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[Susan notes: For purposes of clarity, two letters are shown here.]

Published in Education Week
04/10/2002

To the editor

The letter by emeritus professor Stephen Krashen that claims (as its headline reads) "Science Supports Whole Language" (March 13, 2002) is typical of the unsatisfactory manner in which supporters of whole-language literacy instruction now deal with this issue.

At first, the whole-language movement averred that scientific study of literacy development was ipso facto bogus. At least this was a logical position to take, since none of the unique principles or novel practices of whole-language literacy instruction are corroborated by relevant empirical evidence.

Professor Krashen attempts to skirt around that fact by contending that the "core hypothesis" of whole language is that "literacy is developed by understanding texts." In truth, of course, literacy is the ability to understand the meanings in texts intended by their authors. Thus, all that Mr. Krashen actually offers is the unavoidable platitude that being literate acts to make one more literate.

Finally, Mr. Krashen falsely complains that the report of the National Reading Panel did not conclude that students who "read better" also "write better, have larger vocabularies, and have more control over complex grammatical constructions." That has been common knowledge among teachers since long before either whole language or the National Reading Panel.

Patrick Groff
Professor Emeritus of Education
San Diego State University
San Diego, Calif.



[Stephen Krashen's response.]

Published in Education Week, April 10, 2002

To the editor:

I claimed that students who read better also write better, have larger vocabularies, and better grammar ("Science supports whole language," March 13). Patrick Goff ("Whole language and its platitudes," March 27) says I "falsely complain" that the National Reading Panel (NRP) disagreed. But they did. In their section on "Fluency," the panel reached the startling conclusion that there is no clear evidence that getting children to read more actually improves reading achievement. In their review of sustained silent reading (SSR) research, the NRP found only 14 comparisons in which those in SSR were compared to those in traditional instruction. None were long term. Readers did better in four cases and there was no difference in 10. They concluded that this "handful" of studies raises "serious questions" about the efficacy of sustained silent reading.

Goff accuses whole language supporters as ignoring the "scientific study of literacy development." He should be interested to know that I, an unrepentant supporter of whole language, have reviewed the experimental literature and have concluded that the NRP's conclusion is incorrect. In a paper in the Phi Delta Kappan (October, 2001), I reported that students who participated in sustained silent reading programs read as well as or better than those in comparison groups in 51 out of 54 comparisons. In studies lasting longer than an academic year, those in SSR outperformed comparison students in eight out of ten comparisons, with two comparisons showing no difference.

(Note that a finding of "no difference" suggests that free reading is just as effective as traditional instruction. Because it is so much more pleasant than traditional instruction and also provides students with valuable information and insights, a finding of no difference supports the use of sustained silent reading. It also confirms that free reading does indeed result in literacy growth.)

The case for free voluntary reading does not rest entirely on studies of sustained silent reading. There are numerous case histories, correlational studies, and other experimental studies that support recreational reading, as well as studies showing that those with more access to books (e.g. those who attend schools with better school libraries) do better on tests of reading comprehension. The National Reading Panel, in addition to missing most of the research on sustained silent reading, disregarded this research as well.

Stephen Krashen


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