Balanced early literacy instruction: An investigation of the practices and theoretical orientations of effective first-grade teachers

Julie-Anne Walsh, Fordham University


This study sought to refine the concept of balanced early literacy instruction by providing an in-depth view of the early literacy programs of 3 effective first-grade teachers in an urban elementary school. Participation was voluntary. The participant selection process began with recommendations of effective early literacy practitioners by a university professor and teaching peers. Next, an initial observation substantiated the recommendations. The observation was comprised of 3 measures of effective instruction: (a) student engagement, (b) instructional balance, and (c) instructional density (Pressley et al., 1998; Wharton-McDonald et al., 1998). Finally, the building principal confirmed the selected participants as effective early literacy practitioners. A literacy beliefs profile, interviews, classroom observations, and feedback pertaining to individualized instructional models were utilized to examine the teachers' theoretical orientations, the curricular components comprising their literacy programs, their instructional strategies, and their classroom organizational techniques. Miles and Huberman's (1994) data reduction technique was used to analyze the descriptive data. The following 6 themes characterized the participants' theoretical orientations: (a) incorporating a meaning-based approach, (b) combining phonics and skills instruction with literature and language-rich activities, (c) attending to individual learning needs, (d) providing instruction in multiple reading strategies, (e) taking advantage of opportunistic teaching moments, and (f) viewing the teacher as both a director and a facilitator. The curricular components comprising the literacy programs included (a) reading activities, (b) writing activities, (c) oral-aural language activities, and (d) phonics and skills instruction. Student engagement instructional strategies included (a) encouraging student self-regulated behavior, (b) asking questions to promote comprehension and critical thinking, (c) modeling and reinforcing metacognitive thinking, (d) encouraging student interaction and participation, and (e) providing positive feedback and reinforcement. Instructional balance strategies included (a) talking about book and story features and using literature jargon, (b) using a variety of guided reading techniques, and (c) modeling and reinforcing multiple reading and writing strategies and behaviors. Instructional density strategies included (a) scaffolding and monitoring student strategy use by conducting minilessons on an as-needed basis, and (b) integrating subject areas into literacy instruction. Classroom organizational techniques reflected (a) room arrangement, (b) time management, and (c) behavior management.

Subject Area

Curricula|Teaching|Elementary education|Literacy|Reading instruction

Recommended Citation

Walsh, Julie-Anne, "Balanced early literacy instruction: An investigation of the practices and theoretical orientations of effective first-grade teachers" (2001). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3003031.