Balanced Literacy vs. Science of Reading: Which one is REALLY more effective in the elementary classroom?

balanced literacy science of reading teaching reading Jul 26, 2022

Balanced Literacy vs. Science of Reading

Which one is REALLY more effective in the elementary classroom?

Aja McNair, 2022

The Explanation of Balanced Literacy vs. Science of Reading

Balanced Literacy is a collection of reading and writing strategies that teaches how good readers decode words, comprehend & write. Science of Reading is more of a systematic phonics approach to reading that eliminates strategies and instead teaches explicit phonics rules to children.The goal of both differs. The main objective of balanced literacy is to provide students with the perfect mix of reading & writing strategies that they can then implement independently. With the science of reading approach,  the goal is to teach students how to read and comprehend text through understanding how the brain learns word patterns. 


The 5 Pillars of Reading

When thinking about balanced literacy vs. science of reading, you can't help but to think about which one is better for children. We can't compare the two approaches without talking about the 5 pillars of reading: phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, & comprehension. With the balanced literacy approach, these pillars are addressed during guided reading, shared reading, read alouds, word study and independent reading. With science of reading, these 5 pillars of reading are addressed during the explicit whole group and small group lessons. 


Key Reading Components in Balanced Literacy and Science of Reading

With the balanced literacy approach, teachers provide whole language opportunities such as guided reading, shared reading, read alouds, interactive writing, and explicit phonics instruction through word study. When comparing balanced literacy vs. science of reading, one can only look at the differences. The science of reading approach allows teachers to provide explicit phonics lessons, small groups based on skill deficit, and comprehension skill instruction lessons. Both balanced literacy and science of reading have the same goal: to teach children how to decode and read unknown words. However, their approach to teaching reading differs.


Literacy Data & Research

Based on the National Assessment of Educational Progress Study, "65% of 4th grade students in US are not reading on grade level." And studies show in 2019, "82% of African Americans are not reading on grade level." Of course, science of reading advocates say that the reason that students aren't reading on level is because the balanced literacy approach does not equally portion each pillar of reading thus leaving gaps in reading. There has been a HUGE shift nationwide with schools and districts switching from balanced literacy to the science of reading. In fact, "51% of teacher prep programs now teach the science of reading compared to 35% in 2013" according to a 2020 report from the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ). The science of reading approach is more than just phonics but it is based on researching how the brain actually learns how to read. You can say, decoding times language comprehension equals reading comprehension. 


Overall, understanding how each approach to reading addresses literacy skills and the 5 pillars of reading is the key to truly comparing Balanced Literacy vs. Science of Reading. You can learn even more about how to apply these 5 Pillars of Reading in your Balanced Literacy or Science of Reading block by downloading my FREE ebook, How to Easily Teach Reading: The all-inclusive guide to improving reading skills



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