In a Fordham report, Whole-Language High Jinks, reading expert Louisa Moats warns that ineffective whole-language reading programs with names like “balanced literacy” are trying to grab funding intended for programs that have been proven far more effective. New York City, Denver and Salt Lake City have been misled by programs that are whole language in disguise, Moats writes. Warning signs include:
* Use of memorization and contextual guessing, instead of direct, systematic teaching for word recognition and actual comprehension;
* Rejection of explicit phonics, spelling, or grammar instruction;
* Application of the whole-language principles for English language learners.
She suggests asking some questions about reading programs that claim to be scientifically based:
* Have valid screening measures in place to identify children at risk and provide them with early/extra instruction in word recognition, comprehension, and writing skills?
* Interweave multiple language components (such as speech sounds, word structure, word meaning, and sentence structure) together in the same lesson?
* Support reading comprehension by focusing on a deep understanding of topics and themes rather than developing a set of shortcut strategies?
About 40 percent of children are “at risk of reading failure,” Moats estimates. Taught well, they’ll learn to read. Taught poorly, they may never catch up.