In part 1 of this 2-part series, we talked about the need for childcare programs to go beyond just talking about early literacy and to teach kids to read using proven time-tested methods, especially phonics. In part 2 we’ll discuss “whole language” and how Grace Community School sets our students up for success.
The Whole Truth
Whole language sounds good. It is supposed to be a holistic approach to learning to read and write, taking words, sentences, and books and dealing with them as a whole, rather than breaking words down into phonetic parts and learning to read those before moving on to bigger parts of language. Unfortunately, in practice, the emphasis in whole language instruction is on getting kids excited about reading and reading aloud to children, without formal direction. With whole language, kids are supposed to learn how to read and write by being exposed to and getting excited by these manifestations of language. Here’s the thing: enthusiasm isn’t a substitute for teaching how to read!
Whole language does not work as a method of reading instruction because it does not give kids what they need to be able to read. The English language encodes the meanings of words in the sounds that make up the words. Phonics lets kids “decode” the letters in a word, so they know what it is! Grace Community’s reading program (“Reading Circles”) starts at the most basic level, with the vowels. Teachers add other letters in small groups as the kids progress. Children learn the name of each letter, as well as (most importantly!) the sound of each letter, and a clue word. “A says ă as in apple.” “E says ĕ as in elephant,” and so on. After the individual letters are learned, the kids learn to blend them together, and then to make words. It’s a natural, developmentally appropriate progression that works for all children.
Adults reading aloud to children is a wonderful thing. But we can’t forget that the goal is for children to be able to read for themselves! And learning to read doesn’t work like osmosis – kids won’t “soak up” the ability to read like a sponge. This is exactly how whole language is supposed to work. Unlike learning to speak, learning to read doesn’t “just come” with experience. We must teach reading, and this is what Grace Community School does.
Actions, Not Just Feelings and Good Intentions
Whole language attempts to create enthusiasm for reading without giving the skills needed to read. While enthusiasm for reading is very important, you need skills, too! The child who knows how to read will have fun reading. The child who does not, will not. The better they read, the more fun they will have. It’s that simple. Reading will not be enjoyable for a child unless they have the skills to do it easily. Would you enjoy bowling if you rolled a gutterball every time? Unlikely! That is what it is like for the child who cannot read well. Reading becomes a chore, frustrating and hard. Not enjoyable. You don’t want that!
Progressive educational experts believe something similar with handwriting. Just as exposure to books and printed words is somehow supposed to turn into literacy in children sometime down the road, they claim that writing will spontaneously emerge from a child’s scribbles. Not so – kids need instruction and practice! Children learn to write best with lots of practice, worksheets, and direction from teachers.
Our Preschoolers Can Read!
Grace Community School uses a proven phonics-based method of teaching reading. Our Reading Circles provide individualized instruction to students that is always right at the child’s level. The result: kids who can read! Even in a technological society like ours, reading is still vital. Readers are leaders! Much has been made of the importance of getting kids to read fluently by third grade. It is an important indicator of future success in school and life. “Third-grade reading proficiency is crucial for continued academic success and to break the cycle of intergenerational poverty.” We want out students to read, and Grace Community School gives them the tools they need to do that.
We also celebrate the reading accomplishments of our students in several ways. Certificates and reading books make each step in the learning journey special. We also send home framed photos of the kids holding their new reading books. You will never find happier children than the ones in those photographs! In addition, we recognize our Reader Achievers on our social media.
At Grace Community School, Our Preschoolers Can Read, and we couldn’t be happier about it! If you found this article useful, please click one of the share buttons below and tell your friends.