Whole language (crossposted at CT)
I have no particular axe to grind in the war between advocates of whole language and phonics as methods of teaching reading. In the spirit of wishy-washy compromise, I suspect that both have their place.
But it strikes me as a rather odd feature of the debate that advocates of phonics should also be the ones most concerned about spelling. The vast majority of spelling errors arise from the use of the obvious phonetic spelling rather than the “correct” spelling that is part of the whole language. So one of the costs of the phonic approach is the need to learn, by rote, the vast number of exceptions and special cases that make spelling English such a miserable experience for the uninitiated.
Phonics phans never seem to recognise this.
Here, for example, is Kevin Donnelly in today’s SMH
Advocates of whole language argue the critics are wrong and that the overwhelming majority of students are successful readers. Often cited are the results of the PISA literacy test in 2000, which covered 32 countries, in which Australian 15-year-olds came out at the top of the table.
But students were not corrected for faulty grammar, punctuation and spelling. One Australian researcher involved with the study stated: “It was the exception rather than the rule in Australia to find a student response that was written in well-constructed sentences, with no spelling or grammatical error.”
Whole language advocates also point to the apparent improvement in the numbers of students reaching the reading benchmarks as evidence that all is well. In 1996, the first year of the national benchmarks introduced by the Howard Government, 73 per cent of year 3 students reached the set standard; by 2000 it was 92.5 per cent.
However, such standards represent minimum acceptable standards, and raising the success rate from 73 per cent to 92.5 per cent in just under four years is somewhat suspicious. There is some evidence to suggest that the education bureaucrats have simply lowered the bar by redefining what constitutes an acceptable standard.
This piece is riddled with logical errors, and unsupported factual claims. What relationship is there between the way a student was taught to recognise words and their capacity to construct a grammatical sentence? Following Donnelly’s approach, it seems reasonable to blame his incapacity to construct a logical argument on the way he way was taught to read. I’m guessing he was taught phonics.