Whole Language

This term became a bad word in the late 1980’s. The public was fed the false myth that Whole Language teachers did not teach phonics but had some airy-fairy way of teaching reading that was to blame for all the educational failures in the world. The myth contended that if students only knew enough phonics, all our reading problems would be solved. It hasn’t worked out. The failing readers I see are hooked on phonics, in one way or another, making it impossible to read well.
In its simplicity, Whole Language means teaching whole, meaningful ideas to whole children, not breaking words and concepts into parts and reconstructing them.


The difference in Whole Language classrooms is seen most sharply in how reading is taught. The Whole Language teacher recognizes that reading and writing are best learned naturally, in the course of doing other things. Decision-making about how best to implement prescribed curriculum rests with teachers, not with pre-packaged phonics programs. It honors the creative skills and professional training of teachers.

The issue becomes, “Who is in control of the classroom?” Is it teachers and students, or program developers from a publishing company? In Whole Language classrooms, curriculum and teaching materials fit the uniquely different levels of maturation of children in each classroom rather than everyone being put through canned programs created by someone far removed from the situation. Phonics is taught extensively, all day long, but without the need for expensive workbooks and graded readers.

We need a return to the beliefs behind whole language which is best defined as “an attitude of mind that gives shape to a classroom.” It is not a teaching method but is eclectic, making use of many methods to educate whole children who have a great variety of different needs.

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