This is an approach where children are taught to look and guess instead of being taught the relationship between letters and groups of letters and sounds.
Cambourne argues that learning to read is as natural and easy as learning to talk on the basis that "oral and written forms of language are only superficially different".
Reading, so the argument goes, does not have to be taught in a highly structured, systematic way as it occurs naturally as "the brain can also learn to process oral and written forms of language in much the same way".
Whole language involves immersing children in a so-called rich language environment where they are taught to guess unknown words by their context or by looking at related pictures and illustrations.
The reality is that reading, similar to learning how to write, is decidedly unnatural.
As noted by the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky, oral speech is "spontaneous, involuntary and nonconscious" while activities like reading and writing are "abstract, voluntary, and conscious".
The 2005 National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy concludes that successful reading programs involve "an early and systematic emphasis on the explicit teaching of phonics" and a "focus on direct teaching".
The 2005 inquiry found that the prevailing approach to pedagogy in teacher training is based on constructivism even though there is "a serious lack of supporting evidence for its effectiveness".
Whole language advocates like Cambourne are also wrong to argue that beginning teachers are taught a phonics and phonemic awareness approach during teacher training.
A 2007 study by academics at NSW's Avondale College summarising national and international research analysing pre-service and in-service approaches to reading also concludes there is a definite lack of balance.
The researchers note there is a "mismatch between, on the one hand, what converging evidence-based research supports as effective early reading instruction and, on the other hand, the knowledge and skills which new teachers bring to the task of teaching beginning reading".
Most teachers lack the knowledge and skills to implement a phonics approach.
The Editor : When Whole Language was introduced to NSW schools in about 1986, many experienced teachers did not think it was an effective strategy.
They were in-serviced for hours and told that they were 'finding it hard to adapt to change'.
I used phonics (SRA readers) in my NSW primary class and, unbeknown to me, my class was being compared with a class where TWO teachers had worked on a Whole Language approach.
The children in my class did much better.
In 1987 I went to a language teachers' conference in Darwin.
We compared Grade 5 writing at one school in 1882 with Grade 5 writing in 1987, after the introduction of 'Whole Language' to the school.
It was immediately obvious to everybody that the 1987 writing was of a much lower standard and that Whole Language was failing.
We were asked to keep the information "in-house" because it was not 'politically correct' to criticise Whole Language.
It is an absolute disgrace that this ineffective Whole Language strategy is still lingering on in Australian schools in 2013.
It is an example of how harmful some Australian teacher-training has been.
Teaching needs to be based on evidence, not on warm fuzzy 'beliefs'.
And Australian classroom teachers need to be respected, their professional opinions about teaching strategies need to be heard.
It is much too easy for the 'education experts' to dismiss classroom teachers who question ineffective teaching strategies as 'troublemakers' who are 'finding it had to adapt to change'.
Phonics proven path to literacy, Kevin Donnelly, The Australian, 3 October 2013