I'm going to try and tie up a few loose ends from the whole language vs. phonics debate. This'll be the first in a series of posts.
Whole language presents a bit of a moving target. At first Goodman defined it as a psycholinguistic guessing game and it started out as being very anti-phonics. Under this original theory, decoding was not viewed as something that readers were necessarily doing when they read. Thus, one could honestly set forth the position that tests which measure decoding ability did not accurately measure reading ability.
But then a funny thing happened.
It turned out that many children taught to read as a psycholinguistic guessing game failed to become skilled readers, many turned out to be non-readers. Instead of folding up the tent and admitting defeat, the whole language movement changed its world view to "balanced literacy" which "of course" includes instruction in phonics.
This changed world view required a shift in how reading was viewed. Instead of a psycholinguistic guessing game, reading is now viewed as entailing the ability to decode text. The new view is that the whole process of learning how to read should be taught holistically in a content and literature rich environment. But underlying this shift in verbiage was the profound shift to defining reading as including the ability to decode words by attending to all the letters of each word all the time in conjunction with the use of meaning-based context cues.
Fair enough. There's some reason to believe that skilled readers sometimes use context clues to determine the meaning of unknown words (words not in their oral vocabulary) or determine the meaning of ambiguous words. For example, let's say that the child comes to the word "camel" and isn't sure is the word is cAmel, CamEl, or camel. The child could determine the correct word if the sentence read "They rode on top of a camel through the desert" and the word camel was in the child's receptive vocabulary.
But this new whole language world view presents a paradox. We know that the ability to fluently decode correlates highly with the ability to read well. And, we know that the ability to decode can be objectively measured using tests such as DIBELS. We also know that children taught phonics systematically and explicitly turn out to be better decoders.
So, if the ability to decode is so important, as the whole language people think it now is, how does one reconcile the whole language belief system with the objective evidence that whole language taught children do not decode as well as students taught via a more explicit and systematic version of phonics?
Moreover, the whole language people continue to insist, with no evidence, that decoding tests are invalid, but yet they also insist that it is important to teach phonics, which is supposed to teach children how to decode.
They're trying to have their cake and eat it too. Problem is that their view doesn't make much sense and is internally contradictory. What am I missing?