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“The Room for Debate Section” of New York Times (July 3rd) deals with “the Right Approach to Reading Instruction,” and throws the question;

“The student-led approach to reading and writing known as "Balanced literacy" is making a comeback in New York City schools. But critics say students need closer instruction from teachers and more work on "Core Knowledge" focusing on systematic phonics and facts. What is the right approach to improving student literacy?" http://www.nytimes.com/roomfordebate/2014/07/02/the-right-approach-to-reading-instruction?ref=opinion

According to E. D. Hirsch, Jr. professor emeritus of education and humanities at the University of Virginia, “balanced literacy” in primary school includes some phonetics, children’s literature writing, and is the opposite concept to “core knowledge” approach focusing on systematic phonics and coherent content

I understand that “balanced literacy” simply means balanced (unbiased) knowledge, sophistication, education, or culture of individual (more likely of grown-ups) as a generic term. Is it education specific, particularly of elementary education?

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These are all terms made up by Educators, an American term which refers non-teaching educational bureaucrats. They are all very abstract concepts which may or may not work for a given student or a given teacher. There are many such; all of them sort of work, but all sort of don't, either. There is no "right approach to reading instruction", since humans have no biological adaptation (and therefore no brain specialization) for reading, which is modern technology. Consequently, educators can go on arguing indefinitely, since there is always room for improvement. –  John Lawler Jul 4 at 1:02

1 Answer 1

In the United States, elementary instruction in reading has swung between two poles, now most commonly known as phonics and whole language, for well over a century. Phonics, or core knowledge, involves systematic instruction in the rules of written English. It is built on accurate decoding of the text, and assumes that comprehension and appreciation will follow. Whole language focuses on having students read books that have engaging content. It encourages appreciation and comprehension first, and assumes that accuracy will follow. Balanced literacy refers to any of numerous ways of intentionally blending the two approaches.

Teachers often must and/or prefer to use mainly phonics or whole language, but rarely just one to the exclusion of the other. The polarization between the two approaches, known during its worst moments as the reading wars, is probably attributable mainly to administrators and theorists in the field of education, not to classroom teachers. While balanced literacy is the de facto norm, there is little agreement about the best balance of phonics and whole language for effectively teaching reading.

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