When to Teach Letter Names

Why not teach letter names and sounds together?

So, if letters make no sense without sounds, why not teach letter sounds and names side by side? The simple answer is because of the cognitive load. Working memory has to work hardest when a task is novel and therefore has a heavy cognitive load. For the beginning learner, identifying individual sounds in a word, from left to right, is quite a novel task. Forming letter shapes and discriminating between letter shapes are novel tasks. Remembering the name of a letter is a novel task. Linking a specific letter with a specific sound is a novel task.

Is it any wonder that some children, especially those with a weak working memory, struggle with reading and spelling? Cognitive load theory makes it clear that we can and should do what is necessary to reduce cognitive load. It is not necessary for school beginners to know the names of letters for reading and spelling, so, in my opinion, the teaching of letter names should be postponed until letter names are necessary. This allows students to begin to write and read more quickly.

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