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Alphabet Soup

Orianne is a Canadian teacher who is based in Bristol. Like many of our International teachers, they get asked to make comparisons between the schools here and back home. Orianne shares one big difference she has found since teaching here. 

Alphabet Soup

Many people have asked me how different English schools are from Canadian schools.  Even from my brief and limited experience, I know that it is impossible to generalize the experience of all U.K. schools and Canadian schools to measure against each other.  But there is one difference stark enough for me to comment on – the alphabet.

Something that has struck me in every single Key Stage 1 class I have taught in thus far, is students’ inability to spell their names aloud.  They can write them.  They can sound them out.  But ask them “what letter is that?” and they stare dumbfounded.  Give them examples of what letter you think it likely to be, and they remain motionless.  Today I taught a sweet little girl whose name I had to write for her.  Unsure from her pronunciation whether her name was “Ava” or “Eva,” I asked her to spell it for me.  “Uh –vuh- uh,”  was the reply.  And when I guessed at a vowel I thought likely to produce an “uh” sound in this instance, she piped up “No, not THAT uh!”  But she, and all those around her, seemed unable to name the letter she wished me to produce.

What I find so bizarre about this is that children all have the alphabet memorized, at least in song. 

What I find so bizarre about this is that children all have the alphabet memorized, at least in song.  Yet their complete lack of command of letter names, well up to the age of ten, often makes me wonder how they manage to learn in time to spell out their name to credit card providers over the phone.  And it certainly does make communicating phonics quite tricky when you, as the supply, ask a student to share the correct spelling of a word like “quietly” to the class.

Certainly, as a migrant worker, I respect that aspects of education may be presented differently in the U.K., while still ensuring that students arrive at the same end result.  But in regard to primary students struggling to use the alphabet properly, I cannot be so openminded.  Though I may well face a losing battle, I have yet to give up asking students “what is that letter called?  Think of the song: a, b, c, d…,” even though they stare at me like I’m a Martian.  I really do think that this is something supplies should be encouraging during their visits to the classroom.  I stand firm in my belief that the names of the letters of the alphabet should have relevance beyond a song to sing in Reception, and a bowl of alphabet soup.

Are you an overseas trained teacher working in the UK? Want to share the differences you have found? Email Megan at

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Tags: Orianne, Protocol Education, Learning, Alphabet Soup, Spelling, Classroom, Canada, Bristol

Category: Australian Teachers

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