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Encyclopedia > Whole language

Whole language describes a literacy instructional philosophy which emphasizes that children should focus on meaning and moderates skill instruction. It can be contrasted with phonics-based methods of teaching reading and writing which emphasize instruction for reading and spelling[1]. It has drawn criticism by those who advocate "back to basics" pedagogy [2]. For the study of sounds and speech sounds, see Acoustics and Phonetics. ... This album, released in 1987, was a collection of Billy Braggs released work up to Feburary 1985; Namely the albums Lifes A Riot With Spy Vs. ... Pedagogy, the art or science of being a teacher, generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction[1]. The word comes from the Ancient Greek παιδαγωγέω (paidagōgeō; from παῖς (child) and ἄγω (lead)): literally, to lead the child”. In Ancient Greece, παιδαγωγός was (usually) a slave who supervised the education...



Whole language is a phenomenon that has been difficult to describe, particularly because many of its advocates have somewhat divergent perspectives about the core content of this instructional approach. Several strands run through most iterations of whole language:

  • steadfast focus on making meaning in reading and expressing meaning in writing;
  • constructivist approaches to knowledge creation, emphasizing students' interpretations of text and free expression of ideas in writing (often through daily journal entries).
  • emphasis on high-quality and culturally-diverse literature;
  • integrating literacy skills into other areas of the curriculum, especially math, science, and social studies;
  • frequent reading, (a) with students in small "guided reading" groups, (b)to students with "read alouds", and (c) by students independently;
  • focus on motivational aspects of literacy, emphasizing the love of books and level-appropriate student materials;
  • meaning-based phonics, often taught as an "embedded" part of other reading lessons; and
  • reduced emphasis on other skills, besides phonics, that are usually not linked directly to developing meaning, such as grammar, spelling, capitalization and punctuation.

Constructivism is a set of assumptions about the nature of human learning that guide constructivist learning theories and teaching methods of education. ... This does not cite its references or sources. ... For the study of sounds and speech sounds, see Acoustics and Phonetics. ...

Underlying premises of whole language

Learning theory

The idea of "whole" language has its basis in a range of theories of learning related to the epistemologies called "holism." Holism is based upon the belief that it is not possible to understand learning of any kind by analyzing small chunks of the learning system. Holism was very much a response to behaviorism, which emphasized that the world could be understood by experimenting with stimuli and responses. Holists considered this a reductionist perspective that did not recognize that "the whole is greater than the sum of its parts." Analyzing individual behaviors, holists argued, could never tell us how the entire human mind worked. This is--in simplified terms--the theoretical basis for the term "whole language." It has been suggested that Meta-epistemology be merged into this article or section. ... Holism (from holos, a Greek word meaning all, entire, total) is the idea that all the properties of a given system (biological, chemical, social, economic, mental, linguistic, etc. ... Behaviorism (also called learning perspective) is a philosophy of psychology based on the proposition that all things which organisms do—including acting, thinking and feeling—can and should be regarded as behaviors. ... Reductionism in philosophy describes a number of related, contentious theories that hold, very roughly, that the nature of complex things can always be reduced to (explained by) simpler or more fundamental things. ...

Chomsky and Goodman

The whole language approach to phonics grew out of Noam Chomsky's conception of linguistic development. Chomsky believed that humans have a natural language capacity, that we are built to communicate through words. This idea developed a large following in the 1960s. In 1967, Ken Goodman wrote a widely-cited article calling reading a "psycholinguistic guessing game" and chiding educators for attempting to apply unnecessary orthographic order to a process that relied on holistic examination of words.[3] Goodman posited the existence of three "cuing systems" that regulate literacy development. These cuing systems are the graphophonemic cuing system, the semantic cuing system, and the syntactic cuing system, related to the linguistic domains of phonetics, semantics, and syntax respectively. The "graph" portion of the "graphophonemic" system referred to the graphic input, i.e., the text. According to Goodman, these systems overlap and work in tandem to help readers "guess" appropriately. He emphasized that pronouncing individual words will involve the use of all three systems (letter clues, meaning clues from context, and syntactical structure of the sentence). Part of his rationale was that in his studies of children who read words individually and then the same words in connected text, the children did better when they read the words in connected text. Later replications of the experiment failed to find effects, however, when children did not read the same words in connected text immediately after reading them individually, as they had in Goodman's experiment.[4] Avram Noam Chomsky (Hebrew :אברם נועם חומסקי Yiddish: אברם נועם כאמסקי) , Ph. ... Ken Goodman is a now-retired educational researcher, best known for developing the theory underlying the whole language method of reading instruction. ... The orthography of a language specifies the correct way of writing in that language. ... Phonetics (from the Greek word φωνή, phone meaning sound, voice) is the study of the sounds of human speech. ... The introduction to this article provides insufficient context for those unfamiliar with the subject matter. ... For other uses, see Syntax (disambiguation). ...

Application of Goodman's theory

Goodman's argument was compelling to educators as a way of thinking about beginning reading and literacy more broadly. This led to the idea that reading and writing were ideas that should be considered as wholes, learned by experience and exposure more than analysis and didactic instruction. This largely accounts for the focus on time spent reading, especially independent reading. Many classrooms (whole language or otherwise) include silent reading time, sometimes called DEAR ("Drop Everything And Read") time or SSR (sustained silent reading). Some versions of this independent reading time include a structured role for the teacher, especially Reader's Workshop. Despite the popularity of the extension of Chomsky's linguistic ideas to literacy, neurological and experimental research has shown that reading, unlike language, is not a pre-programmed human skill. It must be learned. Dr. Sally Shaywitz, a neurologist at Yale University, is credited with much of the research on the neurological structures of reading. Sustained silent reading (SSR) is a form of school-based recreational reading, or free voluntary reading, where students read silently in a designated time period every day in school. ... Sustained silent reading (SSR) is a form of school-based recreational reading, or free voluntary reading, where students read silently in a designated time period every day in school . ... “Yale” redirects here. ...

Contrasts with phonics

Because of this holistic emphasis, whole language is contrasted with skill-based areas of instruction, especially phonics. Phonics is a commonly-used technique for teaching students to read. Phonics instruction tends to emphasize attention to the individual components of words, for example, the phonemes /k/, /a/, and /t/ are represented by the graphemes c, a, and t. Because they de-emphasize the individual parts of learning, tending to focus on the larger context, whole language proponents do not favor some types of phonics instruction. Interestingly, some whole language advocates state that they do teach, and believe in, phonics, especially a type of phonics known as embedded phonics. In embedded phonics, letters are taught during other lessons focused on meaning and the phonics component is considered a "minilesson." Instruction in embedded phonics typically emphasizes the consonants and the short vowels, as well as letter combinations called rimes or phonograms. The use of this embedded phonics model is called a "whole-part-whole" approach because, consistent with holistic thinking, students read the text for meaning first (whole), then examine some features of the phonics system (part) and finally use their new knowledge to read stories (whole). Reading Recovery is a program that uses a whole language approach with struggling readers. For the study of sounds and speech sounds, see Acoustics and Phonetics. ... In spoken language, a phoneme is a basic, theoretical unit of sound that can distinguish words (i. ... A grapheme designates the atomic unit in written language. ... See also consonance in music. ... In linguistics, vowel length is the perceived duration of a vowel sound. ... The word rime has several meanings in English: For various forms of frost, see rime (frost). ... Manufacturers put records inside protective and decorative cardboard jackets and an inner paper sleeve to protect the grooves from dust and scratches. ...

The contrast with skills-based approaches to reading also led to an approach to spelling called "invented spelling" or "inventive spelling." This generated considerable controversy in the public domain (see more discussion of controversies in the subsequent section) because parents, as well as some educators, were concerned that their children were not learning to spell well. Many whole language advocates argued that children went through stages of spelling development and that it was important to appreciate students' attempts to make meaning rather than harp on little mistakes. Popularly, invented spelling has been vilified by some, although little research has been done about the consequences of this shift away from spelling. Inventive, or invented, spelling is the non-conventional spelling of a word created by a novice reader or writer. ...


Whole language remains very popular is some parts of the United States and other countries, but its use has tended to wane over the past few years.

Rise of Whole Language and skepticism

After its introduction by Goodman, whole language rose in popularity dramatically. It became a major educational paradigm of the late 1980s and the 1990s. Despite its popularity during this period, educators who believed that skill instruction was important for students' learning and some researchers in education were skeptical of whole language claims and said so loudly. Whether it was associated with whole language or not, the 1990s saw statistically-significant declines in student achievement nationwide on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Much of the blame for these declines was pinned on whole language. Throughout the 1990s and into the 2000s, whole language skeptics generated considerable research that cast considerable doubt on features of whole language that de-emphasized skills, especially in phonics. The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), also known as the Nations Report Card, is the only nationally representative and continuing assessment of what Americas students know and can do in various subject areas. ...

Efforts to end the debate

Controversy led to several attempts to catalog research on the efficacy of phonics and whole language. Congress commissioned reading expert Marilyn Jager Adams to write a definitive book on the topic. She determined that phonics was important but suggested that some elements of the whole language approach were helpful.[5] Two large scale efforts, In 1998 by the National Research Council's Commission on Preventing Reading Difficulties in Young Children[6] and in 2000 by the National Reading Panel,[7] cataloged the most important elements of a reading program. While proponents of whole lanaguage find the latter to be controversial, both panels found that phonics instruction of varying kinds, especially analytic and synthetic phonics, contributed positively to students' ability to read. Both panels also found that embedded phonics and no phonics contributed to lower rates of achievement for most populations of students. Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams was born on December 14, 1948. ... -1... From the National Reading Panel About section of their homepage: In 1997, Congress asked the Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, to convene a national panel to assess the effectiveness of...

The State of the Debate

Despite these results, many whole language advocates continue to argue that their approach, including embedded phonics, has been shown to improve student achievement. Whole language advocates sometimes criticize advocates of skill instruction as "reductionist" and describe the use of phonics as "word calling" because it does not involve the use of meaning. The National Reading Panel is criticized especially harshly by some in the whole language community for failing to include qualitative research designs that showed benefits for embedded phonics (the panel only considered experiments and quasi-experiments). Descartes held that non-human animals could be reductively explained as automata — De homines 1622. ... A field experiment applies the scientific method to experimentally examine an intervention in the real world rather than in the laboratory. ... Experimental research designs are used for the controlled testing of causal processes. ...

Common Ground (Possibly)

Widely agreed value of some whole language constructs

While rancor continues, much of whole language's emphasis on quality literature, cultural diversity, and reading in groups and to students is widely supported by the educational community. The importance of motivation, long a central focus of whole language approaches, has gained more attention in the broader educational community in the last few years. Prominent critic of whole language Louisa Cook Moats has argued, however, that the foci on quality literature, diversity, reading groups, and motivation are not the sole property of whole language.[8] She, and others, contend these components of instruction are supported by those who favor phonics as well. This does not cite its references or sources. ...

Balanced Literacy

More recently, "balanced literacy" has been suggested as an integrative approach, taking the best elements of both whole language and phonics, something advocated by Adams in 1990. The New York Public School system has adopted balanced literacy as its literacy curriculum. Despite the attempts to find some common ground here, some critics of whole language have suggested that "balanced literacy" is just the disingenuous recasting of the very same whole language with obfuscating new terminology. Equally vociferously, the whole language advocates have railed against the National Reading Panel. Allington went so far as to use the term "big brother" to describe the government's role in the reading debate.[9] The New York City Department of Education is a department of the city of New York which runs almost all of the citys public schools. ...

Despite the absence of closure on these issues, emphasis on outcomes arising from No Child Left Behind has brought a resurgence of interest in phonics. Whole language has lost some influence in the 2000s. Signing ceremony at Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Ohio. ...

Thinkers in this area

Prominent proponents of whole language include Kenneth Goodman, Frank Smith, Regie Routman, Mary Poplin (holism), and Richard Allington. Widely-known whole language detractors include Marilyn Jager Adams, Louisa Cook Moats, Reid Lyon, James Kauffman, Phillip Gough, Keith Stanovich, Diane McGuinness, and Jeanne Chall. Dr. Marilyn Jager Adams was born on December 14, 1948. ... This article does not cite any references or sources. ...

Comparison with math instruction

The concept of whole language has been linked with reform mathematics approaches, as well as other standards for education reform in science and history. These similarly emphasize global understanding and de-emphasize skills instruction, as has been noted by critics.[10] Proponents have responded vociferously to such charges.[11] These instructional approaches are linked by a holistic epistemology and constructivist theory of learning, as described above. Standards-based mathematics is one name for a reform methods of mathematics instruction, usually based on recommendations published in 1989 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics [10] (NCTM). ... Whole language describes a literacy instructional philosophy which emphasizes that children should focus on meaning and moderates skill instruction. ...

See also

Decodable text is a term used to describe a particular method of reading instruction. ... Dick and Jane were the main characters in popular basal readers written by Zerna Sharp that were used to teach children to read during the 1930s through the 1960s. ... Direct Instruction (DI) is an instructional design and teaching methodology originally developed by Siegfried Engelmann and the late Wesley C. Becker of the University of Oregon. ... Please wikify (format) this article as suggested in the Guide to layout and the Manual of Style. ... For the study of sounds and speech sounds, see Acoustics and Phonetics. ... There were basically two different common methods of teaching reading. ... In the often contentious world of beginning reading education, marked by the sharply differing opinions of advocates of intensive phonics instruction and those who support the whole language approach, Reading Recovery (r) appears to be fairly non-controversial. ... Writing process is a pedagogical term from the 1990s to describe the life cycle of written works in a way that encourages composition students to see writing as an ongoing process from conception to birth. ...


  1. ^ http://exchanges.state.gov/forum/vols/vol34/no2/p28.htm
  2. ^ http://www.ebooks.com/ebooks/book_display.asp?IID=242691
  3. ^ Goodman, K. (1967). Reading: A psycholinguistic guessing game. Journal of the Reading Specialist, 6, 126-135.
  4. ^ Pressley, M. (2006). Reading instruction that works: The case for balanced teaching. New York: The Guilford Press
  5. ^ Adams, M. J. (1990). Beginning to Read: Thinking and Learning about Print. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  6. ^ Snow, C. E., Burns, M. S., & Griffin, P. (1998). Preventing reading difficulties in young children. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
  7. ^ National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. (2000). Report of the National Reading Panel. Teaching children to read: an evidence-based assessment of the scientific research literature on reading and its implications for reading instruction: Reports of the subgroups (NIH Publication No. 00-4754). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.
  8. ^ Moats, L. C. (2000). Whole language lives on: The illusion of “Balanced Reading” instruction. Washington, DC: Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.
  9. ^ Allington, R. (2002). Big Brother and the national reading curriculum: How ideology trumped evidence. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
  10. ^ Cheney, L. V. (1997). The latest education disaster: Whole Math. The Weekly Standard
  11. ^ Chait, J. (1999). Lynne Cheney, Policy Assassin. The American Prospect, 10(43).

External links

  Results from FactBites:
Philosophy of language - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2688 words)
Philosophy of language is the branch of philosophy that studies language.
The philosophy of language was so pervasive that for a time, in analytic philosophy circles, philosophy as a whole was understood to be a matter of mere philosophy of language.
Literary theory is a discipline that overlaps with the philosophy of language.
Whole language - definition of Whole language in Encyclopedia (259 words)
The whole language movement is an attempt to improve the teaching of reading in the public schools.
According to whole language philosophy, language should not be separated into component skills, but rather experienced as an integrated system of communication.
Whole language has been characterized as encouraging children to guess at the pronunciation of words rather than focusing on phonics or memorization.
  More results at FactBites »



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