Technology in the Whole Language Classroom

By Marvelle, John D. | Technology & Learning, April 1991 | Go to article overview

Technology in the Whole Language Classroom


Marvelle, John D., Technology & Learning


Last spring my son Jared, a second-grader, came home from school one afternoon and told me that he wanted to do a report on Massachusetts. His school's theme for the year was "Made in America," and during the months of April his teacher was encouraging students to learn about their state. Many of Jared's classmates chose to find out about the state flower or the state bird, others about its sports teams. Jared was interested in Paul Revere and the Minutemen. I was thrilled, since I'm something of a history buff.

Together Jared and I shared ideas about ways to do his project.

We decided to go to the library and borrow some books, both good literature and non-fiction--a few that he could read on his own and others that I would read with him. Since many historic sites were within an hour of our home, we agreed that the two of us would take a day-long field trip to gather additional information and to see the places where Paul Revere and the Minutemen lived many years ago.

We also discussed how he would share what he learned. One obvious tool was our Apple IIGS computer. Even though Jared used the computer on a regular basis to play games and to create signs and cards with The Print Shop GS, he wasn't familiar with word processing. Now was a good time to learn. A second tool at our disposal was our recently purchased camcorder. In the course of a half hour Jared developed a plan--he would put together a video news program showing some of Boston's historic sites and use the Apple IIGS to create a report telling about what he learned. Over the next week, Jared read several books, planned the video, spent time experimenting with software programs, and mapped out our trip.

Each day we discovered something new. By the end of his project, Jared could talk about the Boston Tea Party and the concept of taxes, had a feel for life in the 1700s, starred in a self-produced documentary about Boston's historic sites, used The Print Shop GS to create several free-hand drawings of Minutemen, organized and word-processed a 16-page report, added many new words to his vocabulary, and more. Jared shared his video and accompanying report with his teacher, classmates, and with other teachers in the school. Jared's simple project had snowballed into a schoolwide learning experience.

Jared's experience was a microcosm of whole language in action--he was learning to read by reading; learning to write by writing; and learning to think by thinking.

Today, the whole language approach to teaching reading and writing is sweeping the United States. Although there are those who present whole language as a panacea for all educational problems, most realize that it's not the only answer, nor is it new. Good teachers every where have done it for years without giving it a name. Why then should we be excited about whole language? Simple--today, thanks to technology such as personal computers, camcorders, and videodiscs, it is easier than ever to create whole language experiences.

What Is Whole Language?

"Whole language" is a label for the grass-roots movement that is changing curricula around the world. Yet whole language is difficult to define both in theory and in practice. In recent years many teachers and theorists have offered their definitions--some are very practice-oriented, while others are philosophical. (For an excellent discussion on defining whole language, see D.J. Watson's article "Defining and Describing Whole Language," The Elementary School Journal, November, 1989, pp. 129-141.) Some educational theorists describe the whole language approach as one that emphasizes reading and writing through the language and experiences of the child. Others base it on the premise that one acquires language (both oral and written) through actually using it, not through practicing its component parts until some later date when the parts are assembled.

In my view, whole language is a philosophy strongly linked to John Dewey's belief that students "learn best by doing" and the maxim that "necessity is the mother of invention. …

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