Welcome to the OUSD Balanced Approach to Literacy Website. The purpose of this guide is to provide a basic introduction to OUSD's Balanced Approach to Literacy (BAL). Here you will find the what the why and the how of each of the interdependent components including links to resources to help you implement a balanced approach to literacy in your classroom.
What is a Balanced Approach to Literacy?
Foremost, it is an approach, and not a prescribed curriculum. No two schools are exactly the same, no two classrooms are exactly the same, and no two students are exactly the same.
This is particularly true when it comes to literacy development. Reflect for a minute on the way you learned to read and write. Then ask a friend or colleague how they became literate. There will be some overlap, but also some major differences. Therefore, literacy instruction has to be flexible enough to meet our learners where they are, and provide exactly the right amount of rigor and instruction they need to move on to the next level as readers, writers, speakers, listeners and thinkers.
A flexible approach however, does not mean an absence of structure. Our approach to literacy is balanced by six components: Reading Workshop, Writing Workshop, Interactive Read Aloud, Shared/Close Reading, Word Study, and Interactive/Shared Writing. Over course of a week these components provide a variety of opportunities for a teacher to teach and students to practice specific teaching points in whole group, small-group and one-on-one personalized instruction.
So what is it that we are balancing? In the past, Elementary Literacy instruction has been sharply divided between those who advocated for teaching phonics ("how to read") and those who advocated for teaching meaning ("reading to learn"). In this debate there have been those who called for direct/explicit instruction, and others who called for giving students unfettered time to read independently. Neither "Whole Language" or "Explicit Phonics" instruction, OUSDs Balanced Approach to Literacy hews to the "radical middle," which includes opportunities for both the phonics students need to become fluent readers, and the modeling and practicing of ever-more complex comprehension skills. Additionally, within a BAL classroom, there are specific times for direct instruction, guided practice, and independent practice.
Balancing our literacy instruction is an on-going activity and a continual work-in-progress. It requires that we are continually reflecting on our practice, and collaborating with our colleagues to adjust and refine what and how we teach. In order to do this, we have to take the stance of learners and questioners, and to embrace mistakes as opportunities to grow. It is in this spirit which we invite you to join us in this on-going collaboration and continual learning.
*with acknowledgement and thanks to Dr. David Pearson from UC Berkeley for introducing us to this phrase.