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Dr. Joanne Meier
Sound It Out
Joanne Meier

Ouch! Tough day for Four Block, aka Whole-Language High Jinks

A new report (opens in a new window) came out today, authored by reading expert Louisa Moats. In it, Moats takes a hard look at reading programs that market themselves as ones based on Scientifically Based Reading Research (SBRR). The report, “Whole Language High-Jinks,” examines Reading Recovery (opens in a new window), Four Blocks (opens in a new window), Guided Reading, and programs that use a generic “balanced literacy” description. It also includes a comparison of two major approaches to reading instruction (SBRR and Whole Language Derivatives).

The report says this: Some reading programs, in an effort to capitalize on Reading First funding, market themselves as programs that reflect SBBR, when in fact, they do not. Moats’ report uses strong language, for example: “Four Blocks is the best example of a whole-language program masquerading as an SBRR program…”[emphasis added]. Moats describes how a good SBRR program ‘teaches each component thoroughly, explicitly, and with planned connections to the others. Such programs build in validated assessments of progress so that students who are accelerated and those who need small-group intervention and support are identified and taught accordingly.’ The “sheep in wolves clothing” programs fail our neediest students by sharing the following commonalities: teacher modeling (not direct instruction), rely on strategies from the three cueing systems theory, reject systematic decoding, spelling, and grammar instruction, confuse phonemic awareness with phonics, make heavy use of writer’s workshop and leveled books, and de-emphasize direct instruction in comprehension strategies.

Several of the blogs I read regularly have also blogged about the release: see Teach Effectively (opens in a new window), Joanne Jacobs (opens in a new window), and I Speak of Dreams (opens in a new window), just announcements, no commentary. I’m eager to see the types of comments that come in. I suspect we’ll hear from teachers who use the programs Moats slammed and argue for their ‘SBRRness.’ Teachers who use some of the “reasonably faithful to SBRR” programs, as described by Moats, (Open Court (opens in a new window), Trophies (opens in a new window), Reading Street (opens in a new window)) might have their own opinions about teaching with those programs.

I’d encourage everyone to read the report, and if you’re inclined, come back and comment. And while I agree with Moats’ recommendations for policymakers at the end of the report, does anyone else agree that they seem disconnected from the report’s content?

About the Author

Along with her background as a professor, researcher, writer, and teacher, Joanne Meier is a mom. Join Joanne as she shares her experiences raising her own young readers, and guides parents and teachers on the best practices in reading.

Publication Date
January 30, 2007