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Teaching writing in a whole language classroom

5 June 1997


This study began as an investigation of whole language-based teaching methods with a focus on writing instruction. The study took place in a suburban elementary school in a fourth and fifth grade blended classroom.

I began with an investigation of whole language. The literature reviewed briefly covers the foundations of whole language, writing in a whole language classroom, the teacher's role and assessment practices. Whole language in rooted in John Dewey's progressive philosophy. John Dewey believed that students need to direct their own learning. The teacher's role is to facilitate learning. Writing in a whole language classroom follows a process. This process is outlined in a specific order: prewriting, drafting, revising, copyediting, and the final draft. Assessment practices include use of portfolio's, scoring guides developed by the teacher and students, peer-assessment, and self-assessment.

The narrative section of this paper includes a composite of observations in the classroom and a transcription of an interview with the classroom teacher. The interview with the teacher reveals her philosophy of teaching, which is then reflected in the observations. A detailed analysis of the interview and the composite of the classroom observations reveals that the classroom follows whole language principles and practices very closely. The whole language philosophy allows for variation in teaching practices, the teacher in this study adapted whole language methods to suit her style.

In these times of ever-changing laws surrounding public education, whole language can offer many useful methods and ideas for teachers. One area of interest to many is assessment. Whole language calls for authentic assessment of students. Authentic assessment means assessing students in a realistic manner. For example, students would complete a project that demonstrates what they learned rather than taking a paper and pencil test. Another area of interest is in the writing process. Process writing forces the students to focus on the content of their writing rather than on grammar mistakes. Changing the focus to content heightens student interest in their work. It becomes something more meaningful to the student.


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