Do We Need to Follow Alphabetic Order to Teach Literacy?

Recently a comment was made about Khoj methodology that it didn’t follow the alphabetic order in teaching literacy and it was a problem that needed to be rectified. This statement prompted me to raise the following questions:

  • Is there a logic in following the alphabetic order to teach literacy?
  • Does this order yield sequential milestones in learning? Is a child able to write certain words and sentences after learning a given number of letters in the alphabetic order? For instance, can they make any given number of words after learning from ا to ث ہ or from ج to خ?
  • Is learning is at a faster pace if the letters of alphabet are first abstractly learnt?

The answer to all the above questions is an emphatic no.

There is no logic in following the sequence of letters of alphabet in teaching and learning literacy. In fact, three to twelve months’ of the learners’ precious time is lost in the mechanical learning of how to write the full and independent shapes of the letters without getting any sense of how words could be made using those letters.

On the other hand, if words are picked from the learners’ reality, phonemic awareness is built around those words, phonic understanding is developed and learners are guided to generate new words through segmenting and blending they can learn not only how to read and write the very first key word but are able to generate ten to fifteen words in a span of ten to fifteen days.

The word کِتاب has just four phonemes and shuffling the sounds with representative written shapes can yield ten to fifteen new words. When another key word is introduced and the new phonemes included are combined with the phonemes of the previous key word the possibility of generating new words is multiplied – words which are easy to understand and which belong to learners’ own reality. For instance, using four phonemes of the word کِتاب  and three new phonemes introduced through the word میلا generate another twenty five words. Learners generate new words changing the sequence of flash cards carrying written representations of phonemes, not letters. The exercise uses their conceptual understanding of phonemes and graphemes and words are generated through a process of exploration by trial and error. The exercise reinforces the learners’ understanding of how words are formed, read and written. With every new key word, a new milestone in literacy is achieved. In the meantime, learners get to know how to write sentences putting the previously generated words in a certain sequence. The learners are constantly engaged in thinking, exploring and problem solving which results in the ownership of learning and the whole process becomes joyful and creative. And the learning is endless. In three to six months the task of reading and writing is accomplished.

Alphabet is a randomly fixed order of letters with a certain name assigned to each. It serves no great purpose in a literacy class to first force the learners to spend months of their time to memorize the names of the letters of alphabet only. After months of boredom and monotony, the learners still need to know what could be the possible role of these letters in learning the skills of reading and writing. On the contrary, word based learning and teaching informed of phonemic awareness mimics nature and the natural readiness of a child to learn a language, which is further developed into phonic understanding. Learners can have the list of the letters of the alphabet at the end of the literacy program.

8 Responses to Do We Need to Follow Alphabetic Order to Teach Literacy?

  1. Very good one. I agree with the arbitrary character of alphabets which need not to be followed in building language abilities. Perhaps aim of learning is to know life and ability to express it with the use (combinations) of some characters (alphabets). The accumulated knowledge later culminates into complex argumentation in sentences and invites critical thought from other sources. Best regards, Zubair

  2. David says:

    A very interesting article about an issue that really should come to the fore, especially with the world moving toward a more intuitive learning model – teaching the alphabet first is fast becoming outdated.

  3. asma ahmad says:

    Totally agreed. Since the recognition of the sounds and associating it with the objects is much more rewarding for the learning process the order of the letters might not be that pivotal. Yet, to familiarize them with certain word families could be introduced in one span of time.But definitely learning from their environment first and then returning to the knowledge of letters would yield far better results.

  4. Seema Ibrahim says:

    Very nice Article.100% agreed. Thanks for Sharing. Excellent approach to teach in unstructured way. There is no order to learn or teach. Every learner learns the alphabets and words from their environment they grow in. I implement Waldorf and Reggio Emilia approach in my pre-school. Children learn best when provided with ample opportunities and rich learning environment. In verbal and physical context. I applaud Khoj methodology of teaching.

  5. Salim Manzar says:

    I have personally observed the effectiveness of Sr Nasira habib’s methodology, and it seems almost miraculous as a learning approach for both children and adults. The “modern” alphabetical approach is part of the “modern” education system of training pseudo-robotics cogs for the wheel of the “modern” corporate system, instead of analytical, independent, critical thinking individuals.

  6. Nida khan says:

    Thank you so much for sharing such a nice article. Excellent approach regarding unstructured way of teaching. I totally agree that there is no order to learn or teach. Every learner learns most of the words from their environment.

  7. Nuzhat Amin says:

    Thanks a lot for sharing a very nice article. I congratulate you for this methodology of teaching. Excellent approach to teach in free way. There is no order to learn or teach. Every learner learns the alphabets and words from their environment they grow in. Children learn best when provided with ample opportunities.

  8. Bilal Aziz says:

    Thank you for sharing this article. As I witnessed many times in the field during piloting of this method, no doubt this not only accelerates the learning pace but it is more logical instead of memorization. This method leads learners toward independent, analytical and critical thinking and reduces dependency at every step of life. There are many good cases in field which we can share.

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