The Whole Language
The expression Whole Language was created in 1980 by a group of literature professors who opposed the method of teaching reading and writing a language separately. According to them, a language should be taught as a single unit. The Whole Language approach is a theory developed to help children learn to read and emphasises the learning of reading and writing with ease and pleasure, focusing on real communication. In 1990 it became popular in the United States for being a exciting and innovative approach to teach literature to children of primary school.
The main principles of the Whole Language are:
1. The use of authentic literature rather than superficial, specifically prepared texts and exercises to practice the designated individual reading skill.
2. Attention to real and natural events rather than already written stories, so that the students may compare them to their own
3. Reading texts of high interest, in particular literature.
4. Reading is considered as a way to understand the language.
5. Writing exercises are directed to a real audience and not simply as a way to practice writing skills.
6. Writing is a process through which students can explore and discover the meaning of words.
7. Promotes the use of texts made by students rather than by teachers or others.
8. Integrating skills as reading writing and listening.
9. Reading and writing exercises are shared with other students.
10. Students are encouraged to take risks and explore; acceptance of errors as a sign of learning rather than as a failure.
The teacher is seen as a figure that helps and promotes an active participation to the learning community, rather than as an language expert.
The professor studies the students and not the subject matter and seeks to teach at appropriate times, so that the lessons are never the same. The teacher’s goal is to create the right climate for teaching and he/she should negotiate the programme of the course with the students .
Students should collaborate with other students, as well as with the teacher. Students are also evaluators, and evaluate their own learning and that of others with the help of the teacher. Students also help choose the material to be used during the lesson as well as classroom activities. “The choice process is vital during the course of the Whole Language lessons, because without the ability to choose activities, materials, conversations with others, students cannot use the language for their own purposes.”
The main activities of the Whole Language learning are:
– Reading and writing individually or in small groups
– Ungraded dialogue journals
– Writing portfolio
– Writing conferences
– Books written by students
– Story writing
Most of these activities are also used in other approaches, such as Communicative Language Teaching and Content-Based Teaching.
The Whole Language movement is not a true teaching method, but an approach to learn how to see language as a whole unit. Every language teacher is free to implement the approach that he/she considers most appropriate to the needs of the class. The great advantage of this approach is that it focuses mainly on experiences and activities that are relevant in the lives of the students through the use of authentic material.