Transitions and Journeys to Whole Language

A Journey From the Heart
Renee Goularte

I came to Whole Language not through training, not through collegial support, not through my school district touting or mandating anything. If I had to name a way that I initially moved toward something resembling Whole Language, I would have to say that it was through reading John Holt and Frank Smith, and finding in their writings a certain resonance with what I
believe in my gut.

When I began teaching elementary school (third grade) in 1988, I was trading students around with other teachers for "reading groups" for which we used a basal series and teachers' manuals. Somehow this didn't feel to me like the best way to teach reading. I had no name for it, but rather a *knowing* inside me that there was a better way. Over time, I learned ways to individualize my students' reading and writing instruction. Again, this was not through workshops, or collegial support, or even hooking up with known Whole Language folks. It was done through trial and error, watching what my students were doing in their processes of learning, and adjusting what I did to meet their needs. Fortunately for me, I was working in a school district where those in charge were more interested in people doing the job however they could than they were in telling them how to do it. In fact, my classroom was often visited by district administrators who praised me for my active classroom environment and the quality of my students' work.

Somewhere along the line, I discovered that what I do was something more akin to "whole language" than anything else, so that's what I called it. I was not annointed officially by anyone, nor was I a member of any clubs or organizations. I just did what made sense to me, and my students progressed. And, when the reading wars started, we began having district workshops that leaned toward practices that were more whole language than not. Eventually, I found the TAWL (Teachers Applying Whole Language) listserv and discovered that there was something called a "Whole Language Umbrella" and that people existed named Ken and Yetta Goodman and Brian Cambourne and Gerald Coles and Donald Graves.

There are many paths that can end up at a place. Some of them have signposts, and some are more hidden. My path was created by my gut, and then paved by subsequent findings through reading the works of "the experts" and observing the success of my students.

Renee Goularte is an elementary teacher and writer who has worked with students from Kindergarten through Sixth Grade. She has been teaching since 1988, and has a Master's Degree in Elementary Education. Her favorite book on teaching reading is Radical Reflections by Mem Fox.

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