Community Perspective

Fundamentals of literacy for the classroom

Recently there has been a spread of misinformation about the teaching of reading. We wanted to educate the community about what balanced literacy looks like in the classroom, practices that are important to literacy instruction, and guide our policymakers as they craft legislation that will affect all of Alaska’s children.

Golden Heart Literacy Council is a group of educators devoted to ensuring all children become literate members of our community. Our mission is to foster professional learning networks and support excellence in literacy instruction. This important work is done by building and sustaining a collaborative and caring classroom community that celebrates reading lives.

Our vision is to inspire an ongoing curiosity and desire to learn within children, and we believe that all children can learn to read and love to read. As educators, we encourage learners to become critical thinkers and to passionately explore all aspects of language and literacy.


Components for literacy learning

Recognize that there is not “one way” or “one program” to teach all learners. Educators are knowledgeable about relevant research and apply effective practices for literacy instruction. Teaching to a prescriptive program is teaching to mediocrity.

Build classroom communities that model respect and share the decision-making process. Educators value student knowledge and accept where they are developmentally.

Students and teachers talk about what they are reading. Personal experiences are honored. Time is prioritized in the school day to share in storytelling and reading aloud.

Appreciate a culturally responsive curriculum that engages and motivates students. The importance of the home-school connection is cultivated and celebrated.

Set high expectations for students. Encourage them to take pride in their work, have a growth mindset when things feel hard, and explore complex and relevant texts.

Use formative reading assessments to determine students’ reading levels, observe their reading behaviors, guide instruction and evaluate changes in their performance.

Use literacy conferences to assess reading and writing progress on the spot, set goals with students, and embed student and teacher self-reflection.


Recommendations for reading instruction

Use professional judgment about what students need, and use reliable classroom research to guide instruction.

Assessment needs to be valuable for teachers, students and families. It should be worth the time it takes to administer. Reading assessment methods need to mimic real reading experiences.

Starting at the pre-K level, reading is a meaning-making process that incorporates a child’s culture and background knowledge to navigate text.

Build independence and accountability in students, so they can become confident and proficient readers who find joy in reading.

Learning language requires more than just learning letters and sounds in isolation. Word and text structures, spelling patterns, vocabulary and word skills are all achieved through real-life reading experiences.

Varied instructional methods are essential to meeting the strengths and challenges of each learner. Whole and small group, as well as individual instruction are all needed.

Offer opportunities for students to read books of their own choosing for extended periods of time. This is especially important for readers with limited access to books at home.

Students need access to classroom libraries with current titles. When students are represented on the pages, it empowers and motivates them.

Teach strategies for reading, especially comprehension, accuracy, fluency and vocabulary. Teaching only reading accuracy does not build passionate, critical thinking readers who come to a text with a desire to learn.


Suggestions for policymakers

Recognize that programs do not teach children. Teaching is complex, and students are unique and have different learning needs.

Support pre-K literacy intervention and provide families with access to rich literature.

Invest in recruitment and retention of high quality educators.

Fund opportunities for the teaching force to deepen their skills. (Consortiums for writing, reading, science and math, National Board certification, reading endorsement, participation in conferences, etc)

Strongly consider the importance of small class size and its impact on students’ learning and social-emotional needs.

Provide highly qualified reading specialists to support our most struggling readers in all schools and districts.

Ensure that schools and classrooms have funding to build libraries with a wide range of relevant and culturally responsive texts, as well as a variety of genres and types of texts.

Barbara Ragan and Ronda Schlumbohm are co-presidents of Golden Heart Literacy Council. For additional resources, visit and

The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at Contact the editor with questions at or call 459-7574.

If you're interested in submitting a Letter to the Editor, click here.


The Daily News-Miner encourages residents to make themselves heard through the Opinion pages. Readers' letters and columns also appear online at Contact the editor with questions at or call 459-7574.

Community Perspective

Send Community Perspective submissions by mail (P.O. Box 70710, Fairbanks AK 99707) or via email ( Submissions must be 500 to 750 words. Columns are welcome on a wide range of issues and should be well-written and well-researched with attribution of sources. Include a full name, email address, daytime telephone number and headshot photograph suitable for publication (email jpg or tiff files at 150 dpi.) You may also schedule a photo to be taken at the News-Miner office. The News-Miner reserves the right to edit submissions or to reject those of poor quality or taste without consulting the writer.

Letters to the editor

Send letters to the editor by mail (P.O. Box 70710, Fairbanks AK 99707), by fax (907-452-7917) or via email ( Writers are limited to one letter every two weeks (14 days.) All letters must contain no more than 350 words and include a full name (no abbreviation), daytime and evening phone numbers and physical address. (If no phone, then provide a mailing address or email address.) The Daily News-Miner reserves the right to edit or reject letters without consulting the writer.

Submit your news & photos

Let us know what you're seeing and hearing around the community.