Balanced Literacy and the CCSS
The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) specify “…what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach” (p. 6, Massachusetts Curriculum Framework for English Language Arts and Literacy, 2011). The ELA portion of the CCSS is divided into four strands: Reading, Writing, Speaking and Listening, and Language. As outlined below, a balanced literacy approach provides an ideal learning environment for teaching and learning the skills and content addressed by CCSS.
The Reading standards place equal emphasis on text complexity and the deepening of comprehension. As students progress through the grades, the complexity of the texts that they are engaging with progress as well. Whatever they are reading, the standards stress that students should be able to discern more from the text, make connections between texts and ideas, consider evidence, and think critically about the author’s intentions and purposes. The independent reading component of Readers’ Workshop gives students ample opportunities to engage with complex texts; the explicit teaching of focus lessons equips them with the tools to tackle these texts; and the support of one-on-one conferences, as well as small group work, provides the necessary scaffold as the texts increase in complexity.
The Writing standards stress the importance of writing in many genres, with a special emphasis on narratives, informative or explanatory texts, and opinion or arguments. Some skills that students are expected to master (such as planning, revision, editing, and publishing) are applicable to a variety of types of writing; others are geared specifically to the three aforementioned genres. The standards also stress the importance of the reading-writing connection by requiring students to write about literary and informational texts and support this writing with textual evidence. Research standards are also included. The Writers’ Workshop supports this strand, taking students through the steps of writing, from gathering ideas all the way to the publication of their written pieces. Additionally, a yearlong curricular calendar that contains a variety of genres and crafting units of study can support students as they learn to write a multitude of text types.
Speaking and Listening
The skills outlined in the Speaking and Listening standards encourage flexible communication and collaboration among students. Students must learn to work collaboratively, express their own ideas as well as listen to the ideas of others, integrate information from a variety of sources, and evaluate the validity of what they are hearing. The Interactive Read Aloud component of the balanced literacy model provides students with ample opportunities to practice these skills, with teacher support. Scaffolding is eventually released as students apply these skills and strategies to their independent reading lives by conversing with their peers in partnerships, book clubs, and small group lessons. The Speaking and Listening standards are also addressed during workshops because presentations are often part of the publishing phase of Writers’ Workshop or part of book recommendations in Readers’ Workshop.
The Language standards delineate the conventions, or “rules,” of standard English which are required in speaking, listening, and writing. These standards also address vocabulary development, author’s craft, and a deep understanding of the underlying structure (i.e. grammar) of our language. The language standards are addressed in all four components of Balanced Literacy, with particular attention in the Phonics and Word Study component.