An opinion piece from last Sunday’s New York Times lambasted the planned return of the teaching technique balanced literacy to New York schools. I’m on the fence myself. Anything that gets kids reading and writing can’t be all bad, right?
But my own experience with a child in these schools is that far too much is expected of our young writers and readers with far too little support. Lucy Calkins is right when she champions the joyful exploration of language and writing, and I have no wish to denigrate her or other experts’s techniques. Educational techniques are a pendulum, and it seems as if it has swung just a bit too far towards joy and too far away from instruction. I love seeing children’s memoir pieces posted on the hallway bulletin boards, but I don’t love actually reading them and realizing that very few students have any sense of sentence structure, spelling, or the other mechanics of language.
Surely there’s a middle way – one in which students are given the building blocks of writing and narrative but still allowed to create castles and skyscrapers of words. How can one create sense of a narrative, either one’s own or one written by some one else, without knowing the parts of speech? How sentences are constructed? The richness and beauty of language is less accessible when we are unaware of how it is created.
Stepping off my soapbox and preparing to keep my balance in yoga class…