Friday, February 11, 2011

Reading Instruction Today: A Little Bit of This and That

Several decades ago “Whole Language”, a philosophy of teaching, came onto the reading education scene. Advocates within this trend favored a more holistic approach to teaching reading. That is, whole language and authentic literature based instruction.

At the outset there was confusion about what the “Whole Language” method or philosophy advocated. Teachers who had been teaching reading in a “traditional” fashion misinterpreted the philosophy and falsely concluded direct teaching of phonics was unnatural and ineffective – believing children should be taught whole words in the context of sentences. Many teachers threw phonics out the window with the dish water. The reality is, proponents of the “Whole Language” camp never said stop teaching phonics i.e. vowel sounds, vowel digraphs and consonant clusters – components of words. To the contrary, what they said was they favored analytic phonics –analyze the whole word, then look at its parts. They believed this was a more natural approach to phonics instruction. Rather than, putting letter sounds together, synthesizing it parts, vowels and consonants, into to a whole word – synthetic phonics.

The argument of how to effectively introduce and teach reading has come full circle since the 1950's. Here in 2011 we again are back to teaching the way we had at the turn of the century. Specifically, using basal readers, a collection of reading selections, worksheets and supplementary materials; where vocabulary is controlled and the pictures reflect and convey the meaning of the text or story – accompanied by direct phonics instruction at each grade level. Also know as, synthetic phonics instruction or the “Traditional” way of teaching reading

Today, more than a century has gone by. Direct phonics instructions reigns again, while aspects of the “Whole Language” philosophy remain. If you step into an elementary classroom today, while the daily reading lesson is taking place, you will most likely find teachers using leveled readers (basal readers) workbook pages, while concurrently incorporating authentic forms of children’s literature – books written by professional authors to engage and entertain children.

1 comment:

Peggy said...

In my combined first and second grade there was a literature study for the first semester, using basal readers.. All second graders took part, and every year a few first graders were included who were beyond the beginning reading programs. People often asked why basal readers were used with the controlled vocabulary that eliminated the style of the author – and call it a literature study. Well, first of all, the fiction, non-fiction, plays, and poems in the basal series that were used were excellent.1 A few, such as poems, did not have a controlled vocabulary. But even those that did were well-written in an interesting manner. We talked about the style of the author in the afternoons when literature was read to them, sometimes comparing a current piece with a story in a basal reader. But the major reason might well be that keeping track of so many different books for a semester might not be manageable. Also, in those beginning years there wasn’t much money for new books, prohibiting the collection of multiple copies of various pieces of literature. The final reason, but not the least important, is that although many children could read various children’s literature comfortably, some could not, usually because of perceptual problems.

The program included questions that combined components of literature with cognitive processes. Children interacted orally with a peer and then a large group, sandwiched between reading and writing at their own ability level. My hope was that the knowledge gained transferred into each child’s own reading in selected books of interest.
Learn more about this literature study and how to design your own, in my book, Early Childhood Programs: Opportunities for Academic, Cognitive, and Personal Success. Included is a web site where programs and activities can be downloaded for use in a classroom. Also, see 7 reviews on
1. Early, Margaret, Senior Author. 1979. “The World of Giants and Monsters”, People and Places, 7-57. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. (It has long been out of print but there are used book stores on the web that still carry the series.)