Monday, March 19, 2007

I hate whole language

Today, one of my 1st graders homework assignments was to write her spelling words four times each.

Before she writes them, I insist that she reads them to me first, so I know that she can read them, and isn't just memorizing letter combinations.

I point to the first word [say].

"say", she repeats back to me

Great, I think. She has it.

I point to the next word [pay], thinking it should be easy as well.

"near" she says.

I realize that she is going from memory by now, since the word "near" is word number 3 on her list.

"near??? try again" I say, "sound it out this time."

"pppppppp ...... aaaaaaaaa ....... yyyyyyyy(not the vowel sound)... near."

"Skye, the word is not near... sound it out again, and this time put the sounds together"

"OK, daddy. ppppppppp... aaaaaaaaaa... yyyyyyyyyy........ ppppp... aaaaaa... yyyyy... pair."

After a few seconds of this, I start to feel sorry for her, as well as feel a little frustrated, so I decide to help her out a bit.

"'ay', makes an "ay" sound... like in the word 'say'. What sound does an 'a' 'y' make?"

"ay" she yells.

"Excellent!"

I point to the "p" while covering up the "ay".

"pppppp" she says hesitantly.

I point to the "ay"

"ay" she says.

"OK, put them together this time."

She tries again... "pppppp ay... p ay... pay"

"Awesome!" I exclaim, "lets do another one."

I decide to skip the word [near] and point to word #4 [May].

"Number three is near" she says with confidence and a big smile on her cute little face.

Did I mention how much I hate whole language?

25 comments:

redkudu said...

Gah. Whole language is a plague. I get the poor survivors at my level, and we can't even begin to talk about the beauty of, say, Bradbury's imagery because although they can recognize the words, they have no concept of what they mean when strung together in a sentence. Especially if it's a long sentence. Too many of them just give up.

Jim said...

so is there a reading instruction method that clicks in perfectly for ALL kids?

or is each method going to click with some kids and miss with others?

Parentalcation said...

Jim,

yes

no

Jim said...

fair enough.

thanks for leaving the light off ;)

Parentalcation said...

Here is how I look at it.

The written english language and our alphabet is a set of symbols that either by themselves or in combination represent phonemes (chuncks of sounds).

These phonemes in combinations form words which in the proper syntax form ideas, sentences and thoughts.

Our written language, though a bit complicated, is not a symbolic language... i.e. symbols do not represent objects or ideas by themselves.

The secret to reading relies on being able to quickly (almost subconciously) decode these letter combinations and to identify them with the spoken word (concept).

Instead of using simple words to begin to teach the rules of our phonetic alphabet, whole language attempts to bypass the decoding aspect of reading. By having kids sight read, kids are confused. Sight reading turns words into entirely new symbols that represent ideas.

Of course there is a limit to how many and how complex of words kids can remember. Eventually, fluent decoding of letter combinations is going to be required to read more complex text.

Most kids will eventually pick up on a lot of the phonetic rules, but many kids (including my daughter), get confused.

For the last year she has been taught a combination of one letter sounds along with sight reading.

She has learned to memorize stories to pass the test. Instead of decoding words, she has been taught to look at pictures to guess the words. She has been taught that she should remember most of the words by sight that she reads. She has no mastered the amount of phonetic sounds that she should of been taught.

I now have to go through and break her of her bad habits and teach her letter combinations and their sounds.

If I she read the following sentence:

The boy looked at the field.

(and there was a picture of a field and a boy on the page)

She would probably read:

The boy looked at the farm.

Of course it is close, but there won't always be pictures to use as context. The sentence in itself doesnt help her discriminate between the two words. The first letter is the same, so her very basic letter sounds in combination with all the other "methods" she uses won't get her to the right word.

It seems to me that the most effective way to teach a phonetic language would be to teach the rules, syntax and letter combinations that make the language up.

Use the easy words as a starting point. Instead of teaching that the word "boy" means boy, teach that "boy" is made up of letters that represent sounds that form the word boy.

This way, when she comes across the word "toy" its not chinese to her. She already has learned that "oy" makes the "oi" sound, and she knows that "t" makes a "ttt" sound. She can use this knowledge to learn the rules which will help her eventually decode the words oyster, soya, ahoy, etc...

Ryan said...

These phonemes in combinations form words which in the proper syntax form ideas

Sight reading turns words into entirely new symbols that represent ideas.

The difference being.....?

Jim said...

I can't disagree with your opinion. Although being non-pedagogic, I admit that I tend to rely on what the pedagogic research says.

But I do think there is a universally accepted truth: fluency and literacy go hand-in-hand. As far as which should come first, fluency seems to be the logical choice. Which would require some form of 'phonics' component in all early reading instruction.

Parentalcation said...

These phonemes in combinations form words which in the proper syntax form ideas

Sight reading turns words into entirely new symbols that represent ideas.

The difference being.....?

The difference being that we either have a phonetic alphabet or a contextual alphabet... like hieroglyphics.

If kids get the idea that "words" are the smallest chunck, they will then attempt to memorize the shape of every word and identify it with its concept/idea.

CrypticLife said...

If you'd studied Chinese or Japanese, you'd know the difference. I'll take the example of Japanese, both because it's what I've studied and it has a mix of methods used.

Written Japanese is comprised of three character sets (i.e., alphabets, for lack of a better term).

Hiragana and Katakana are syllabic 56-character sets (with additional optional modifiers). They're sound-based, and if you know the sounds associated with each character you can read them out loud. Japanese spelling with these is so regular that if you can pronounce a word and know these characters, there is essentially no chance you will misspell it. The first week I was exposed to hiragana I wrote every Japanese word I could think of in it, from akiko to yuka (dochi de mo sugoku kawaii'n datta ;))

Japanese have also borrowed roughly 2000 pictographic Chinese characters called Kanji. Remembering these is basically a sight-word proposition. Pronunciation differs depending on other whether the kanji is by itself or one of several making up a word. Because of this, most students cannot read newspapers, even up to the high school level. The Japanese formerly used up to 5000 Kanji, but the government mandated cutting these back. Moreover, reading unfamiliar words is fraught with danger, even if you've heard those words in speech. Reading words you've never heard nor read before is essentially impossible.

If, for example, I wanted to write "chugoku" (China) and "mannaka" (center), the "chu" and the "naka" would be the same character, but the "naka" in "nakayoku" (friendly) would be different.

Whole language would take our current phonetic writing system and artificially use character recognition techniques to memorize the word as a whole. This doesn't work well with character sets where it's the only technique, and where they've been using this method of learning for thousands of years. It sure as heck won't work with a system that wasn't designed for it and would not derive any of the advantages of a pictographic character set.

Parentalcation said...

"But I do think there is a universally accepted truth: fluency and literacy go hand-in-hand. As far as which should come first, fluency seems to be the logical choice. Which would require some form of 'phonics' component in all early reading instruction."

I totally agree, except for the part about "some form" Early reading instruction should be "mostly" phonetic.

Ryan said...

On the subject of whole language, this might interest you.

Anonymous said...

Here's what I don't understand. If the whole-word method teaches children to recognize an entire word by context, then how do they learn to look up new words in the dictionary? How do they learn how to write words that are familiar in spoken language, but which they don't know how to spell?

It seems to me - a non-parent and non-teacher, which in certain circles means I'm not supposed to have an opinion about any of this - that in addition to not working particularly well for reading, whole word would be absolutely useless for writing. Am I missing something?

mobility61 said...

You are missing at least one thing: whole word method and Whole Language are two completely different schools of thought in reading instruction. The whole-word or look-say method does advocate that children memorize sight words; I am no expert on this method so I will stop there because I do not know what else it does, and I will not speak on something I don't fully understand. Whole Language, on the other hand, is not a method. It is a philosophy or belief system of how people learn to read and write based on at least 40 years of research from around the world. It incorporates phonics, fluency, sight words, using context such as picture clues, and every other available part of literacy known, to help kids develop solid reading skills. This I can speak of since I have been basing my reading and writing instruction on Whole Language for all of my 24 years of teaching. What do I love about Whole Language? Probably most of all, its positive outlook on children, and its reliability on my professional judgments on where a child is and what she needs next. My training and research and experience help me constantly evaluate children's reading and writing skills, and best learning method. When a child struggles with applying phonics, I begin with a story or book or short text and break it down into its phonetic parts. The child may have a folder or notebook where she keeps a growing list of phonics skills. When a child is a perfect "word caller" that can read "fluently" but with no comprehension, then her lessons focus on understanding. When a child is an excellent reader, with great skills and fluency and comprehension, then that child might focus on reading non-fiction or writing responses or summaries.

Every child is different, and every child needs different things. I work my tail off on a minute-by-minute, day-by-day, week-by-week basis to serve each child. When I myself was a second grader, I could already read very well, and loved it. Yet my teacher kept me in a phonics workbook. I scored 100's on every phonics test and every spelling test, and yet I was never given differentiated work to challenge me and deepen my ability (unless you count those color-coded SRA kits). Whole Language keeps me focused on children, not on programs that randomly prescribe a set of steps. I know they must be random since every program I have ever met claims to have found the system, and yet they are all different.

What kind of teacher would you want for your child? Would you prefer one who is a critical thinker, with a vast store of knowledge of literacy learning and an ability to use any available resource, who is also a learner that is constantly researching and updating her repertoire; or a teacher who follows a teacher's manual and puts children through a series of lessons prescribed by some publishing company far away? To me that seems like a no-brainer.

eceteacher said...

Whole language practitioners use everything we know about reading and about the child. We know that the most important part about reading is bringing one's intelligence to the process, and we don't define intelligence narrowly. So of course (OF COURSE!) we teach letter sounds, and not just at the beginning of words.

And of course, we look at the pictures and the context and the shape of words and every other doggone thing that helps the reader get smart.

It is the enemies of WL, and some poor teachers who call themselves WL, who've made up all this business about not teaching phonics... now think about it; leaving out phonics would make it Part Language, wouldn't it????

The enemy here is undereducated teachers, ones who don't use all their skills but instead grab hold of one technique (phonics could be the one) and think that will work for everyone. As someone who has taught hundreds of children to read, let me assure you that phonics alone will not bring about literacy, and, worse, it will not help children to love to read.

Parentalcation said...

I responded to the last two comments in a new post.

Anonymous said...

mobility61 wrote a lot of stuff but didn't answer my question. One more try:

When children learn to read with a non-phonics method, how do they learn to sound words out so they can look up new words they hear? How do they write without making constant spelling mistakes? Recognizing words is one thing; reproducing them accurately is another.

Parentalcation said...

anon,

I believe the standard answer is that they will intuitively learn phonetics... i.e. they will figure it out without being taught it phonetically.

According to this website on Whole Language.

"Children will generate many phonics rules from their own reading, writing and experiences with language."

mobility61 said...

anon,
sorry I didn't get specific about writing, but I did respond to this:

"When children learn to read with a non-phonics method, how do they learn to sound words out so they can look up new words they hear?"

Whole Language (as opposed to whole word) is not a method and does include phonics teaching.

As for the rest:
"When children learn to read with a non-phonics method, how do they learn to sound words out so they can look up new words they hear? How do they write without making constant spelling mistakes? Recognizing words is one thing; reproducing them accurately is another. "
I actually teach an incredible amount of phonics and spelling when I teach young children to write. I use a variety of activities and methods to do so, but teaching children to hear the sounds in the words they want to write is the first step. When children do this I can clearly see where the skills are missing and teach to them specifically. I also use a program for spelling called Rebecca Sitton Spelling, although like everything else I modify for each child's needs. Rebeccas Sitton's program focuses on commonly written words that have little or no phonetic patterns and need to be memorized; but at the same time the program delves repititiously into spelling patterns, homophones, pre and suffix endings and other spelling and writing skills.

Hope that clears things up for you.

Anonymous said...

This would be frustrating if it weren't so funny.

I started out by asking about whole word - the method - and mobility61 replied by distinguishing WW from WL, the philosophy, which isn't what I was asking about.

To avoid a repeat of the WW-WL lecture, I then asked about how learning to read with a *non-phonics* method affects the ability to spell and write. Once again mobility61 responded by distinguishing WW from WL, but his/her answer was self-contradictory:

"Whole Language (as opposed to whole word) is not a method and does include phonics teaching."

If it's not a method, then how can it include the teaching of phonics? If it includes teaching - of anything - then it must be at least a method or, more likely, both a method and a philosophy, since there's nothing about the definition of a philosophy that precludes it from having an accompanying method.

Then mobility61 goes on to avoid the question yet again:

"I actually teach an incredible amount of phonics and spelling when I teach young children to write."

Then this doesn't have any relevance to what I asked, because, AGAIN, what I was asking about was teaching that *doesn't* include phonics and how that works when it comes time for kids to write.

This has actually been a very enlightening echange, though probably not in the way mobility61 intended.

Anonymous said...

The National Right to Read website has a review of Rebecca Sitton Spelling, for those of you that are interested.

mobility61 said...

anon,
Parentalcation posted this:
"Instead of using simple words to begin to teach the rules of our phonetic alphabet, whole language attempts to bypass the decoding aspect of reading. By having kids sight read, kids are confused. Sight reading turns words into entirely new symbols that represent ideas."

You responded this:
"Here's what I don't understand. If the whole-word method teaches children to recognize an entire word by context, then how do they learn to look up new words in the dictionary? How do they learn how to write words that are familiar in spoken language, but which they don't know how to spell?

It seems to me - a non-parent and non-teacher, which in certain circles means I'm not supposed to have an opinion about any of this - that in addition to not working particularly well for reading, whole word would be absolutely useless for writing. Am I missing something?"

Then parentalcation responded:
"I believe the standard answer is that they will intuitively learn phonetics... i.e. they will figure it out without being taught it phonetically. "

So I interpreted your response to show you were equating whole language with the whole word approach. If I misinterpreted this, I apologize. My response to simply this part of your post:
"When children learn to read with a non-phonics method, how do they learn to sound words out so they can look up new words they hear?" is that while some children will be able to, many won't. Phonics is part of reading. Did I clear up any confusion?

Anonymous said...

FYI: You're debating WHOLE WORD and not WHOLE LANGUAGE, FYI (what you were doing with your daughter WAS a WHOLE LANGUAGE technique, of using patterns in phonemes to recognize sounds and words):

whole language
a professional movement and theoretical perspective that embodies a set of applied beliefs governing learning and teaching, language development, curriculum, and the social community. Whole language teachers believe that all language systems are interwoven. They avoid the segmentation of language into component parts for specific skill instruction. The use of strategies taught in meaningful contexts is emphasized. Phonics is taught through writing and by focusing on the patterns of language in reading. Assessment focuses on authentic demonstrations of student work. The whole language movement has produced much interest, activity, and controversy and has had a major impact on how the reading education community thinks and talks about instruction.

whole-word methodology
an approach to reading instruction that deals with the learning of words as wholes.

Parentalcation said...

Anon,

Take it up with Mirriam-Webster

Main Entry: whole language
Function: noun
: a method of teaching reading and writing that emphasizes learning whole words and phrases by encountering them in meaningful contexts rather than by phonics exercises.

Or talk to Dictionary.com:

Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1) - Cite This Source
whole language
–noun a method of teaching children to read by using material chosen by the students integrated with writing and communication activities, emphasizing the use and recognition of words in everyday contexts.

—Related forms
whole-language, adjective
Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1)
Based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2006.
American Heritage Dictionary - Cite This Source whole language
n. A method of teaching children to read by emphasizing the use and recognition of words in everyday contexts and books that are not textbooks.

whole'-lan'guage (hōl'lāng'gwĭj) adj.

(Download Now or Buy the Book) The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition
Copyright © 2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company.
Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.
Webster's New Millennium™ Dictionary of English - Cite This Source Main Entry: whole language
Part of Speech: n
Definition: a philosophy of reading and writing instruction that emphasizes interpreting meaning from the context of everyday literature
Example: Whole language is considered the opposite of the phonics method.
Etymology: 1984-89
Usage: whole-language, adj
Note:

Anonymous said...

Mobility61,

When hear statements like yours about Whole Language, I get SO, SO, SO, SO, SO, SO ANGRY. I get angry because I heard teachers spout statements like:

1. Teaching phonics only teaches children "word calling."

2. When I was in school, the teacher only did.....

I get fighting mad because I have seen big headed teachers, who wanted to do their own thing use "whole language" and "progresive" reading instruction as the vehicle for doing whatever the h*ll they wanted to do in the classroom. These were teachers who did not perform any explicit instruction in reading, perform error correction or monitoring. They assigned their kindergarten, first grade, and second grade students lot of "projects" and/or worksheets, while they say on their a*s. They taught the kids gimmicks like "look at the picture to try to figure out what the author is trying to say" instead of looking at the letters in the word to decode for meaning.

Then when the kids got older they would guess at words instead of decoding. The children sometimes would have trouble even in spelling and writing because of the lack of proper reading instruction. Some students are then actually misdiagnosed as DYSLEXIC.

I am sure that you probably are good teacher, but you have some children who come out of college, mistaught that whole language alone will teach kids all they need to know. These same children take that whole language dogma, along with the "hands-on" learning and other "progressive" propaganda rammed down their throats by liberal education professors, out into the classroom and RUIN THE REAL CHILDREN (their students). By the way I call the new teachers straight out of college children because they don't know any better. Many of these people crash and burn. Rightly so. The schools in later times were successful FOR A REASON. THE DESKS WERE IN ROWS FOR A REASON. THE TEACHER WAS STRONG AND AUTHORITARIAN FOR A REASON. SHE TAUGHT PHONICS AND SPELLING AND GRAMMAR FOR A REASON!!!!!

There is a reason why it is WRONG for kids to make up their own spellings for words (invented spelling). There is a reason why it is WRONG for kids to make up their own math fundamentals (New Math).

You see, Mobility, you might be able to Whole language work, but some of these children coming into the classroom now "playing teacher" can't do it.

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