The whole language method of teaching language involves teaching only the relevant piece of language to the student at the time they need it – closely relating it to the method most of us learn to speak. Of course, there’s a difference between the codified rituals of writing to convey meaning and speaking, although in deeper thinking about it, I don’t think there’s that wide a gap between the way we learn to speak and the way we learn to write. Whole language is rooted in constructivist thinking, certainly drawing a parallel to redefining teachers as guides or facilitators. The idea is certainly tied to how we learn when self-directed; for instance if I need to know how to fix a sink and I don’t know anyone to ask, I turn to YouTube and watch videos, look at some web tutorials, use some critical thinking skills and fix a sink.
The problem is that some critics of whole language look at reading and state psychologically that it is a skill that unlike speaking, is something that has no instinctual basis. In other words, reading and writing has to be learned. Which is the parallel for 21st Century Literacies. You can draw the conclusion, but I don’t think anyone has said (outside of perhaps Prensky) that this generation has a second sense of computers and information on computers. I think educators need to be very careful how we assume people learn, and that people learn a holistic and varied foundation of skills which they can then scaffold as they become more familiar with the technology at hand. Much how many people decry the basic literacy skills of many first year students in post secondary, we may be decrying the basic information literacy skills of everyone in the future.