The Balanced Approach to Literacy is the new thing in town. Perhaps most significantly, it allows for our school district to apply the dreaded TLA: BAL. I would be doing a disservice to all the research and pilot programs that lead us to this point, but it is an interesting twist in the road of my teaching career. When I first arrived at my school, we had just received our brand new phonics-based reading curriculum: Open Court. Everyone, even the brand new computer teacher, was required to attend a week-long series of trainings. I learned phoneme segmentation and fricatives and glottal stops. I learned to distinguish graphemes from phonemes. I learned the science of reading.
For years afterward, each summer brought us an opportunity to refresh and renew our understanding of the way all those sounds became words and then sentences and paragraphs. Of course we were encouraged to ask kids to make meaning out of all those sounds they were making. We learned that comprehension was very important too. We needed kids to decode and generate meaning. We were entrusted with the sacred duty of helping them get these skills.
After a while, it became clear that the first box of reading that had been given to us was not enough. We got new boxes. These had more research associated with them, and we were trained to use the new boxes and the books that came inside. Did I mention there were books? The kids read books that had parts of other books, selections that were picked for the way they featured the long A sound or words with more than one meaning. When I was a fourth grade teacher, I lived for that week when my class read an excerpt from "Charlotte's Web." Letting my kids know that they could read the whole story of Wilbur and his new friend who just happened to be a spider was a secret joy of mine.
Fast forward again a few more years, when I had left the fourth grade and returned to the computer lab, and the gains our school and our district had made by teaching kids to read by using those tiny bits of sound and tiny bits of stories had leveled off. It was time to go shopping for a new program. Not new boxes of phonics this time, but crates of books. Not books with bits of books in them, but real books by authors like E.B. White. Our kids will now have a chance to read "Charlotte's Web." The whole thing. Not all of them, of course. Many of them will have to start with books far less complex. Books full of sounds and little meaning. It's how I remember learning to read. Students at our school might end up reading about that terrific pig in fifth grade. Or third. Or even second. They will run into words that they don't know how to read, but the magic of the story will help them figure it out. Or their teacher will help them.
That's what I'm learning to do this summer.