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Education Reporter

Whole Language Program Tells Children:
'Get Your Mouth Ready!'

KUTZTOWN, PA - First-grade students at Weisenberg Elementary School are supposed to be learning how to read, but their instruction is all about looking at pictures and playing word-guessing games. Handouts obtained by Education Reporter outline a series of seven reading "strategies" from a Whole Language textbook called Literature Works published by Silver Burdett and Ginn. In September 2000, Education Market Research asked 10,500 classroom teachers in grades K-8 "which basal Reading series" they use. Literature Works was cited by 5% of the teachers surveyed.

Strategy I instructs children to "Look at the Pictures." The handout states that "good readers depend on language patterns and pictures," and tells parents that their children will be "looking at the picture for clues before reading when stuck on a tricky word."

Strategy II asserts: "Good readers make sure that what they read is logical and makes sense." But parents are wondering how children who are taught to look at pictures in order to guess the words can possibly learn to read, much less determine whether what they read is "logical." Strategy II affirms the look-say method and tells children to "self-monitor" their reading progress by continually re-checking the pictures.

Strategy III tells students to "Get Your Mouth Ready" to "better predict the correct word." Predicting the words is supposed to "foster independence." The teacher is instructed to ask the child, "Did you look at the picture? Did you get your mouth ready? Can you think of a word that would make sense and starts with that letter?"

Strategy IV claims that "good readers check their reading by looking through the entire word from left to right and by asking 'does it look right'?" This strategy repeats the instruction to "self-monitor" by asking "Does it [the word] make sense?" Children are again exhorted to "get their mouths ready to help predict a tricky word." They are to ask themselves if a word "looks right."

Strategy V tells children that "when good readers come to a tricky word, they reread to try and figure the word out or to regain meaning." Strategies I through IV are then reiterated.

In Strategy VII, students have a new directive: "Look for Chunks." This unappetizing suggestion is explained by the use of the sample word "fan." Students "can use the an chunk to figure out the word hand or candle," the handout states.

Strategy VII claims that "good readers also find words that look like other words, such as cat and pat. Being able to read cat [presumably by looking at a picture of a cat] makes reading pat more likely." The handout tells parents to "prompt" their children by reminding them that they "know a word almost like the unknown word."

Parents wonder why their children are learning to guess at words and "get their mouths ready" instead of learning letter sounds and phonemic blends so that they can sound out words and actually read. One baffled parent complains that his child "reads okay when he's looking at the pictures, but when you cover up the pictures, he has no idea what the words are." This parent has purchased Phyllis Schlafly's phonics textbook, Turbo Reader, in the hope that he can teach his son to read in his spare time.

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