Skip to comments.Why Sight-Words Sabotage Reading and Create Dyslexics
Posted on 12/27/2010 7:18:17 PM PST by BruceDeitrickPrice
There are two ways to teach children to read.
1) Whole Word enthusiasts say that children must memorize the shapes of words one by one, just as the Chinese memorize their ideograms. This is the wrong way.
English has far too many words for this approach ever to be considered.
Even if an industrious child could memorize 2,000 word-shapes (which is extremely difficult and takes MANY years), that child would still be functionally illiterate. The vast majority of the English language remains unknown.
Just as bad, words the child supposedly knows are rarely known with automaticity. Sight-word readers typically stumble, hesitate and sweat as they try to remember the meanings.
Furthermore, every English letter and word appears in a bewildering number of variations. Even if a child memorizes bright, its not likely that the child would recognize BRIGHT.
Whole Word is a Ponzi scheme. It creates an illusion of early success. A child might memorize 50 words, and seem to be reading. The bitter reality, however, is that things never get faster or easier.
Theres more bad news. After a few years, the child is increasingly adrift in a maddening vortex of words, some recognized, many half-known and slowly recognized if at all, and many thousands more not known at all and necessarily guessed at. Each sentence is a minefield, and might never be truly deciphered.
Note that the child speaks English all day with perfect fluency. But printed English has become an alien blur, an oozing wound. Words actually seem to slide on the page. Where there should be meaning, there is only mystification and pathology. Educators call this state dyslexia and typically try to pretend that the child was born with it. A more honest name might be schoolitis....
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(Excerpt) Read more at rantrave.com ...
Blame sight-words. The essential fallacy here is that children are taught to NAME words, not to READ words. Introducing this fallacy into the schools is best understood as a colossal mistake. Or a crime of epic proportions.
2) Common sense: English is a phonetic language and obviously must be taught phonetically. That is, children are taught that printed letters represent sounds. Which is all that phonetic means.
Learn the 26 letters and the sounds they represent, and you are halfway home. Learn how two or three letters can blend together to form a new sound. Letters make syllables; and syllables make words.
Learning to read is like learning to play the piano. You learn the scales. You take baby steps. You practice. Each week you can do a little more. In a few months you are playing little songs. (Or reading little stories. Every highly regarded phonics program makes the same claim, a short lesson each day for four months will teach a child to read. Within a year, they can select their own books. Any good program plus patience, poetry, and the passage of time equals success.)
Phonics appears most difficult at the beginning. There seem to be a lot of little details and rules to deal with. This alleged difficulty was used by the experts to beat up on phonics. The main initial argument for sight-words was that learning phonics was boring and hard work, especially for the slower kids. So what was the idiotic answer? Make them memorize the English language one word at a time. Talk about boring, hard work that never ends!
Ironically, it turns out that the slower kids seem to be the ones that most need these details and rules. According to Joan Dunn, a teacher: They want to be taught step by step, so that they can see their progress. The duller they are, the more important and immediate is this need."
Thats a powerful insight. Simply recall a subject that was VERY difficult for you; and you immediately know how most ordinary people want to be taught most subjects. With regard to reading, the more verbal kids can just pick it up, as musical kids will pick up music. But the slower kids desperately want to know the phonics details because those details give the child control over print. English has its inconsistencies but far too much is made of them. Typically, sounding out words will get you to the word or close. Sight-words, if youre not totally sure, are like faces you see in a crowd--do you know that person? Did you ever meet that person. How can you be sure??
The astonishing thing for me when I look at videos on YouTube and the internet generally, there is so much material still pushing sight-words, and in a very smug way, despite the horrific fact that we have 50,000,000 functional illiterates. Isnt that number obvious proof that the experts pushing sight-words dont know what theyre doing? (The experts might counter that they are pushing sight-words mainly in the early grades; but once the whole-word reflex is developed, real reading becomes much more difficult!)
QED: Get sight-words out of the schools. Test the various phonics programs against each other to find the best. But even bad phonics is better than a good sight-word curriculum.
Because many schools insist on being obtuse, parents should protect their kids by teaching them letters and sounds early on. The basic idea is to familiarize a child with how English works. If the child later attends a school with phonics instruction, it will be very easy. If the child attends a school using sight-words, the child has been inoculated to a large degree. Once the child understands that letters on the page stand for sounds, that child is safe from the worst ravages of sight-words.
. ...For more on why sight-words are a dead-end, see 42: Reading Resources on Improve-Education.org. This article also includes a list of phonics programs.
. ....All three videos deal with aspects of this discussion. (Titles left to right are: Preemptive Reading -- Teach Your Child Early; "Why Sight-Words Prevent Reading and Create Dyslexia"; "The Biggest Crime in American History."
. END ARTICLE .
If you want to learn English then learn Latin so that you can figure out what words mean.
Chinese is a picture language, English is not. Who ever heard of teaching English in this way? It’s lunacy.
It certainly helps to learn even a few latin root words.
I know for a fact that “sight reading” has been taught in public schools in the US for over 40 years.
It’s part of a conscious effort to dumb down the populace.
The last Presidential election proved that it works.
“Why Johnny Can’t Read” was published in 1955, before I was born. I used the appendix as phonics lessons for my own sons because they were still using sight words in the 1990s.
I would say “sight words” is what people figure out on their own AFTER they learn how to read. You don’t truly know the english language until you’ve had time with at least one other language, and learned to type. I would say learn the basics of french and spanish and be able to type 50 words a minute(in english). Until then, you are only semi literate.
But one odd fact remains ... after 20 years or so of heavy reading, good readers are actually look-seeing ....except for new words. But one must start with phonics ... the alphabet "code."
BTW, it turns out that not all Egyptian hieroglyphics were not really "symbols," but sounds! IOW, a picture of a hawk did not necessarily mean "Hawk," but the "H" sound sort of thing. But just to make it interesting, sometimes the pictograph meant the picture!
BTW, I have actually ... me, no teacher here ... taught "dyslexic" kids to puzzle out words based on phonics ... Look at a "Hardy Boys" novel from the 1920s. You would find that a HS kid of today couldn't make it through a page!
Just from my personal perspective, I can’t fathom phonetics at all. It can’t be right for all children.
I was reading at 4 (was just read to a lot, no pre-school)and have NEVER “sounded out” a word in my entire life. In third grade I was reading at a 12th grade level, and I scored 780 on the SAT verbal, and 800 on the GRE verbal.
I’ve always sight-read or “whole word” read.
Had some embarassment over mispronouncing words I knew but had never heard or sounded out, but I can’t fathom how tedious it must be to have to learn to read by sounding out syllables.
On the other hand, I have some sort of learning disorder about learning foreign languages - just hopeless at all three of them I tried.
It’s how I learned and I started reading at 4. By the time I was in third grade I was reading 5 books in a weekend. Never learned phonics. Big problems with arithmetic, though.
I learned to sight read, and have somehow limped along through grade school,high school and college, have a professional career and raise a literate family of college grads..
Maybe those “functional illiterates” have issues other than reading methods
Nothing is more important to learning to read than starting life in a family that reads. My family produces early readers as a result.
My sisters and I started kindergarten knowing how to read and continued through school reading well beyond our grade levels.
Perhaps we were separated at birth - see my earlier post. Also learned whole words at four. Good at languages, imbecilic at arithmetic.
My son was taught sight words and fell behind even though we spent 3 hours every night working with him. We brought him home and taught him phonics and with in a year he was a year ahead of public school.
We taught my daughter phonics when she was 4 years old. She ran rings around the gifted kids at the school that taught sight words. She was in 3rd grade and set the pace for the gifted reading program, which had up to 10th graders in it.
Phonics works, sight words don’t. Can’t convince me otherwise.
Ever read McLuhan? I almost want to retract my previous. It’s ultimately how we wind up reading anyway, isn’t it?
Not tedious at all actually. How did you deal with words you were unfamiliar with?
The truth is probably that there’s some small percentage of kids that don’t actually need to be “taught” to read at all, a good-sized group of more advanced kids that can start right off at sight-reading without the tedium of phonics, and then a larger group of kids that need to start with phonics to learn to read.
Unfortunately people on both sides turned supporting their form of reading instruction into some sort of politicized moralistic crusade.
Just a few minutes ago, I "sounded out" the word "Youghiogheny."
Your family would have liked my family.
Funny my family was giving out books for Christmas. We read a lot too. My daughter is in the kitchen on the internet learning how to crochet now.
Then how do you explain that I was reading on a third grade level in kindergarten, with no phonics? Ditto my younger siblings.
I find this article simplistic. It sounds like it was written by a liberal.
Sight words are ideal for children under the age of three, the ideal time to teach reading. When a child learns enough sight words the phonetics comes with it over time. Phonetics (without sight words) is contrived and less understandable for very young children.
Yes but how well do you learn new words.
Somewhere around here is a picture of me as a toddler sitting in bed “reading” a book in the dark. The book was upside down but it showed an eagerness to read that’s always been typical in my family.
My daughter at barely 4 learned phonics, it’s not that hard. With that basic beginning she grew her vocabulary on her own and was reading well above her age.
Shullbit. Whoops, my dyslexia is showing.
While there is nothing wrong with teaching kids phonics, English is the least “behaving” language to read and then pronounce.
Second, kids who crack the code by themselves memorize the words, then literally CRACK the CODE of English. Two of my three have done it. One is a high-IQ genius type who cracked the code of reading at 2.5 years of age, and the other one is developmentally delayed, and still taught himself to read that same way (because we homeschool, and I didn’t want to pressure him into learning too early for his development, but he surprised us!), at a later age. It’s quite normal.
Kids like my two very different sons (the middle one learned to read the phonics way by his kindergarten teacher, also a great way to learn) learn to read by using memorization skills, context (the story, the pictures) and they read lifelong and perfectly fine this way. Neither of my kids who learned this way has dyslexia, problems spelling, etc. In fact, they spell excellently, because they use the crazy English language when they write, the anti-logic language that they read, so they remember that tough is spelled “tough” and don’t write “tuff,” like a phonics learner could understandably do.
English is easy to learn to speak, but it’s hard to read and write because it doesn’t obey its own rules as do German and Italian, etc.
Give kids a break. However they learn to read is FINE. These posts talking about sight reading being dangerous are Pull of Foop.
Books are still the number one gift in my family.
My sister gave me a children’s book about Obama as a gag the other day. The tag she wrote said “Because you’re never too old to believe in fairy tails”. LOL
Context - the surrounding words I already knew.
Boy was I surprised when I found out how "Archaeopteryx" was actually pronounced, though.
Not to be pretentious, but I'm an anomaly, obviously. I was very fortunate to basically just have good genes for reading comprehension; I also had a good environment, was the last of 5 kids with the nearest sister 10 years older than me, giving me essentially extra parents, and was read to a lot, but other than that, there was nothing particularly special about my upbringing. Neither of my parents went to college, but they were smart people.
However, my experience suggests to me that there probably is a substantial segment of kids for whom sight-reading is going to be more effective than phonics. As has been mentioned, you're eventually going to be sight-reading anyway as an adult. There's perhaps 1-2% of kids such as myself that don't actually need to be "taught" to read at all. I'll take a SWAG and say there are probably another 10-20% of kids for whom phonics is a waste of time, and they should start out sight-reading.
Wow, what kids have you been hanging around? You really think very low of children. Both my admittedly very bright boy and my boy with serious intelligence delays, once they knew a word, recognized it not only in capitals but also in different fonts, and - surprising even to me - in handwritten script. A child's brain is quite incredible.
If you learn to read that’s great, any way you can. I just feel that you are at a disadvantage if you only learn by sight words.
I hope you two realize that the talent (or curse) that you both enjoy is the exception, rather than the rule.
Phonics didn't exist when I learned how to read, but sounding out syllables was the method I was blessed (or cursed) with.
Having subsequently learned Latin, Greek and French, my mind boggles at the suggestion that I could have done it as easily having to recognize entire words in those three languages in addition to English.
This reminds me of when I was little. (Yes, I too taught myself to read at 3, just by memorizing my favorite books.) I actually remember this, which took place when I was about 4.
I had a little kids' magazine, and in it was an illustrated story called "How the Squirrel Lost His Patience." That last word, "patience," was unfamiliar to me. So I decided it said "panties." I laughed myself SILLY through that whole story!!! It was hilarious, my way!
Basically, when you sight read and don't know a word, you let context fill it in. Eventually you become familiar with an awful lot of words, if you read enough.
I'd disagree with you. Phonics, in English, only helps a child LEARN what reading is. It helps him decipher the CODE, carefully, bit by bit. It's a great tool.
However, once the child "gets" it, that these letters form words, have sounds, and are meaningfully grouped, that child will be "sight learning" for the rest of his life. There are no phonics readers after a year of so of reading.
So I'd say that it's a disadvantage not to learn how to read. Either way. I am sure there are some children who benefit more from one or the other, but both methods are good for deciphering the code, though in the long run, the ones who crack the code on their own are already on their way to lifelong sight reading. The others will slowly approach the same.
I will give you this, though: I do not believe you can force a child to sight read. They either "get" the code or they don't. You can somewhat FORCE the phonics. Not sure what advantage any kind of forced learning is, but then again, I prefer learning to read to be at the child's motivation and not the teacher's.
In the early 60's my Mom had me read out loud to her while she was fix'n supper. That was my biggest help in reading. The problem was that my brain would skip printed words. Reading out loud exposed the gaps and forced my brain to bring those words back in to make a complete sentence.
It wasn't until college when a gal I was 'working' with discovered I was a dyslexic.
That was the reason I had to proof read everything several times and pay another gal a bucket of ice cream (Gandys) to do the final type my papers. Omitting words while typing did not make for a good grade.
Eh, the whole "Phonics Uber Alles" stuff is definitely, and unfortunately, associated with Conservative politics.
Don't get me wrong - I was subjected to idiotic Left-wing education "theory" when I was in my "open classroom" elementary school in the 1970s - the theory being that kids would be "enriched" by "interacting" with other classes. Thus each grade had four classes, but no walls between them.
Of course, in every such school, in about a millisecond, the teachers frantically tried to build walls out of cabinets and any other furniture they could find between the classes so they could have some semblance of order.
In the case of this whole phonics thing, though, as with many things, the truth is somewhere in between - some kids need it, some kids don't.
Obviously school had nothing to do with any of that, and by the time I was in school I was amazed that so many other children can't just glance at a page and "take it all in" as I often did. They couldn't read at all, imagine that! At some point a couple of psychologists showed up for some research and our class was picked as a sample. They gave a page of some text that children would understand, asked to read it, and then asked to tell them what the story was all about. Of course they measured time and all that. I think I was done with the story in 10-15 seconds, and they were quite impressed, I believe :-)
I don't read words glyph by glyph. That would be too slow. I recognize words and sequences of words. I also filter what is and what isn't important, in real time. This allows me to get a summary of a page within seconds; then I can focus on interesting parts, or read it all, or none. I will read unfamiliar words one character at a time, of course. There aren't too many of those left, except in some niche areas.
The benefit of this method is very obvious. Human eye doesn't just see one tiny dot in front of us; we see the whole 180 degrees, with various acuity and stereo perception. Generally one can say that everything within a 5 degree cone is sharp and can be seen at once. This area contains not just one letter - it contains a quarter of a page! If only you could process all that in parallel, instead of sequentially recognizing one character at a time, the speed of reading would be greatly improved. And that's exactly how it works.
I have no idea if this is suitable for everyone or for just me or for some group in between. This is how I read, and nobody was teaching me to read this way. It just came naturally. A side effect is that I see typos where other people miss them; a handy skill for a computer programmer. Those typos are seen as "something is wrong here" because the word doesn't look right. As another side effect, I have only some minimal understanding of the rules of the language; I seldom need them because I just remember how things are to be written.
But if I were to guess, this is not suitable for everyone. This method depends on a good associative memory (and on a good memory in general.) And besides, it's not like I completely ignored the principles of the written language; I know pretty well what those letters are there for, and I can even make a new word now and then if necessary :-)
All in all, I think the "one size fits all" approach is the problem here. It is certainly safe to start with phonetic method; but if a student is capable of doing more, we shouldn't build a brick wall for him, slowing him down only to allow his or her classmates to catch up.
Typically phonics is used up to roughly the third grade reading equivalent. It’s the foundational starting gate. From that point on you transition to majority whole word / whole language focus. Typically folks that are third grade level or higher reading level wise are able to tackle new words phonetically if needed on their own and move along quickly...
The above is a common strategy used by special education teachers when given students in middle school who somehow got through K-6 unnoticed. I’ve watched these teachers get ‘em caught up in about 6-8 months on average. Most were twice my age, ex-military, ex-nursing and had already raised kids and grandkids....i.e., been there, done that, seen-it-all kinda folks.
You are right. The “experts” went from the fact that adult readers recognize words to the method of teaching whole words from the start. This is like teaching a baby to run before it can walk or even crawl. You can’t go backwards from the end result to the method. Why are they so stupid? Does it have something to do with being “educators”?
I am positive we were taught sight reading. It did not take me long to learn to read, and I have not slowed down since.
I first encountered phonics in college, and it made sense to me, but I could read quite well by then.
My SAT scores were close to yours, and I also made 800 on the GRE verbal.
My older son was in private school in kindergarten through fifth grade. Their curriculum was heavily phonics based. Starting about third grade, he began to really struggle, particularly with spelling. When I sat down with him to work with him, I realized that something was wrong. He was tested and found to be dyslexic.
He still is dyslexic. Phonics have never made any sense to him, and in fact made his attempts to learn to read more difficult, not less so. He really made improvements when we pulled him out of the private school and homeschooled him for a year. I threw the phonics out the window, and also had him spend time every day reading something just for enjoyment.
I can't tell you how many times I've wished we'd pulled him out and homeschooled him sooner. He became convinced he was "dumb" and I've told him many times that "dumb" people don't learn to read in spite of having dyslexia (and dysgraphia). He has struggles with math, too. He does have a tech school certificate and is now attending college, taking developmental classes right now but putting a lot of effort into it and determined to "get that piece of paper" as he puts it.
My conclusions? 1: there is no one right way to teach every child and 2: pushing square pegs through round holes doesn't do a lot for the peg, the hole, nor the ones doing the pushing.
I think however way people learn how to read the important thing is to make reading pleasurable. Some people never find the pleasure in it — it is as onerous as reading an instruction manual.
Once I learned the teeniest bit of Latin, the rest came fairly easy.
Baloney. Or for you, bologna.
Interesting. I can glance at a computer screen, and misspelled words literally jump out at me. I don't need to read whatever the person is writing, I see just the misspelled words.
I also manage to take in information very quickly. When we get junk mail, for example, I have but to glance at it to figure out it's junk and not worth my time. My husband, on the other hand, will read the whole thing before he can figure out it's junk.
Reading some of the replies on this thread, I see that some learned to read quickly without phonics. I wonder if they used phonics without even knowing it. At some point they must have absorbed the principle of phonics, or else how would they ever know how to pronounce an unfamiliar word?
Possibly, phonics must be taught to the less verbally gifted so that they won’t be left behind. If you teach whole-word only, you could end up with only the very brightest kids reading. Just a guess.
And I agree with those who mentioned that reading must be made enjoyable. Without meaning to be a manipulative mother, I made sure we always had an especially good time at the library and the bookstore. Didn’t realize it at the time. It must have been what my mother did and I just followed suit. Of course we read from books every night too without ever making a lesson out of it.
I cuold raed taht....now I’m sacred I hvae a biarn tmuor or smoetihng!
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