Whole Language

A Misunderstood Concept?

“Somewhere along the line, whole language became synonymous with ‘not teaching,’ which is very far from what whole language is all about,” says Amy Seely Flint, president-elect of the National Council of Teachers of English “Whole Language Umbrella,” one of the few remaining groups devoted to this concept. She explains that whole language advocates approach reading and literacy in a holistic way, looking at the big picture, rather than breaking things down into bite-size pieces.

“Teachers spend a lot of time taking a close look at what children are doing with the text that they have, and giving them a range of strategies to deal with new words,” she says.

These include:

• letter-sound relationships,
• the intended meaning of the words or sentences,
• syntax or the structure of the language, and
• the purpose of the text.

“A manual for a VCR, for example, is very different from a novel, and involves a different mindset,” Flint says. Whole language advocates believe in having all of these approaches working simultaneously, so that when children come to words they don’t know, they have access to several cueing systems.

In the midst of the reading wars, parents are left to wonder:

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