Traditionally, the teaching of language in America has focused on decoding skills. This means splitting a part a word it to it phonemes. This is where the famous phonics programs came from.
However, with ever reaction there is often a reaction. The reaction to the emphasis on decoding and phonics lead to the development of the Whole Language Approach. Whole Language has to distinct camps one for first language reading acquisition and the other for ESL. In this post, we will examine the assumptions, curriculum, and procedures of the Whole Language Approach within ESL.
Whole Language Approach stresses that language learning happens in interactional and functional ways. This means that students learn a language through engaging one another and through the actual use of the language in real-world experiences. This means that authentic assessment is a core component of the learning.
With the emphasis on interaction, the Whole Language Approach is also heavily influenced by constructivism. As the students experience the language in authentic situations, they are building on prior knowledge they have.
The teacher is viewed as a facilitator and not an expert passing on knowledge. Students serve the role of evaluating their own and others work. The classroom environment is one of self-directed learning with the students experiences used as learning material. This heightens relevancy which is an important aspect of a humanistic classroom.
Curriculum & Procedures
A Whole Language Approach classroom have some of the following in its curriculum
- Authentic assessment
- Integration of the language skills (reading, writing, speaking, listening)
- Collaboration when reading and writing
- Real-world reading and writing rather than for pedagogical purposes
It is always important to have a degree of flexibility in the curriculum when using this approach. This is due to learning new things about the students and their needs as the class progresses.
The procedures and activities used in the Whole Language Approach includes several of the following.
- Writing as a process rather than product
- Cooperative learning
- Crafts that emphasize language
A primary goal of this approach is to provide an experience. The experience helps the students to acquire the language through the various activities of the class.
Whole Language is not a commonly used approach these days. A major problem with overly student-centered/self-directed learning is measurement of results. With other approaches such as content or task-based it is much easier to measure cause and effect in terms of language acquisition.
Another closely related criticism of Whole Language is the negative view of the approach of teaching and acquiring specific measurable skills. Students would learn but it was not always clear what they learned.
Many skills require systematic instruction such as reading. Exposure to text does not teach a person to read. Rather, learning the sounds of the individual words often leads to reading. As such, a top-down approach to reading acquisition is the favor theory currently
Regardless of the weak points, Whole Language can still be useful for English teachers. The requirement is to find ways to use it situationally rather than exclusively.