ERIC Identifier: ED435986
Publication Date: 1999-11-00
Author: Stoicheva, Mila
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Reading English and Communication Bloomington IN.
Balanced Reading Instruction. ERIC Digest D144.
Over the years more and more educators have started to agree that no single
approach to teaching reading is fundamentally superior to all the rest. As early
as 1967 the First-Grade Studies project, conducted specifically to examine the
best approach to reading, concluded that children learn to read by a variety of
materials and methods and that a combination of approaches is often more
effective. Moreover, teacher and learning situation characteristics may be more
important than the method employed. (Bond and Dykstra, 1967, 1997).
The balanced reading approach has been celebrated for offering an alternative
to the extremes of pure phonics or whole language; for providing an effective
combination of instructional approaches; and for accommodating various learning
styles. (Pressley, 1998; Weaver, 1998; Kelly, 1997; Atterman, 1997)
The purpose of this digest is to review various interpretations of balanced
instruction and to explore the relationship between this instructional approach
to beginning reading and state reading standards.
WHAT IS BALANCED READING?
Balanced reading instruction
usually means a combination of whole language and phonics approaches.
Researchers and practitioners alike assert that children need training in both
phonemic awareness--by which they develop an awareness of individual sounds--and
in cueing strategies--through which they learn to decode the text and comprehend
the material (Kelly, 1997). Carbo (1996) points out that students have different
learning styles. The "analytic and auditory students," in particular, benefit
from phonics instruction; students with "visual, tactile and global learning
styles" tend to profit from a whole language approach. Further, the different
stages of reading acquisition (selective cue, spelling-sound, and automatic)
require different approaches. It is during the spelling-sound stage that phonics
instruction is especially crucial. (Raven, 1997)
According to the California Department of Education (1995, 1996) "the heart
of a powerful reading program is the relationship between explicit, systematic
skills instruction and literature, language and comprehension. While skills
alone are insufficient to develop good readers, no reader can become proficient
without these foundational skills." Honig (1996) similarly defines a balanced
approach as "one which combines the language and literature-rich activities
associated with whole language with explicit teaching of the skills needed to
decode words-for all children."
Another viewpoint argues for focusing not merely on reading but on literacy.
Broadly defined, this means integrating language and literacy across modes of
language and across disciplines and attending to skills and strategies in
context - that is, in the context of reading, writing, and learning from the
whole and meaningful texts (texts that children themselves find meaningful)
For Pressley and McIntyre (quoted in Freppon & Dahl, 1998) the
theoretical base for balanced instruction is cultural and psycholinguistic. "It
is a useful term for what good teaching is: thoughtful planned instruction based
on childrens' backgrounds, interests, strengths and needs."
The challenge, then, is to identify where to situate phonics in a balanced
reading program--whether to separate it and teach it explicitly or to teach it
within the context of an integrated language-based program.
EXAMPLES FROM CLASSROOM PRACTICE
As the above authors note,
the exploration of balanced reading at this stage has produced more practical
versions than research-based reports. Hence, the meaning of balanced at this
point is best illustrated through examples of teaching.
Cunningham and Hall (1998) describe a balanced framework for literacy where
instruction is divided equally between the four major historical approaches to
reading instruction. The time allotted to Language Arts is divided among four
blocks: Guided Reading, Self-Selected Reading, Writers Workshop, and Working
with Words, each receiving 30-40 minutes.
Another method providing a balanced conceptual framework for skills
instruction is called "whole-part-whole," i.e. the starting point is the
literary text providing the background for skills instruction before going back
once again to discussions of meaningful texts (Strickland, 1998; Fowler, 1998).
Strickland maintains that skills and meaning should never be separated and that
intensive skills instruction should be based on identified need. In addition
teachers need to be fully aware of instructional objectives for the grade they
are teaching, a grade below and a grade above.
Carbo (1996) discusses ways to balance phonics programs through literature
and fun and whole language programs through sufficient decoding and direct
instruction. Lapp and Flood (1997) support the view that phonics should be
taught both explicitly and contextually, a balance sought to integrate what
children already know with new learning of skills and content.
READING INSTRUCTION AND LANGUAGE ARTS STANDARDS
the failure of adopting national standards for the language arts, each State
Department of Education started to develop its own statewide standards. A number
of documents of the following organizations were considered in this effort -
Assessment and Exercise Specifications; NAEP Reading Consensus Project; 1992
Reading Consensus; Standards for the English Language Arts, 1996, NCTE and IRA;
The Edison Project, 1994; The New Standards Project, 1997; International
Baccalaureate Program, 1992, 1995; and Speech Communication Association, 1996.
(Kendall & Marzano, 1997)
Three major assessments of state standards have been completed recently:
those of the Fordham Foundation (1997), the American Federation of Teachers
(1997), and of the Council for Basic Education (1998). Each focuses on the
quality of state Language Arts (LA) standards, assessing such criteria as
soundness, rigor, and clarity and specificity. Each organization develops its
own criteria for judging the standards. The assumption behind the studies is
that standards set common expectations and contribute to equity. Stotsky (1997)
points out that they help establish coherent educational practices and
guidelines for professional preparation, while Joftus (1998) notes their
importance as a basis for accountability and measurement of student achievement.
The major findings of the three studies converge on the points related to the
vagueness of reading requirements, lack of literary specifics and emphasis on
skills and processes over content knowledge. Stotsky also finds a major problem
with the omission of vocabulary development as a reading skill. They also make
it clear that the quality of LA standards range widely from state to state with
Iowa not having any written documentation on LA standards. In addition, some
states openly promote particular pedagogical approaches, for example, phonics or
whole language in reading instruction.
Balanced reading instruction has been highly
debated in the literature. The approaches to teaching beginning reading touch
upon issues of political rationale and lifelong opportunities, academic versus
utilitarian curriculum (Marlow, 1998), as well as quantifiable data versus case
studies and ethnographic research. Education as an intrinsically inert system
needs time to yield results. That no approach produces quick fixes can be traced
through the long history of contending methods to teaching reading. Curriculum
alignment needs to link instructional content to clearly defined, research-based
standards, and to leave creative space for teachers to search and find the
balance in their own classrooms.
Atterman, J. S. (1997). Reading strategies for
beginning and proficient readers. [ED 416 447]
Bond, G. R., & Dykstra, R. (1967). The cooperative research program in
first-grade reading instruction. Reprinted in Reading Research Quarterly, 32(4)
California Department of Education. (1995). Every child a reader: The Report
of the California Task Force, California Department of Education, Sacramento.
California Department of Education. (1996). A balanced comprehensive approach
to teaching reading in prekindergarten through Grade Twelve.
Cunningham, P. M., & Hall, D. P. (1998). The four blocks: A balanced
framework for literacy in primary classrooms in teaching every child everyday.
Learning in diverse schools and classrooms. Cambridge, Mass:Brookline Books
Ediger, M. (1998). The curriculum: Academic or utilitarian? [ED 419 943]
Finn, C. E. Jr., Petrilli, M. J., & Vanourek, G. (1998). The state of
State Standards. Fordham Report, 2 (5). [ED 423 267]
Fowler, D. (1998). Balanced reading instruction in practice. Educational
Leadership, 55 (6) 11-12. [EJ 560 963]
Freppon, P. A. and Dahl, K. L. (1998). Balanced instruction: Insights and
considerations (Theory and research into practice) Reading Research Quarterly,
33 (2) 240-51. [EJ 563 752]
Honig, B. (1996). Teaching our children to read: The role of skills in a
comprehensive reading program. Corwin Press, Inc. Thousand Oaks, CA. [ED 396
Joftus, S., & Berman, I. (1998). Great expectations? Defining and
assessing rigor in State Standards for Mathematics and English Language Arts.
Council for Basic Education, Washington, DC. [ED 416 080]
Kelly, H. (1997) How children learn to derive meaning from text. [ED 416 459]
Kendell, J. S. , & Marzano, R. (1997). Language Arts Standards.
Lapp, D., & Flood, J. (1997). Where's the phonics? Making the case
(again) for integrated code instruction. (point-counterpoint) Reading Teacher,
50 (8) 96- 98. [EJ 548 863]
Pressley, M. (1998). Reading instruction that works: The case for balanced
teaching, New York: Guilford Press
Raven, J. N. (1997). Phonics and whole language: Friends or foes? [ED 413
Stotsky, S. (1997) State English Standards: An appraisal of English Language
Arts/Reading Standards in 28 States. Fordham Report, 1(1). [ED 420 879]
Strickland, D. S. (1998). What is basic in beginning reading? Finding common
ground. Educational Leadership, 55(6), 6-10.
Weaver, C. (1998). Toward a balanced approach to reading in reconsidering a
balanced approach to reading. National Council of Teachers of English, Urbana,
IL. [ED 418 388]
Digest #144 is EDO-CS-99-05 and was published in November 1999 by the ERIC
Clearinghouse on Reading, English and Communication, 2805 E 10th Street,
Bloomington, IN 47408-2698, Telephone (812) 855-5847 or (800) 759-4723.