Alphabet Chants Can Confuse Children

On the way home from school the other day, my youngest granddaughter (5) entertained us with an alphabet song she had learned from an app she has on her iPod.    My 8-year old granddaughter and I were discussing something  and she just sang right through our conversation.   It was quite cute, but by the 12th letter or so, the teacher in me was kicking in and  so was the frustration.

There are a number of  programs out there that teach children a little rhyme for each letter – usually something along the lines of:

letter name, letter name, word that starts with the letter, letter-sound  eg.

A, A, apple, /a/

I’ve seen teachers drilling these with the students over and over – teacher points to a letter and the students say the chant in unison.   For our average and above average students, these chants are harmless.   But, for our at-risk students (now approximately 1/3 or more of every classroom) these can cause major confusion as they develop early literacy skills.  Our at-risk students tend to have a weak ‘concept of print’ and most likely don’t realize that they are saying the letter name twice, a word that starts with the letter and the sound.  In their mind, the letter ‘a’ is A, A, apple, /a/.  Unfortunately, this is what will stick in their mind as they then progress into beginning decoding skills.  The Principle of Primacy plays such an important part here – we remember best what we learn first.  If a child has learned a chant, that is what will immediately pop into their head when they see a letter.  Let’s take a simple decoding task:   p a t

Their teacher has told them  – ‘when you see ‘p’  say  P, P, pig, /p/.  For ‘a’, say  A, A, apple, /a/.  For ‘t’, say  T, T, tiger, /t/.   So that is what they do . . . but they can’t figure out the word because that information doesn’t help at all.   It just serves to confuse!

In order to be successful with that task, children need to be able to identify 3 things – the sound for ‘p’, the sound for ‘a’ and the sound for ‘t’.     So we need to teach them the sounds, without any ‘frills’ that might confuse them (including letter names).  You will be amazed at how quickly your students will transition from sounds to decoding.