Monday, April 12, 2010

Balanced Literacy

Toward an educationally relevant theory of literacy learning: Twenty years of inquiry

By: Brian Cambourne

  • Brian found that while he was teaching he had ‘normal’ students who would fail to learn in the classroom environment and then because of this be classified as deficient. They weren’t deficient they just didn’t learn from the style of teaching the teacher was using. To figure out how stop this from happening in the classroom Cambourne decided to look at the most complicated process that students learn, how to talk and communicate with the world. He found the steps that children take to learn to talk and then applied them to a literacy classroom. He found that they had to be altered when applied to the classroom but also found that his new technique worked really well for all students. The following bullets describe the difference processes found!
  • Created ‘conditions’ that are particular states of being such as doing, behaving, and creating when learning how to talk. These conditions have to co-occur because they both affect and are affected by each other.
    • Immersion – Constantly immerged in the topic to be learned.
    • Demonstration – Ability to observe an action or artifact.
    • Engagement – When learners engage in the demonstration. (Hands on)
    • Expectation – Learners are given reachable goals to accomplish.
    • Responsibility – Learners decide what they pay attention to and what they internalize. They have are able to choose what they do next.
    • Approximations – Learners do not have to do each task right the first time.
    • Employment – Learners are given an environment to practice their new skills in.
    • Response – The feedback given to the learner about their progress.


  • When these ‘conditions’ were applied to the classroom they became four compact conditions that could not co exist without the other.
    • Transformation – When a learner has taken the information given to them, makes meaning of it, and then demonstrates it to others.
    • Discussion/Reflection – The language process that enables students to explore and clarify meaning.
    • Application – When a teacher asks learners questions that will make them further their understanding that was created through the transformation and discussion/reflection process. It is here where the learner can show others what he or she has learned.
    • Evaluation – Learners are evaluated based on their performance in the transformation, discussion/reflection, and application conditions. The feedback should be given in the form of a question to help the students extend their thinking or rethink their misconception.


  • An educationally relevant theory of literacy education should have the following characteristic:
    • Internal Consistency: It should be able to explain both successful and unsuccessful literacy learning.
    • Ecological Validity: It should be applicable to both in-school and out-of-school contexts.
    • Theory-into-practice congruence: It should be the basis for the design of instructional structures, processes, and activities.
    • Pragmatic coherency: It should not make sense only to teachers and students, it should be ‘doable.’
    • Transferability: The principles inherent in the theory should be extendable to contexts other than literacy learning.
    • High success rate: It should work in the sense that a significant number of learners acquire literacy as a consequence of applying the theory.
  • From the steps that have been written we can see that this strategy can be classified as balanced literacy because if all of the steps aren’t used then the process of learning literacy will fail. All steps have to be used together in order for this teaching strategy to work correctly.

1 comment:

  1. Immediately, as I began reading your post, I knew I had to comment on the use of the word "deficient". As a teacher, I think that word needs to be completely striken from educational vocabulary. To use the word deficient, we are telling ourselves, and our studnets, that an individual has a defect, that he/she is not normal, or that he/she is lacking, Or, that he/she is inadequate. What a horrible message to send to children. Also, what a horrible strategy to use as teachers. Throughout our time here in the education department, we've discussed the detrimental effect that a teacher's low-expectations can have of a student, and we've also discussed the negative impact that making harsh/rash judgements of students abilities can have on chidlren. I'm rambling. But the use of the word deficient just makes me so mad!