by Lucy Calkins, an early advocate of balanced literacy, is the founding director of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and the Robinson Professor in Children’s Literature at Teachers College, where she co-directs the literacy specialist program.
UPDATED JULY 2, 2014, 6:51 PM
Saying there has been a “shift back to balanced literacy” implies that balanced literacy has somehow fallen out of favor in recent years, when, in fact, the opposite is true. During New York City’s previous administration, hundreds of schools — including many award-winning ones — remained steadfast in their commitment to balanced literacy even as the Department of Education tried to steer schools away.
No one method is guaranteed to work always. Teachers and principals must monitor students’ work and progress, and adapt instruction accordingly.
Balanced literacy is a robust approach to instruction not only in New York City but throughout the world. Over the past few days, nearly 3,000 educators from every state and from 60 countries have converged on Teachers College to learn about world-class reading and writing instruction using the balanced literacy approach. Several hundred thousand people have relied on our book “Pathways to the Common Core.”
That is not to say that balanced literacy has a monopoly on high achievement. No one approach to literacy is guaranteed to work at all times and in all settings. Rather, in order to ensure success, teachers and principals must participate in a system of continuous improvement, monitoring students’ work and their progress, and adapting instruction accordingly.
I am glad the city is not mandating balanced literacy instruction because other approaches to English language arts standards, as well as balanced literacy, work when taught well. To give all students the education they deserve, all educators need to listen to and learn from each other in an atmosphere of mutual respect.
In the spirit of mutual respect, I would hope that critics of balanced literacy would stop making two false claims about our approach: one, that balanced literacy focuses only on fiction when, in fact, our language arts curriculum has a 50/50 emphasis on fiction and nonfiction; and two, that we stress only narrative writing when, in fact, we place equal emphasis on argument and information writing in the language arts classroom, and use debate, source-based writing and argumentation in social studies, science and math.
Educational wars are costly, pointless and unwinnable. Let’s stop the fighting and begin working together for the sake of all New York City school children.
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