College Professor's Journey
My journey to whole language has taken place over 40 years, and is still (I hope) continuing, and I need to go back to the beginning of my teaching to describe it. (Actually, perhaps it was the beginning of my own formal education that started me off. I lived in England until I was nine and thus am a product of the British Primary School of the late forties...before the US brand of education began to corrupt it.) Learning (as I recall it) for me started out as a hands on wholistic experience.
I never intended to teach, a decision which was firmly reinforced in my mind by university faculty members who would approach me with words such as "you must be an elementary school major." I hated the idea of being typecast that way. Even more deadly were the words of my major professor, which were "You should take education courses because every woman needs to have something to fall back on." I guess I was a rebel early on because I decided that children should have teachers who wanted to teach, not who had to teach because there was nothing else they could do.
So, of course, after cutting off
my nose to spite my face, I found myself deciding not to go away
to graduate school (Radio & television work was my interest
at that time.) and stick around home base to keep an eye on a
"romantic interest." (That didn't work out so well;
after 13 years we parted ways...but not before having a wonderful
daughter...now 31...who has
What an experience that was. I
had 52 fourth graders in my class. (That's right....and no aide
or co-teacher either.) I have no idea how I made it through that
year. I know I was not a good teacher. I did what I knew, which
was the kind of learning experiences I had had as a child. However,
I knew, deep down, that this wasn't right, so I went back to
pick up the
After somehow making it through
that first year I was asked whether I would consider teaching
in the diocesan gifted program. This put me with a much smaller
class of 5th graders (around 17 I think) and it was here that
I believe I really began to understand what learning and teaching
was all about. I learned so much from these students, especially
to trust them and give them room to experiment and grow. It was
a good year for me, and I
At this point I got married and
moved to another state. Here I taught seventh graders (again
in a parochial school) and had a perfectly miserable year. There
were 15 boys (who had been known as troublemakers since their
first grade year) and 4 girls....or something like that. Any
ideas I had about teaching in a less traditional way were discouraged.
I endured one
After three years of teaching 6th grade another move took place as my husband at the time completed his Ph D, and he took a job out of state. This was my chance to go back to school, and I took it, planning only to work on a master's degree. However, circumstances (I was pregnant at the time) and interest kept me in school until I completed my doctorate. During that time , with a few exceptions, my coursework was pretty traditional, and it wasn't until I attended a conference in which Ken Goodman was one of the presenters that I had an introduction to a whole language perspective. At the time nothing major happened as a result of this experience; life went on and I completed my degree, eventually teaching at a small nearby college. While my teaching would not have been considered traditional, I still didn't have a framework that I would now call whole language informed.
And then, in 1980, sixteen years after that first fourth grade teaching position, a colleague encouraged me to attend the Miscue Conference in Tucson, Arizona. Wow! What a revelation that experience was (Thanks, Nancy Shanklin for guiding me that way, and thanks, Ken & Yetta for giving me a "new start.") Halfway through the conference I called my college and cancelled the textbooks I was going to use the next semester and since I didn't have enough lead time to select different texts, I organized a series of article for the students' reading instead. Then I began the task of understanding what whole language was. (Actually, I'm not sure that the term was being used yet. Does anyone remember where it started, and with whom? I remember Yetta using it in the 80's, but not exactly when.)
I remained at this college for ten years and then moved to Connecticut where I was lucky enough to find a one-year position at a university where whole language was understood, and then a permanent position where I currently teach and where one of the frameworks for our department is a constructivist perspective. I've now been here fifteen years.
Since my first venture into whole language I have attended several Miscue Workshops and at IRA and NCTE conferences have focused on attending sessions that support a whole language theory base. I read professional journals and books, and the writings of people such as Frank Smith, Ken and Yetta Goodman, Jerry Harste, Denny Taylor, and of course, Brian Cambourne, among many others, have informed my understanding and the way I try to teach. (But I can't keep up with all of you TAWLERs out there....you are often way ahead of me, as I teach courses in Children's Literature and also have to try to keep up with children's books published each year.) Of course I also participate in the TAWL list serve (I can't remember for how long, but several years anyway, with time off when I'm away for a long period of time cause the posts really pile up.) and try to do more than just be an invisible participant.
So, where am I right now in my
whole language journey? In my classes I don't use traditional
college textbooks. All the course readings come either from books
such as the ones you are all talking about on the list, or from
professional journals. I think this is important because I believe
that traditional college texts are parallel to basal readers,
and I don't want to demonstrate the use of basals as something
I value. I try to instill in my students, both undergraduate
and graduate prospective teachers and practicing teachers who
are in the graduate reading program, the understandings about
learning that support a whole language framework. It's always
been difficult to do this, but it's getting even more so as schools