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So what does “Structured Literacy” or “Balanced Literacy” mean to you as a teacher or parent? Does it mean something slightly different to every person
The final paragraph from the Iowa Reading Research article states:
“Finally, high fidelity Structured Literacy can be diagnostic and explicit in nature. Because no assumptions are made about what students can do, no lessons are skipped or considered unimportant. Language learning is cumulative, so glossing over or skipping keystone lessons eventually could erode students’ abilities as they move into more advanced texts. Explicitly teaching content empowers an educator to teach diagnostically as error patterns become obvious and can be addressed in real-time. This both minimizes incorrect practices and assists in forging vital neural pathways that are essential for reading, writing, speaking, and listening. No single approach to teaching reading is “right” or “wrong.” Certainly, immersing students in rich literature is beneficial to fostering a habit of reading and exposing students to a variety of vocabulary, ideas, and uses of language. However, the strongest evidence currently available suggests that Structured Literacy prevents students from struggling unnecessarily when they are trying to develop a reading and writing habit and appreciate all that books have to offer them.”
I try hard not to get into these discussions or arguments about Structured or Balanced Literacy. My question, as always, who is being taught? Are the students progressing? When children easily learn to read, the process appears stress-free. However, the more a child struggles, the more teachers are required to know about the “reading process.” Even the teaching of “structured Literacy” brings up many questions.
Most what does it mean to you, the reading teacher or the classroom teacher?
The sequence needed to teach a child - like Nicholas was “explicit.” Originally, I bought the book Alpha to Omega by Bev Hornsby, an English author. This is a brilliant book that provides a complete linguistic approach to teaching reading, writing, and spelling. While on the 10th page of this comprehensive book, the author simply states: “Since much difficulty is encountered with these (consonant) blends much work will be needed on them.” Only completing the ideas in this book were insufficient to teach a child who struggled as much as Nicholas.
It was only when a parent (from my youngest son’s kindergarten class) spoke with me, that my life and understanding of literacy, changed! Her son was “dyslexic.” This was the first time I really heard this word. She let me borrow her copies of “See it! Hear it! Say it!”
It took Nicholas eight (8) weeks to become confident with all the consonant digraphs & with short vowels. Followed by another eight (8) weeks of consonant blends and short vowels. We played with these materials for approximately 30 min to 1 hour, four days per week, using multisensory materials. I made “puzzles,” I invented games, and wrote poems with rhyming words, word patterns, or words with alliteration.
Years later, as I worked as a reading specialist in Tasmania, and I’m teaching grades three & four their spelling, I found many children still struggled with hearing the “consonant blends.” “How many sounds are in the word “twin?” I would ask. “Three!” they responded. Students, particularly those who are still struggling with literacy in third and fourth grade, have often been pushed through the decoding piece at a speed that leaves them confused. Overwhelming children with too much information too soon is a recipe for disaster. So whether we are using structured literacy or balanced literacy, teachers have to recognize when and where these failures occur. We know that “Learning and learning problems dwell in activities and cultural practices.” Let’s create Responsive Teaching...checking in on student knowledge, understanding, and assimilation of ideas so that students grow. It is up to us.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Lois Letchford’s dyslexia came to light at the age of 39, when she faced teaching her seven-year-old non-reading son, Nicholas. Examining her reading failure caused her to adapt and change lessons for her son. The results were dramatic. Lois qualified as a reading specialist to use her non-traditional background, multi-continental experience, and passion to assist other failing students. Her teaching and learning have equipped her with a unique skillset and perspective. As a teacher, she considers herself a “literacy problem-solver.”
Reversed: A Memoir is her first book. In this story, she details her dyslexia and the journey of her son’s dramatic failure in first grade. She tells of the twist and turns that promoted her passion and her son’s dramatic academic turn-a-round - as in 2018, he received his Ph.D.