Whole Language Principles

Taken from Whitmore, K. F., & Goodman, K. S. (1996). Practicing what we teach: The principles that guide us. In Whitmore, K.F., & Goodman, K.S. (eds.), Whole language voices in teacher education. York, ME: Stenhouse

Language Principles

  • Language is the medium of communication, thought, and learning. It's central to whole language programs.
  • Language is authentic when it serves real language purposes in real speech acts and literacy events.
  • Language must be whole and functional to be comprehended and learned.
  • Written language is language: a parallel semiotic system to oral language.
  • Reading and writing are processes of making sense through written language.
  • Making sense of print involves three language cue systems: graphophonic, syntactic, and semantic

Learning Principles

  • Language learning is universal. All people can think symbolically and share a social need to communicate.
  • Invention and convention are two forces that shape language development and concept development.
  • Each learner invents language within the convention of the social language.
  • Learning language, learning through language, and learning about language take place simultaneously (Halliday, undated).
  • Written language is learned like oral language: in the context of its use.
  • Learning is an ongoing process. It occurs over time, in a supportive, collaborative context, and is unique for each learner.
  • Reflection is a central part of the learning process, and self-evaluation is a major part of the reflection process.
  • What you know affects what you learn.
  • There is a zone of proximal development (Vygotsky 1978) that develops in learners: the range of what they are capable of learning at any point in time

Teaching Principles

  • Learners must be trusted to assume responsibility for their own learning.
  • Whole language teachers are curriculum makers; they initiate appropriate learning opportunities for their pupils and invite them to participate.
  • Whole language teachers mediate learning; they do not intervene and take control of it.
  • Whole language teachers are kidwatchers (Y. Goodman 1985); they know their students. Whole language teacher educators are teacher watchers. They also know their students.
  • Teachers are sensitive, as kidwatchers, to learners' zones of proximal development and provide enough (but not too much) support and mediation.
  • Teachers support learners' ownership over their own learning.
  • Teachers must enable students to empower and liberate themselves.
  • Teachers need to accept diversity and teach for it
  • Whole language teachers are advocates for their students

Curriculum Principles

  • The whole language curriculum is whole in two senses: it is complete, and it is integrated.
  • The whole language curriculum integrates all aspects of the curriculum and the whole student around themes and inquiries.
  • The whole language curriculum is a dual curriculum: it builds thought and language at the same time that it builds knowledge and concepts.
  • The curriculum starts with learners, building on who they are, what they know and believe, and where they are going.
  • The curriculum reflects the culture and realities of the community.
  • The whole language curriculum is broad enough to include the interests and needs of all learners and deep enough to support substantive learning at all levels.
  • There are no artificial floors and ceilings in whole language. Learners may start where they are and go as far as their interests and needs take them

Social Principles

  • Whole language brings the outside world into the classroom by valuing and then relating learners' life experiences to class room learning experiences.
  • Each whole language classroom invents itself as a learning community (Whitmore and Crowell 1994).
  • A major aspect of education is being socialized into a community: joining the literacy club (Smith 1988).
  • Whole language teachers value collaborative learning communities and consciously work to create a sense of shared involvement.
  • Only in democratic classrooms can children learn to be citizens in a democracy. College classrooms and staff development programs need to be democratic, too


Goodman, Y.M. 1985. "Kidwatching: Observing Children in the Classroom." In Observing the Language Learner (pp. 9-18). A. Jaggar and M. T. Smith- Burke,ed. Newark, DE an dUrbana, IL: Co-published by international Reading Association and National Council of Teachers of English.

Halliday, M.A.K. undated. "Three Aspects of Children's Language Development: Learning Language, Learning Through Language, Learning About Language." In Language Research: Impact on Educational Settings. G.S. Pinnell and M. Matlin Haussler, eds. Unpublished manuscript.

Smith, F. 1988. Joining the Literacy Club. Portsmouth, NH. Heinnemann.

Vygotsky, L.S. 1978. Mind and Society. Cambridge", "MA: Harvard University Press

Whitmore, K. F., and C.G. Crowell. 1994. Inventing a Classroom: Life in a Bilingual, Whole Language Learning Community. York, ME: Stenhouse