Reading Innovative Method Is Showing Results In School

Posted: February 20, 1992

Remember learning to read? See Dick run. Watch Puff play. Jane sees Spot.

"We don't speak that way," said Barbara A. Nunney, assistant superintendent for instruction in the Gloucester Township public schools. ''Why should we read that way?"

Some educators and publishers wondered the same thing and developed something called the Whole Language approach to reading instruction.

"It's looking at authentic literature, things by authors," Nunney said. ''It uses trade books, children's books, ones that you can find in the library."

The Gloucester Township Board of Education last year decided to use an integrated Whole Language approach as a means of updating its reading materials. Some elements of Whole Language had been used before.

Bruce Foster, chairman of the reading department at Glassboro State

College, said Whole Language entered the United States from Australia and New Zealand. He said it was sweeping the nation.

It gets students interested in reading more quickly than the traditional ''basal" method, which focuses on separate parts of reading, such as words and how they sound.

"Whole Language means that we deal with language as a whole," Foster said. "We don't break it down into separate parts. If a child can read, why go back and say, 'This word has a bah sound?' "

Nunney said students in the Gloucester Township district were "way above the state levels" in reading and comprehension. The percentiles for the third and sixth grades, which are subject to the state's comprehensive tests, are in the 90s, she said.

According to Foster, Whole Language tries to interest children in reading by having them write about what they're reading.

"Educators have said, 'If you take a theme, such as tall tales or poetry, . . . you take that and locate authentic literature and look at the theme,' " Nunney said.

Teachers then introduce themes and analyze students' skills. A miniature seminar, drama or art project might be done. Students might write their own tall tales. Skills of individual students can be identified and addressed by teachers.

Using the method, Kathleen Gamble, a teacher at the Blackwood School, recently introduced her third graders to the next phase of their reading series. They soon will start a book called On the Horizon.

Picking up on that title, Gamble asked her 27 students, "What do we call it when we see the sun come up? Don't say morning. I want the other word that I know you remember from our vocabulary."

A girl's arm shot up and Gamble called on her.

"Dawn."

"That's right, dawn," Gamble said. "Very good."

Gamble then introduced the theme of that part of the series - One-of-a-Kind - and asked the students to create unique characters of their own.

One student created Mr. Holiday, a winged, beaked fellow who "lives all over the world" and is "a great flyer." Another concocted Sun Spot, a good fighter who lives on the sun, wears a blue-and-red suit and red goggles, carries a short sword and goes to sleep on his head.

According to Nunney, Whole Language can be used across a curriculum - in mathematics, science and social studies.

She said feedback from parents had been positive, with a number of them telling teachers that their children are reading more and enjoying it. A decision on introducing the method into middle school should be made this spring.

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