It will be my responsibility as a teacher of language arts to challenge, motivate, and support students in becoming proficient readers, writers, speakers, listeners, and thinkers. The common goal for students is to become independent readers and writers, but the paths that they will take to achieve this goal will be very varied. Students’ learning processes differ just as much as their size and shape, and to ignore that fact is to deny children effective education. The balanced literacy approach to teaching language arts was created with this in mind. The basis of this approach focuses on how to effectively instruct a classroom full of students coming from all different walks of life. By acknowledging that each student brings different characteristics with them into the classroom, the teacher can adjust the types of access to information and strategies they will use to become adept in reading and writing.
This approach to teaching does not just look good on paper – it works! Extensive research on the subject supports this. If you were to look at a class that uses this approach, it would be very clear that this is an effective method of instruction. Children make greater and stronger steps through the learning process when they are moderately challenged and appropriately supported. Something that challenges one student may be tedious to another. Trying to find a middle ground for these students will not help them, but likely bore or frustrate them, in turn turning them off to reading and writing. An educator must provide a safe, student-friendly, and print rich environment, in which children will be able to work independently in work stations and have a chance for small group instruction as often as possible. A strong sense of community must be established to create comfort and support for all beginning readers. Creating access to strategies and skills, and making sure that each student is appropriately challenged and supported will be my priority in English Language Arts instruction.
There are many important factors to attend to when implementing a balanced literacy approach in the classroom. The first thing to focus on, before the children even step foot into the classroom, will be the physical environment of the room. The class must be organized so that children have access to the materials they need and the ability to use them independently. In the beginning of each school year the focus of instruction should be on teaching children how to use the materials in the classroom effectively so that they can maximize their time spent on literacy tasks. Learning centers appealing to various learning profiles must be implemented into the classroom so the students will be able to do productive and meaningful literacy work while the teacher meets with groups or individuals. Students should have their own individual book selection that will be at their level and appeal to their personal interests. A class library and browsing boxes should also be accessible to the children. It is the teacher’s responsibility to continually monitor what each child is reading to be sure that the books they spend time with match their readiness and interests.
Observation and assessment of students is the strongest tool to use to form lessons. The teacher must look to see what cues each student is attending to and offer them strategies that should lead to self-correction and self-monitoring. By keeping records in a “Running Record” format, the teacher has immediate reference to how each child is reading. By using this information to create mini-lessons, one can save time by focusing time on what strategies need to be learned and simply reinforce the skills that the students already have.
Through read-alouds and shared reading lessons, the teacher must model the behaviors and introduce skills and strategies that will come to be expected of the students. The teacher must demonstrate that reading is enjoyable and can be very informative. Students should learn of the many genres of reading and writing and the purposes of each. The class must spend time with interactive reading and writing tasks where they are all involved in the reading, as well as creating written works to display around the classroom.
The students will share what they have learned, read, and written with each other. They will work together at learning stations. They will read with peers during guided reading lessons. These groups will all be very fluid, so as each student changes and grows, they will be moved to where they can maximize their current potential. Strong readers may not be strong writers, and vice versa, therefore the students will likely work with many different peers in the classroom who match their readiness level at a particular skill. The whole class will also work together at times so there is an understanding that the class is a community or readers who can learn, share what they have learned, and not be afraid to take risks.
As an educator I intend to offer myself to my fullest ability as an instructor to emergent readers and continue to support fluent readers. I will attend to the many aspects of the balanced literacy approach. I will be sure that the students I am teaching will be challenged, supported, engaged, and active in my classroom. I will be the students’ coach and mentor and give them as much responsibility for their learning as they can handle. All students will be active in their literacy learning and feel that their classroom is a safe community where they can flourish as readers and writers.