Whole Language and Language Experience Approaches for Beginning Reading: A Quantitative Research Synthesis

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NICHCY’s Structured Abstract 54 describes the following:

Title | Whole Language and Language Experience Approaches for Beginning Reading: A Quantitative Research Synthesis

Author | Stahl, S.A., & Miller, P.D.

Source Review of Educational Research, 59(1), 87-116.

Year Published | 1989

Abstract
To examine the effects of whole language and language experience approaches on beginning reading achievement, a quantitative synthesis was performed on 2 databases: 5 first-grade studies of the United States Office of Education and 46 additional studies comparing basal reading approaches to whole language and language experience approaches. (ERIC: SLD)

Background
Whole language and language experience approaches for teaching reading are based on the premise that reading instruction should begin in as natural a manner as possible, focusing on the function of written words as tools for communication instead of on their form. Whole language and language experience approaches view children’s ability to produce language as the bridge between spoken and written language. These approaches support the use of authentic children’s literature and reject basal readers and the organization of reading instruction around skill sequences. This meta-analysis compares the effects of whole language/language experience approaches with the effects of basal reading approaches to early literacy instruction.

Research Questions

  1. What are the effects of whole language and language experience approaches on beginning reading achievement? How do these compare with the effects of basal reading approaches?
  2. Are the effects of whole language/language experience approaches different in kindergarten than in 1st grade?
  3. Do whole language/language experience approaches affect various components of reading (e.g., word recognition, comprehension, decoding) differently?

Research Design
Meta-Analysis*

  • Number of Studies Included | 15
  • Number of Subjects | N/A
  • Years Spanned | 1960-1988

Research Subjects
Most of the studies did not focus on children with disabilities. However, several of the studies researched special populations, including disadvantaged children and children with mild mental retardation.

Age/Grade of Subjects
Kindergarten to 2nd grade.

Specified Disability
Mild Mental Retardation (MMR)

Intervention
Reading performance of children taught using the whole language/language experience approach was compared to the performance of subjects when basal readers were used.

Duration of Intervention
N/A

Findings

  1. Overall results suggested that the effects of whole language/language experience and basal reading programs were similar but not homogeneous.
  2. Whole language and language experience approaches for teaching reading were more effective when used with kindergarteners or as a pre-reading/reading readiness program than when used with 1st or 2nd graders.
  3. Whole language and language experience approaches had a greater positive effect on word recognition skills, while basal reading programs showed greater effects on reading comprehension.

Combined Effects Size
The overall mean effect size* was 0.09 (low/not significant). Effect sizes ranged from 0.17 to 0.33 for word recognition and between 0.09 and –0.42 for comprehension, depending on the type of study.

Conclusion/Recommendations
Overall, the effects of whole language/language experience approaches and basal reading approaches to early reading instruction emerged as similar, although the results of this analysis slightly favor (a) whole language/language experience approaches for kindergarteners and children developing pre-reading skills, and (b) basal reading or phonics approaches for children in the mastery phase of learning to read, beginning around 1st grade.

  • The authors of this analysis suggest that whole language/language experience approaches may be most helpful in developing children’s basic understanding of written language, including the structure of stories, the use of print to communicate ideas, and basic print concepts. However, once children move on to mastering the decoding of print, they may need a more systematic approach, such as phonics.
  • The whole language/phonics debate assumes that one approach must be preferable and the other relatively useless. However, this analysis suggests that both approaches can be helpful in teaching children to read. Whole language/language experience approaches introduce children to print concepts and quality children’s literature. Phonics shows children how the sounds made by different combinations of letters fit together to make words. The integration of both whole language/language experience approaches and phonics techniques into instruction may produce the most effective instruction for beginning readers.

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* Meta-Analysis | A widely-used research method in which (1) a systematic and reproducible search strategy is used to find as many studies as possible that address a given topic; (2) clear criterion are presented for inclusion/exclusion of individual studies into a larger analysis; and (3) results of included studies are statistically combined to determine an overall effect (effect size) of one variable on another.

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