Reflecting on the Great Debate: Does It Matter to Me?
by Chase Young
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Before I began reading McLaughlin’s contribution, Reading Comprehension: An Evolution of Theory, Research, and Practice (Fresch, 2008), I knew I wanted to avoid critically analyzing the theories and research, and focus more why how each influenced practice. In light of this, I altered my reading perception of the literature before engaging. It was not long into the discourse, where I refined my purpose for reading when McLaughlin (Fresch, 2008) noted the lag between research and practice in regards to teaching reading comprehension. I wanted to determine at least one factor that may be responsible for the hindrance of practice from research.

Kucer (2005) gives a seemingly objective synopsis of “The Great Debate.” We have the decoders, skill focusers, and the whole language enthusiasts. Throughout my days as an educator, I had only acknowledged the two extremes of the debate, therefore tried to position myself in the center. According to his continuum, that would place me in the skills category. Apparently, I did not position myself in the center, in fact, I’m not quite sure I even picked a side. As I read the through the descriptors under each of the three points on the continuum (decoding, skills, and whole language), it was more like a game of Plunko. I bounced around in an unpredictable zigzag leaving an astounding expression on my face; had I a mirror, I may not have even recognized myself.

So, the following discourse will manifest from an internal monologue to symbiotic print. At this point you, the reader, will transact with it in any which way you choose. I am a firm believer in the automaticity theory, and tend to start with morphemes of which meaning is attached. For some students, however, I shift to the left toward graphophonemics, others to the right landing safely in the realm of meaning.

As I begin to foster student literacy development, I gravitate to a whole language perspective where meaning moves to syntax, and if necessary to graphophonemics. In contrast to the whole-part methodology of the whole language, I like to cycle back to the whole—thus creating a whole-part-whole method.

The next epistemological view I have traverses throughout the continuum of deductive and inductive learning of literacy. My first attempts are usually inductive. I believe students are inherently curious beings, and in response, I allow them to create their own meaning through inductive processes. Of course, if a student struggles, the deductive teaching manifests to uplift the struggling inductee.

Is literacy learning an individual or collaborative process? You know what’s coming, so I’ll just come out with it—both. I believe people learn in different ways, and that having these didactic views of the literacy learning help make literacy more accessible to everyone. I was a struggling reader (upon reflection, it might have been more of a motivational issue). I just called my mother to determine the practices of my elementary school, and she said I was taught through a whole language approach. To make me feel better, she mentioned that it freed my creative writing because I did not concern myself with spelling and grammar; however, it created problems upon my valiant entrance to middle school with nothing but a creative mind and atrocious spelling. Regardless, it begs the question: would I have been a more proficient reader had I been exposed to solely phonics instruction? I’d like to think not; as bored as I was with reading, repetitive phoneme segmentation practice might have put me overboard.

Per my wise mother, who apparently still keeps in touch with instructional practices of my old elementary school (which now resides 14 years and 982 miles away), my old stomping ground has assimilated to a balanced approach that may even resemble my “Plunko Approach” to literacy learning. In conclusion, I see myself taking advantage of “The Great Debate”, and its creation of the didactic. I pick and choose what works for each student. I am not saying this is the best approach, but so far it has gotten results, and as much as I would like to stick to a strictly researcher point of view in this discourse, I have to remember that behind every statistic there is a child looking to unlock the complex process of reading.

References

Kucer, S. (2005). Dimensions of Literacy: A Conceptual Base for Teaching Reading and Writing in School Settings (2nd ed.). Mahwah, NJ. Lawrence Earlbaum Associates, Inc. 


© 2011 Chase J. Young. All rights reserved.