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Balanced Literacy, including Lucy Calkins Units of Study and Fountas & Pinnell, is NOT based on the Science of Reading. The Science of Reading is a vast, interdisciplinary body of scientifically-based research. This research has been conducted over the last five decades, and it is derived from thousands of studies from developmental psychology, educational psychology, cognitive science, and cognitive neuroscience. This body of work gives us a clear picture of how students learn to read and write.


The chart below summarizes key differences between Balanced Literacy and the Science of Reading.

Balanced Literacy

Research indicates less than half of students will read proficiently with this approach.

Emphasis on student-centered, independent learning. Instruction from the teacher intentionally limited (workshop model) and students often teaching each other.

Indirect or implicit instruction in:

  • Phonics

  • Spelling

  • Grammar

  • Vocabulary

i.e. Students are not explicitly and systematically taught strategies to independently read and write. Dependent on fellow students to provide spelling and grammar feedback.

Beginning readers: Use of leveled readers that encourage cueing / guessing strategies, like looking at pictures or repetitive patterns instead of sounding out words.

Grades 5-8: Reading whole class novels rarely happens. Emphasis is on student choice of books. Students work together in “book clubs” to identify literary elements, characterization, author’s craft, social commentary, etc. (Often, teachers have not read all the choice books that are the basis of classroom instruction).

Book selections for classroom instruction based on student interest across a variety of reading levels instead of prioritizing appropriate grade level rigorous content.

Teacher corrections on writing are discouraged. Corrections are also more challenging if students are writing about books teachers have not read.

Common Balanced Literacy Materials: Lucy Calkins Units of Study, Fountas & Pinnell, Leveled Literacy Intervention, Patterns of Power, Words Their Way, etc.

Science of Reading

Research indicates 95% of students will read proficiently with this approach.

Emphasis on direct, explicit, systematic instruction from the teacher as the foundation for students' independent and collaborative work.

Explicit, systematic teaching of foundational skills with detailed scope & sequence and defined assessment method to ensure students have learned:

  • Phonics

  • Spelling

  • Grammar

  • Vocabulary

Beginning readers: Use of decodable readers that students can read by applying phonics skills.

Grades 5-8: Reading whole class novels is beneficial. It allows teachers to build background knowledge, teach academic vocabulary, model literary analysis, lead class discussions, etc. (Choice reading used for nightly reading, etc.).

Book selections for classroom instruction based on grade-level rigor to help prepare students well for more challenging texts in high school and beyond.  Skill and content knowledge build logically each year.

On-going teacher corrections on writing are beneficial (grammar, spelling, syntax, etc). Whole class novels allow for higher writing expectations since the teacher has read and taught the novel. 

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