As teachers we are told that we must follow a balanced literacy program, but what does that mean? As new teachers, we might think that a balanced literacy program means that we make literacy a big part of all the subjects. (I know that is what I thought!) With experience, we learn that it means that we must have modelled writing/reading, shared reading/writing, guided writing/reading, and independent reading/writing. But what does that look like? How do we plan all of this for a 100-minute block with as many as 30 students, many of whom have IEPs, and behavioural and other concerns?
Lisa Donahue offers some answers! Her book is a carefully laid-out template of how to plan and program for 100 minutes of balanced literacy that incorporates reading, writing, oral communication, and even digital literacy. She proposes three blocks — Reading Time, AWARD Time , and Writing Time — giving students the feeling that they are continually moving forward.
Reading is a 20- to 30-minute whole-class lesson. This time is used for direct instruction in reading, such as reading comprehension strategies or higher-order thinking. It is also the time to use to model reading responses, think-alouds, etc. Writing Time is the third and final block that should also last 20 to 30 minutes. This time can once again be used for direct instruction with an emphasis on writing.
It is the middle block that is the most exciting. AWARD Time is the longest period, 40 minutes. During this time students work independently, collaboratively, or in small groups on a wide variety of tasks. The tasks include independent reading, independent writing, media study, work skills, and opportunities for giving and receiving peer feedback. The best part? You now have time to meet with smaller groups. Donohue has included all the necessary black-line masters to create a schedule and to track it. Additionally she has provided other literacy tools such as reading response cards (very similar to those in Independent Reading: Inside the Box) and writing prompt cards.
There is a surfeit of professional development books, all written by experienced teachers, all providing excellent tips. The most common complaint is, How do I take that information and transform it for the classroom? Lisa Donahue has provided everything in her book, the teacher just needs to follow the presented schedule and adjust her ideas to suit her particular class. 100 Minutes takes the reader to a new level of balanced literacy. Highly recommended.
Terri L. Lyons is a member of Thames Valley Teacher Local.