Model and Its Structure
Balanced Literacy, known also as the Workshop Model, presents
a methodology of organizing a balanced program in literature.
Balanced Literacy includes the Writing and the Reading Workshop
Model. The main point of this approach is the modeling of
the literacy strategy. The second step is the organization
of small groups of students. After the groups are organized
the students follow the teacher’s instruction and realize
in practice the proposed strategy. In this case, the teacher
is a passive observer; he does not participate actively in
discussion but just monitors the process. Representatives
of the groups share their results.
The Workshop Model is the result of collaborative work of
different language schools all over the country. The development
of this model lasted over thirty years and it is thought to
be first introduced in 1987 by Nancie Atwell. She was first
to systemize all the knowledge on this subject. Other theorists
and philologists proposed only their additions but the whole
concept has not changed greatly since that time.
The main aim of the Workshop Model is to encourage students
to read, develop fluent reading, improve writing and reading
skills and examine texts from different perspectives. Work
in small groups allows to discuss texts, prove own point of
view, finds arguments, thoroughly examine details, work with
authentic texts and propose own strategies. All these activities
contribute to the development of perfect literacy habits.
However, “reading workshop is not intended to replace
guided reading groups where specific needs are addressed in
a flexible, small group setting” (Keene, 1997, p. 18).
Guided reading groups as well as individual consultations
can take place in the course of independent reading.
One of the greatest advantages of the Workshop Model is its
accuracy and structuring. Its structure consists of three
main stages which can be called in such a way: a mini-lesson,
independent reading and sharing.
Mini-lessons are only 5-10 minutes long and they are aimed
to give a general impression of the task. These lessons are
oriented either on individual students, small group or the
whole group of students. The teacher prepares some meaningful
facts from the author’s biography, gives some guidelines
how to analyze a book and think critically and proposes some
strategies for further work. The topics of mini-lessons can
be the following: writing/reading strategies; interpretation
of illustration; implicit/explicit information; description
of characters; a good beginning/ending of the story; plot
development; good book choice; author’s style; genre’s
peculiarities; characters’ comparison, etc. The presentation
of these topics prepares students for the independent work
which is the second component of the model structure.
This stage is an independent work on the project. Students
either read proposed texts or write essays in accordance with
the themes proposed, while the teacher controls the process
and makes his observations. Independent reading/writing is
the most significant and the most important stage in Balanced
Literacy, so it requires the longest period of time –
about 30-40 minutes. Independent reading presumes students’
ability to choose appropriate books and read with confidence.
“It is on the continuum of reading instruction that
flows from teacher Read Aloud, to Shared Reading, to Guided
Reading, to Independent Reading where the child takes on full
responsibility” (Trehearne, 2006, p. 84). The main aim
of this part of the lesson is to learn students to select
and read great amount of books and then analyzes these books
– to master the technique of “conscious reading”.
Necessary instructions and procedures for choosing a book
should be clear and through. A teacher must explain them to
students at the very beginning of the course. The better a
teacher explains which strategies to apply and why it is so
important the more possibility is that students will be occupied
with reading during this time than any other activity. Independent
Reading is usually a necessary part of the model and it often
takes part every day. Time can vary from 15 minutes to 40
at dependence on grade level. The more proficient students
are the more time they should have for independent reading.
During the independent work students can use such strategies:
read the text carefully, define its organization, identify
its type and genre, prove the evidence from the text, revise
the work, discuss it with other participants of the group
and prepare the whole analysis of the text.
As it was mentioned above, the teacher only monitors the process.
At this time his main task is to check selected students by
conferring with them. This helps him to make it clear how
students use reading strategies, choose books for reading
and follow instructions. Monitoring of students’ work
is very important because it is aimed to encourage students
to choose correct books. This approach excludes the choice
of books which can be perceived and interpreted in a proper
way at that stage of studying. “Monitoring is accomplished
through individual conferencing, running records should indicate
areas of growth or deficiencies as well. Students responses
to the literature or lack of thoughtful responses would also
be a way to monitor student's independent reading progress”
(Brailsford, 2004, p. 97). Special attention should be paid
to this stage.
The final stage of the workshop session is sharing among students.
This stage is also of great significance. New information
and knowledge should be shared in order to assimilate it better.
Sharing provokes new thoughts, ideas and, as a result, interpretations.
It helps to develop critical and analytical thinking. Moreover,
it learns students to insist on their point of view and find
factual evidence working with the authentic text or critics.
Also, it makes the student more confident in himself and develops
the feeling of self-esteem if we analyze this stage from the
psychological point of view. That is one of the most common
and widely used examples of the workshop model structure.
The Workshop Model is of great importance today because its
main aim is to involve students into reflecting upon reading
and writing. One of the advantages of this approach is the
work with the authentic texts. “The workshop model is
consistent with the authentic experiences; complex learning,
negotiated curriculum and metacognitive experiences students
will have throughout their day” (Brailsford, 2004, p.
113). This model is especially useful for ELLs because, firstly,
it is well structured, secondly, it is oriented on student’s
individual needs and thirdly, it engages students of different
levels. ELLs have a possibility to choose authors, texts and
genres in accordance with their English level, preferences
and abilities. One more advantage of this model is the fact
that it is not a program with defined timetable and restrictions
but rather a variable model. Every teacher can adopt it to
the needs of particular groups and include his corrections
of the plan. The workshop model provides great opportunities
for students because it operates with a great number of authentic
texts. Such approach encourages children to read books in
original, improve their writing and reading skills and develop
critical thinking. “In addition, the very fact that
it is not a scripted program promotes teachers’ ongoing
curriculum development and revision to best meet the needs
of his or her present group of learners” (Brailsford,
2004, p. 82). All these advantages in comparison with other
approaches show that this model is appropriate for different
groups of students, especially for ELLs.
To sum up, the Workshop Model also known as Balanced Literacy
was first introduced thirty years ago in 1987 by Nancie Atwell.
This model becomes more and more popular nowadays due to its
good organization and clear structure. Its structure includes
three stages: mini-lessons, independent work and sharing.
The most important stage is independent work because it presumes
students’ work with authentic texts, however the significance
of the first and the third stages should not be neglected.
Mini-lessons are aimed to prepare students for individual
work, develop their reading and writing strategies. Sharing
helps students to express their opinions freely. This model
is especially appropriate for ELLs because it takes into account
individual needs of students and their level of knowledge.
It presumes that it is possible to find appropriate authentic
text for every student. Individual consultations in the context
of this approach allow discussing all difficult and problematic
parts in the text. Moreover, sharing of opinions after reading
develops students analytical and critical abilities, improves
their reading and writing skills and promotes authentic reading
Brailsford, A., & Coles, J. (2004). Balanced Literacy
in Action. Toronto: Scholastic.
Fountas. Irene and Pinnell, Gay Su. (2001). Guiding Readers
and Writers/Grades 3-6, Portsmouth, NH,Heinemann.
Keene, E. & Zimmermann, S. (1997). Mosaic of Thought:
Teaching Comprehension in a Reader’s Workshop. Portsmouth,
Trehearne, M. (2006). Comprehensive literacy resource for
grades 3-6. Toronto: Nelson Canada.