Managing a Balanced Approach to Literacy: Part Five

In the previous entry, it was indicated that comprehensive literacy instruction would include a focus on building skills; scaffolding rich and diverse comprehension; modelling and supporting composition as a cognitive and social practice; anchoring reading and writing in authentic, real world situations; and motivating and inspiring learners to become (embody) the role of readers and writersTo this list, I would like to add that there should be ongoing support for students' development and confidence in speaking and listening skills.

Also, in the previous entry, we indicated that the teacher's vision (including his or her passion, expertise, empathy and expectations) is the most vital factor in ensuring the orchestration of multifaceted, meaningful literacy instruction. The expert teacher understands how to organise the teaching context to accommodate and differentiate instruction so that all learners' needs are being met (Gambrell, Malloy & Mazzoni, 2011).  The teacher is able to recognise and take into account a range of factors when assessing the suitability of the goals for instruction, of the instructional materials, of the instructional methods, of classroom/instructional management, of community and parental engagement, of the role of home language and multilingualism, and of the forms of assessment used (Au, 1998). A teacher's expertise should be both technical and socio-cultural. As Macedo (2001) suggests, “reading specialists ... who have made technical advancement in the field of reading ... [must] make linkages between their self-contained technical reading methods and the social and political realities that generate unacceptably high failure reading rates among certain groups of students.” (pg xiii)

The teacher’s role is to arrange tasks and activities in such a way that students are developing (Verhoeven and Snow, 2001). The teacher - therefore - must be "aware of the learning intentions, [know] when a student is successful in attaining those intentions, [have] sufficient understanding of the students’ prior understanding as he or she comes to the task, and [know] enough about the content to provide meaningful and challenging experiences so that there is ... progressive development”  (Hattie, 2012, pp. 19). The classroom and the whole school should promote "a coherent curriculum [that] helps students ... acquire basic skills as well as the strategies needed to tackle challenging tasks (Newmann, Smith, Allensworth & Bryk, 2001) ... Success builds on success, because as students gain confidence, they are willing to work harder and can more readily learn.” (Au, 2005, pp 175). To work toward this aim "what ... [is] needed is ... 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.” (Bernstein, 1964, pg. 55) 

To contribute toward this aim, Gambrell, Malloy & Mazzoni (2011) identified ten features that comprehensive literacy instruction should include. Seven of the features are summarised below:

  1. Create a classroom culture that fosters literacy motivation: a highly engaging and motivating atmosphere where clear routines and enabling relationships provide opportunities for students to engage, practice, share and grow.
  2. Teach reading for authentic, meaning-making purposes (for pleasure, to be informed, to perform a task, etc): provide diverse reading opportunities that initiate students into a range of reading practices, including the imaginative, aesthetic, interpretative, informative, critical and functional.
  3. Provide students with scaffolded instruction in phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, fluency and comprehension to promote individual reading: an environment in which (a) teachers provide ample opportunities for explicit instruction and practice in core skills and (b) both teachers and students can monitor and reflect upon progressive improvement.
  4. Give students time for self-selected independent reading: carve out the space and time so students can practice reading independently with a ready supply of age- and skill-appropriate reading materials (e.g. books and articles) that are of interest and of relevance.
  5. Use multiple texts that build on prior knowledge, link concepts, and expand vocabulary: reading material should be selected that can add to the knowledge that students are encountering in and out of the classroom. In this case, reading engagement should be purposeful and related to inquiry and discovery (e.g. explore a topic - like bullying - by integrating concepts explored in fiction, brochures, art and more).
  6. Balance teacher- and student-led discussion of texts: students are empowered when the reading comprehension process is made visible through discussions which are guided by clear yet flexible routines, and the reciprocal teaching method is a great tool to foster student-led discussions.
  7. Differentiate instruction using a variety of instructionally relevant assessments: deliver instruction that is within a student's zone of proximal development whilst also providing high challenge with high support. Catering for a diversity of needs is a challenge presented in the classroom, and it is a challenge that expert teachers accept and see as fundamental to the profession.


More to come ... scaffolds to help teachers monitor the elements of balanced, comprehensive literacy instruction. 



  • Au, K. H. (1998). Social constructivism and the school literacy learning of students of diverse backgrounds. Journal of Literacy Research, 30 (2), 297-319.
  • 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.
  • Macedo, D. (2001) Foreword. In P. Freire, Pedagogy of freedom: ethics, democracy and civic courage (pp. xi - xxxii). Marylands: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
  • Newmann, F., Smith B., Allensworth, E., & Bryk, A. (2001). Instructional program coherence: What it is and why it should guide school improvement policy. Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 23(4), 297-321.
  • Verhoeven, L. and Snow, C. (2001). Literacy and motivation: bridging cognitive and sociocultural viewpoints. In Verhoeven, L. and Snow, C. (Eds.), Literacy and motivation: reading engagement in individuals and groups (pp. 1- 22). New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates Publishers.