Whole Language and It’s Relation to Modern Learning

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.

Reflections on Instructional Design – Week 7

CCK08 – I’ve been doing a lot of connecting this week – polished off Introducing Wittgenstein which was a nice light read that makes a lot of sense in regards to the Connectivism course. I also saw Religulous which is tied into the idea of self-determination and control (this time, the control that religion imposes on behaviour, something that education also does).

Instructional design for me has always meant the “stuff” you do in class. It strikes me that instructional design (which implies a power structure from the get-go) is not how one would want to approach the process of using a connectivist approach to teaching (again, another word filled with power implications). If connectivism is chaotic by nature (as nature is chaotic), if connectivism is distributed, if connectivism is reacting to student needs rather than proactively dictating then how can one design what happens in the classroom?

This thought originates from a comment by Guy Boulet in Harold Jarche’s blog that went:

“In my mind, this is the university of the future, and the future is now. It is time that faculty stop thinking that what they teach is gospel. The role of faculty staff must shift from teacher to tutor. Students must be guided, not taught in order to better prepare them for the reality of the workplace.”

Hmmm, tutors… is that the future of teachers(/facilitators/instructors…)? What an incredible jump for someone to make! If instructors are to move to the tutoring model, does that not assume that we have to be subject matter experts, able to deftly move from one aspect of a topic to another? Certainly there are people in education who are there because their intellect and ability to think grants them some power. Sometimes, this power is granted through the mere act of publication – but now that self-publication is de rigeur, we have all fallen into a popularity contest of sorts – whoever has the most hits and links, whoever publishes the most is the “expert”. Critical thinking will sort some of this out (trash is still trash whether it’s Chomsky’s or my trash). The implication of higher education moving towards making professors into tutors is idealism without any sort of grounding. Maybe I’m so cynical that I believe that the power strutures that exist are unmoveable.