In a recent
discussion about whole language versus phonics on the NIFL-ESL listserv,
Terry Pruett-Said, an ESL instructor in Detroit, Michigan, made the following remarks,
which she gave permission to share with the readers of the ESL MiniConference Online.
One of the problems with this issue, as I
discovered while trying do some
research on Whole Language, was that the term
gets defined differently by different people and
groups. In its purest sense, Whole language simply means
what it says--that all aspects of language
should be taught and learned.
However, after that the waters of Whole language
start to become murky because obviously this is a very broad
definition. And as is often the case
in education we have a tendancy to swing from
one extreme to another. And there are teachers and
other proponents out there of
Whole Language who insist that nothing bottom-up like phonics
should be taught.
course, was in reaction to teaching that was so
bottom-up that students never got to see reading and other language
structure in any kind of authentic context. I'd like to share a personal
story. When one learner I know started
school they had a difficult time with reading.
Most teachers just said the student would grow into it.
But another teacher said he might have a learning
disability. As I worked with the student, it seemed
to me they were having difficulty "sounding out words." So I did a
fairly short and easy and pretty general phonics lesson, and the learner was
amazed that there was a relationship between the letters and the actual
sound they make. Somehow
this had been missed in school.
Now I know at least
one of the student's teachers did
do some phonics work in her class as part of the
Whole language, but without direct
instruction this learner had missed that fundamental
concept. After they caught on
to that fundamental concept, reading became much
easier for for them as they discovered they could sound something out, and it
would be a real word that they had heard before.
Now maybe this student would have
caught on, but by then
they might have fallen further behind. After that,
the learner seemed to have
improved in reading fairly quickly and with much
less stress. I've also had
ESL students thank me for straighforward phonics
lessons, as they said it
made everything clearer. Do I always teach a
phonics lesson in my ESL
classes? No, it just depends upon the needs of
class. Some students
don't need it.
And maybe that's the point--as
students have different
learning styles they may have different ways of
learning reading and so it
would seem we shouldn't be doing one thing and
another. Yes, one could
say that Whole Language subsumes all other
aspects. BUT the reality is that
many practitioners are not defining Whole
Language in that all-inclusive
2002 ESL MiniConference Online