Re: phonics and/or whole language (was Schmidt and Klonsky)
- Subject: Re: phonics and/or whole language (was Schmidt and Klonsky)
- From: deborah gilman <dgilman@UIUC.EDU>
- Date: Sat, 24 Jun 2000 21:23:57 -0500
- In-reply-to: <007101bfde47$37c40220$a563173f@BonnieBlustein>
- Reply-to: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
- Sender: Assessment Reform Network Mailing List <ARN-L@LISTS.CUA.EDU>
I didn't say something important earlier... PHONICS are an integral
part of whole language. Anyone who teaches with a whole language
philosophy, or advocates it from their research, such as Marie Clay
and Don Holdaway (the grandparents of the whole language philosophy),
will gently and carefully explain that phonics are a major part of
this instructional model. It is just presented in a more integrated,
interdisciplinary and naturalistic manner than a more traditional
phonics program. But, time and time again, people will say that
whole language does not cover phonics... maybe because they have not
seen whole language, maybe because someone has told them this, or
maybe because they do not understand phonics enough to understand its
many faces.... but what ever the reason, it is a most often
misunderstood issue of whole language philosophy.
There are many books and articles in the reading research journals
and educational bookstores which help us understand this philosophy.
Anything by Don Holdaway is excellent. Regie Routman, Frank Smilth,
Ken and Yetta Goodman, and Donald Graves are just a few people I
might say are good at explaining this philosophy. Constance Weaver,
at Western Michigan University, has a couple of superior texts which
are pretty extensive in their explanations of various philosophies in
comparison to "whole language" philosophy...
I believe that this "debate" is present in all areas of education...
I might call it something like, departmentalization vs.
interdisciplinary, or traditional vs. non-traditional... It might
include such conflicts such as investigative/inquiry vs. directed,
collaborative vs. solitary, homework skills sheets vs. group
discussion and or projects... as well as many more curricular and
instructional "debated" models and philosophies.
It is not as simplistic a "debate" as many people, especially
non-educator and government officials would like to make it. It has
deep-rooted and somewhat rhizomatic properties which can not be seen
from "above ground" or superficially.
I hope this is helpful to you.
Has anyone reflected much on why the reading debate gets polarized into
phonics "versus" whole language? My mom was a reading specialist for
decades, and she believes that it's self-evident that students learning
English need both (maybe it's different in Spanish, which is much more
phonetic). English is not simply phonetic, so kids need to learn a certain
vocabulary of "sight words" but it would be ridiculous to have them memorize
every word as a sight word (without using phonics as a decoding device) so
they need phonics too, and they need to be able to use context + phonics to
decode words they are encountering for the first time.
I am not an expert, but I wonder how anyone could actually teach "pure" one
or the other (I gather that phonics folks have long lists of "exceptions"
which are basically sight words). And I wonder even more how and why the
debate got so sharply polarized.
Is it because of the prevailing working philosophy we've all absorbed, which
leads us constantly into mistakes that are either mechanical or idealistic?
(That is, would a healthy dose of good dialectical materialism help?)
Or because "phonics" and "whole language" are basically flags for opposing
social (or political) movements and the debate has little to do, really,
Or some of each, and if so, what's the relation?
To get beyond this I think we need to say something more than "we need both"
(as my mother does) and try to get to the -relationship- between phonics and
whole-language. (But I don't know the field well enough to guess what)
----- Original Message -----
From: deborah gilman <dgilman@UIUC.EDU>
Sent: Saturday, June 24, 2000 12:41 PM
Subject: Re: Schmidt and Klonsky
> I have been a teacher in Florida since 1981. When I left on
> leave of absence to come to the University of Illinois, there were
> only a few schools, principals, districts who were even considering a
> "whole language" philosophy. I used a holistic curriculum and
> instructional approach and am considered by my more conservative
> peers as, "crazy". Most of my teacher peers have been highly aware
> of the test scores... it is mentioned quite a lot in our school
> districts. The universities may be advocates of whole language, or
> at least of a similar type of philosophy, and of investigative
> math... but it is not something I see commonly practiced in our
> schools. Phonics are elevated... and you do not use the term "whole
> language" without getting sneers!
> The truth is, that the whole language philosophy has not been
> embraced by the majority of educators in the US. Most educators have
> not tried much of the instruction because much of it takes a good
> deal of self confidence. There are many programs with this
> philosophy out among the Florida school districts, and some teachers
> do try teaching this way for a bit. Some continue... and some are
> not comfortable and leave... especially if they are hearing enough
> about helping their students receive higher test scores. In other
> words, you need support for such programs to continue and develop and
> this is just not the trend.
> A very close friend of mine is a curriculum specialist in
> Florida. She has been doing an excellent job of keeping balance in
> our more conservative (some would say, more traditional, text book
> driven) structure. Allowing those of us who are using less directed
> methodology to pursue this direction. It is a shaky support, though,
> because she is made aware of the standardized test results at every
> curriculum meeting in the county! It is no wonder that she mentioned
> a program our system has adopted which uses the Dolch words as a
> base... so that our students may have success on their test! Now,
> the program is more holistic in it's approach, but it is still using
> research from 1949 on commonly used words, and it is a program which
> came from our need to better test scores.. or as my friend says, help
> our students attain success. No, I am not swayed by arguments that
> "teaching to the test" is not the biggest issue we have in education
> presently. Not when every other word out of my teacher peers mouth
> refer to the test. THE TEST. Like it is some living, breathing,
> Another scary thing is, most teachers feel that they are
> having a great deal of success teaching these programs which are
> usually taught separately from one another. There is little to no
> transdisciplinary curriculum and instruction. So, much of the
> research of the last fifty or so years which tells us how learning
> occurs or how individuals of various cultural backgrounds will fair
> on such 'normed" tests, is being ignored.
> Also, there isn't time, many teachers have told me, to do
> this type of instruction, when they are having to teach skills and
> content of the test. AND, many teachers are frustrated when they try
> to go outside the "box". I would say that we are in need of stronger
> teacher leaders who are able to withstand these pressures. I am
> going back into the school I love, the district I put much effort
> into, feeling like there might be some kind of struggle ahead. No, I
> see this as some political machine which is forcing many of us to
> teach in ways we have been taught not to. I am going back and will
> teach as I believe, for the good of my students and for their
> parents... I will use the content that I am forced to use, but I will
> try to do it in a meaningful way... I feel that Florida had so many
> wonderful teachers and school systems... so much wonderfulness which
> the "grading" criteria missed. So many successful students which
> "norm" values completely ignore. I hope to help make the public
> aware of this wonderfulness. That is why I joined Fair Test.
> Deb Gilman
> Graduate Student, Curriculum and Instruction
> College of Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
> To unsubscribe from the ARN-L list, send command SIGNOFF ARN-L
> to LISTSERV@LISTS.CUA.EDU.
To unsubscribe from the ARN-L list, send command SIGNOFF ARN-L
Graduate Student, Curriculum and Instruction
College of Education, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
To unsubscribe from the ARN-L list, send command SIGNOFF ARN-L
Post a Message to arn-l: