Should we begin teaching children letter sounds first with lowercase letters instead of letter names with uppercase letters?

What do you see more of when you open a book, capital letters or lowercase letters? What is more important for reading, letter sounds or letter names?

Shouldn't we teach children the more germane information pertaining to the letter first, its sound, as Montessori schools do? Aa is for apple and it says /a/ is too much information for a child to take in, process and then apply to a complex language code. Why don't we start with lowercase letters and sounds, saving letter names for once a child can read a three-letter consonant-vowel-consonant word?
I asked this question in a TED Conversation. I would love to hear thoughts from other educators. http://www.ted.com/conversations/1817...
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  • Here is a TED_Ed Lesson for parents and educators of young children about this topic. http://ed.ted.com/on/QbRg3P3u
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    I support the approach of dealing with lower-case letters first and foremost, as these are by far more common. But teaching letter names is *essential* to be able to identify them properly. A letter's name is its only stable property; the pronunciation can change, and the shape / size / font can change, so naming is critical to the identity of the letter.

    Letters in English are just the raw material -- and pretty much every letter in the alphabet is capable of doing more than one job, graphemically speaking. Many letters appear in digraphs or trigraphs (like th or tch), and many letters can have no pronunciation at all (as in thumb or sign). The child in the video above points to the letter o and says /ɑ/ -- but in the words "smoking" and "patio" (from the video), that's not what the o spells. So it's misleading to the child to teach that o always sounds like its short vowel sound. It doesn't.

    Why not explore written language factually from the very beginning? Explain and show that letters are just ingredients, and they can have lots of jobs! They have jobs like making meaning or marking relationships, not just spelling sounds. Even very small children can understand that letters can change the way they look or the way they sound, but they always have the same name, and it's by their name that they can be identified and recognized.
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    • Please visit the blog and review the work we are doing. I do not see the first response I gave you...at any rate, this is a materials cost only with travel and training donated. Hope that helps. Google - sounstalk
    • Am curious as to the magnitude of Rotary's investment in Souns so far... I have read your blog thoroughly and see no reference there as to the number of Souns sets Rotary has already purchased. What is that number, roughly?
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  • Gina, I appreciate your answer and this is just the sort of discource I was hoping to get from TED! Is this your lesson? http://ed.ted.com/lessons/making-sens... I just watched it. I agree with your onion analogy on many layers- no pun intended! When I taught fifth grade, I found Latin and Greek roots especially useful for teaching spelling and I also found Making Words by Cunningham wonderful for making connections building words in our language.

    I have done an insane amount of reading about reading over the past few years trying to figure out our obsessive focus on letter names and one quote comes to mind in response to this bit you wrote... "Explain and show that letters are just ingredients, and they can have lots of jobs! They have jobs like making meaning or marking relationships, not just spelling sounds."

    “After many centuries people discovered that they could even turn their pictures into symbols that represented the sounds of their language... These ‘sound pictures’ are called letters, written symbols standing for the sounds that make up all of our words.” p. 6-7 Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet by Don Robb

    With Souns, children learn one symbol, one sound and then practice constructing words. I also agree that we should should begin with writing. However, when I talk about writing, I am referring to building words, constructing words, consonant-vowel-consonant words. Here is an example.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tCRNkq...

    From here, a child's intellect begins to piece the language code together. Here is the first word my daughter read. (I pulled the car over and had her do it again.) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-etli...

    Once a child pieces together a three letter word, as my younger child is demonstrating here, then the child is ready for the letter names, Realistically, the child will probably already know the names since marketing in our society is set out to teach preschoolers this information.

    When a child does this, teach letter names. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p-etli...

    The Souns program changed the way I approach literacy and has had a profound impact on students young and old. I haven't even touched on what I have learned about intervention thanks to this new knowledge. I don't want to throw out too much information, though. I taught in public school for eight year and never even heard of this idea until a few years ago when I met the woman who developed the Souns program. I *WISH* I could go back to the classroom with the knowledge I have now but I cannot so I am trying to share what I have learned. Here's the TED_Ed lesson I made for teachers and parents of young learners. http://ed.ted.com/on/QbRg3P3u
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  • Hi SensAble,

    I understand that you have a particular program or approach that you advocate for; I do not. I traffic in the facts of the writing system, not in any particular program or methodology. I'm sure that your experiences have changed the way you approach literacy -- of course any study we do and any approach we might work with will change our practice. Practices change; approaches change. What doesn't change is the way the writing system works, and the structures within it. I deal professionally with the fallout of phonics and whole language alike; English is morphophonemic, and the belief that phonology is the primary motivator of the writing system is simply false.

    I work with kids all the time who don't know their letter names, in spite of whatever marketing phenomenon might work for other kids. When reading and spelling, the only way we can identify how words are built is by their letter names.

    I teach teachers and kids about English, and I work hard to teach them nothing that I know to be false. Teaching them that "o says /ɑ/" is only true some of the time! But every word either is a base element or has a base element -- that's true all the time. The name of the letter A is -- well, A, that's true all the time. It's a fact, regardless of what approach or program people use, and regardless of what people believe or agree with or don't.

    Good luck with your work.
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    • The first line of souns.org is direct, informative and up front... "A hands-on early literacy program that teaches letter-sound associations... "

      Early literacy means early stages of literacy. Learning the most frequent letter sound associations does not stop children from learning less frequent letter sound associations that come later, nor does it take away from the potential for learning letter names. Rather, by this information coming first, at an earlier age, it internalizes the meaning of script, and brings print to life for a child in a world where he/she is surrounded by it. Children understanding that what comes out of their mouths are sounds and those sounds can become words printed on a page read back to them. That is powerful learning to happen before kindergarten. What the program claims to do is exactly what the program does.

      In my research and studies, I have encountered a number of older students with little to no association of letters with sounds and this leads to great comprehension issues. Here are some examples.

      http://sounstalk.wordpress.com/2013/0...

      http://www.sensablelearning.org/?p=758

      http://www.sensablelearning.org/?p=1192
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  • What a good subject, Della. I love the discussion. I think I would need to know the ages of the children in each approach. For my experience as a Montessori teacher, incremental learning is more successful and builds a greater sense of empowerment and confidence in the child. I do not believe teaching /o/ is deceptive, as it is the most common sound for that symbol in our language. It is most relative to the early CVC encoding and decoding that a very young emerging reader experiences.

    Keep in mind, I am speaking of children 2 to 4 years of age. Once a category for letter-sounds has been established and enough print symbols are known - through play and exploration - building simple phonetic words or writing words phonetically is common. Then new information is added, one step at a time - building on confidence.

    I agree that a child should be given the truth. I think each of you is correct, the only difference is in timing and sequence. The alphabet was designed as a tool for encoding sounds spoken and decoding sounds recorded. The names are certainly important, but are quite useless and even confusing until after the very young child experiences and applies the tools of print for communication. Keeping it simple, teaching fundamental skills of writing and reading incrementally - one step assimilated at a time - really is, in my experience, the better way to build a confident reader.
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    • What if you're not face to face? What if you're driving at the time? What if you're on the phone? In another room? What if the person is blind? What if it's a spelling bee? Really, I'm not sure where this is going, because I'm not sure why anyone would suggest that I study how writing works without being able to name the letters. Written forms are identified by their names, the only stable property they have. We refer to the plural suffix as 's', not as /s/, because sometimes it says /z/. We refer to the preterite suffix as 'ed', not as /d/ or as /t/ or as /əd/, because it doesn't have a pronunciation until it surfaces in a word. The phonology of a grapheme or of a morpheme can't be known until it surfaces in a word. If I teach a child that 'b says /b/' then how do I explain 'dumb' or 'subtle'? But if I teach a child that 'one of the jobs of b is to spell /b/' then I haven't misled them.
    • Gina, I watched your video and am swimming in thoughts and ideas. I need to spend more time with it but I'll start with a fond memory. My grandfather used keep a homophone list. I hope someone saved it.

      Also, I studied El Ed & Philosophy as an undergrad at Bradley, ISU's neighbor. I've been on ISU's campus a number of times.

      I will post more thoughts about implications with your work & early learners. I don't think it contradicts what Brenda and I do, although my understanding is a beginners. I see more how it could complement my learning, and in turn children's comprehension.

      And yes, spelling out loud is the useful aspect of the letter. Technology can circumvent a number of these scenarios.

      I will type more when I'm back home on a pc since I'm away from one at the moment. Thanks for the inspiration.
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    Exactly... "The child in the video above points to the letter o and says /ɑ/ -- but in the words "smoking" and "patio" (from the video), that's not what the o spells. So it's misleading to the child to teach that o always sounds like its short vowel sound. It doesn't.?"

    Teaching letter sounds is important to teaching reading, however, teaching "missrules" (such as a single sound for letters) ultimately confuses vulnerable learners in particular. Letter names are vocabulary concepts, which in and of themselves are not necessary for learning to read, though nonetheless are important. The most effective reading programs teach the multiple sounds for letters from the get go (in close proximity) and avoid reliance on CVC words which promotes "overstipulation" of single sounds.
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  • The Chaos (1922, by Gerard Nolst Trenité) - written more with the adult foreign-language speaker trying to learn english pronunciation in mind, although I think I was introduced to this poem in elementary school language arts class at the age of 10 or 11. Always fun to revisit, and really does a good job at laying out the task at hand for anyone trying to teach pronunciation at any level:

    http://ncf.idallen.com/english.html
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  • I love this, too. It is a beautiful example of why a very natural path to literacy begins with phonetic words, phrases and short readers. These are the baby steps to eventual mastery of a very complicated code.

    The satisfaction on a young child's face who has read her first book is priceless and I have had the satisfaction of enabling this in a number of young readers. Anyone who says it is dismissing too many important elements of what is going on. Tracking is happening. Left to right print knowledge is present. A child is decoding, which is a feat and that child owns the book forever in her heart.
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    • It would also be necessary to see what children do longitudinally, because, as you point out, Shannon, learning 26 graphophonemic associations isn't the same thing as reading.
    • Exactly... Particularly when drawing conclusions about vulnerable learners as per the bold claims in this advert article: http://edition.pagesuite-professional... What longitudinal data supports the claims contained therein regarding the "effectiveness" of this approach (teaching wrong object labels to toddlers) relative to the goal teaching vulnerable learners to read well?
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  • I don't know what happened, but several of my comments have been removed from this page, including comments that Della responded to, so I knew they posted. Anyone have any idea what happened?
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  • I see everything. If you go in through the discussion thread from an email, it does not display the whole strand. Look for the small line that says, "View 10 (or some other number) More Comments" Click that to see if your comments return. I don't think any are missing.

    Let me know if it works. If not, I should have your comment in an email.

    I promise to take time with what you sent. I used to use Latin and Greek roots for spelling and found that so useful. I love the idea of taking a deeper look at the language and literacy with older learners.
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  • Thank you! How embarrassing that I missed that. I looked all over the page for hidden comments and couldn't find anything. That'll teach me to TED when I should be in BED inSTEAD.

    I appreciate your efforts to find commonalities, and your promise to spend time with what I sent. There's no doubt that there is, in what I sent, a whole world of word study that most people -- even teachers -- have never, ever considered.
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  • Don't be embarrassed. Mistakes are our friends. TED Discussion Forums are not easily navigated.

    Brenda raved about your thirty minute video and I look forward to watching it. I enjoyed your TED_Ed lessons very much and am going to take another look.

    From what I see...
    -We both honor the brain as an active pattern decoder and advocate for teaching to the patterns. (Your lens is writing and Brenda's is reading and it's fascinating by how differently letters are viewed from both of your eyes.)
    -We both honor children as ready and able learners.
    You have knowledge of neuroscience and its implications for literacy which is a HUGE interest of mind. When I read about neural plasticity, it sure sounded like Constructivist Theory to me... I want to bridge worlds for the purposes of learning for children and neuroscience is so important. Connections are everything.

    Worlds have SO much to learn from one another.
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  • I appreciate, again, Della, your efforts to make connections. I do, however, have to address perspectives you have ascribed to me, which I do not subscribe to myself:

    You said, "We both honor the brain as an active pattern decoder and advocate for teaching to the patterns."

    I don't honor the brain any more than I honor the heart or the lungs or the liver: it has jobs to do, one of which is to be discerning. I certainly never said anything about a 'decoding' -- I assiduously avoid the term 'decode' unless I'm talking about a magic ring in a box of cereal.

    I do not advocate for teaching anything, and certainly not "teaching to the patterns." I'm not certain I even know what that means. If anything at all, I advocate for studying the language. Our ability to teach anything is only as profound as our willingness to study it rigorously.

    You also say, "Your lens is writing and Brenda's is reading and it's fascinating by how differently letters are viewed from both of your eyes."

    I don't have a lens. I study the writing system -- but it's the same system regardless of whether it's being used for reading or for writing, as though the two can even be separated. There's no such thing as a reading system, there's just the writing system. That is, the system in which English writes its words. No one can read anything until something is written. Writing comes long before reading, in both the human experience and in a child's development. That's not a lens; it's just a fact.

    Finally, you also said, "We both honor children as ready and able learners." I suppose that's true, but I actually treat everyone as ready and able learners -- adults too. I hold my students, my teachers, and my fellow scholars alike in high regard, and I trust their intellect. I don't just think of children as little children; I think of them as future adults. I see in them the college students I now work with, who feel ripped off because they were always told to "sound it out," and because they never got to learn the compelling facts of their writing system. I see in them the parents who would like to be better-equipped to help their own kids who are struggling, but who are stuck in the same "sound it out" ruts as everyone else. For me, the beauty of the writing system is that it works the way it works regardless of whether someone is ready and able to learn it or not.

    This topic has gone all over the place -- but my Polaris, in talking about literacy, is how the writing system works. Passion is all well and good, but we *all* know that people get passionate about falsehoods all the time. Passions and beliefs can mislead us as much as they can lead us, so I stay focused on evidence from the language itself. I understand the joys and rewards of teaching people to become literate -- not just children, but adults, non-native speakers, eulexic and dyslexic alike. I also understand the agony of working with children who have been taught to "sound it out," who get stuck barking one sound at a time when looking at printed words, who think every vowel is a short vowel, who can barely read in anything but contrived, controlled texts with nothing but a select set of words. I understand the despair of children who are bright and capable, but who have been lied to about the way their language works, often by people who are very passionate. I never really have to announce to people that I'm passionate about what I do. Being passionate about language and literacy isn't really anything I set out to give anyone. It's not like I have another way to be. But I do have a choice about how I inform my passions, and I inform mine by bringing rigor and accuracy to my understanding of language and literacy.
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  • Here are some of my initial thoughts. I know I have a neophyte understanding of your study, but I see great worth and connection. I apologize for putting words in your mouth with my connections. That was not my point. And I realize my grave error in word choice now with decoding, as it wasn't the meaning I intended to convey.

    Teachers are handed textbooks made by publishers who are also usually the ones publishing the high-stakes assessments judging the outcomes of the students and the teachers and the districts. Traditional publishers of printed educational materials depend on student failure for profit or they would put themselves out of a job. It's sad but it's true.

    Teachers leave college with some theoretical ideas, usually tainted by the instructor, of reading theories. To date, it is whole language and phonics primarily. And I too love your quote, "A plague on both of your houses."

    I have the lens of a classroom teacher from a Title 1 school servicing primarily second language learners. I entered Bradley as a business major and went to education after reading Kozol's Savage Inequalities in a Sociology class.

    So, why is that important? It's important because my work tends to focus on closing the savage inequalities in knowledge and skills as much as I am able to from the confines of a classroom.

    I'm going to begin with your inspiration for my summer adventures...

    I know I've been all over the place. That is because when I meet someone who has something new to offer that I have not considered before and someone who is knowledgeable and passionate, I want to learn from them. You are constructive with your ideas and I see great worth. I am not presently budging on C-V-C words to start because I see great importance. There is a road to comprehension and incremental steps make a ton of sense to me.

    You mentioned in your video the difference between morphology and syntax. You mention phonology. I see phonology, morphology and syntax as being a possible sequential, incremental, (therefore tangible to most) progression.

    I propose we can begin with phonemic awareness in combination with phonological awareness. I am a believer in letter sounds and nursery rhymes (or Dr. Seuss) being key. Here is a class that pieced itself together as a result of what I have learned in the past few years. Let me add that I learned more from Brenda, a Montessori practitioner and Maverick, about literacy than I did earning a bachelor's a master's, countless staff developments, eight years of practice and some doctoral work. That says a lot. And my learning has been so much more that C-V-C words. http://www.sensablelearning.org/?p=1159

    The ability to construct, encode and then decode a CVC word can easily happen by age 3 or 4 for a neurotypical child using Souns, before the hand is ready to script the same words.

    Then, as the hand is ready to script and the mind has a grasp of some of the language code, spelling could begin to be introduced, say in kindergarten, and I love the idea of homophones to start. I have two children, ages 5 and 6. One is leaving kindergarten ready to read what you put in front of her.

    My daughter leaving VPK, just exceeded all expectations of her assessments and is entering kindergarten reading phonics readers.

    So, this summer, I'm going to spend some time doing some homophone work with them. I see great worth to your thought of explicitly teaching homophones early. My kindergartner came home with five spelling words a week from Fry's instant word list. They were always completely unconnected and meaningless. I always felt it would have been better to have some combination of patterns, rhyming or other. Homophones are a brilliant pattern to start.

    So, I'll let you know what I come up with, but I have my aunt looking for my grandfather's old spiral. (She's pretty sure she still has it.) I'm going to use it to start crafting lessons.

    Thank you.
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  • "I see phonology, morphology and syntax as being a possible sequential, incremental, (therefore tangible to most) progression."

    I don't. You are assuming over and over -- like everyone behind phonics -- that phonology is the primary consideration of the writing system. It isn't. Morphology is the organizing, delimiting, and defining concept of the writing system. I know it's common to approach morphology as something to teach / explore after phonology has been mastered, but that's just not the way the language works. Linguists have long understood this; it's high time for educators to catch up.

    "I see great worth to your thought of explicitly teaching homophones early."

    Again, I never said anything about "explicitly teaching" anything. In fact, a joint exploration of homophones, how and why they work, is likely to be far more engaging for both teacher and student than explicit teaching of anything. I'm not looking for or offering a scope or sequence or program or approach, but an understanding of how things work. Your proposal that we "begin with phoneme awareness" is the same flawed assumption of phonological primacy as has been out there for 150 years in US education, in some form or another.

    Why not begin at the beginning, with the fact that every written word has a base element? That is true 100% of the time, regardless of the phonemes. And graphophonemics cannot be properly understood independently of morphology.

    Go here http://spelling.phanfare.com/5436095 to watch a 1-minute film about the Homophone Principle.

    "Let me add that I learned more from Brenda, a Montessori practitioner and Maverick, about literacy than I did earning a bachelor's a master's, countless staff developments, eight years of practice and some doctoral work. That says a lot."

    Agreed. But it says a lot more about the quality and content of teacher education than about anything else. I know, because I train teachers, and I hear it directly from them all the time: "How come no one ever taught me this before?"
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  • I watched the video. Thank you.

    You wrote...
    "You are assuming over and over -- like everyone behind phonics -- that phonology is the primary consideration of the writing system. "

    Please...
    Do not put me in the phonics box. That does not define my understanding or preferred method. I suggest starting with letter sounds before names in preschool, regardless of the program used or methodology it comes from. It's s simple switch in the traditional order of instruction that is profound in its result.

    You wrote...
    "Why not begin at the beginning, with the fact that every written word has a base element? That is true 100% of the time, regardless of the phonemes. And graphophonemics cannot be properly understood independently of morphology.

    I ask...
    How do you begin with the base element exploration before children learn letter names?

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    "Why not begin at the beginning, with the fact that every written word has a base element? That is true 100% of the time, regardless of the phonemes. And graphophonemics cannot be properly understood independently of morphology."

    You are truly a committed and talented teacher; however, in my experience, when working with 2-3 year olds, the simplest and most fundamental tools of print - grapheme/phoneme associations - presented incidentally and explored in the environment is working beautifully to build readers. This is not a new approach, it has built readers for over a century in Montessori environments.

    As you say, there is more than one way. For me, letter-sound associations first is working, whether in private, public, head start, or in township schools in South Africa. We see profound results and those results are changing lives. Face to face with children, seeing the progress tells the story.

    Interestingly, words used by teachers of teachers from two universities describing our work with letter-sounds first and incrementally moving into emergent reading are "seamless" and "effortless." I am sure your work receives positive comments as well. Obviously each approach is making a difference. I am glad you have shared your links and video with me. Thank you!
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  • "How do you begin with the base element exploration before children learn letter names?"

    I never said I did! If we look at words like, say, cat, cats, dog, and dogs, we can absolutely talk about the graphophonemics of c-a-t: that's an excellent to gauge what a child knows about letter names and about the phonology of individual graphemes. Some children already know that one of the ways to spell /k/ is with a 'c' and one of the ways to spell /t/ is with a 't' -- some don't. But they all know that more than one cat is cats.
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  • I have copies of priceless treasures now. My aunt scanned and sent six pages of homophones my grandfather used to write down, written in her Microbiology notebook from 1973. It's titled, "Words That Sound Alike But Are Spelled Differently." This will be the inspiration for work beginning with my children this summer. I have such fond memories of my grandfather sharing his word collections with me.

    You did not say you begin exploration before letter names but you said, "Why not begin at the beginning, with the fact that every written word has a base element?" The beginning comes before school age as Souns work begins, primarily, with children four and under. Work with children learning letter names typically happens during this time as well.

    I could certainly see beginning exploration or base elements in kindergarten and I'm going to work on ways to explore the idea with my children this summer. One is leaving kindergarten and one is entering kindergarten.

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  • Cool list! It's a great place to develop an understanding of how English works. For example, do you know why <son> is spelled with an <o> instead of a <u>? Or why <so> can be written with only 2 letters, but <sew> and <sow> require 3? Why does <know> need a <k> and a <w>, and why doesn't it say /knaʊw/?

    The reason I associate your work with phonics is because phonics is the locus of the empty and false term "letter sound." It's also the locus of the assumption that children have to learn all the "letter sounds" before they can do anything else with the language, which is also specious. I know Montessori has been around for a long time, and I also know that the longitudinal literacy research for children who start with Montessori is not definitive. Several Montessori teachers have taken my courses and trainings, and, while they still love the approach and see the many benefits of Montessori, they've changed their practice to reflect the way English actually works instead of the way people misapprehend it.

    I understand that you've both had very good experiences with your program, and when Brenda says, "For me, letter-sound associations first is working," I am inclined to respond, "Compared to what?" I also note that no one has addressed the longitudinal question: the education industry has linked phonemic awareness to later literacy achievement, but no one has established a causal connection. Are good readers good readers because they have good "phonemic awareness"? Or do good readers have good "phonemic awareness" because they are good readers?

    Over the years, I've tested lots and lots of kids who struggle with reading, many of whom test as having very good "phonemic awareness," but they can't spell or write well at all. Others get stuck in sounding out words -- even though they know their "letter sounds," they have no strategies for anything beyond CVC words. They started with letter sounds, they began in CVC words, and there they stayed. A huge problem is that they are taught that short vowels are "the most common" but they're not.

    Of course the beginning comes before school age, which is why even very young children can draw their attention to how words are built in the oral language, in ways that will elucidate the writing system. They can also learn the names of the ingredients of said writing system: the letters. The only way you could really establish that teaching 26 "letter sounds" is superior to teaching 26 letters names is if you ran a well-controlled experiment where you could compare both with the same population.

    Teaching kids -- even very young ones -- to point to the <o> in <smoking> and say /ɑ/ reminds me of an old Steve Martin comedy routine about teaching kids the wrong names for things.

    Have a fun with your homophones -- you might be interested in homographs and heteronyms too!
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    • Oh, and DeHaene's and Wolf's and Adams's evolutionary perspectives are specious; they're just an ex-utero version of recapitulation theory.
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  • There are six pages to his list of homonyms. He also has homographs and idiom lists. I'll start here for the summer and maybe venture into homographs and heteronyms. (I need to look up heteronyms.) I suspect homonyms will keep us busy for the summer, though.

    I do not have longitudinal data. I cannot find it either, and I have looked, searching published research. Maybe it's there, but I cannot find it. If you have longitudinal data from children learning letter sounds before letter names, send it my way because I would like to read it. The problem is, teaching letter sounds first is so outside the typical box of the order society expects children to learn, I cannot find it. I used the approach with my daughters because it was so logical. It worked beautifully and I could not figure out why in the world schools would do it any other way. When I ordered the McGuffey Reader and I saw such striking similarities, I thought that maybe kindergarten introduced the marketing of letter names into the public schema for early childhood. I don't know but I wonder.

    Here is what I offer as data. 1) There are many children who have been schooled in the Montessori approach for well over a century. 2) There is the evidence I found in the McGuffey Reader using a similar approach so it's not just Montessori. 3) I found evidence to this approach reading Proust and the Squid and Reading and the Brain. 4) The most recent National Reading Panel Report point me to this conclusion as well. 5)And I have two young children (who I birthed and taught) blowing away the expectations of school.6) I find kids children all the time lacking letter sound knowledge who need to learn them to attack unfamiliar words. When I help children learn letter sound associations, their accuracy increases. It's so simple, too simple for most teachers of older children to even consider.
    So, I set out to do some research. Perhaps I will be able to extend my current project longitudinally? Thank you for the inspiration.

    One mother wrote after I worked with her child... “My daughter recently had the chance to work with Della at one of her literacy camps. My daughter has an audio processing disorder, and I wondered how 5 days could possibly help her – but, the program is different from anything else we have tried. Della mostly worked with the kids with letter sounds – yes, I know, I thought she learned this in K and 1st grade, right? Well, to my surprise, my daughter only had mastered 16 of the 26 letter sounds. Now, along with some other things, I understand why when sounding out her words when reading, she just made words up. Not because she was lazy, but because she did not know certain letter sounds. By the end of camp, she has learned how to slow down and focus on the sounds she struggles with. With this, hopefully she will retain more of what she reads.” Her mother also wrote me back at the start of the year to let me know her teacher was pleased by her daughter's reading starting the school year.

    Now, I realize you are doing notable work as well. I am a Vygotsky fan and believe in socially constructing knowledge, which is what I am doing here for the sake of learning. (It is so funny, too, because since this has come to my consciousness, I keep intermixing homophones while writing. I keep catching myself. The brain is so remarkable to me.)

    In the video where you see a joke in my child making a mistake, I see her making a powerful connection between a sound coming out of her mouth and a symbol (a thing) in the world around her. I did not initiate this. She was naturally doing it while we were out. I grabbed my camera so it may have seemed I was "teaching her wrong" but really she is discovering there is a meaning to this print that surrounds her and that sound is a part of a complicated code that one day she will master. For now, she is exploring. Today, as she is five, I would read it to her and talk to her about it. But, at this point, she is demonstrating some remarkable connection in this discovery stage. She is not looking at the whole "NO SMOKING" She is demonstrating a profound understanding of literacy connecting reading, writing, listening and speaking. When my daughter made the association (or in your eyes mistake), it was not the time to correct her. I did not stop her just like I do not stop my older daughter (in kindergarten) from writing with spelling errors when she sets out to get her ideas out on a page, inventing her spelling. And she just received a spelling award from her teacher.
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    • I told you my mind is intermixing words right now. :)
    • And, yes, you are correct!
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  • Sannon - New ideas always travel a hard road. Letter-sound associations introduced first is no different. You are painting a picture that has little to do with what we experience daily. Your assumptions are not what we see empirically. All the negative words put forth expressing doubt do not change the results. I understand from months of communication (as Jennifer) how you feel. The truth is in the children, and they are demonstrating success.
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    I echo Milne, "And that, said John, is that." Thank you, Gina, for so many good, thought provoking ideas. Thank you, Della, for a super question and your steadfast trust in children.
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  • Teaching "sounds first" is by no means novel; it was done in the 19th century. So was teaching sets of syllable "sounds". When children learn to say or sing their alphabet, that's not the same as learning letters' names. I'm not sure how this is being packaged as a "new idea" -- especially when you articulate, Brenda, that you yourself have been doing it for 40 years.

    Of course we're informed by the children we work with. I'm informed by the wee ones I work with too, and have worked with over my lifetime. (Of course, not over the last 4 decades, but I can't help it that I'm younger than people who are older than me.) But I'm also informed by my work with older children, adolescents, young adults, and older adults. I am informed by my work in adult literacy, in dyslexia, in teacher training, in college classrooms and sessions with homeschoolers, in classrooms around the world (I also work with an international population, with students and colleagues on 6 continents). I'm sure you both know 2-4 year-olds better than I do, but I know what they look like when they get to 3rd grade, and 7th grade, and 9th grade, and college. I know what people think about English, and a lot of their frustrations are built on a foundation of sand, on a lifelong belief that letters (should) have specific sounds. What I teach them how it actually works, the thing I always hear is, "How come no one ever taught me this sooner?"

    No one's passions are uninformed. The question is only what informs them.
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  • I completely agree and did not say Souns was new...I do not think it is "packaged" as a new idea. I do find that teaching letter-sound associations first is new to the population in this country at this time (not for Montessori environments). I am aware of the family support given children in the 1900s. We need that family support today. If I understand correctly, at that time the ability to read The Last of the Mohicans was considered functional literacy. I would like to know how that compares to the definition of functional literacy today.

    As far as your experience and mine...I believe we each learn by what we do with children. I have stated nothing but appreciation for you and your knowledge. I find our differences to be that we do, indeed, focus on dramatically different aged children. I would absolutely be one of those that said, "How come no one ever taught me this sooner." But I am not a two or three year old. I think the approach would be more incremental in those years between 0-4. Then, with early reading in place, I would dream of them having what you offer.
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  • Experience is the greatest source of information...and our passion is the fuel that takes us through it ... good or bad ....we learn. I have enjoyed learning what NOT to do with kids, when my excitement was wanting so badly to ... but it was for me, not for the kids. Experience before language, concrete to abstraction. It is true for all of us.
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  • Lots already expressed in this thread. Our experience is YMMV (Your mileage may vary) or different strokes for different folks. Among dyslexic students - there are some who really struggle with naming - and if that's the case - having sound associations might get students reading more quickly than learning names and adding sound associations second. On the other hand, there are students for whom sound associations are very difficult. These are students who have frequent mispronunciations and substitutions in their speech because they confuse similar sounds. These students may get going reading more quickly if they they read more visually - and in some cases letter-by-letter learning of words is more reliable than sound-based learning alone. There are some students we know who are only able to write and spell because they have learned the letter-by-letter spelling of words - not based on sound at all.

    If teachers or parents don't have a variety of tools in their toolbox, they may run into trouble if they can't flexibly shift into a system that particularly works for their child.
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