Recognizing Writing’s Place In A Balanced Literacy Model

Approaches and frameworks that emphasize a balanced literacy model are popular in many classrooms, schools, and districts.  These frameworks typically address reading, writing, and word study and include whole-group, small-group, and individual instruction.  Guided reading is a popular method used within a balanced literacy framework that provides small-group instruction that targets students’ instructional reading levels while addressing the specific needs of their students. However, during conversations with teachers, I discovered writing may be neglected due to time constraints related to the implementation of guided reading. While guided reading is important, it is one component of a balanced literacy approach.  Unfortunately, educators may devote so much time to their guided reading groups that the other components, especially writing, are omitted from the day’s schedule.  In a true balanced literacy framework, students should have opportunities to participate in shared writing, interactive writing, guided writing, and independent writing, along with guided reading, independent reading, shared and modeled reading, and word study.

Some of this neglect results from the amount of time required for guided reading groups, particularly in classrooms with more than three groups that consume a bulk of the dedicated literacy block.  As a result, teachers may be prevented from adequately addressing writing outside of this small-group time.  Problems also arise when the writing component provided in the guided reading framework or program is the only opportunity students have to write. In many of the approaches to guided reading that are now available, writing is used as a response to a text and is linked to either comprehension (e.g., writing a summary of a text using the “Somebody wanted but so” frame) or word study skills (dictated sentences emphasizing targeted phonics features). While these types of writing are also important and should absolutely be a part of guided reading lessons, they cannot and should not be the only times when students write during the school day. 

Several initial questions can be asked to evaluate whether or not writing is an active part of the balanced literacy model in use.

  • Do students have the opportunity to write during guided reading? When do students have these opportunities?
  • Do students have the opportunities to write that are separate from guided reading?
  • How often are students writing? Every day? Every week?
  • What types of writing are students being asked to do over the course of a day?  Over the course of a week? Over the course of the school year?

If writing instruction is affected by other parts of a balanced literacy diet, then how can this issue be addressed?

  • Identify and explore how the other components of the balanced literacy diet are addressed during literacy instruction.  This analysis might need to happen at both the classroom and school levels.
  • Explore reasons why writing may not be prioritized during the literacy block.  This may require difficult conversations between teachers, coaches, and administrators.
    • How are teachers using the time provided during the language arts block?
    • Do teachers need guidance in planning a balanced literacy block?
    • Do teachers need professional development support related to writing instruction?
  • Evaluate the implementation of guided reading at the classroom and school levels to determine how much time is devoted to guided reading and how much time is used for other components of the balanced literacy diet.  Are there areas of the schedule that warrant adjustments?
  • Develop a plan of action that makes a commitment to writing.  This plan will likely require support from administrators and any coaches or specialists who are available.  In addition, this plan may be specific to a classroom or it may be developed to meet school-wide needs.
  • Explore cross-curricular opportunities for writing to provide additional opportunities for students.

The answers to these questions and the resulting plans can help ensure that writing’s place in a balanced literacy framework is given the necessary attention.

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