Whole Language, Phonics and For-Profit Systems (a decade after Denny's Spin Doctors)

I was all set to try to learn French on LingQ. Steve said I could do it for free (in this video).

But, it turns out free accounts are limited to 300 lingQs. What are lingQs? Steve and the gang say:
As you study lessons on LingQ, you look up and save new words and phrases. We call this process creating LingQs. Your LingQs limit tells you how many LingQs you can add to your account.

Well... 300 words or phrases would give me some French, I guess. But, I dunno.... I was a little disappointed, and said so in my comment:

LingQ for free? Well, yes. I can learn up to 300 words of phrases. Then I pay for more. Hmmmm.... Little disingenuous, Steve.

Maybe that's why the nonprofit literacy field is giving you a pass.
[Update - see bottom of post.]

I'm being hard on Steve because in this same video he accused Canadian literacy nonprofits of declining to work with him and the LingQ system because they (/we) want to keep all the money raised for literacy for ourselves.

Steve, Steve... Tsk, tsk, tsk.

*shakes head*

I popped over to his website (when I still thought I was about to learn French) and read a recent post entitled "Can someone explain the debate between phonics and whole language?"

In it, he muses about a Globe & Mail opinion piece which drew a lot of comments:

In the comments... [part] of the discussion was about a debate between teaching phonics and teaching whole language. I got the sense that the whole language approach was related to the critical "thinking/higher level thinking" "auditory learner/visual learner" "literacy is a social construct" hogwash that I encountered on my literacy listserv, but I could be wrong.

(Disclosure, I think a lot of that stuff is hogwashy too - LOL)

He then declares: "You cannot learn to read if you do not know what the letters represent in terms of sounds, it seems to me."

Now, I don't mind somebody trashing literacy nonprofits. Sometimes I do it on this very blog. But when I read that old "reading is sounding out"... hogwash, I get pretty vexed.

(What do you suppose deaf people make of that statement?)

Anyway, in answer to the post's title, I commented:

Sure, Steve. I can explain it. There are two disagreements.

1. People disagree over whether reading is sounding out or making meaning. To say "You cannot learn to read if you do not know what the letters represent in terms of sounds" is to say that reading words is decoding print into speech (or, at least sound). I have a different experience. I don't know, for example, what sound goes with those Hebrew characters transliterated as "ruah" or "rhauh", but I understand what the written word signifies. There are some English words - like "bass" or "lead" - that I can't sound out until I know which of two possible meanings each conveys. All my life, reading has been about meaning, not sound. So, I think of reading as understanding what written text means, not what it sounds like.

2. Now, disagreement number one is kind of small potatoes: you say "sound" and I say "meaning" - who cares, right? It only becomes a big deal when one of us tries to ban the other's approach. A broad approach - a wholistic approach - would be to encourage readers to make use of as many clues and tactics as possible. Try sounding, try inserting likely words, look for clues in illustrations or accompanying text... use lots of tools to figure out what that mysterious text is saying. And, yes, have a little fun with it if you can. However, (commercially) dominant phonics programs say "no" to all that. They say, first letters, then words, then sentences, then approved books - no guessing, inference or non-sounding-out tactics allowed.

Whole language, done well, is wholistic. (Done badly, it's leaving emergent readers to their own devices - teachers goofing off under the guise of promoting independence. But that's another topic.)

P.s. yes, I know it's "holistic" but I prefer the agnostic spelling - LOL

Steve and I actually agree on a lot of stuff, and I'll probably check in from time to time to see what he's on about. You could, too. Watch a video, drop him a line, make a comment.

After all, almost anything is better than having our literacy conversations in the comments section of the Globe & Mail!

(Thks Steve.)

Oh, P.s. - anybody who thinks I'm being hysterical about the authoritarian nature of commercial phonics programs (and their billion dollar a year industry) might want to read this recent post by a public school teacher. Then, if you have any energy left, you might read Denny Taylor's 1998 Beginning to Read and the Spin Doctors of Science: the political campaign to change America's mind about how children learn to read (here's the Open Library entry), or children's book author Ann Cameron's brief thoughts on literacy.

Denny Taylor

P.p.s, one last link: Comments on Reading First: How to Save Billions and Improve Reading

P.p.p.s. Steve says to get more out of LngQ, just delete the 300 words and start over. Hmmm... He might have me parlying the belle lang yet....

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