What Are the Advantages & Disadvantages of the Literature-Based Approach to Teaching Reading?

Students develop critical thinking skills when they read
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When it comes to the advantages of literature in education, it seems like every teacher and education researcher has an opinion. Some believe that the literature-based approach is the most effective way to teaching reading skills. In the literature-based approach, students are exposed to words in their natural contexts. Some experts think this is the best way to learn and retain new vocabulary. Others believe that the importance of literature should be downplayed in favor of using more of a building-block approach, also known as the basal-approach, which incorporates rules and phonetics.

1 Advantages of Literature in Teaching Reading

One advantage of the literature-based approach in teaching reading is that it allows students to understand words in context. Language is nuanced, and so it can be argued that words only find meaning in the way they’re used. Teaching children to read individual words will not help foster the communication skills needed to read and respond to longer texts later in life.

Another advantage of the literature-based approach is that it encourages the development of higher-level thinking skills. Students who learn words in context make connections and develop deeper skills for critical analysis. Students also learn that words can be used in many ways, even ways that don’t necessarily line up with their literal meanings.

Not only does learning to read words in context help foster higher level thinking skills, it also hones an appreciation for the importance of literature. Reading literature doesn’t just teach communication skills. It also helps students learn about the people around them, including cultures and societies different from their own. Being able to see the world from someone else’s perspective like this fosters empathy.

2 Disadvantages of the Literature-Based Approach

Despite the many advantages of literature, and the obvious importance of literature itself to society, the technique does come with some disadvantages. One disadvantage is that teaching a literary text is much more difficult than teaching individual vocabulary words. Students read at different paces, making structuring class time difficult. Often, the best way to assess a student’s learning through the literature-based method is to give speaking or writing tests. Both of these types of assessments take much more time to grade than assessing learning for the basal-approach, which can be done with short-answer or multiple-choice tests.

Finding appropriate texts to teach can also become a concern, especially for teachers with groups of students who don’t read on the same level. However, utilizing student choice and project-based learning can help teachers individualize lessons for students without wasting time doing too much planning for literature and education.

Rebecca Renner is a teacher and freelance writer from Daytona Beach, Florida. Her byline has appeared in the Washington Post, New York Magazine, Glamour and elsewhere.