Whole Language Lives On: The Illusion of Balanced Reading Instruction | LD Topics | LD OnLine
Whether the whole language instructional approach represents an evolution from language . His ideas gained scientific respectability in the 19th Century when they were It is the relationships that exist within the classroom that matter. own mathematical understanding” (MSEB and National Research Council , p. Federation of Teachers' Teaching Reading Is Rocket Science and an earlier go beyond the notion of phonics as the simple relationship between letters and sounds to For more than three decades, advocates of “whole-language” instruction the study of science, social studies, math, literature, and the arts as students. Whole language educators believe that teachers should have direct access to this knowledge base and be supported in their efforts to use it to inform instructional decisions. This response A Brief Overview of Recent Reading- Related Research . Mathematics educators do so when they talk about " authenticity," science.
This knowledge can be constructed and enhanced through collaboration with others in the classroom or workplace. Knowledge is communicated with others to share, compare and assess information. These strands should be interwoven into the classroom environment to aid in the content, methodology, and assessment in mathematics. Bickmore-Brand suggests that these steps will create a positive association with mathematics and mathematical relevancy in society.
In this manner, mathematics helps students develop an understanding of the events in society. It specifically addresses the topic for elementary school curriculum in a chapter by David J.
Whitin, "Connecting Literature and Mathematics" who suggests that children's literature can help students meaningfully connect their world to the world of mathematical ideas. The Yearbook focuses on building a discourse community of meaningful mathematical communication within classrooms and beyond.
One of the sections for such a changing paradigm is reading. Topics included for discussion are the use of trade books, metaphorical thinking, reading to construct meaning, and communicating mathematics through literature. The NCTM is promoting collaboration of reading and mathematics. Reading provides both context and motivation for the mathematics students. Reading from a text book, trade book, or newspaper article can provide the students with a shared basis for receiving and sharing information.
Reading can supply a common setting, environment, and details for application of students' mathematical skills. Reading provides an interesting context that students can explore. This exploration can occur either in a group with many students or with one student. In general, the integration of math and reading creates a relevant context for the formal and abstract mathematical processes.
The use of either fiction or non-fiction material can create the context for discussion and set the stage for mathematical skills.
Whole Language Lives On: The Illusion of Balanced Reading Instruction
The specific areas may include: For example, a Venn Diagram can be used to compare and contrast different versions of the same story. For example, examining stories for patterns like this one: The concept of balance implies, in turn, that worthy ideas and practices from both whole-language and code-emphasis approaches to reading have been successfully integrated into an eclectic mix that should go down easily with teachers and kids.
Educators who wish to take no stand in the reading wars may safely embrace a little of each perspective and claim that what they are doing is both based on the latest research and grounded in a philosophical synthesis between two previously warring positions. Appearances can be deceiving, however, and painless solutions are often wrong.
Unfortunately, many who pledge allegiance to balanced reading continue to misunderstand reading development and to deliver poorly conceived, ineffective instruction. In fact, despite numerous claims by people in the field, the deep division between reading science and whole-language ideology1 has not been bridged.
Probably it cannot and should not be. In my view, a marriage of these perspectives is neither possible nor desirable. It is too easy for practitioners, while endorsing balance, to continue teaching whole language without ever understanding the most important research findings about reading or incorporating those findings into their classroom practice. Wrong-headed ideas about reading continue to characterize textbooks, reading course syllabi, classroom instructional materials, state language-arts standards, and policy documents.
Here is what reading science actually tells us about effective literacy instruction: All children need explicit, systematic instruction in phonics and exposure to rich literature, both fiction and nonfiction. Although children need instruction in phonics in early reading development, even then, attention to meaning, comprehension strategies, language development, and writing are essential.
At all times, developing children's interest and pleasure in reading must be as much a focus as developing their reading skills. This instruction should be part of, and linked to, a complete instructional program that includes phoneme awareness, plentiful reading to build fluency, vocabulary development, and guided oral reading to build comprehension.
Note, though, that this prescription is not equivalent to an eclectic combination of whole language and phonics. Whole-language approaches by definition minimize or omit direct, systematic teaching of language structure phoneme awareness, spelling patterns and rules, grammar, and so forth in the name of preserving an unbroken focus on reading for meaning.
To the onlooker, these points may sound trivial; in the classroom, however, such distinctions have profound consequences. True, reading policy and practice have been righted to some extent since the mids when California's panic over low reading achievement propelled radical alterations of that state's standards, assessments, curriculum, and criteria for adopting instructional materials and licensing teachers. California's policies on early reading are now more explicit and more compatible with reading science than perhaps any state but Texas.
Yet resistance to the California reading initiative has been fierce, especially in the state universities whose faculties have denounced the legislative changes and continue to promote ideas and programs that are saturated with whole-language ideology, now disguised under other names.
Some whole-language defenders claim that they have always advocated teaching both phonics and comprehension, and thus revision of their understandings about reading is not necessary. Inside the classroom, however, it's not dead at all. The mission of this paper is to describe what whole language is, why it is contradicted by scientific studies,7 how it continues in education, and what should be done to correct that situation.
So long as whole-language ideas influence classroom practice to any great extent, students who are most dependent on effective instruction inside the classroom stand to lose. Recognizing and confronting bankrupt ideas and practices, even though they are masquerading under benign terms such as balanced reading, continues to be an important mission for education leaders and policymakers.
What is whole language? Even at its most popular, whole language defied definition by those who attempted to study it objectively. Relying on theory derived largely from introspection into their own mental processes, Ken Goodman and Frank Smith in the late s advanced the notion that meaning and purpose should be the salient goals in early reading instruction.
Teachers were persuaded that the cause of most reading failure was insufficient emphasis on reading real books for real purposes. By the mids, schools were ready to throw out basal readers, phonics workbooks, spelling programs, and other canned material so that teachers could create individualized reading instruction with authentic children's literature. Publishing houses, university reading departments, state education agencies, and professional development providers jumped on the bandwagon.
The ideas were disseminated through Internet connections, teacher journals that do not require articles to meet standards of scientific accuracy, courses and textbooks used in schools of education, and instructional manuals for teachers. Recently published books and articles13 continue to characterize the orthodoxy of whole language as follows: Children and adults use similar strategies to read and spell.
Whole-language believers assert that children process print and comprehend it like adults. Children will learn from imitating adult reading. The teacher is a model of adult literacy, and modeling is a method for teaching children. Thus, the teacher is encouraged to sit in front of the class and to be seen reading silently for a portion of each day in which the children are also to be reading silently or in pairs. The teacher is also to read aloud, pointing to the print in a big book, as children follow along.
The children may point to the words as the teacher reads them. The passage is read several times this way until it is memorized. Children are expected to figure out for themselves the connection between the letters and the sounds of the words as the adult points to them.
There is no further explication of how the letters represent words. The assumption that children learn like adults also translates into student choice of reading material, a focus on advanced reading comprehension strategies for young children, avoidance of reading groups or sequential oral reading, and ample time in school for independent silent reading in the company of others Drop Everything and Read! These activities are the instructional core of a whole-language curriculum, not ancillary components.
Spelling, like reading, is meant to happen by having children imitate the stages and characteristics of adult writing. Debbie Powell and David Hornsby, in a best-selling handbook for teachers, state, "We feel that there are no stages of development in terms of the strategies spellers use because the strategies beginning spellers use are the same as those of mature spellers.
All language is naturally acquired, according to whole-language devotees. Reading is analogous to listening; children's brains are focused on meaning as language is processed, not on the structure or form of language. To focus instead on structure and form is unnatural and unnecessary. Children will extract the structure and form of print if they are exposed to it sufficiently in the context of meaning-making activities, just as they have extracted the rules of phonology and syntax in oral language without any formal instruction.
Thus, the teacher is instructed to stress the meaning of what is being read, to ask always if a word the child misread "makes sense," and to emphasize imitative reading of "whole, authentic texts" even if the child cannot read them independently.
The acquisition of the alphabetic code is a minor concern because it will happen if children have a purpose for learning it. Phoneme awareness, phonics, spelling, punctuation, and other skills of written language can be learned "naturally. Natural learning is playful, incidental, and easy.
Phoneme awareness will happen if children play rhyming games; spelling will happen if children write; word recognition will happen if children follow the print as the adult reads; and comprehension will happen if children's curiosity is piqued. The teacher needn't follow a structure or sequence; she is to share, guide, and facilitate as the child discovers how reading works.
Powell and Hornsby state, "Proficient readers easily recognize most words and gain meaning usually without even attending to all of the letters or even all of the words, because their ability to decode is largely automatic and subconscious.
Teach phonics and spelling on an "as needed" basis, that is, after students make errors on words while they are reading and writing. Phonics is allowed into the whole-language classroom, but it is not taught first, foremost, or formally.
The teacher is to observe errors "miscues" children are making while reading text and is then to provide "mini-lessons" on the word pattern or sound-symbol correspondence the children missed while reading. The goal is to read a specific text, not to learn skills that may generalize to all texts.
Too much phonics instruction is harmful to children, so keep it unobtrusive. In whole-language orthodoxy, phonics is seen as a distraction, an interference that prevents real reading from occurring.
Phonics and other instruction in component reading skills are necessary evils that divert children from reading authentic text and thinking creatively about its content. Teachers are warned that if children receive too much phonics instruction outside of a meaningful context, they will become "word callers" who do not understand the real purposes of reading. Skill lessons are to be unobtrusive, brief, and, if possible, disguised.
Teaching phonics should be a covert operation. Children should construct their own insights into language. The skilled whole-language teacher is coach, model, and guide. Concepts are to be discovered, not presented, because discovery, according to the whole-language canon, promotes higher-order thinking. Although active engagement is a principle of good teaching, the discovery approach to language skills can be imprecise and unnecessarily time consuming.
It should not replace direct teaching of concepts. It is unimportant to teach strategies for reading single words out of context. According to whole-language doctrine, the point of reading is not to read individual words; it is to understand connected text. This truism has been translated into a prohibition against teaching or testing the child's ability to read single words out of context.
Work on word recognition is minimized in favor of literature-related activities, even in the beginning stages when children cannot yet read. Accuracy in word reading is not valued for its own sake. Children's reading errors miscues are accepted if the error is the same part of speech as the misread word or if it does not change the meaning of the passage.
Good readers can recognize words on the basis of a few sound-symbol correspondences, such as beginning and ending consonants, and don't really need to know the inner details, such as vowels. In whole language, reading is viewed as a process of predicting words on the basis of meaning and context. The good reader samples the print, and detailed decoding of all the sounds in words is unnecessary. As a consequence, teaching all the letter-sound correspondences, and teaching children the skills to sound out an entire word, is unnecessary.
Thus, many so-called phonics activities in whole-language classrooms emphasize the decoding of initial consonants and maybe end consonants and word families that is, the part of a syllable composed of the vowel and all the consonants that follow it, such as -ild, -ank, or -odgebut complete knowledge of the sound-symbol system is not emphasized.
When a child is reading and cannot recognize a word, the child should be asked to guess at the word from context and then sound the word out if guessing does not yield a word that would make sense in the sentence. On a third-grade teacher's wall, in a classroom in Washington, DC, where I conduct a research project, is the following poster: If a word in a sentence is unfamiliar, read to the end of the sentence.
Skip the word you do not know. After reading the sentence, use the context to guess the word.
If you still do not know the word, do the following: Think about your letter sounds. Think about word parts. Try to say the word. Does it make sense? If you still don't know the word, look it up in the glossary or dictionary. Ask someone for help. Whole language dictates that recognition of unknown words is a function of three "cueing systems. The sense of the passage is supposed to drive word recognition. The graphophonic cueing system is to be deployed as a strategy of last resort if context-based guessing has not yielded the correct word.
They recognize them out of context by their letter-sound correspondences. A typical whole-language class22 A first- or second-grade classroom in which whole-language ideas predominate is not the traditional class of bygone years. It has clusters of desks, not rows; the space is not arranged so that children focus on the teacher in front of the class.
Learning centers and clusters of desks lend themselves to individualized, self-directed, and small-group learning. A classroom library corner has many books of different genres and a comfortable place to read. Little use is made of the chalkboard. There is a prominent "word wall," on which high-frequency vocabulary is placed in alphabetical order. Words such as off, on, orange, open, our, and oil might all be placed under Oo.
The varying sounds of those letter correspondences are irrelevant to the presentation. Children gather on the floor around the teacher's chair during reading instruction. The teacher introduces a lesson with a "shared" reading; she previews a selection with the youngsters by taking a "picture walk" through the book's illustrations. She introduces new vocabulary meanings needed to understand the story, but there is little reference to word structure.
The five to ten new words on the vocabulary list are presented as if they should be recognized on sight, by their appearance and context. Vocabulary words are selected for their meanings, not for their sound-symbol correspondences, so they are not used to reinforce a lesson on sound-symbol decoding.
The teacher reads the book aloud as she follows the text with her finger. She leads a discussion about the story, eliciting from children their prior knowledge of the content and their questions about the content. After the story, she teaches a phonics mini-lesson on a family of words with similar spellings, by listing them and asking the children to read them aloud. The words are chosen because of their use in the text. More readings of the text follow on subsequent days.
By week's end, children may have read the same text three or four times, the first few by choral reading and patterning. When children take turns reading, they are encouraged to refer to the sense of the text to figure out unknown words.
Assignments often involve writing or illustrating a personal response to the text in a reader-response journal. Spelling instruction is given on those words that the children misspell, after they have been used in writing. During instruction, the children are asked to invent what they think the likely spelling of a word might be Have a go! There are no spelling lists or spelling workbooks.
Children are expected to collaborate as they work on reading and writing projects. This is a constructivist environment: What's wrong with whole language? Almost every premise advanced by whole language proponents about how reading is learned has been contradicted by scientific investigations. Almost every practice stemming from these premises has been less successful with groups of both normally developing and reading-disabled children than practices based on reading science.
As Michael Pressley, editor of Educational Psychologist, has remarked, "At best, much of whole-language thinking They are not the core ideas on which whole language was constructed, however, and they are not the intellectual property of whole language.
Whole-language beliefs about the psychology of basic reading instruction, and the practices that have been based on those beliefs, are misinformed in theory and ineffective in application. The National Reading Panel's Teaching Children to Read reviews once more what is known about the psychology of reading and reading instruction.
It does not evaluate whole language directly, but it does synthesize evidence on critical components of teaching reading. The tenets and practices of whole language are contradicted by the following facts: Learning to read is not natural.
Alphabetic writing systems are a late cultural invention for which we are not biologically specialized. Only some languages have written symbol systems, and many of those writing systems represent whole words, concepts morphemesor syllables.
Only some of the most recently invented writing systems represent individual speech sounds. Spoken language may be hard-wired in the human brain, but written language is an acquired skill that requires special, unnatural insights about the sounds in words. Most children must be taught to read through a rather protracted process in which they are made aware of sounds and the symbols that represent them, and then learn to apply these skills automatically and attend to meaning.
The alphabetic principle is not learned simply from exposure to print. Children can understand our alphabetic writing system if they have acquired a more fundamental understanding called phonological awareness.
That is, in order to read new words written with an alphabetic system, children need to be able to map the symbols to the speech sounds that make up spoken words. Children who lack the required insights often are unable to read or spell well, even if they are reasonably intelligent or acquainted with the information in books.
Phonological awareness is primarily responsible for the development of the ability to sound words out. The ability to use phonics and to sound words out, in turn, is primarily responsible for the development of context-free word-recognition ability.
Context-free word-recognition ability, moreover, is primarily responsible for the development of the ability to read connected text and comprehend it. Many children who are challenged in learning written language are relatively proficient in spoken language. Spoken language systems are learned automatically, without conscious instruction, when children share experiences and language with caretakers.
Spoken language comprises deeply networked rules for sound production and sentence construction that are devised and learned by a community of language speakers. Written languages, in contrast, are arbitrary systems that use a variety of symbols for words, concepts, syllables, and sounds. Written English, in contrast to spoken English, uses a much wider vocabulary and more complex, formal syntax to convey meaning. Reading and writing require mastery of a special language with a special skill that exceeds our natural abilities.
Most of the variability in reading achievement at the end of first grade is accounted for by children's ability to decode words out of context, using knowledge of phonic correspondences. The most common and fundamental characteristic of poor text reading is the inability to read single words accurately and fluently.
Skill in word reading in turn depends on both phonological awareness and the development of rapid associations of speech to print. Context is valuable for deciphering the meanings and uses for unfamiliar words once they have been named or decoded. It also helps to resolve ambiguities that arise from reading words such as content, which can be a noun or predicate adjective or verb.
Words are recognized, however, from detailed perceptual data at the average rate of about five words per second. We see what is printed, every letter of it, and our minds recognize letters, sounds, and word pieces simultaneously and interactively as we search for meaning. Good readers are more aware of the details of language structure and more attentive to internal aspects of words than poor readers. They are less likely to use a guessing strategy.
In fact, guessing from context leads to egregious errors; only 10 to 25 percent of words are correctly guessed. The consequences of whole language for teachers and children Between andan entire field rushed to embrace a set of unfounded ideas and practices without any evidence that children would learn to read better, earlier, or in greater numbers than they had with the basal readers in use at the time.
The California Language Arts Frameworks of were especially influential in driving publishers away from basic-skill instruction.
Part 1: Whole Language! What was that all about?
Predictable or repetitive text that children could memorize was preferred to stories that required children to sound words out based on what they had been taught. Beyond classroom reading instruction itself, however, whole language has had far-reaching—it is not too much to say corrupting—effects: Rejection of reliable, valid measures of achievement.
In order to justify its love affair with whole language in the face of little or no evidence for its positive results, the field of reading education began to disavow scientific methodology and objective measurement. Miller conducted their first major review of the evidence, andwhen they updated their analysis, twenty of forty-five studies that purportedly evaluated the effectiveness of whole language declined to use or report any standardized measure of reading achievement.
Instead of acknowledging that objective assessments were proving them wrong, many reading-education researchers rejected objectivity itself. Those invested in defending whole language criticized traditional achievement tests as unauthentic and replaced them with measures of motivation, enjoyment, or self-esteem. Attitude, not achievement, became the outcome of concern in the reading education research community.
A positive attitude toward reading was expected to lead children automatically into more and better reading. Many reading-education researchers replaced standardized, reliable, validated assessments with alternative assessments that probed attitudes. The goal of teaching became love of reading, not the ability to read. The effects of whole-language methods on student achievement were thus impossible to determine. Teachers were easily persuaded that the science of behavioral measurement had little to offer them.
The schools of education did not require their own students to understand concepts such as behavioral sampling, correlation, prediction, reliability, validity, and normative standards. Teachers were seldom obliged to inform instruction with samples of critical component reading skills: Instead, teachers were and are taught to use forms of reading assessment that have little reliability or correspondence to research-validated outcome measures.
The goal in whole language is to measure the process of reading, not the product of instruction—a difficult mission to accomplish even when the reading process is well conceived. Miscue analysis and "running records" have been and continue to be widely promoted whole-language tools. A running record measures fluency and accuracy in oral reading of a "leveled" book not a norm-referenced passage and asks the teacher to classify a child's errors according to which cueing system produced each of them.
Although oral-passage reading rate and accuracy are good measures of overall reading ability because they measure word-recognition speed and accuracy, the classification of "miscues" is unreliable, invalid, and a waste of the teacher's time. Error analysis has value when based on a defensible understanding of reading and spelling processes. It is worthwhile if it helps us determine what kind of problem a child has, what kind of information that child needs, and what kind of instructional activities are likely to work well.
Miscues and running records do not meet these criteria. Minimizing the importance of language structure for teachers and students. In the whole-language context, neither students nor teachers need to know specific concepts about the structure of spoken or written language. Speech sounds, syllables, spelling correspondences, sentence parts, grammatical categories, and cohesive devices are minimized together. If holism and contextual learning are valued, then language parts become unimportant.
If students are to learn reading and spelling through imprinting, modeling, and discovery, then teachers need not know explicit linguistic analysis. If concepts can be taught minimally in mini-lessons, then they do not need to be defined with precision, understood in relation to one another, or taught methodically. Pre-determined sequences, selection of component skills, and planned lessons in which skills are systematically developed are unnecessary. Teachers can get by knowing very little about their language; their own knowledge gaps will not be exposed during a whole-language lesson.
Cursory treatment of linguistic concepts continues to be applauded in descriptions of well-taught whole-language lessons. She is helping a child sound out the word happy. This information, however, is inaccurate: The letter is doubled because of the juncture of two syllables, the first of which has a short vowel.
This student has been misinformed by the teacher's explanation, but the teacher and The Reading Teacher's editors remains in the dark as well. The same teacher goes on to help another child decode nose.