Patty’s Story

August 01, 1991 1 min read

Illustration of Patty’s story here]

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Within one month after entering 1st grade as a natural reader and writer, Patty stopped writing. She moved from a whole language attitude about literacy to a 1st grade class in which she was directed to master the smallest units of language before moving on to larger ones and to do it in a setting in which risk-taking was discouraged.

In the “11 basic areas of readiness’’ in which she was diagnostically tested at the beginning of the year, Patty fell below 80 percent competency on sequencing, recognizing causal relations, and recognizing stylistic devices (humor). She was placed in a “basic prerequisite for reading readiness’’ program.

After two months without receiving a story from her favorite author, Patty’s grandmother begged her to try her hand at another story. After telling her parents that she could not write because she could not spell and that she did not know what to write about, Patty tearfully sat down and wrote “Patty’s Nonstory.’' An honest critic of her own work, Patty drew an X across the story and pushed it aside.

Illustration of Patty’s “nonstory’’ here]

Patty ended the 1st grade no longer concerned with the communicative nature of language; she now wanted her text to be error free, which meant using words that she was sure she could spell and spending a great deal of time erasing and forming the letters perfectly. Instead of writing stories and poems and reading self-selected books, Patty read short, controlledvocabulary stories in basals and worked on endless workbook pages.

--Dorothy Watson
Excerpted from “Defining and Describing Whole Language,’' The Elementary School Journal (November 1989). Reprinted with permission of the University of Chicago Press. The author is president of the Whole Language Umbrella.

A version of this article appeared in the August 01, 1991 edition of Teacher as Patty’s Story