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I did not set out to become a Whole Language Teacher, I just evolved into one. Knowing there were children in kindergarten and first grade that read and wrote better than my students propelled me into a hyper alert state, forcing me to keep my eyes and ears open for new an innovative ways of teaching.
I had a chance to attend NCTE Nashville in 1998. It was my first national reading conference and I was impressed by two things --the huge number of people in attendance and that they had a complete day devoted to just Whole Language. Finally I could get a better understanding of what was so special about whole language.
I remember listening to Regie Routeman's packed session and although I didn't understand everything she was talking about, I left with a sense of awe about the things the children were accomplishing. I remember one of the teachers showing us fifth grade student writing where the students had copied the style of Donald Crews, author of Big Mama's, into their own writing, and I wondered how you got students to do that. I got to see Eloise Greenfield, and she spoke about how she came to write her latest book, and what she was thinking about as she wrote it. I was excited that I could bring back to my students the words of an author they adored.
The cohort of student teachers, as part of their course work, was reading Creating Classrooms for Authors and Inquires by Jerome Hartste et.al, and that summer, I dove into that book, determined to understand what whole language was and wasn't. Reading it from cover to cover brought so many questions to my mind. There was so much there that I was learning about for the first time -- author's circle, the inquiry cycle, responding to literature, alternative assessments of student work, strategy lessons. I was totally amazed at what could be done but overwhelmed at the possibility of my doing it all. I needed to learn more, and just try a few things to start.
So I began with Author's circle,
a process of having the children come together in small groups
to share their own writing pieces and to ask their peers for
feedback. This was a big hit with my children, having a real
audience with which to share their writing. Right away I found
out I didn't know much about modeling helpful questions. We seemed
to be stuck on questions like "Can you say more?" Or
the children would say "I like what you wrote." I didn't
know how to help the children ask the questions that would enable
the author to think deeply or to revise the piece in a more interesting
I've learned whole languge through
trial and error, reflection, collabortive discourse, and by reading
many, many books. Hopefully my path will light the way for others
to begin their own trek of learning what works well for children.