Whole language

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Whole language describes a literacy philosophy which emphasizes that children should focus on meaning and strategy instruction. It is often contrasted with phonics-based methods of teaching reading and writing which emphasize instruction for decoding and spelling. However, from whole language practitioners' perspective this view is erroneous and sets up a false dichotomy. Whole language practitioners teach to develop a knowledge of language including the graphophonic, syntactic, semantic and pragmatic aspects of language. Within a whole language perspective, language is treated as a complete meaning-making system, the parts of which function in relational ways. It has drawn criticism by those who advocate "back to basics" pedagogy or reading instruction because this whole language is based on a limited body of scientific research. [1].



Whole language is an educational philosophy that is complex to describe, particularly because it is informed by multiple research fields including but not limited to education, linguistics, psychology, sociology, and anthropology. Several strands run through most descriptions of whole language:

  • focus on making meaning in reading and expressing meaning in writing;
  • constructivist approaches to knowledge creation, emphasizing students' interpretations of text and free expression of ideas in writing (often through daily journal entries).
  • emphasis on high-quality and culturally-diverse literature;
  • integrating literacy into other areas of the curriculum, especially math, science, and social studies;
  • frequent reading
  • reading and writing for real purposes;
  • focus on motivational aspects of literacy, emphasizing the love of books and engaging reading materials;
  • meaning-centered whole to part to whole instruction where phonics are taught contextually in "embedded" phonics (different from synthetic or analytic phonics); and
  • emphasis on using and understanding the meaning making role of phonics, grammar, spelling, capitalization and punctuation in diverse social contexts.

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