Whole Language Lives On: The Illusion of Balanced Reading Instruction
Thomas B. Fordham Foundation
In this article:
Introduction and summary
What is whole language?
A typical whole-language class
What's wrong with whole language?
The consequences of whole language for teachers and children
Whole language persists
Dedicated to the memory of Jeanne Sternlicht Chall- America's foremost authority on how children learn to read. She taught us to look for the evidence.
Regular readers of this foundation's publications and web site know we believe strongly that schools should utilize "best practices" that are supported by scientific research and should eschew classroom methods that do not work. In no domain of education is that contrast more vivid than in teaching young children to read. No domain has been studied more intensely. None has yielded clearer and more definitive findings about what works and what does not. Yet no domain is more vulnerable to the perpetuation of bad ideas and failed methods.
The problem is that it doesn't work that way. What's going on in many places in the name of "balance" or "consensus" is that the worst practices of whole language are persisting, continuing to inflict boundless harm on young children who need to learn to read. How and why that is happening—and how and why such practices are misguided and harmful—are what this report is about. In its pages, Louisa Cook Moats describes the whole-language approach; shows why it doesn't work and how it has been disproven by careful research; and explains why it nonetheless persists in practice and what should be done about that.
We don't kid ourselves. Rooting out failed methods of reading instruction from U.S. primary classrooms won't be easy. Those roots run deep, perhaps now deeper than ever, considering their new coating of "balance." Yet Dr. Moats persuasively makes the case that this is a task that must be taken on.
We are very grateful that Dr Louisa Moats is in the Advisory Group for the International Foundation for Effective Reading Instruction.