Thursday, August 04, 2005

A little sassy discourse.....

Provocative blogger Prof. Plum always gets me going as I read his sassy, relentlessly pointed posts... of course, that's his intention! I do love a good sassy post!

Anyway, he inspired me with his rant about the evils of whole language and ed schools who teach it.

He said," Education students in my undergraduate and graduate classes had already taken lots of “literacy” courses from my whole language colleagues. They were nice folks, these students, and they seemed intelligent enough–until you asked them questions such as, “You are a strong advocate of using whole language to teach reading. Of course, there are other ways, older ways of doing it, that involve systematic instruction on phonics–the sounds that go with the letters. Do you have any experimental research showing that kids learn to read better with whole language than they do when you teach them phonics?” Students were never able to cite any research. [Obviously, their whole language professors had not bothered to assign any such readings.] In fact, they were not interested in any research. [They had been trained to be both ignorant and arrogant.] They just knew that the bizarre theory of whole language (reading is a “psycholinguistic guessing game”) was sound and that the teaching methods of whole language were the best (“best practices”)."

The whole lang. vs. phonics-based instruction argument is old news here. No school in our county or any county in our vicinity tolerates a whole language only curriculum. Yes, some schools remain focused on ALSO providing a literature based program, but NO ONE forgoes phonics anymore.

Do they do phonics well? That's the question. Have they committed to a research based form of direct instruction? It seems to me that's where counties are falling down now.

Even if the ed schools are still professing the virtues of whole language on it's own, most school systems don't tolerate that.

Frankly, whole language at the expense of teaching explicit phonics is passe`. The state has mandated phonics based assessments for the primary grades to use (a test, I might add that was created by a woman who worked in my school during the tail end of the whole language phase), and now, THAT IS THAT.

BTW, parents had alot to do with the county making the switch. But mostly, it was the research. Kids just weren't learning to read well without the phonemic instruction. My 17 year old daughter still suffers some of the ill effects (guessing a word based on context and the first few sounds), but she is bright enough to leave that strategy behind and tackle the big AP English word phonemically....

We are doing better by our students now. I think this needs to be acknowledged. Of course, it ultimately depends on how our reading scores improve over the next few years.

Maybe then the word literacy won't have a negative connotation. (True literacy is a good thing.) Inviting kids into the joyful world of great children's literature is a good thing. It does not have to be either/ or, does it?


Fred said...

I have seen a positive shift here in my district concerning reading iniitives. Reading was only emphasized in English classes, and it was much too technical.

Nowadays, every class emphasizes reading in short spurts, so the student doesn't get a massive dose of it in only one area. And, it allows for readings that the student enjoys, not only the required books.

We've seen improvement in our test scores in the past few years. Maybe we're onto something.

Anonymous said...

could you post some links to what you think is the best research on this area as well as what the best research based reading programs? I would be very interested in any study that randomly assigned studets to different programs and then tracked them over many years.