In every profession there are terms, phrases, and abbreviations that are common knowledge only to insiders. For the rest of us, the lingo can be very confusing. This glossary is intended to offer simple explanations of what are sometimes complex issues in education. It is far from complete but may help you better understand important trends and topics. Bear in mind that the meaning of many of these terms may vary, even from school district to school district.
The Balanced Reading approach recognizes the need for intense phonics instruction and immersion in the printed word (whole language). Teachers using a Balanced Reading approach recognize that some children learn better using one method rather than another and that some words can be sounded out while others must be memorized. A Balanced Reading instructor would use all five commonly used methods to help children to learn to read. (See Direct Instruction, Decodable Text, Phonics, Sight Words, and Whole Language.)
Basal textbooks are those most parents are quite familiar with from their own school experiences. These are the basic textbooks that are used in the classroom, but this term is usually reserved for the basal reading textbook, which contains a collection of systematically arranged stories intended to gradually introduce new skills and more difficult reading material. Most teachers supplement their basal textbooks with a series of literacy magazines such as Storyworks or class sets of "trade books," those books that are available in any bookstore.
Students in U.S. public schools speak more than 150 different languages. The best method to teach them all English has been a source of great debate. In bilingual education, children are taught all subjects in their native language until they learn English. Then they switch to English-only classes. The premise behind this is that children will learn to read easier in their familiar tongue. The downside is that these children are slower to assimilate into society because they are slower to learn English. (See ESOL and LEP.)