Rainbow over Galileo Lane, Tucson

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Whole Language: Victory Laps

Yetta and I, in recent months, have visited three quite different places where whole language has been going for some time with quite amazing results.

The first was Zaharis School in Mesa Arizona. In a remote part of a very conservative school district Mike  Oliver, the principal has been grooming a faculty over time to apply principles of whole language and make heavy use of literature. When I asked a teacher of second graders, “Are there any non-readers?” She responded, “You of all people should know better than to ask that!” The school serves an important “safety valve function for the district” It keeps a group of parents, who would not be happy with skill oriented instruction, happy. They love the excitement of their children in their rich school experiences. Parents drive their kids miles to attend and the school has a waiting list.
Then shortly later Yetta spoke at the 10th biennial conference of the Guatemalan Reading Conference in Quetzletenango (Xelay) Guatemala. She heard report after report of application of whole language in situations the polar opposite of Mesa. Children of rock crushers and children whose families scavenge the city dumps are enjoying whole language education. Through the work of Steve Barrett, Marcia Mondschein and many others, courageous teachers are developing their own whole language experiences and bringing literacy to many who would not have had access to literacy.                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
Then again we had the privilege of visiting the preschool and elementary school at the University of Puerto Rico in San Juan. Dr. Ruth Saes Vega has been promoting whole language in the school and has just published a book in Spanish entirely by whole language teachers writing about their classrooms. And a new generation of teachers were joyously implementing the concepts of great teaching the book represented. Ruthie also has been taking grad students to a small Mayan village school in Guatemala to work with teachers and kids there. Those teachers presented about their whole language at the Guatemalan conference.

For Yetta and me each situation felt like a victory lap. That’s what the winner of a race does after crossing the finish line. In each case we were being congratulated for what courageous teachers have been achieving as they turn concepts and ideas into reality for children.

We felt like shouting, “Viva Lenguaje Integral”, “Long live Whole Language”. May literacy flourish and may children everywhere, one day, find such enlightened teachers in their schools.