- Look and Say / Whole
- Whole Language Movement/Philosophy / ''A psycholinguistic guessing game'' (Kenneth
Goodman) / Literature-based Approach / Holistic Approach / Real
Books (UK) / Discovery Approach / Emergent Literacy / Language Experience /
Apprenticeship Approach (Liz Waterland)
/ 'Literacies and Languages for All'
(National Council for Teachers of English. USA)
/ Sociocultural Model of Reading
/ ''Acquisition of reading in authentic contexts through a progressive and invisible pedagogy'' (Goouch/Lambirth p110.
italics added) / ''A hydra-headed beast'' (Turner.1990 p2)
Whole Word Memorisation / Look and Say:
The very first whole word memorisation programme, the Quadrille programme, was invented in France
by Abbe Bertaud in 1744. Derivatives
of this programme spread through continental Europe - endorsed
by the King of Prussia, used by Basedow and Gedike in Germany
and Jacatot in Belgium. Back in France, Abbe de l'Epee (circa
1760) was inspired by the Quadrille programme to produce his
own whole word memorisation programme, which he used with deaf-mutes.
By 1826, whole word books were being promoted both sides of the Atlantic,
with Abbe de l'Epee's programme being used by Thomas Gallaudet
with deaf-mutes in America. Gallaudet also produced a
beginners' reading book (1836) for hearing children, The Mother's Primer.
This taught reading by the whole word method with all mention
of the deaf-mute connection erased (Rodgers.
In 1886, the psychologist James McKeen Cattell carried out the first
eye-movement experiments on skilled readers. Despite his rudimentary experimental
equipment, he discovered that skilled readers read short words as fast as isolated
also discovered the word superiority effect; a letter is identified
more accurately and rapidly in the context of a word than in isolation or in
the context of a random letter string. These results led him to
believe that single words must be processed by the brain as whole word
Cattell's discoveries reinforced the opinions and beliefs of a procession
of self-appointed education experts working in the new teacher-training
colleges. They ordered teachers to use the look-say method using
flash-cards. The look-say method metamorphosised into the whole-sentence
Cattell's experiments were repeated by modern-day eye-movement
researchers. They reproduced Cattell's results but interpreted them very
differently: ''(T)he word-superiority effect
demonstrates that skilled readers process all of the letters when identifying a word' (italics added. Ashby/Rayner p58)
''McClelland and Johnson (1977) demonstrated that pseudowords also
show a Word Superiority Effect. For example, pseudowords such as ‘mave’
and ‘rint’ are not words in the English language and should not have a
familiar word shape, but they do have the phonetic regularity that makes
them easily pronounceable. Therefore, the reason for the Word
Superiority Effect isn’t the recognition of word shapes, but rather the
existence of regular letter combinations'' (Kevin
Larson. Eye 2004)
Modern eye-movement research. Part 1. The Eyes Have It.
Part 2. The Eyes to the Write (in English orthography).
Already established as the main method to teach reading throughout England by the 1920s, whole word / look and say used reading scheme books(basal
readers. USA) with repetitive text. Children were expected to memorise the words as whole shapes
through look-and-say flash cards and the constant repetition of those words in a particular scheme's books. Some ''intelligent guessing'' (The Practical Infant Teacher.1930) was also recommended.
One of the continuing stream of education 'experts', Dr. Russell
of California University, produced a book in 1949 that included the following
strategies, in order of importance, to aid the recognition of new words:
general pattern, or configuration, of the word.
2. Special characteristics
of the appearance of the word.
3. Similarity to known words.
of familiar parts in longer words.
5. The use of picture clues.
use of context clues.
7. Phonetic and structural analysis of the word.
p55) These strategies (1-6 are forms of guessing) are identical
to those advocated by some reading experts today.
The 'look and say' reading schemes
were very dull and repetitive, introducing new words at a very slow rate in order to aid memorisation
of whole words and sentences, but they proved
lucrative for the newly emerging educational publishers. Dick and Jane
were the main characters in a hugely popular look-say scheme, used to teach
children to read from the 1930s through to the 1970s in the United States. The Ladybird Peter and Jane Key Word reading scheme was written by a British educationalist William Murray and first published in 1964. The Ladybird Key Word books were used in 80% of schools until the 1970s.
During the look-say era, Dr.Joyce Morris undertook research on 'Reading in the Primary School' (1959), collecting and analysing data from seven-year-olds at a large number of Kent's primary schools. She found that reading standards in Kent at that time, ''...were above the national average. Nevertheless, 19.2 percent of the 3,022 survey seven-year-olds could be classed as ‘non-readers', and a further 26.4 percent had some mastery of reading mechanics but not sufficient for them to be independent readers of simple information and story books''
Nearly 40 years later, researchers Masterson, Dixon and Stuart carried out an experiment to see how easy it was for five-year-old beginning readers to
remember words by sight from repeated shared reading of the same whole word texts. It turned out to be much harder than they expected: They were 'shocked' to discover that 36 repetitions were not enough to guarantee that children would remember a word. ''When we tested children’s ability to read words they’d experienced more than 20 times in their school reading, on average they could read only one word correctly'' (italics added. Stuart.p26/27 in Lewis/Ellis. Phonics)
According to Diane McGuinness, an in-depth examination of writing
systems, both ancient and modern, reveals that most people can only retain
about 2,000 whole word units in their visual-memory (D.McGuinness GRB p214). Victor
Mair, Professor of Chinese Language and Literature, concurs with McGuinness. He says, ''There is a
natural upper limit to the number of unique forms that can
be tolerated in a functioning script. For most individuals,
this amount seems to lie in the range of approximately 2,000-2,500''
(Daniels. The World's Writing Systems p200)
Definition of writing: ''A system of more or less
permanent marks used to represent an utterance in such a way that it can
be recovered more or less exactly without the intervention of the
utterer.'' (Daniels. The World's Writing Systems p21)
Contrary to the myth that they are logographic or ideographic
writing systems (conveying meaning without regard to sound),
apart from around 1850 Kanji 'picture' symbols, Japanese
writing consists of sequences of different consonant-vowel
pairs (diphones). Chinese writing is based on monosyllabic-morphemic units fused with category symbols (DeFrancis). The misconception that Chinese is a logographic writing system occurs because nearly half of the words are only one syllable long -a whole word and a syllable unit of sound at the same time. ''The Chinese language has around 1,200 syllables; English has about 60,000. This is why Chinese is written as a syllabary and English is not'' (D.McGuinness SRS intro)
See- Diane McGuinness's book 'Why Children Can't Read' p47-52
and Share's 'Anglocentricities' paper p588.
''Writing systems are solutions to the problem of representing spoken
language in visuo-graphic form. It’s what they all do, despite their
superficial differences. Writing systems that represent words as visual
patterns independent of their pronunciations do not exist. Such systems
are inadequate for representing large numbers of words: Too hard to
learn or use'' (Mark Seidenberg. Blog.)
''The fact is that NO writing system ever exceeded 2000 symbols. This is because that is the absolute limit (lifetime learning limit) of a human's ability to remember which abstract symbol (or sequence of symbols) stands for which word. Think about how hard even this would be! It takes Japanese children from first form to the end of secondary school to memorize 1850 Kanji symbols and which word they go with. The bulk of their writing system is written with sound symbols, not word symbols. The beauty of using sounds (syllables, diphones, phonemes) is that this drastically reduces the memory load'' (D. McGuinness)
The whole word method leads some children to believe that they must memorise each word as a random string of letters. This makes learning to read exactly like trying to memorise the telephone directory. ''Like printed letter strings, telephone numbers contain a small set of symbols … Unless all numbers are dialled correctly and in the right order the connection will fail … Unfortunately, there are no systematic or predictable relationships between these strings and their corresponding entries; so each of the many thousands of such associations must be painstakingly committed to memory. There may exist a few rare individuals who are capable of memorizing entire telephone directories, but for the average child about to learn to read, the absurdity of this task should be obvious'' (Share. Cognition 55/2.1995. quoted in Goswami)
There was a revival of interest in phonics amongst some teachers as a result of the publication of Rudolf Flesch's
polemic Why Johnny Can't Read (1955), but look-say
continued as the central method despite the evidence that it
failed to teach a significant percentage of children how to
read. Whole language became the dominant approach in the 1980s
and lasted until the introduction of the National Literacy
Strategy (NLS) in 1998, which brought in 'a mixture of word
aka “Whole language with a tiny little resentful nod to Phonics” (Lyn Stone)
The Whole Language Movement ('Real Books'
in the UK), founded by the late Prof. Ken Goodman
("My science is different" (Goodman
2019)) and Frank Smith (an ex-journalist who, by his own admission, never taught anyone to read), appeared circa 1970 as a reaction to the dreary look-say
Phonics was completely sidelined. "Matching letters with sounds is a flat-earth view of the world" Goodman declared in his 1986 book,
'What's Whole in Whole Language'.
Whole language is a 'philosophy' rather than a method to teach reading; only
'real' books / authentic texts are provided and children's near guesses at words are accepted if they preserve meaning, e.g. 'pony' rather than 'horse' -see the whole language definition of reading below. Children are expected to 'discover'
the alphabet code for themselves and reading will 'emerge'.
''(I)n 1991 three Whole Language professors wrote a book, Whole Language: What’s the Difference?, in which they defined what they meant by reading. They wrote: From a whole language perspective, reading (and language use in general) is a process of generating hypotheses in a meaning-making transaction in a sociohistorical context. As a transactional process reading is not a matter of “getting the meaning” from text, as if that meaning were in the text waiting to be decoded by the reader. Rather, reading is a matter of readers using the cues print provide and the knowledge they bring with them to construct a unique interpretation.…This view of reading implies that there is no single “correct” meaning for a given text, only plausible meanings'' (Blumenfeld. Why Johnny STILL can't read. 11/02/11)
Whole language purists were hostile to the look-say whole
word memorising method but even more so to phonics. Children were given 'authentic
texts' (commercial story books) to read from the very start.
No decoding instruction was given as it was decided that
children could learn to read as easily as they learnt to talk
and walk, simply by having unfettered access to plenty of
lovely story books with a helpful adult on hand,
'a guide on the side'.
There is no scientific evidence to support the whole language
method. The research cited by the whole language advocates consists almost entirely of collections of anecdotes or 'kidwatching'
Professor Steven Pinker, a leading cognitive scientist who wrote the
foreword to Diane McGuinness's book Why Children Can't Read, said,
''In the dominant technique, called 'whole language', the
insight that language is a naturally developing human instinct
has been garbled into the evolutionarily improbable claim
that reading is a naturally developing human instinct. Old-fashioned
practice at connecting letters to sounds is replaced by immersion
in a text-rich social environment and the children don't learn
to read'' (Pinker p342).
In other words, although speech and language are 'hard wired'
into our brains, reading, which is a relatively recent cultural
phenomenon, cannot possibly be fixed in this way. “We were never born to read.” (Wolf p3)
Reading scores hit the floor in LEAs that took on the whole
language fad with unquestioning enthusiasm; in his 1990 paper,
Sponsored Reading Failure, the late Martin Turner wrote that about 25% of pupils arriving at south London comprehensive schools
regularly had a reading age below 9 years,10% below 8 years,
and approximately 50% of pupils arriving at east London comprehensives had a reading age below 9 years. (Turner p10)
''So to the other achievements of the 'real books' movement may be added that of creating dyslexia'' (Martin Turner p19)
American Professor Martin Kozloff wrote, ''In fact, the revolutionary whole language conception of reading as a "psycholinguistic guessing game" is a bizarre fantasy--a fantasy that managed to catch on (and make many thousands of children illiterate) because students in schools of education naively trusted their "literacy" professors--who were more interested in getting tenure, making a reputation, and selling themselves as innovators and self-inflating champions of social justice than they were at making sure new teachers (1) are guided by scientific research (which does not support whole language) and (2) know exactly how to teach reading effectively. In some fields (medicine, law, engineering) this combination of self-aggrandizement, immorality, and ineptitude is called malpractice, fraud, and criminal negligence. In education, it is called "philosophical differences" and "academic freedom." Apparently, school children and new teachers are supposed to pay for the academic freedom of education professors'' (http://people.uncw.edu/kozloffm/wlquotes.html) The general public pay for this academic freedom too; if professionals aren't capable of accurately decoding GPC by GPC all-through-the-word, accidents will happen.
For example, the New York Times (NYT 3/6/99) reported how pharmacists are increasingly giving out incorrect prescriptions. In one incident, chlorpromazine, a drug which lowers blood sugar, was wrongly substituted for chlorpropamide, an anti-psychotic, with fatal results.
''Whole language is research based - it’s been the control
group in hundreds of studies and never comes out on top''
In their guidance document on 'Dyslexia, literacy and psychological assessment', the British Psychological Society dismissed whole language: ''The whole language model of reading conceives word reading as a ‘psycho-linguistic guessing game’. It is argued that, driven by a search for meaning, the fluent reader makes educated guesses on the basis of the text already read. A crucial assumption is that most words can be ‘read’ as wholes, visually. The evidence against such an account of reading behaviour is by now incontrovertible. Accurate and fluent word decoding is a pre-requisite for efficient reading for interest and information'' (BPS 2005 .p26)
A pure whole language approach is rarely used in England's primary schools nowadays
but, despite the official introduction of synthetic phonics in 2006, a whole
language mutation, the NLS medley of word reading
(1998), continues in most classrooms outside the daily, discrete synthetic
phonics lesson, according to NFER's 2013 survey of 583
Teacher Training and Phonics:
In his article, The Education White Paper: a CPS Postnatum (2010),
Tom Burkard wrote that, ''(T)eacher training was first identified as the major obstacle to the implementation of effective practices in the 1996 report,
Reading Fever. In an unpublished CPS report that was sent to Nick Gibb just prior to the general election, we suggested that new arrangements were needed to train teachers to use synthetic phonics effectively. We included a survey of reading lists for 46 initial teacher training (ITT) courses, which revealed an overwhelming hostility to this method, and indeed a profound disagreement with the coalition’s overall vision of educational reform''.
So hands up, who hates phonics? Some very influential people...
In 2012, the then Coalition Government made it clear that proficiency in
systematic synthetic phonics (SSP) was the expectation for all teachers and those training to teach. This expectation is now reflected in the Teachers’ Standards. In order to meet the standard, trainee teachers should by the end of their training:
• know and understand the recommendations of the Rose Review 2006; and the Simple View of Reading
and be able to apply this understanding to their teaching of reading and writing.
• know and understand the alphabetic code
• know and understand the Criteria for assuring high quality phonic work (DfE, 2011) and be able to recognise how they are met in a range of phonic programmes
• be able to apply their knowledge and understanding of the Criteria to the teaching and assessment of phonics using a school’s phonic programme
• be able to identify, and provide targeted support for, children making progress both beyond and below the expected level
As can be seen above, university teacher trainers must provide trainees with
extensive information on the use of high quality phonics work for teaching early
reading. Unfortunately, many teacher trainers remain ideologically wedded to the
NLS's 'balance of word reading
strategies' (see Resources: Ideology and Reading) and are very
reluctant to train students to teach phonics as the prime approach for decoding
words (SSP). They continue to provide trainees with a
subversive subtext to ensure that the SSP course content is undermined. An ITE lecturer described approvingly how this was being done: ''Due to the very nature of what it means to be a professional there can be no doubt that for some there will be subversion at work the creation of guerrilla campaigns against the imposition of SSP...For example, an organised, strategic resistance may be through the philosophy promoted within a faculty'' (Hewitt p88)
''A straw poll among 25 NQTs last year  suggested that
they had, on average, received 2 hours (in total) of phonics training
from their ITT institutions.'' (The Reading Ape.
''My uni was very anti the Rose report, and one of our assignments
was to do a presentation about how poor the data were, and why the whole
lot of it should be taken with a pinch of salt.'' (Mumsnet Primary Education forum 2011)
Prof. Morag Stuart: Government imposition of synthetic phonics is “damaging able readers” really?
In January 2020, a Primary ITE provider put the following view on the
use of phonics for decoding, on Twitter:
''It has limited utility in a language that is as phonetically
irregular as English, hence sometimes it works but not often enough to
be a preferred method''.
''The greatest cognitive dissonance has to be the fact that
education faculties simultaneously champion social justice and promote
reading instruction approaches that promote literacy failure'' (Prof.
Pamela Snow. Twitter)
All student teachers would benefit from
reading this open letter from Australian Prof. Pamela Snow:
A senior ITE lecturer wrote a paper where she asserted that, ''A lecturer with integrity and a good understanding of how children read will ensure that students, who are learning to teach reading, understand that the sole use of SSP is not an effective way to teach reading, but that for many children a variety of
[word reading] approaches is required'' (Hewitt. p88) She failed to provide even one piece of scientific evidence to support this view. In the same paper she stated that reading researcher Prof.Stanovich and whole language founder Frank Smith both ''endorse the belief that children learn to read through a whole word approach to reading'' (Hewitt p82). In actual fact, Stanovich says that he and his colleague Richard West were at first very taken with Frank Smith’s theories about context effects and expected their own research to confirm them. However, their experiments led them to very different conclusions.
see - Extracts taken from 'Romance and Reality' by Prof. Keith Stanovich.
“That direct instruction in alphabetic coding facilitates early reading acquisition is one of the most well established conclusions in all of behavioral science” (Stanovich p415)
An easy way to see the anti-phonics bias present in many universities'
teacher education departments is to look at their Primary English reading lists.
There is often a very visible inbalance in the books listed, with those providing
negative views and misinformation on high quality phonics teaching, greatly
outnumbering those which provide helpful and accurate information. For example,
a university ITE department which listed a couple of **synthetic phonics
textbooks as 'required reading' had an additional and extensive 'recommended
reading' book list which consisted entirely of texts written or edited by
academics who are known to be anti-synthetic phonics, in the case of Goouch, Lambirth
Caution: use of the word (synthetic) phonics in an academic
text book's title can be very misleading. It does not necessarily mean that the
**author supports teaching trainees to use SSP as the sole approach
for word decoding.
**Prof. Jonathan Glazzard is head of a university's 'Primary and
Childhood Education' department. A 2nd edition of his and Stokoe's book
'Teaching Systematic Synthetic Phonics and Early English' was published
in 2017. In this 2017 article
describes the phonics check as ''not fit for purpose''. The article also
reveals that Glazzard does not follow the research on the use of
''Those who have an opposing view [of
synthetic phonics] have yet to produce any data showing
that their favoured approach produces greater long-term benefits'' (R.Johnston. www.publicservice.co.uk issue 20. p82).
In 2018, he and
fellow synthetic phonics sceptic Prof. Margaret
Clark joint edited a ''(R)eport on an independent enquiry into
the views of Head Teachers, teachers and parents on the
Phonics Screening Check''. More recently (2020) he
was joint author of this 'Policy Brief on phonics & reading'
Student teachers and NQTs, see Resources and X's throughout the website
for RECOMMENDED books, papers and articles on teaching early reading.
Ofsted's new ITE inspection criteria (2019) states that primary ITT
providers will be rated inadequate for quality of education and training
if they teach trainees to use anything other than systematic synthetic
phonics for teaching early reading (decoding):
''For primary phase,
training will ensure that trainees learn to teach early reading using
systematic synthetic phonics as outlined in the ITT core content
framework and that trainees are not taught to use competing approaches
to early reading that are not supported by the most up-to-date
evidence''. Ofsted added that students may be made "critically aware" of
other reading methods''. It's possible that this concession will be used
as a loophole to 'teach the controversy' and subversively maintain the status quo.
2020 UK: UCET's (Universities Council for the
Education of Teachers) provided a less than positive response to Ofsted's new ITE inspection
criteria for teaching early reading:
''We should also remember that phonics is one strategy and SSP is the
preferred method for it but teachers use *a range of methods (including
phonics) to teach early reading and we need to equip all trainees to
support children effectively in learning to read''
* ''Phonics is best understood as a body of knowledge and skills
about how the alphabetic system works, and how to apply it in reading
and spelling, rather than one of a range of optional ‘methods’ or
‘strategies’ for teaching children how to read''
To re-enforce the synthetic phonics message, Ofsted will now take a
close look at the teaching of early reading and phonics when they do
school inspections. ''(T)he new EIF includes a reading deep dive. The reading
deep dive is a mandatory part of the new inspections in these schools.
Inspectors will look at 7 aspects of early reading, as
set out in paragraph 298 of the
school inspection handbook''
''The record of ed schools on the pedagogy of reading instruction is
nothing less than a national catastrophe. Despite more than half a
century’s worth of scientific evidence showing that systematic
instruction in phonics is, for most beginning readers, the royal road to
literacy, the latest
report from the National Organization for Teacher Quality found that
only one-third of graduate ed school programs surveyed give aspiring
teachers adequate instruction in the science of reading pedagogy''
2020. Australia NSW. "It is a crying shame that parts of the
education community are so blinded by ideology that they cannot bring
themselves to accept the evidence in favour of phonics that is sitting
in front of them...VCs need to clear out the academics who
reject evidence-based best practice. A faculty of medicine would not
allow anti-vaxxers to teach medical students. Faculties of
education should not allow phonics sceptics to teach primary teaching
students.'' (Bold added. Sarah Mitchell. NSW
Minister for Education.SMH)
The very peculiar case of Goodman, Smith and Clay (or why the whole
language approach just won't die)
Is Reading about 'Getting Meaning from Print'?
'Reading by Apprenticeship?' Paper by Roger Beard and Jane Oakhill: a
comprehensive critique of Liz Waterland's 1985 'Read With Me' which
promoted whole language & 'real' books
David Hargreaves 1996 TTA lecture: 'Teaching as a research-based profession: possibilities and prospects'.
p7: According to Caroline Cox, there are four principal grounds on which teachers justify their practices. They are: 'tradition (how it has always been done); prejudice (how I like it done); dogma (this is the 'right' way to do it) and ideology (as required by the current orthodoxy)
Stanovich, P. J., & Stanovich, K. E. (2003).
Using research and reason in education: How teachers can use scientifically based research to make curricular and instructional decisions
Burkard 2010: 46 ITT reading lists. 2010.
2007. Read it and weep. Charlotte Allen.
What are the problems with whole language and why doesn't it
A whole language catalogue of the grotesque
Whole language and Kenneth Goodman's 'psycholinguistic guessing game'
A personal essay: Thank you Whole Language
If learning to read is a 'linguistic task', what's wrong with Whole Language?
The ideographic myth.
Chinese written language - morphosyllabic.
Internet meme: Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy...
Also see Seidenberg's book 'Language at the Speed of Sight' p94->6
Next page >