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Version 1.2 – Updated June 2023

Whole language approach


  • Influence: Whole language approach
  • Domain: Curricula
  • Sub-Domain: Reading, writing and the arts
  • Potential to Accelerate Student Achievement: Likely to have a small positive impact
  • Influence Definition: An approach to reading that shows students how language is a system of parts that work together to make meaning. It has also been called balanced literacy and invites students to learn reading by exploring a literacy-rich environment.


  • Number of meta-analyses: 5
  • Number of studies: 81
  • Number of students: 8,018
  • Number of effects: 288
  • Weighted mean effect size: 0.14
  • Robustness index: 3


Journal Title Author First Author's Country Article Name Year Published Variable Number of Studies Number of Students Number of Effects Effect Size
Review of Educational Research Stahl & Miller USA Whole language and language experience approaches for beginning reading: A quantitative research synthesis 1989 Effects of whole language instruction 15 0 117 0.09
Conference paper Gee USA An introduction to human language: Fundamental concepts in linguistics 1993 Effects of whole language instruction 21 0 52 0.65
Journal of Computer Assisted Learning Abrami, Lysenko, & Borokhovski Canada The effects of ABRACADABRA on reading outcomes: An updated meta-analysis and landscape review of applied field research 2020 Effects of Balanced Literacy interventions 17 7,388 91 0.20
Educational Psychologist Stahl, McKenna, & Pagnucco USA The effects of whole-language instruction: An update and a reappraisal 1994 Effects of whole language instruction 14 0 14 0.15
Elementary School Journal Jeynes & Littell USA A meta-analysis of studies examining the effect of whole language instruction on the literacy of low-SES students. 2000 Effects of whole language instruction 14 630 14 -0.65
TOTAL/AVERAGE 81 8,018 288 0.09
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