Breaking the Folly of Whole Language: Why Children Need Strong Decoding Skills for Fluent Reading

 The issue of how children should learn to read has been a matter of intense debate among educators and researchers for far too long. The approach of relying on multiple cues to help children read, commonly known as whole language or balanced literacy, has been gaining popularity in recent years, but it is high time that we put an end to this misguided approach.

The idea that children should use all available cues to get words off the page is nothing short of folly. By encouraging children to rely on pictures, context, and syntactic structure, we are diverting their attention away from the fundamental skills they need to learn to understand how speech and print map to each other. This approach does nothing but handicap children's reading development, preventing them from becoming confident and capable readers.

The "purple challenge" video is a perfect example of the pitfalls of the whole language approach. The child in the video struggles to read the word "purple," despite the presence of pictures and contextual cues, demonstrating that reliance on multiple cues can actually impede reading development. If we want our children to become fluent readers, we need to focus on building the essential decoding skills that are necessary for reading comprehension.

The Simple View of Reading is a model that emphasizes the importance of developing both decoding skills and language comprehension skills simultaneously. Children need to develop the ability to decode words and understand the meaning of the text if they are to become confident and capable readers. By strategically building skills on both sides of the Simple View of Reading ledger, educators can help children develop a strong foundation for reading that will serve them well throughout their lives.

It is high time that we put an end to the misguided approach of whole language and balanced literacy. Instead, we need to focus on building the essential decoding skills that children need to become fluent readers. We owe it to our children to give them the best possible start in life, and that means teaching them to read in a way that actually works. So let us set aside the fuzzy logic and embrace a more evidence-based approach to reading instruction.

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