Putting on Your Underwear First: Why Instructional Sequence Doesn’t Always Matter

Putting on Your Underwear First: Why Instructional Sequence Doesn’t Always Matter

Tim Shanahan

Blast from the Past: This entry first posted on March 14, 2016, and was reposted on December 16, 2023. The original entry had 5 comments which you can see if you click on this link. This question about what would be the best instructional sequence continues to come up regarding teaching the alphabet or teaching phonics. As this blog makes clear (I hope), sequences of these skills are more determined by some rather general, commonsensical guidelines that have emerged from empirical study, but there is no “science of reading” approved sequence that is most beneficial for learning.

Teacher’s Question:  

Is there a particular order in which teachers should teach the letter sounds? 

Shanahan’s response:

Sequence matters. It makes sense to put on your underwear before you put on a skirt, shirt, blouse, or pants.

That is, unless you’re Madonna.

Then the usual ordering of things doesn’t necessarily get the job done. Madonna altered the approved sequence from bra/blouse to blouse/bra and became a star. (That she is wildly talented may also have had something to do with her success).

However, when it comes to curriculum, teachers, principals, parents, and policymakers expect the ordering of lessons to be more than a matter of convention or style.

Not surprisingly, this teacher’s question comes up often.

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