Whole Language advocates sometimes claim that their pronouncements are supported by ‘research’, a claim that many researchers would dispute. In fact I am reminded that here in Australian 26 researchers condemned Whole Language and Reading Recovery in an open letter addressed to the then Minister for Education. These researcher and senior academics ,drawn from Psychology, Education Research, Cognitive Research etc, stated publicly that there was no supportive science behind the beginner-reading strategies based on word-guessing and the use of multiple strategies in order to read words. The Minister called for a national inquiry that, in concert with similar inquiries in the USA, and UK, found in favour of a Systematic Phonics approach.
I have some sympathy with Whole Language principles when applied to competent readers but the failure to acknowledge the fact that different strategies are necessary in immature readers is unforgivable. Our work for example, based on testing thousands of children over 25 years and peer reviewed by Britain’s leading researcher, clearly shows that at the age of 7 almost 50% of failing readers have memory development limitation that results in an inability to process whole words…most of these were boys.
The application of whole word processing to beginner readers actually causes reading failure in important, predictable and very specific aspects of reading, failure that would have been obvious had the Whole Language advocates carried out the claimed ‘research’.
By advocating teaching methods, condemned as being evidence-free even in its source in Arizona and subsequently around the world in the USA, Britain and Australia, Whole Language advocates not only sacrifice the lives of many infants, they undermine the professionalism of what was once a proud profession.
Whole word processing, as a beginner-reader strategy, fails large numbers of children. Its advocates should now accept responsibility.