"In becoming literate, one must acquire skills that are only remotely related to print as well as those that are directly related." (Snow, et al, 1991, p. 5)
Catherine Snow's observation is particularly relevant to managing balanced literacy instruction. In addition to attending to comprehension skills, compositional skills and print-based skills (e.g. phonemic awareness, spelling skills, fluency, etc), such instruction must take into account the learning of the language itself; the situations in which we speak, listen, read and write; what we are actually trying to learn (e.g. cooking, gardening, football, etc); and the desires, needs, preferences, relationships, experiences and knowledge that we bring to the learning. The diagram to the right represents this parallel development of word recognition skills, strategic reading skills, and language and knowledge
A comprehensive literacy pedagogy would be one where developed a mastering of "the code" along with ample and diverse experiences of using language and literacy in everyday practices and in learning. Such a balanced literacy pedagogy would include a focus on:
- creating environments and experiences that foster learning, language & literacy;
- scaffolding reading;
- scaffolding writing;
- developing word recognition skills;
- expanding vocabulary and depth of word meanings;
- encouraging the representation & retention of knowledge; and
- keeping a pulse on a learner's development, interests and motivation.
Such a pedagogy would recognise that:
- Human language is a practice and it involves practice.
- That practice involves attending to and mastering salient aspects of language.
- Whilst spoken language is arguable developed by all, literacy is the acquisition of a code that many take for granted.
- This development is incremental and moves through stages. Adults must be ever vigilant and sensitive to this development.
- At every stage it is important to emphasise and model that language and literacy should be meaningful, purposeful and about discovery.
- The teacher’s role is to help the child by arranging tasks and activities in such a way that they are more easily accessible. The teacher must also ensure that adequate time and space is made available (especially in the great hurly burly of contemporary life). It is important that learners achieves closure.
- This requires an introduction to the routines, habits and ways of using language and literacy as mediating tools.
- It is vital that the learner has adequate time and space for this engagement (a) to be modelled for them, (b) to participate in guided practice, and (c) to try out new strategies and skills on their own.
- We should not underestimate the important role that emotional commitment and attachment plays in the intake, uptake and embodiment of learning.
- We must acknowledge that all learning is conducted with others in context and is dependent on access to tools and resources.
- It is important to recognise that there are multiple ways of reading/writing and it is vital to create contexts where a range of literacies can be developed.
- An individual's reading and writing practices become more specialised as he or she grows into social, community and economic spheres.
- Teaching practitioners must be aware of the material and social factors that impinge upon an individual's successful development of a range of language, literacy and learning practices.
We must remember, in the words of Moyal-Sharrock (2010), how "acquiring language is like learning to walk: the child is stepped into language by an initiator and, after much hesitation and repeated faltering, with time and multifarious practice and exposure, it disengages itself from the teacher's hold and is able, as it were, to run with the language." (2010, pg 6)
Cavell, S. (1969). Must We Mean What We Say?. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons.
Moyal-Sharrock, D. (2010). Coming to Language: Wittgenstein’s Social “Theory” of Language Acquisition. In SOL Conference 6-8 May 2010. Bucharest.
Snow, C., Barnes, W. S., Chandler, J., Goodman, I. F., & Hemphill, L. (1991). Unfulfilled expectations: home and school influences on literacy. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.