Letters are written symbols that are cognitively processed to make reading possible.
How Alphabet Instruction Is Far More Than A Preschool Skill
Dyslexia instruction goes far beyond single-word decoding and fluency. Did you know that alphabet instruction should be incorporated into the daily lesson cycle? Why?
Let’s hit upon some research about alphabet instruction.
First of all, alphabet letter knowledge is the strongest predictor in preschool and kindergarten we have of a child’s ability to learn to read and future reading achievement as they move through grade levels. In fact, according to Hollis Scarborough, a letter naming assessment “appears to be nearly as successful at predicting future reading as is giving a more comprehensive readiness battery”. Additionally, letter-naming speed has been identified as the single largest predictor of word reading ability for first-grade students (Neuhaus & Swank, 2002). Letter names and word recognition are two very similar skills that require encoding, storing, and retrieving lexical labels of abstract skills. All letters have four properties- a name, a shape, a feel, and a sound. The only property of the four that remains consistent is the name of the letter. The letter name anchors the other properties. It is also a commonality that everyone has to refer to the same symbol.
Providing a good foundation in letter knowledge can be the foundational skill that supports later reading success
Secondly, letter recognition helps the reader form a mental bond between the pronunciation of the word and its meaning. According to Ehri (1983, 1995, 2005, 2013), there are four phases of learning to read which connect the letter (grapheme) to the sound.
- Pre-Alphabetic – the connection of words and images. This can include environmental logos like stop signs and commercial logos.
- Partial Alphabetic – the connection of some sound/symbol relationship, but unable to process an entire word.
- Full Alphabetic – Full knowledge and understanding of sound/symbol relationships and the ability to decode entire words.
- Consolidated Alphabetic – Instant recognition of entire words, which frees working memory for comprehension activities.
Lastly, knowing letter names provides a foundation for the alphabetic principle. The alphabetic principle is the understanding that letter and letter patterns represent spoken language.
Principles of Alphabet Instruction
As all dyslexia teachers/therapists understand, alphabet instruction should include multisensory components. The students are explicitly guided in order to lead to letter naming automaticity. Alphabet instruction should be:
- Presented sequentially
- Led by guided discovery
- Include brief instructional segments, 5-10 minutes in length
- Instruction in letter automaticity
- Students review their work for errors
Alphabet knowledge can be supported through sequential activities such as:
- Touch and name letters on an alphabet strip in sequence (no singing or chanting)
- Sequencing 3D alphabet letters in an alphabet arc
- Discovery of vowel and consonant sounds, and later vowel and consonant letters
- Understanding how initial, medial, and final position applies to the alphabet, and later to reading and spelling skills.
- The understanding of before and after on an alphabet strip
- Missing letter decks
- Understanding accent (stress) on a letter
Providing instruction in these alphabet areas can lead to alphabetizing skills, and then later dictionary skills, such as guide words and locating words in a dictionary.
An understanding of letter knowledge can lead to later reading success. Incomplete or dysfluent letter knowledge can risk the understanding a student may have for later letter sequences. Good reading starts with accurate and automatic letter naming. Providing a good foundation in letter knowledge can be the foundational skill that supports later reading success.