Fallacies of “Whole Language”

Whole Foods- great.

Whole Wheat- for some, great.

Whole Language (as a reading strategy for kids with dyslexia)- sounds good, right? If it’s “whole” it must be good.


Well-done post from Dyslexia Training Institute For Those with Dyslexia, Whole Language is a Coping Mechanism, Not a Strategy

The moral of the story is that science has shown time and again that explicitness is the key to teaching reading. Our brain was not intended to decipher print but it has developed the capacity to learn when explicitly shown how to do something – like read. We know that students with dyslexia need a little more help strengthening the reading system and guessing is not a strategy it is a coping mechanism! This graphic does nothing more than rob our children the opportunity to learn how English is structured, how to interrogate their language and learn to decode unfamiliar words in order to be independent readers and spellers.

About Sanford

Learning Disabilities specialist and Educational Consultant
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5 Responses to Fallacies of “Whole Language”

  1. Richard says:

    “Well, if we are looking at the picture, how is that actually teaching reading? It is actually teaching guessing based on the picture. That isn’t reading and it certainly is not decoding. It certainly isn’t creating reading independence.”

    First of all, that paragraph undermines their credibility, it’s poorly written.

    Who is “we?” The teacher or the student?

    Looking at a picture isn’t teaching reading; it’s a useful way for a struggling reader to get some context.

    I think their post sounds like another group of rigid phonics Nazis who are defending a set of ideas that they have a huge amount invested in.

    Reading is a means, not an end. Their entire post sets reading and reading independence up as ends in themselves.

    Why would anyone want to learn to read let alone struggle to learn to read unless they wanted to read something? The “something” is the end, not the reading.

    People don’t read books to exercise their decoding skills, they read books to enjoy the thoughts of authors. Written language, and the ability to navigate it, is the means to that end.

  2. Sanford says:

    Richard. I had a very different reaction obviously. I have such little tolerance for the state of teacher education at the university level. They’re still teaching guessing as a primary strategy. I think her writing does a good job of poking holes where needed.

    I agree that looking at pictures is actually a good thing. It’s just, in the context of how teachers are taught to teach, not teaching reading. It’s teaching picture interpretation.

    Your point of reading being a means to an end is well taken and I agree. However from my experience, teaching systematic code work (phonics, and morphology) is a primary tool that gets you to a better position of having reading be a means to an end.

    So, I don’t think her issue, or mine frankly, is decoding being the end game. Certainly not. It gives independence and allows thought and interpretation and interest to be freed up.

    But, it’s not either or situation. It’s clear also that choosing interesting literature in areas of interest is vital. I wish there were more pictures , cartoons, graphics and the like in books.

  3. Steffanie says:

    I’ve used those very same strategies to SUPPORT phonics instruction. I’ve also seen them used in Reading-Recovery based programs, which integrate phonics and whole language strategies. In the words of Pat Cunningham, no one method of reading can reach ALL learners, so in my experience mutlimethod, multilevel instruction is most effective, including for dyslexic and other readers with LD’s.

  4. Richard says:

    Right on Stephanie.

  5. Looking at the picture in beginning readers is a way to access semantic meaning. Teaching students to then check the first letter of the word (Cross checking behavior) is not guessing but rather, being strategic.

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