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Whole Language Glossary

Deconstructionism: A philosophical world view in which language is viewed as a man-made system of symbols that have no absolute meanings and no absolute references to reality. Therefore, all written texts are subject to constant interpretation and reinterpretation by the reader who brings his own subjective reality to the reading process.

Ideographs: Graphic symbols that stand for ideas, emotions, actions, etc. The earliest form of writing used by human beings was picture writing, or pictography. In pictography the symbols look like the things they represent. However, as civilization became more complex, the scribes had to begin depicting things that did not lend themselves to depiction, such as ideas, emotions, actions, etc. The result was the development of "ideographs," that is, graphic symbols that did not look like whatever it was they were representing. Modern Chinese is made up of about 50,000 of such ideographs.

As the Chinese writing system has evolved, some of the ideographs are now used as sound symbols to enable the Chinese to write foreign names and words. In other words, even Chinese is no longer a purely ideographic system. On the other hand, alphabetic writing discarded the ideographs entirely and uses a small set of symbols to stand for the irreducible speech sounds of the language. The idea that written words in English can be viewed as ideographs negates all of the advantages of alphabetic writing which is a purely sound-symbol system enabling the reader to read any word after having developed an automatic association between letters and sounds. The great advantage of alphabetic writing is that it permits us to do much more with much less.

Intensive Systematic Phonics: A teaching method whereby children are taught to read by learning the alphabet first, then learning the sounds the letters stand for in an intensive manner, using drill, flashcards, word families. The 44 sounds of the English language and their spelling forms are taught in a sequential and systematic way, generally beginning with the simplest spelling forms (the short vowels and consonants) and ending with the long vowels and their variety of spelling forms. Not all phonics programs follow the same sequence of instruction. However, the purpose of this method is to help the child become an accurate, independent, phonetic reader.

Look-Say: A method of reading instruction that begins with the child memorizing a battery of sight words by their configurations, as if they were Chinese ideographs. Once the child has memorized a sufficient number of sight words, he or she is introduced to beginning consonant letters in order to reduce way-out guessing. In look-say, which is also known as the whole-word or sight method, the child is taught the various strategies of figuring out the text, which include picture clues, context clues, and phonetic clues. In general, this method of teaching produces inaccurate, subjective readers as opposed to the alphabetic-phonetic method (intensive, systematic phonics) which produces accurate, objective readers.

Whole Language: A philosophy of reading instruction based on the belief that children learn to read in the same way they learn to speak: naturally. Thus the child is introduced to whole texts at the very beginning and is expected to learn a variety of strategies which help him or her figure out what the words say. Some phonics is taught as in look-say, but is meant to be used by the reader only as a last-resort strategy. The emphasis is on looking at words at wholes, as units of potential meaning, and "interpreting" the text rather than reading for accuracy. Teaching phonics is discouraged because it breaks up words into letters and syllables which have no meaning and negates the idea of the whole. This method of teaching produces inaccurate, subjective readers.


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