Clueless to the proper priority and sequence in “The Three Cuing System”.

images-1 It’s mind-blowing that this perpetrated lie that decoding is the least valuable of the 3 cues in the “three cuing system”- and that they should be taught all at once (even in infant grades!) – has crippled teachers & students alike for 3 decades ….

…. and the simplistic idiocy of so-called “educators” dumping this as a ‘package’ into the infant grades of all places – with zero regard for the unnecessary, developmentally inappropriate & harmful cognititive load they place on these infants, is a disgrace.

There is a disregard for the glaringly obvious fact that infants need one skill at a time, the obvious SEQUENCE of skills is decoding first – the ability to independently identify a word (followed later by semantic & syntactic cues).

Rather than decoding being the “least helpful of the cueing system”(Andrew Johnston), it is overwhelmingly THE most important beginning for any fully literate individual. This most critical of skills has been denied to our children for three decades – perpetrated by educators who foolishly promote the “three cuing system” in infant grades.

11 thoughts on “Clueless to the proper priority and sequence in “The Three Cuing System”.

  1. The big question is whether or not kids down under are learning to write the alphabet fluently. Without that, no literacy method will work.

    1. Hi Bob,
      Any systematic phonics programme worth its salt takes great care with correct letter formation. No child on reaching grade one should have to stop and think about how to form a letter – it should be automatic and connected to the sound it represents via a multi-sensory approach at the point of learning. They should also be made ‘ready’ to move on to ‘running writing’- this requires the letters to be formed with the correct starting point and direction through to completion.

      I agree that in many cases more could be done in regard to alphabetic sequence & familiarity in infant classes.


      1. Jean: What’s missing in “child centered” education is the notion of overlearning, or of fluency. More than half of American kids finishing two years of school still can’t write and name all of the alphabet letters, and it’s hard to read if you can’t tell one letter from another. Are things any better down under?

        1. Our data is one step on from your enquiry. It deals with knowledge of the most basic sounds of the letters. The data is on 9 year olds, who should be well versed in this after at least 3 years of formal schooling. Please forgive the format – it was part of an older web site & is in need of a serious update in presentation but it will give you a snapshot if you cast your eye over the text under the first graph.

          My experience points to a high percentage of high school students still failing to accurately read 3 letter words e.g. they read ‘ran’ as ‘run’. Basic errors in foundation skills – in high school – in sizable numbers! As for letter formation in this same group … it would make your hair curl Bob.

          1. Jean: In America, education is now in such bad shape that nothing at all would surprise me. But “phonics” is not the answer, I don’t believe. If that were the case, “dyslexia” could really exist, and I don’t think it does. The only way to answer this question is to get many young kid
            s fluent at writing the alphabet, then seeing how many reading problems we would have, even without phonics instruction. I believe there would be very few. Hopefully, we’ll soon find out, with so much being written about the importance of handwriting fluency.

            1. I can’t agree Bob. I ran a learning centre for 18 years with around 100 children a week attending (I had 8 trained teachers). They came to us with phonic deficiencies and really struggled with both reading and spelling. Phonics fixed the problems in 85% of the cases. Guess what, once they gained confidence in spelling their handwriting dramatically improved. It’s a lot more complex than you suggest. To do as you suggest would be experimenting with a child’s chances at a critical learning window in time. I could never condone that.

              I guess you might be wondering about the other 15% or so. Our motto was that every child can learn, so we welcomed children with intellectual handicaps, very low IQ, ASD, ADHD (the real deal ADHD), Down Syndrome & the dyslexic thinkers – they DO exist. They learn & function in a qualitatively different way. I’ve learned a great deal about teaching from this 15% group. Children with cerebral palsy learn to read without ever attempting to write – the act of writing isn’t an essential – an inability to do so will not stop you reading – but it’s a huge help for those who are able to do so and offers the added support of the proprioceptive (haptic) pathway so it’s not to be sneezed at.


            2. Jean: You will find that every child laboring to learn to read will be less than fluent at handwriting the alphabet letters, though with practice they all can learn. I certainly may be wrong, but science will have to provide the answer. Hillyer wrote that we should just teach kids to write, and reading will be automatic. If this is wrong, someone will have to prove it.

            3. I agree Bob I teach reading through writing – always have. My point is that, though this is the best of avenues, those who can’t do this can still learn to read. A child with no hands can learn to read.

            4. Jean:

              Indeed fluent handwriting isn’t “essential” to literacy, but what is essential is that students think about the appearance of written entities, in order to make them familiar and to remember them. Writing simply forces them to do so.

              Our study,indeed, shows about 15% of students learning to read before the are good at writing, but that all lagging students have lacked to practice necessary to handwrite automatically.

              The proof of this may lie in the fact that all highly successful K-1 teachers share the trait of emphasizing handwriting practice.

              A complete description of my ideas on literacy instruction are in the text of an article I have submitted to the Harvard Educational Review for possible publication, and I will email it on request to me at

            5. We are on the same page with this Bob. Where we disagree is that I maintain that decoding ability is a vital & critical skill for all fluent readers & writers.
              The science backs this up; recent brain scans back it up; my experience teaching backs it up; children’s performance improvement backs it up; all comparative studies back it up; I have seen poor readers and terrible spellers with lovely letter formation so long as they a) know the word or b) are permitted to copy it.

            6. Jean: All highly successful K-1 teachers stress fluent handwriting practice and you are obviously one of them. Many kids learn to read just by thinking about what written entities look like, but ALL struggling readers are less than handwriting fluent. Science indeed bears this out, and future studies will, too. But if one doesn’t want to believe it….

              If you have 100 writing students who still can’t read, please tell us about them.

              If you still think phonics instruction is vital, please read this:

              Sofia Vernon and Emilia Ferreiro. “Writing Development: A Neglected Variable in the
              Consideration of Phonological Awareness.” Harvard Educational Review 69:4 (1999):

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