Managing a Balanced Approach to Literacy: Part Four

As raised in the previous journal entries, a balanced literacy pedagogy must

  • focus on building skills;
  • scaffold rich and diverse comprehension;
  • model and support composition as a cognitive and social practice;
  • anchor reading and writing in authentic, real world learning practices; and
  • motivate and inspire learners to become (embody) the role of readers and writers.

The goal is to foster learners with robust language systems who are equipped with the habits of mind for comprehension and composition with an awareness of how literacy serves as a mediating tool in real-world practices. Even though we have identified that literacy development requires explicit instruction on linguistic elements, progressive practice in comprehension and composition, and rich opportunities in authentic reading and writing practices, this does not mean that the instructional dilemma has been resolved.

As reported by Gambrell, Malloy & Mazzoni (2011), "the goal of comprehensive literacy instruction is to ensure that all achieve their full literacy potential. This instruction should prepare our students to enter adulthood with the skills they will need to participate fully in a democratic society that is part of a global econonmy. Students need to be able to read and write with purpose, competence, ease and joy. Comprehensive literacy instruction emphasises the personal, intellectual and social nature of literacy learning." (pg 18).

Instruction is required that (a) is sensitive to the funds of knowledge that the learner brings to the experience and (b) is cognisant of the demands of the skills and knowledge that the learner will need to have in order to continue to grow, explore and consolidate in a form life. This balance of the existing and prospective skills is epitomised in Vygotsky's (1978) concept of the zone of proximal development, which is illustrated in the diagram to the left. It is not so simple, though. As Basil Bernstein (1964) suggests, "what seems to be needed is the development of a theory of social learning which would indicate what in the environment is available for learning, the conditions of learning, the constraints on subsequent learning, and the major reinforcing processes.” (pg. 55) 

A literate individual is one who has received the formative instruction and interactions to develop the linguistic compentence as well as the strategic awareness to communicate on a range of topics in suitable forms in various forums of society. Teachers must "understand literacy learning well enough to adapt the learning environment, materials, and methods to particular situations and students," which requires "a carefully orchestrated integration of skills and strategies, content, and literature ... [to] motivate and support individual students." (Gambrell, Malloy & Mazzoni, 2011, pg, 19). Creating such an environment (or activity system) requires the integration of instruments (various tools and technologies), and rules (norms of use), which are utilised by subjects (actors) in pursuit of objects (goals) within one or more communities of practice .

Gambrell, Malloy & Mazzoni (2011) have indicated the missing ingredient in any literacy pedagogy; "the driving force that guides teachers in coordinating and integrating pracitces effectively [is] vision ... The teacher's vision of literacy achievement has been heralded as the crucial factor in ensuring that the goal of improving literacy instruction for all student [is achieved]." (pg 20). And this vision involves "inspiring students to be readers and writers -- to engage studnets in 'genuinely literate activities' where they are doing something important with literacy." (pg 21).

Whilst the above does not provide specific accounts of effective teaching, it does seek to emphasise that teaching and learning are far more than technical or mechanical practices. At the same time, it does emphasise that teachers must be diligent in know their teaching intentions and also diligent in monitoring students' development in skills, knowledge, performance and awareness as the students develop forms of life and world pictures within the stream of living.

More to come ...



  • Bernstein, B. (1964), Elaborated and Restricted Codes: Their Social Origins and Some Consequences. American Anthropologist, 66: 55–69. doi: 10.1525/aa.1964.66.suppl_3.02a00030
  • Gambrell, L., Malloy, J., and Mazzoni, S. (2011). Evidence-based best practices in comprehensive literacy instruction. In L. Morrow and L. Gambrell (Eds.) Best practices in literacy instruction (4th Edition). (pp. 11 - 36). New York: The Guilford Press.
  • Vygotsky, L. (1978) Mind in society: the development of higher psychological processes. M. Cole, V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman (Eds.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.