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.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Great post. Key issue is that reading is encouraged. Literature is encouraged. I worry about the many Kids who do not pick up independent skills necessary to master independence as a reader who comprehends and a writer who can think and develop and research their own ideas ... Those kids can suffer in a WL environment which does not demand wide reading. I see kids in environment where they read one book a year, view lots of vids, do loads on screen work on their Devices. It is a long standing 1:1 device school. Far too many cannot read, comprehend, think independently. They can make an iMovie, can do a PowerPoint. They drown when they need to find their own sources and formulate their own hypotheses. There are any band aids covering the problem. Only the elite few enriched with literature and rigorous reading. The majority do not have or could not identify the metacognative skills needed to comprehend.

  3. Reading has been a collaborative effort since early childhood, a process which involved all family members, both immediate and extended. Books were valued, cherished, revered and kept always at hand. It was with a sense of calm confidence that my grandparents, parents and uncles referred to the inevitability of my elevation to enlightened reader. I knew early on that reading was important. Reading was a way to convey thoughts, ideas, and feelings.

    My relatives read to me often with great emotion, often laughing or crying out… in tune with the literature as we became joined in an eloquent journey. My grandmother emphasized the engagement with literature, the importance of a sensory involvement.
    I work to provide a similar immersive and fulfilling literary experience in my class. Whole language is encompassing, creative, and enriching. With effective diversification in a class, students select their own text, experience literature in a broad spectrum of models, and publish and/or share work authentically.
    Whole language, implemented creatively and consistently, promotes reading, writing, listening, speaking and learning.
    The effective whole language program is inclusive of all elements of an excellent Language Arts program thus ensuring students develop the comprehensive skills necessary to be successful in education, but more importantly, to become avid lifelong learners!