Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Outrageous Claims

I seemed to have lost the blogging habit but I’ve been waiting for some inspiration to get me back on track. The inspiration came when I was Googling my name on Internet (another story) and came across the following quote from a chapter by Devery Mock and James Kaufman (2004) in a book entitled Controversial therapies for developmental disabilities: Fad, fashion, and science in professional practice (Jacobson, Foxx, & Mulick, 2004). Here’s the quote: “The 1980s whole-language instructional approach was introduced by reformers who openly and explicitly rejected the value of quantitative evidence of effectiveness and held to the belief that learning to read is as simple as learning to speak” (p. 119). For these assertions Mock and Kaufman cite Elaine Garan, Ken Goodman, and ME (it is an honor to be linked to Ken Goodman and I'm sure Elaine agrees).

The assertion that Goodman, Garan, Dudley-Marling or other whole-language theorists reject quantitative evidence out of hand simply is untrue. It is true, however, that many literacy theorists do reject the quantification of certain reading behaviors that misrepresent the reading process that has been verified in numerous research studies. For example, I can’t accept the quantification of reading fluency in a way that separates reading from meaning (see Rereading Fluency: Process, Practice, and Policy by Altwerger, Jordan & Shelton). This just isn’t what readers do in the process of reading text.

Similarly, it is not true that Goodman, Garan or anyone else I know “hold to the belief” that learning to read is as simple as learning to speak. First of all, learning to speak isn’t so simple. Learning to speak is an extraordinarily complex process that has never been adequately described by linguists or psychologists. Second, many whole language folks have argued that there are language-learning principles derived from research on oral language acquisition that can be generalized to written language acquisition. This is not, however, the same as saying that these are identical processes or that learning to read is “as simple” as learning to talk.

Mock and Kaufman go on to claim that 1994 NAEP data show that "40% of fourth graders instructed using a whole language approach were unable to read grade-appropriate texts" (p. 119). This is particularly curious since no such data are available for whole language classrooms. Further, Mock and Kaufman lament that whole language practices were "so universally adopted in the absence of credible evidence" (p. 119). "Universally adopted?" Where? Whole language has influenced reading instruction but it has NEVER been a dominant reading practice in the United States.

There are fair criticisms that can be leveled at whole language and some of these criticisms have contributed to the ongoing development of whole language theory and practice. Caricatures about whole language theorists and practitioners who reject research and equate oral and written language learning are neither fair nor helpful.

1 comment:

James A Mulick said...

Like you, I was googling my name and ran across your comment. Kaufman is a rather accomplished scholar. To take issue with his statements you would be better of checking his references. As a pediatric psychologist, I have run across hundreds of victims of whole language in 30 years of practice. My own son was such a victim at the start of third grade (his language was superbly developed, so comprehension was never a problem - decoding and fluency were). He was brought from 49 words a minute with no reading comprehension of passages he struggled through (you try to remember the start of a sentence when you reach the end at a rate of less than one word per second) to 250 words a minute and full comprehension in 13 hours of rate building in a University clinic with a first year grad student as his therapist. Do that with whole language and I'll eat my Ph.D.! Nevertheless, read the whole book and I think you get a few laughs and learn a few useful facts. Besides, I get almost two dollars in royalties when you buy iy.