A Comprehensive Literacy Pedagogy Would Account For ...

"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)

McKenna, M. C., & Stahl, K. A. D. (2012). Assessment for reading instruction. 2nd Edition. Guilford Press.

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:

  1. Human language is a practice and it involves practice.
  2. That practice involves attending to and mastering salient aspects of language.
  3. Whilst spoken language is arguable developed by all, literacy is the acquisition of a code that many take for granted.
  4. This development is incremental and moves through stages. Adults must be ever vigilant and sensitive to this development.
  5. At every stage it is important to emphasise and model that language and literacy should be meaningful, purposeful and about discovery.
  6. 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.
  7. This requires an introduction to the routines, habits and ways of using language and literacy as mediating tools.
  8. 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.
  9. We should not underestimate the important role that emotional commitment and attachment plays in the intake, uptake and embodiment of learning.
  10. We must acknowledge that all learning is conducted with others in context and is dependent on access to tools and resources.
  11. 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.
  12. An individual's reading and writing practices become more specialised as he or she grows into social, community and economic spheres.
  13. 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.

What is essential for language & literacy learning? (UPDATED)

The following is an updated version of a previous post. The post now includes minor edits as well as two new sections. First, I have provide a list of 10 factors that enhances one's opportunity to learning. This list of 10 factors will be expanding in an upcoming journal post. Second, I have expanded the conclusion by including paraphrase on a related journal entry. Please enjoy and explore.

"Literacy can be seen as dependent on instruction, with the corollary that quality of instruction is key. 

"This view emphasizes the developmental nature of literacy-- the passage of children through successive stages of literacy, in each of which the reading and writing tasks change qualitatively and the role of the instructor has to change accordingly." (Chall, 1996 as referenced in Snow, 2004)

What is essential?

Gaining a command of language and literacy over time is the essential bit. In this, I want to keep things simple. The literacy learner acquires alphabetic knowledge. That is, the individual learns that letters are meant to represent sounds, and that these sounds are combined to form words. These words can come to represent aspects or objects in one's environment, experience or imagination. One is better prepared to break a word down into its sounds (or component parts) if the word is familiar to one.  So we have a picture in which objects or concepts in someone's environment or imagination are connected to words uttered by a person which can be broken down into sounds that can be represented by a written system. And this written system is rule-governed.

Individuals should be motivated by the desire to represent or convey observations about objects, which requires one to string words together in the form of sentences (or propositions).  It is essential that the learner is also able to extract meaning from them, as well. In this case, an individual is motivated to report or narrate or recount, and to interpret reports, narratives, recounts, etc. One can imagine a learning experience in which a finite portion of the language is selected that allows one to learn a portion of particular sound patterns, develop a thematic vocabulary, and use this knowledge to read, write and discuss observations in a particular domain.

More advanced language is merely an extension of the earlier practices. In other words, if one develops the cognitive habits of seeking out sounds, understanding how sounds are put/blended together, knowing how words are formed, building a robust vocabulary, forming meaningful expressions, and interpreting expressions with intent, then one is in good place.

Read More