third Grade.


Conferencing occurs during the independent reading and writing time. Conferencing can take different forms, but it is primarily the opportunity for students to receive or provide specific feedback about their work. Students often seek out their partners or another student to conference with for opinions or suggestions. Teachers actively confer with either individual students or small groups during this time also. Teachers can also engage in small-group instructional groups to work with students that require assistance in a specific area.


Leveled Literacy Intervention

The Fountas & Pinnell Leveled Literacy Intervention System (LLI) is a small group supplementary program designed for struggling readers and writers. Its goal is to bring students to grade level achievement. Daily lessons incorporate phonics, writing, and reading for fluency, accuracy, and comprehension.

  • Created to support reading, writing, phonics and word study
  • Emphasizes comprehension strategies
  • Explores fiction and non-fiction text features
  • Specific work on sounds, letters, and words to help students
  • understand how words work
  • Expand vocabulary
  • Explicit teaching for fluent and phrased reading
  • Opportunities to write about reading and learn writing strategies
  • Supported by Fountas and Pinnell Continuum of Literacy Learning

Level Literacy Intervention (LLI)

Partnerships and Sharing

As part of the Balanced Literacy Framework, teachers provide time for students to work in partnerships. Students work in small groups to reflect on their work as a reader/writer and discuss how they applied specific strategies or share new discoveries. Researchers report that students learn best when they are actively involved in the process. Students working in small groups tend to learn more of what is taught and retain it longer than when the same content is presented in other instructional formats. And we know from experience that when students feel connected, engaged, and included.

At the end of the workshop (after reading time), the teacher brings closure to the day’s work. This time is used to share ways in which students have incorporated that day’s mini-lesson into their work and to share their new insights or discoveries. The share session functions almost as a separate and smaller mini-lesson. It may arise from a particular conference in which the teacher notices a student doing strong reading work that merits being shared with the rest of the students. The share time usually last no longer longer than 5 minutes (generally 2 minutes) and sometimes leads into (or frames) partnerships or book club time.

Partnerships in Balanced Literacy

Frequently Asked Questions

1. Do students read a common story on their own and discuss in class? How much class time is spent a week doing this?

Yes. Balanced Literacy provides multiple opportunities for the class to read the same text. This is achieved during: Shared Reading, Close Reading, and Interactive Read Alouds. Each class spends approximately 80-100 minutes a week learning from the same text. In addition, students read a common text in small-groups during Guided Reading, Strategy Groups, and Book Clubs.

2. How does “Reader's Workshop” incorporate reading comprehension and students' writing about the book they read?

Our goal at Springfield Township School is to develop, expand, and enhance the skills, strategies, and tools students can use to make meaning of and interact with the text.

Our reading units of study exist inside a balanced literacy framework and provide various opportunities for our students to read books. Our lessons are designed to help our students become proficient readers, writers, and thinkers.

Students monitor their own thinking and learning through the use of stop-and-jots, quick-writes, and writing longs. Teachers use this information to assist in creating small-group instruction opportunities.

3. What is the philosophy regarding penmanship? Is cursive still taught?

Our district proudly supports handwriting instruction at every grade level. In Grades K-2, teachers model letter formation, spacing, and formatting, as well as provide direct small group instruction and independent practice as needed.

Currently in New Jersey, there is no core curriculum standard that requires cursive writing instruction; however, we still provide formal instruction in Third Grade.

4. How are children taught how to construct a formal report? Introduction, conclusion, sentence structure?

Across all grade-levels, students are instructed how to conduct research on a topic and write about it. Students are expected to write well-crafted, tightly structured stories for narrative writing, argue and support claims and even anticipate counterarguments in argument writing, and organize facts, information, ideas, and concepts in informational writing.

5. Are the children taught how to identify a verb, noun, adjective?

Our curriculum enables teachers to teach students editing, grammar, writer’s craft, conventions, and vocabulary by building concepts through exposure and immersion in models and applying the concepts to their own writing.

A suggested scope and sequence for student identification, class discussion, student independent practice in writing, explicit teaching via mini­-lesson, and teacher-­student conferring and monitoring use of identified grammar skills is included. Once a skill has been taught and reinforced, as needed, through conferences, students are accountable for its use during publishing and revision, and, eventually drafting and idea generation in the writer’s notebook.

6. What is the role with using videos to teach lessons?

The use of media to enhance teaching and learning complements traditional approaches to learning. Effective instruction builds bridges between students' knowledge and the learning objectives of the course. Using media engages students, aids student retention of knowledge, motivates interest in the subject matter, and illustrates the relevance of many concepts.

Media could be a short film clip, a song, podcast, or interactive module. Students can also create their own media using laptops, iPads, or Chrome Books.

7. How much self-directed learning is done in the classroom? There seems to be a lot of independent work.

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In addition, students receive direct instruction during Shared Reading and Interactive Read Alouds. Please refer to the sections above for more detailed information.

8. What constraints are put upon the teachers when it comes to teaching the subjects?

In Springfield School we are proud of the curriculum we utilize as teachers were an integral part of the writing process.

Teachers are expected to follow board-approved district curricula; however, they are encouraged to be creative, incorporate student interests, and utilize a wide variety of materials and/or resources.

9. What type of flexibility do the teachers have with the teaching method?

The Springfield Township School K-6 district curricula are designed to align to New Jersey State learning standards and instructional best practices. The district curriculum contains what students should know and be able to do (skills and content), how it is taught (instruction and methodology) and how it is measured (assessments).

In June 2010, the New Jersey State Board of Education (NJBOE) and the New Jersey Department of Education (NJDOE) adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and other educational experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework designed to prepare our children for college and the workforce. Upon release, our teachers unpacked the standards and revised district wide curricula to align to the Common Core Standards.

10. How are books selected for my child?

One of the cornerstones of reading workshop is that students are reading with accuracy, fluency, and comprehension at their independent ‘just right’ level most of the time. Research shows that readers who read books with 96% or greater accuracy make the most gain in reading achievement. They begin to see themselves as readers and then they become more motivated to read. Books at a slightly higher level of complexity are used for instruction. The teacher models reading skills and strategies from higher level books and in doing so helps students develop and deepen their comprehension.

Outside of shared instruction, students book shop and self-select their own text at their

just right level. Texts used for instruction are selected by the classroom teacher as they meet the different needs and interests of the students.

Additional Resources

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