Book Review: Planning for Balanced Literacy in the Elementary Classroom

3. Differentiation – The teacher acquires and uses specific knowledge about students’ cultural, individual intellectual, and social development and uses that knowledge to adjust their practice by employing strategies that advance student learning.

3.3 Demonstrating Flexibility and Responsiveness in Persisting to Support Students

Teacher persists in seeking approaches for students who have difficulty learning, drawing on a broad repertoire of strategies.

It is important that elementary teachers provide a foundation of instruction to prepare students for a classroom that focuses on balanced literacy. In Growing Readers, Collins (2004) presents material in a systematic, detailed way. Teachers should prepare students for reading success, creating classrooms that promote reading literacy; this environment should be welcoming and safe for students. Reading curriculum should be designed with the end goal in mind, verifying students’ prior knowledge to promote reading growth. Balanced literacy curriculum components should embrace various teaching models to enable students to learn a variety of approaches to reading. And as the school year comes to a close, students should be allowed time to reflect on their reading journey, summarizing their own growth through balanced literacy lessons. While focusing on the balanced literacy model for reading instruction, Collins (2004) provides insight into teaching students how to enjoy and grow to love reading. The strategies presented in this book are helpful for teachers when evaluating how to plan an effective balanced literacy program in their own elementary classrooms.

Rather than expect students to understand how to be successful readers at the beginning of the year, the classroom teacher should prepare them for success, creating an environment that supports their learning. Collins (2004) expresses the importance of making “…the independent reading workshop, and indeed all components of the school day, effective for all learners” (p. 2). This can be done by providing a classroom surrounded by print and conversations about reading, by scaffolding learning to promote independence, and as educators, remaining academic in reading instruction (Collins, 2004). This type of environment along with instruction and support will provide a foundation for reading growth as skills are enhanced and developed throughout the school year.

In order to promote this drive for independent reading and growth in student reading achievement, the classroom itself needs to be an environment that feels safe, welcoming, and overall, promotes success in literacy. Students should feel comfortable in the classroom when participating in activities such as interactive read alouds, readers workshop, writers workshop, shared reading, and working in constructive learning groups on activities to build vocabulary. Rather than jump right into these activities, students should be introduced to classroom routines and promoted to learn about routines and literacy throughout the school day. Students should be okay with making mistakes and should be taught to support each other’s learning when mistakes occur, understanding that this is all part of the learning process. Therefore, when preparing for balanced literacy, it is essential to plan units of study that support this practice. Collins (2004) provides a basic sample of what units may consist of as shown in Figure 1. Students are primarily taught expectations and procedures in order to become successful readers as they acquire new reading skills.

Scan 1

Figure 1: Sample of units of study when teaching balanced literacy (Collins, 2004, p. 49).

Utilizing a backwards-planning approach, the teacher should also pre-assess students in order to provide instruction that is diversified and strives to meet the needs of all learners. For example, teachers can utilize resources such as Words Their Way Primary Spelling Inventories and lessons, assessing students’ spelling levels in order to verify individual levels of literacy development (Bear et al., 2012). This data allows the teacher to plan curriculum that is in range of the learning needs of the majority of students while also allowing planning for more individualized support for struggling readers. Running records can also be utilized to record students’ oral reading to assess fluency and accuracy to determine reading levels and facilitate student-reading growth throughout the year. In other words, these types of assessments help initiate planning that provides opportunities for student growth within their individual zone of proximal development (ZPD).

For example, after being assessed in September, students should be taught how to search for books in the library, perhaps when learning the foundational skills of reading workshop. Once a student is aware of their individual reading level, they can select appropriate books and texts from the classroom library in order to avoid texts that are too complicated (or above their individual reading level). Evidence portrayed by Allington (2012) verifies that difficult reading tasks discourage successful learning and growth in adolescent reading (p. 68). By providing students with opportunities to be successful in individual reading tasks, teachers are promoting students to enjoy their reading. As students develop reading skills from individual reading as well as other balanced literacy activities, they can be reassessed to determine if they are ready for more complex texts.

Moreover, guiding readers successfully through a balanced literacy program requires the classroom teacher to provide a variety of diverse instructional strategies to help students develop new strategies to build vocabulary and comprehension, think about and discuss books to expand on new knowledge, seek personal interests in books and texts, as well as prepare to be lifelong readers (Collins, 2004). Balanced literacy programs promote various learning activities that allow teachers to present ideas by teaching students how to become efficient readers. These activities are illustrated in Figure 2 and highlight exercises that diversify instruction in various ways to allow students a variety of opportunities to engage in their reading and vocabulary growth.

Balanced Literacy Overview Powerpoint.pptx

Figure 2: Balanced literacy overview (Griffin, 2015).

Blair, Rupley, & Nichols (2007) state that, “Effective teachers not only use appropriate materials but also attend to actively engaging students in learning from the materials” (p. 436). The components of a balanced literacy program enable students to participate in a variety of exercises throughout the school year that support the components of learning that are described by Collins (2004).

Summarizing the school year, Collins (2004) expresses the importance of reflection and review of the year’s learning. She still embraces all of the balanced literacy instructional models when guiding students throughout this process but allows them opportunities to reevaluate books from interactive read alouds, writing from journals, charts and posters, reading logs, and other materials that are covered throughout the school year. This reflection time not only allows the teacher to evaluate student growth but allows students to reflect on how much they’ve grown as readers, understanding how far they’ve come. She promotes students to “[make] plans for their reading lives” in order to promote reading on their own, outside of school (p. 246-248). Students are inspired to get library cards, make personal reading journals, and read during their summer breaks.

Balanced literacy programs provide various opportunities for teachers to provide effective reading instruction to elementary readers. Kathy Collins provides a multitude of ideas and examples of how to engage young readers in an effective balanced literacy program. Students should be prepared to engage in these activities from the start of the school year in an environment that is safe and welcoming. Effective lesson planning requires that students’ individualized learning be scaffolded to facilitate reading growth throughout the year. Educational activities should be varied and drive student interest and motivation. And learning should be summarized at the end of the year to promote a life-long interest in reading activities. Growing Readers and the data that supports balanced literacy programs provide relevant data that these diversified activities provide students with various methods and strategies to become better readers. There are a variety of tools that can be taken away from this text that can help drive successful growth in young readers.


Allington, R. L. (2012). What really matters for struggling readers: Designing research-based programs (3rd ed.). University of Tennessee, Knoxville: Pearson.

Bear, R. B., Invernizzi, M., Templeton, S., & Johnston, F. (2012). Words their way: Word study for phonics, vocabulary, and spelling instruction (5th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Blair, T. R., Rupley, W. H., & Nichols, W. D. (2007). The effective teacher of reading: Considering the “what” and “how” of instruction. International Reading Association, 60(5), 432-438. doi:10.1598/RT.60.5.3

Collins, K. (2004). Units of study in the primary classroom: Growing readers. Portland, Maine: Stenhouse Publishers.

Griffin, A. (2015). Balanced literacy: An overview [PowerPoint slides]. Retrieved from


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s