Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Letter names or letter sounds


There has been a heated Twitter discussion on when to teach letter names.

When the British came to Malaya they taught our teachers to teach us letter names first and then teach us letter sounds. This is what I practice in teaching my dyslexic students.

They taught us only one of the sounds of letters. They taught us A for apple; b for ball; C for cat and so on.


In my lessons I teach the A as in apple first and at the same time I tell my students that the letter A represents a few other sounds and alert them to the other sounds when we meet them. In the first lesson they learn two sounds represented by the letter A.

A as in apple and A as in about.

Subsequently they are taught;

A as in able, ace, apron

A as in arm, art, aunt

A as in all, always, although

Here is an excellent response to my comment, two days ago, on FaceBook in a group I belong which highlights the importance of teaching the different sounds represented by letters:

 Sarah Hart responding to Lion Luqman Michel

Yes. A shallow orthography makes it easier for kids to be able to read, because each letter only represents one sound (Spanish for example only has 24 sounds, but uses our same 26 letter alphabet).

In English, we have a deep orthography. We not only have 44 sounds, but many of our vowel sounds have multiple spellings.

So students must be flexible when sounding out words early on. Sometimes this leads to frustration and kids may give up on attempting to read due to this difficulty.

The other day, one of my students said, "I can't figure out this word. I tried all the sounds represented by a (short a, long a, schwa)." The word was "bald." This was one of my students who likes to read.

My students who struggle might have tried two sounds, and then devolved into a crying fit because they get frustrated. The time spent on their fit of frustration takes away time that could have been spent reading if they felt success when they only have to use one sound for a letter in a language with a shallow orthography.

Writing is even more difficult and leads to frustration as often these students are perfectionists. If they can't spell something right, they won't try.

My students will not have the problem mentioned by Sarah above because they are taught all the different sounds represented by the letters. The sound of the letter a in the word bald is as in the words awe, all, always.

I have taught more than 70 dyslexic kids who when they came to me could all name the letter names but uttered sounds represented by letters with extraneous sounds.

When I started teaching kids overseas using WhatsApp and Zoom it was the same - the kids could all read out letter names but sounded out sounds represented by letters wrongly i.e. with extraneous sounds.

I have a video on the importance of teaching letter names. LINK.

When dyslexic students come to me knowing the letter names it makes it easy for me to teach them.

Knowing letter names, I am able to get all my dyslexic students to orthographically map all the 220 Dolch words using letter names. I use letter names and not sounds represented by letters.

Then when I start teaching sounds represented by letters, knowing letter names facilitates the learning of letter sounds.

Here is a report that supports teaching letter names:

The acquisition of alphabet knowledge, or knowledge of letter names and corresponding sounds, is an important accomplishment in children’s early literacy development (Whitehurs & Lonigan, 1998) and recognized as the strongest predictor of later reading ability (Hammill, 2004; National Research Council, 1998; Scarborough, 1998; Schatschneider, Fletcher, Francis, Carlson, & Foorman, 2004; Share, Jorm, Maclean, & Matthews, 1984). Young children with high levels of letter name knowledge tend to develop better reading skills, and children who demonstrate extremely low letter name tend to experience difficulties in reading acquisition (National Research Council, 1998; O’Connor & Jenkins, 1999; Snowling, Gallagher, & Frith, 2003; Torppa, Poikkeus, Laakso, Eklund, & Lyytinen, 2006).

Letter sound knowledge is essential in learning to read alphabetic languages like English (Adams, 1990; Ehri, 1987, 1997, 1998). Consequently, alphabet knowledge is an important component of early literacy instruction (Justice, Pence, Bowles, & Wiggins, 2006), and its development is incorporated into a number of recent federal educational initiatives (e.g., Head Start, Administration for Children and Families, 2003; Reading First, U. S. Department of Education, 2002; Early Reading First, U. S. Department of Education, 2003) and state curriculum frameworks (e.g., Florida Department of Education, n. d.; Massachusetts Department of Education, 2001).


Here is another study supporting the teaching of letter names:

The Contributions of Phonological Awareness and Letter-Name Knowledge to Letter-Sound Acquisition—A Cross-Classified Multilevel

In the present study, we investigated critical factors in letter-sound acquisition (i.e., letter-name knowledge and phonological awareness) with data from 653 English-speaking kindergartners in the beginning of the year. We examined (a) the contribution of phonological awareness to facilitating letter-sound acquisition from letter names and (b) the probabilities of letter-sound acquisition as a function of letter characteristics (i.e., consonant–vowel letters, vowel–consonant letters, letters with no sound cues, and vowel letters). The results show that letter-name knowledge had a large impact on letter-sound acquisition.


Luqman Michel said...

Here is my question on Twitter and the responses from Peter Blenkinsop and Marion S

marion s @mazst Mar 21 Replying to @CoachNurtured @luqmanmichel and 16 others

I’ve taught both ways and find delaying letter names to be beneficial especially for those children who mix sounds and letter names when spelling.

We usually wait until the child is secure with letter/ sound relationships so it could be a matter of a few weeks after instruction begins.

No one in the U.K. has stopped teaching letter names …they just teach sounds first.

Peter Blenkinsop @ManYanaEd Replying to @luqmanmichel @dylanwiliam and 16 others

it is not do we, it is when and what function that plays.

marion s @mazst Mar 21 Replying to @luqmanmichel @dylanwiliam and 16 others

No one is saying don’t teach letter names but they don’t help us read or spell they are simply a convention

Peter Blenkinsop @ManYanaEd Mar 21

I am probably not the best qualified to ask. I don't teach reading but my research leads me to phonics first and letter names later. Sounds are what makes words able to be pronounced and recognised.

Luqman Michel said...

Here is something I read, today – 29.3.2022 - in a book by National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 1998.

Letter Identification

Among the readiness skills that are traditionally evaluated, the one that appears to be the strongest predictor on its own is letter identification.

Just measuring how many letters a kindergartner is able to name when shown letters in a random order appears to be nearly as successful at predicting future reading, as is an entire readiness test.