Whole Language reading seems alive and well in Kentucky!
I wrote a couple of days ago about research from Stanford Professor Bruce McCandliss and the Stanford Neuroscience Institute that shows students taught using the Whole Language (WL) approach can wind up using the right side of their brains when they are reading. That’s not good because strong readers actually use several areas in the left side of the brain. This is a very important discovery because there has been a decades old war about whether WL or a phonics first approach is the better way to teach reading. In strong agreement with much earlier research, the discovery that WL actually leads to right-brain reading settles the discussion in favor of phonics. If this new research is replicated, it will probably end the support for WL approaches.
But, many in education still are not listening to the science (which actually was pretty well established by the National Reading Panel in 2000 even though the McCandliss findings were not to come until much later.
You see, the brand-new Kentucky Academic Standards for Reading and Writing, which take effect in the 2019-20 school term, still provide evidence that WL lives on in Kentucky, and the problem starts in Kindergarten.
This is a snapshot of part of Page 21 in the new reading and writing standards, which comes from the Kindergarten part of the document.
Note that this Kindergarten standard wants those early learners to read words by sight, not by phonics.
That’s a WL idea. In fact, a number of references say that “sight words” are a hallmark of the WL approach (see, for example, Page 3 in “Whole Language Instruction vs. Phonics Instruction: Effect on Reading Fluency and Spelling Accuracy of First Grade Students” by Krissy Maddox and Jay Feng) where it talks about Whole Language also being known as “Sight Word.”
And, the sight word approach is in Kentucky’s very latest standards for reading.
A really good video discussion of the problems with teachers not knowing how to teach reading properly was posted a few days ago by Education Week. In this video, EdWeek reporter Liana Loewus interviews a highly aggressive investigative journalist, Emily Hanford, whose work on reading we have mentioned before. Hanford writes for American Public Media, a group that creates a great deal of material for National Public Radio, and this video does a nice job summarizing information she has covered in a number of different articles.
It is clear that some of our teachers in Kentucky need to learn from Hanford and from those directly involved with real, scientific research on reading. Once that happens, maybe we won’t have Kindergarteners trying to do sight word reading before they get phonics in hand.
By the way, we got a comment back on our earlier blog in this series on reading from Phyllis Sparks, a major researcher and activist in Kentucky concerning the problems of students with Dyslexia, a reading disability. Here’s what Phyllis said:
“I’m glad to see yet another study that confirms what many advocates, researchers, and teachers in the Dyslexia community have known for many, many years. The Whole Language approach falls into the category of “what doesn’t work” for struggling readers. A more structured reading approach of phonemic awareness and phonics has long been proven to be more effective.”
So, in closing, could pushing Kindergarteners to read “sight words” actually be the wrong thing to do? It seems so. But, Kentucky is doing just that.