How might you use the levels of processing effect to explain how a child learns the English alphabet?

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clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Lockhart and Craik's alternative to the Atkinson-Shiffrin memory model, it is suggested that the depth of mental processing affects memory function.  The range of processing goes from shallow (very little understanding) to deep (a semantic process by which a new lesson or idea is fully internalized).

Using the example of a child learning the English alphabet, according to this theory, might be discussed in the following way:

Shallow processing:

  • Structural: Processing how letters look and sound, often introduced in pre-school ABC picture books.
  • Phonemic: Learning the sounds of the ABCs song.
  • Graphemic: Identifying letters so they are recognized outside of an ABC book.
  • Orthographic: when a child learns to recognize the shape of letters and to use them out of order and to create words as phonemes and graphemes begin to work together (usually first learned in the writing of his or her own name).

Deep processing:

  • relating the ABC's to something else: recognizing letters by appearance and/or name in words, rather than simply seeing/hearing them in a line or in sequence; this could also occur when a child learns to associate correct sounds with each letter
  • Considering the meaning of the ABC's: eventually, the letters are understood as symbols representing sound.
  • processing the importance of the ABC's: coming to a deeper sense of understanding that we, as a people, own a language that can be communicated both orally and visually.

As a mode of memory, the ABC's example is perhaps one that weakens this particular theory.  In learning and understanding something like mathematics, this theory makes sense.  Learning the ABC's however, gives more credit to Atkinson-Shiffrin. Anyone who has a preschooler, or has taught preschool knows that whether children understand them or not, the ABC's are one of the first things they are able to memorize and identify when they come of school age.  Certainly cognition increases with time, age, and experience, but in my opinion, understanding the ABC's and what they are, fully, does not increase a child's ability to memorize them in a song, a book, in pictures, or in their name.  Whether in order or out of order, in words or standing alone, letter-memory, in my experience, is simply a matter of repetition and immersion.