Sunday, July 26, 2015

Making Balanced Literacy Work for YOU Part 2

This post is the second in my series on Balanced Literacy. If you are just now joining, you can catch up with Part 1 here! Today, we will pick apart the READING components of Balanced Literacy- specifically: Shared Reading, Interactive Read Alouds with Accountable Talk, and Story Time.

While I don't want to insult you, dear teacher, I mentor some newer teachers that read this blog and for their sake, I want to define what Shared Reading is and why we do it. Shared Reading is a chance to collectively read a text together and it gives students the opportunity to explicitly see and hear what proficient readers do.
*In order to do shared reading, you need to have a text that is big enough for everyone to see. If you have a document camera or some other form of technology that can enlarge something, then anything could be come a shared text.
*I tend to use big books, poems written on sentence strips, or excerpts from books that involve something I want to read with my students (like quotation marks or a tricky vocabulary word).
*The kids are gathered on the rug, right in front of the text. I am explicitly modeling whatever the skill is that I have selected for that reading.
*I am also being very intentional about thinking aloud as I model the skill so the students can get a peak at what that is supposed to sound like when they read.
*We can stick with one text for multiple days, or we can switch them out pretty quickly.
*It usually lasts about 10 minutes- very quick! Most importantly: This is a great time to introduce new genres, concepts, and strategies because this is a very safe reading experience. The feeling should be similar to a kid sitting on their parent's lap for a bedtime story. 
So, we have the general idea of Shared Reading down,  but now I ask: what is your goal when you do a shared reading? My teacher-hero and unofficial mentor, Kathy Collins writes in Growing Readers: 

Kathy Collins, Growing Readers- pg. 36:

That's like, the whole point. This component should work in service of the independent reading time...not just something we do because we were told to.  I came to the realization that I could use this slot to teach and model in a way that is responsive to the needs of my students. In other words, the skills that I choose to model come from my noticings when reading with students. 
For example, if I'm conferring or doing small group work, I might notice that my readers have stopped attending to punctuation. They might be blowing right past periods or not making questions sound like questions. Maybe they are having a hard time reading dialogue and it is affecting their comprehension because they can't figure out who is talking. From those noticings, I can make it a point to select a text that will allow me to model reading punctuation the way it should be read.  Or,  I can take a sample from a chapter book read aloud (that we might be reading) where there is a good amount of dialogue that I can copy on to chart paper so we can read it together and talk about it. 

While the list of skills that can be introduced, practiced, and refreshed are as wide as the skills we teach in reading, there are some that lend themselves better to a Shared Reading experience. Some skills that I tend to drift toward include: 
*One to one match (when I taught K/1) 
*Word solving strategies
*Using context clues for new vocabulary words
*Word study can be taught/supported
*High Frequency Words
...and so much more!

So, in a nutshell, be responsive. As you confer and lead small groups, take copious notes. Look at those notes as you plan for a Shared Reading experience. Use that time to brush up on those skills and you won't have to spend time putting out fires during your mini-lessons!

An interactive read aloud with accountable talk (IRAWAC) is mostly what you think it is. It's a story being read aloud by the teacher but the students have specific places where you want them to stop and talk about something that is happening in the story. The biggest difference here is that the kids won't be able to track the text with you.  I obnoxiously refer to this as an interactive-read-aloud-with-accountable-talk  because the accountable talk part is what a) sets it apart from a story time and b) is the most important part of this component. 
*The students have two important jobs during this component: thinking and talking.  The teacher also has two jobs: explicitly thinking aloud and facilitating a turn and talk session.
*Much like thinking of WHY you are selecting Shared Reading texts, you'll want to be just as intentional about an IRAWAC. I tend to select fairy tales or books with strong characters. I also try to vary the genres that I choose so that students get to turn and talk about different kinds of texts.
*The biggest thing I spend my time on during this component is the Seven Keys to Comprehension.  I do an IRAWAC daily so I am able to cycle through one of the the 7 keys every day.
*I pre-read my texts thoroughly and place sticky notes with places that I'd like to stop and either think aloud to model a comprehension strategy OR have my students share their thinking in regards to what is happening in the story.
*I review an anchor chart with my students probably once a week so they remember HOW to talk to each other about books. Generally the reminders include looking at their partner in the eyes, keep the conversation going by asking clarifying questions, etc...
* A big part of the reading workshop is reading with partners. I know that my students can easily forget how to talk to each other when partner time comes. Instead of correcting them during their independent reading time, I can plan to review those skills with them during this component.

Again, it is all about making this component work in service to your independent reading time!

Lastly, story time. You can relax! That's just a story. Generally this is a story that is beyond the reading level of most of the students. I usually pick stories that have beautiful language or a chapter book. Students are free to enjoy and get lost in a story while I take care of the print work, phrasing, and intonation. I don't make this component work in service of the workshop- I just need to know that there is a place for a read aloud just 'cause I want to read it!

Thank you for sticking with me! In the next post, I'll share about the writing components of Balanced Literacy!



  1. Hi--Excellent posts about balanced literacy! I would love to see the anchor chart you use with your students about how to talk to each other about books and if that is not possible since it is summer :), I would love to hear components in your chart. Thanks so much!-Chris

  2. I know, right?! I was typing this thinking that I needed to draw up examples of the charts I'm referring to. I'll add some in- school starts next week and it'll be one of the first things I teach! thanks for the kind words!!