Shifting the Balance

6 Ways to Bring the Science of Reading into the Balanced Literacy Classroom

These days, it seems that everyone has a strong opinion about how to teach young children to read. Some may brush off the current tension as nothing more than one more round of “the reading wars.” Others may avoid the clash altogether due to the uncivilized discourse that sometimes results. Certainly, sorting the signal from the noise is no easy task.

In this leading-edge book, authors Jan Burkins and Kari Yates address this tension as a critical opportunity to look closely at the research, reevaluate current practices, and embrace new possibilities for an even stronger enactment of balanced literacy.

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The current emphasis on the body of research known as the Science of Reading has renewed what some refer to as the reading wars and raised challenging questions for balanced literacy teachers about the best way to teach reading. Instead of fueling the debate, Jan Burkins and Kari Yates have immersed themselves in the research and produced this concise and practical guide to integrating effective reading strategies from each perspective. Each chapter of Shifting the Balance focuses on one of the six simple and scientifically sound shifts balanced literacy teachers can make to strengthen their approach in these areas:  reading comprehension, phonemic awareness, phonics, high-frequency words, cueing systems, and text selection for early reading instruction.


  • PRACTICAL INSTRUCTION FOR PRIMARY GRADES: Whether your students are just learning to read or building more advanced reading comprehension skills, Shifting the Balance is designed to help teachers meet the instructional needs of K–2 students.
  • SIX MANAGEABLE SHIFTS: Each chapter focuses on a key shift that helps educators understand common misconceptions and adjust their thinking around some common instructional practices that teachers have been using for decades.
  • EVIDENCE-BASED INSTRUCTION: Jan and Kari offer busy educators a blueprint for integrating findings from brain research, cognitive science, and child development into their daily instruction, while keeping meaningful experiences with books a priority.
  • CLASSROOM APPLICATIONS: Shifting the Balance is full of sample activities and classroom vignettes that paint a picture of what these shifts look like in action with a roomful of learners.

The book has already helped countless educators by taking the guesswork out of how to blend best practices with the latest research while keeping students at the forefront of reading instruction. “We’ve written this book to support you in making sound decisions anchored in the best of science, the truth of responsiveness, and a relentless focus on providing all children learning experiences saturated with meaning,” the authors write.


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    About the Author(s)

    Dr. Jan Burkins was an elementary classroom teacher for seven years and a literacy coach for seven years. She has worked as a part-time assistant professor, a district literacy leader, and is currently a fulltime writer and consultant.


    Kari Yates is an author, speaker, consultant and staff developer with a passion for helping busy literacy educators thrive. Her experiences include classroom teacher, special education, Reading Recovery teacher, elementary principal and district literacy coordinator.


    Table of Contents

    Introduction: Embracing Science and Balance

    Shift 1: Rethinking How Reading Comprehension Begins

    • Clearing Up Some Confusion
    • Misunderstanding 1: Reading comprehension begins with print
    • Misunderstanding 2: Understanding spoken language and understanding written language are two different things
    • Misunderstanding 3: If children have strong oral language, they have most of what they need to learn to read
    • Misunderstanding 4: Successful comprehension in beginning reading texts means that reading comprehension is on track
    • A Short Summary of the Science
    • Recommendations for Making the Shift

    Shift 2: Recommitting to Phonemic Awareness Instruction

    • Clearing Up Some Confusion
    • Misunderstanding 1: Phonemic awareness develops naturally
    • Misunderstanding 2: Phonemic awareness and phonics are the same thing
    • Misunderstanding 3: Once children know all their letters and sounds, they will be able to read
    • Misunderstanding 4: Phonemic awareness is mostly a readiness or prereading skill
    • Misunderstanding 5: Intentional phonemic awareness instruction takes a lot of time or fancy resources
    • A Short Summary of the Science
    • Recommendations for Making the Shift

    Shift 3: Reimagining the Way We Teach Phonics

    • Clearing Up Some Confusion
    • Misunderstanding 1: Learning to recognize letters is just like learning to recognize any other object
    • Misunderstanding 2: Strengthening phonics instruction means purchasing a program
    • Misunderstanding 3: Phonics isn't really worth teaching because English is unpredictable and its spellings are unreliable
    • Misunderstanding 4: If you have a strong scope and sequence and solid instructional routines, you have systematic instruction
    • Misunderstanding 5: Learning phonics is boring
    • A Short Summary of the Science
    • Recommendations for Making the Shift

    Shift 4: Revising High-Frequency Word Instruction

    • Clearing Up Some Confusion
    • Misunderstanding 1: Sight words are the same as high-frequency words
    • Misunderstanding 2: High-frequency words can't be decoded
    • Misunderstanding 3: Children just need to memorize irregularly spelled high-frequency words as whole units
    • Misunderstanding 4: The best way to learn high-frequency words is to practice reading, writing, and/or chanting the letters over and over
    • Misunderstanding 5: If you can read a word, you know it
    • A Short Summary of the Science
    • Recommendations for Making the Shift

    Shift 5: Reinventing the Ways We Use MSV (3 Cueing Systems)

    • Clearing Up Some Confusion
    • Misunderstanding 1: We need to avoid telling students to "sound it out"
    • Misunderstanding 2: When they are problem solving, children should fist ask "What would make sense?"
    • Misunderstanding 3: Children don't need to use all of the print to read
    • Misunderstanding 4: The primary reason to teach children to decode is to problem solve the word in the moment
    • A Short Summary of the Science
    • Recommendations for Making the Shift

    Shift 6: Reconsidering Texts for Beginning Readers

    • Clearing Up Some Confusion
    • Misunderstanding 1: Decodable texts are loaded with problems
    • Misunderstanding 2: Predictable texts make learning to read easier
    • Misunderstanding 3: Using meaning as the go-to source of information will teach children to comprehend
    • Misunderstanding 4: As long as kids are spending time with books every day they will become better readers
    • A Short Summary of the Science
    • Recommendations for Making the Shift



    Product Details

    Grades: K, 1, 2
    Media: 200 pp/paper (est.)
    Year: 2021
    Item No: 1510Item No: 1557
    ISBN: 978-1-62531-510-6ISBN: 978-1-62531-557-1
    Publisher: Stenhouse PublishersPublisher: Stenhouse Publishers