Making Sense of the Science of Reading vs. Balanced Literacy Conversation


Not long after I started teaching in the late 1980s, literacy educators were involved in a “reading war”. For those too young to remember, it was the “whole language vs. phonics” debate.

While I embraced much of the whole language philosophy, I never abandoned systematic phonics instruction. I learned to read with a phonics approach and couldn’t imagine teaching children to read without teaching them the rules that govern our language.

The New Reading War

So about five years ago when I first became aware that a new “reading war” was brewing, I started diving into the research. I discovered that we have a lot of new information about how the brain learns to read. Important information that I never learned. Information that you probably never learned. I felt that I had done a disservice to my students, especially those who struggled with reading.

So I started sharing bits of information in almost every seminar and conversation that I had with teachers, coaches, and administrators.

I should clarify that I am “all in” when it comes to balanced literacy. Balanced literacy is NOT the same as whole language. BUT, I also believe that there is much to learn and apply from the science of reading research. I actually find it fascinating and exciting.

How to Embrace Both the Science of Reading and Balanced Literacy (and yes, you can do BOTH!)

That is why, when Shifting the Balance: 6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom by Jan Burkins and Kari Yates was published earlier this year, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.


Since then, the book hasn’t left my desktop or school bag. I even wrote a thank you note to the authors to tell them how much I appreciate the work they did on behalf of all of us who are trying to make sense of some often confusing information.

I truly believe that this book is a masterpiece and that every literacy educator should read it. It is marketed toward K-2 educators, but I believe it’s for all of us–especially if you have ever worked with an older reader who struggled.

Lots of Ways to Join the Discussion

Don’t have time to read the book right now? Jan and Kari (yes, we are on a first-name basis now) have provided so many entry points to join the conversation. Here are a few of their amazing resources and most of them are free:

Want to Dig Deeper?

Are you the kind of person who likes to dig deeper? Jan and Kari have put together an amazing online course that goes way beyond what they could address in the book. I recently finished this course and it is one of the best professional development courses I have taken (and I have taken a lot!). I can’t recommend it highly enough!

Jan and Kari offer this course multiple times per year. You can click here to learn more about it, register, or get on their waiting list.

If you are wanting to both learn more about the research AND learn tons of strategies for putting it into practice immediately, this course is for you!

One of the best ways to stay connected with the work Jan and Kari are doing is to subscribe to their newsletter.

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