Skip to comments.K-12: Sight-Words are Hoax Words --BACK-TO-SCHOOL ALERT
Posted on 08/03/2017 1:41:47 PM PDT by BruceDeitrickPrice
Hundreds of websites broadcast the same misguided message: children must memorize Sight-Words.
This message is false. Probably the most aggressive falsehood is that such memorization is easy to do.
One popular site proclaims this malarkey: Because many Sight-Words are phonetically irregular, tend to be abstract, have limited visual correspondence, or even easily understood definitions, students must memorize them to read quickly and fluently.
Note the casual tone: Students must memorize them. The school certainly wouldnt ask children to do something difficult or impossible, would it? Yes, it would! And therein lies the essence of the hoax. In the context of reading, memorize means instant recall or automaticity. Achieving this sort of mastery is tedious and difficult. Many children never reach 500 or even 200 Sight-Words, a piddling amount in a language with a large vocabulary.
After years of work, many students are still illiterate, and often suffering from depression, ADHD and/or dyslexia. Why? Because the taskfar from easyis most accurately described as hopeless and humanly impossible.
Consider carefully what English Sight-Words look like to first-graders:
kdkr fmc ntfh dxv fhwp pbx qrnx yhl njk
The children do not typically know the alphabet, which is considered irrelevant. Children are not pronouncing the letters. They are memorizing whole shapes. Thats why this method is called Whole Word. They try to memorize complex graphic designs made up of weird scratchings. There is no logic to any of it. (Another problem is that every English word closely resembles another 10 English words.)
Memorizing Sight-Words is not easy: that is more than half of the hoax right there. How many such designs do you think a child can memorize in a week? The actual goal in many curricula is tiny, a testament to the difficulty of the project.
The goal is typically: three (to five) per week. Obviously the schools know from experience that more than that is not feasible. Three a week means only about 100 in a school year.
Even if the child, presumably with a near-photographic memory, has mastered the words perfectly, the child can read only paragraphs made up entirely of these words. Its almost a sick joke. (Were the children taught phonics, they would be reading really reading before the end of the school year.)
Memorizing Sight-Words is not easy: that is more than half of the hoax right there. The second part of the hoax is that this slow, tedious process rarely leads to literacy.
Every bit of instruction seems to imply that the experts know that children can actually learn to read by memorizing Sight-Words. That is a lie. The experts know from decades of experience that most children will never learn to read with Sight-Words. So there is the complete hoax: first, the process is extremely difficult; second, it is usually doomed to failure.
Here is another way to know that this method is never intended to lead to literacy. Look at the Dolch words for fifth-grade; you will see that these are still fairly easy but essential words, for example, class, heart, grade, none, ocean, ice, train. What sort of reading were they doing in the previous years without access to such words? Not until they reach the sixth grade do they learn admire, love, ad, except, move, fright, light, sigh. The students are 12-years-old and still semi-literate. Except for a few very bright students, total vocabularies are well below 1000 words, often far below.
Sight-Words reduce schoolchildren to the level of American tourists managing to get along in an exotic foreign country. The tourists recognize the words for bar, restaurant, police station, bathroom, etc. They know the logos for nearby stores and products. But only a professor of education would argue that these tourists can read the foreign language.
Another fascinating aspect about Dolch words is that there are no proper names. Where, in the Dolch universe, do children learn George Washington, South Carolina, Napoleon and the thousand other proper names typically encountered in geography and history? They dont!
Remember that Sight-Words, introduced in 1931, were essentially the law of the land for 70 years, without any phonics at all. Sight-Words guaranteed not only illiteracy but thoroughgoing ignorance. That is still a common result.
Nowadays, public schools tend to mix Sight-Words with phonics, often called Balanced Literacy. The child now has one technique for part of the language and another technique for the rest of the language. Both techniques present some difficulties, so the child remains in a schizophrenic dilemma: how do you read the next word? You have to make a decision on what type of word it is before you can decide which technique to use.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress routinely states that the majority (66%) of American fourth-graders and eighth-graders are below proficient. Now you know why.
Education officials claim that one in five students have a language-based learning disability such as dyslexia. Now you know why.
Prices next book is Saving K-12, What happened to our public schools? How do we fix them? (For information, see his literary site Lit4u.com.)
Yea, but since public schools are free, why should I care what goes on there?
This sight word hoax has been my own personal crusade against the schools my children attend. I see the very things described here in BOTH my sons. They have vocabulary and comprehension skills two grade levels above their current, and yet they both struggle reading and spelling. I have literally had to deprogram them and reorganize how they read by focusing on phonics and correct spelling/grammar.
I have used you materials repeatedly in my confrontations with school administrators trying to “label” my kids, and say that there is nothing wrong with my kids, it is their faulty teaching and curriculum that is the root of their difficulties.
When the tell me “you don’t understand education” I reply with, “neither do you”.
I have finally won after a long battle against the administrators/psychs and their attempts to label my kids as ADHD/Dyslexic, by exposing them for their malpractice and incompetence, and have forced the district to use phonics based program with my kids and that they are to drop the use of sight words for them.
This sight words BS has to be fought and defeated. English is a phonetic language, and I use BDP’s articles as ammunition against these dunderheaded administrators who are left babbling like fools.
Thank you Bruce, you have been a wonderful resource for me as a father.
Really? I learned to read in the fifties, and while we learned to recognize some words initially, we learned to read by phonics. We learned the alphabet and the sounds of each letter, including when letters were "silent." Then, "Sound it out" was the standard instruction. We also learned at an early age to use the dictionary and the pronunciation guides for words. Everyone of us became effectively literate readers.
One word: Phonics.
Must be the Decabet....
Teach via phonics and those sight words will be memorized along the way while the kids learn to read. The sight word emphasis to the detriment or exclusion of phonics prevents kids from learning to read. If memorizing sight words is the goal it will be achieved (but would be achieved sooner by proper application of phonics) and the kids will not actually learn to read. My daughter is teaching her two boys, ages 5 & 3, to read with phonics. Her neighbor is trying hard to make her kids (6 & 7)learn their sight words for school. The 5 y.o. reads, that’s READS. The three y.o. can sound out all of Martha and Josh’s sight words and can sound out and read a lot more than the two public school kids(Mac and Laz are homeschooled) will be able to read by the time they are in 5th grade.
“Memorizing Sight-Words is not easy”
I remember having to memorize sight words in the first grade. Not that difficult.
Same here and it is painful to watch 2nd graders who can read a few dozen words and the ones they have not learned as “sight words” are just smudges on the paper to them. It is incomprehensible that “educated” educators would think that the way to teach an alphabetic language is to treat it as if it were Hieroglyphics or Kanji.
I had that horrible reader when I was in grade school. If I hadn't developed an interest in comic books at that age, I might never have learned to read.
“Yea, but since public schools are free, why should I care what goes on there?”
There are many excellent public schools attended by people who could well afford pricey private schools. It’s a choice for them.
Why are yours in public school? You are spending the time reteaching-”reprogramming” them that you could be using to teach them at home and were they NOT in public school they would not be getting infused with all the social propaganda and leftist fantasy that you might not even notice until it is cemented into their brain cells.
In Why Johnny Can't Read (New York: Macmillan, 1955), Rudolf Flesch exposed the shortcomings of whole-word reading instruction, a practice that stubbornly persists six decades later despite the book being a huge bestseller for years.
1) What is motivating these educators?
2) While I agree totally with your education philosophy, you will not see these reforms in the government schools until there is competition in the form of school choice.
Why does Bruce think his book will have more success in reforming the government schools?
I don’t know about this sight thing, but all reading is shape recognition. No one looks at all the letters in a word as they read.
The school will use your children's success ( due to **your** hard work) to prove how wonderful the government school is.
Honestly....Before a parent goes to the effort to move into a “good” school district, they should first find out how many children are being “after-schooled” or sent to expensive tutoring centers.
I taught myself to read at age four. once I learned the alphabet, my mom bought me a “Little Golden Picture Dictionary” and I taught myself to sound out the “ough” (especially!)words, and had a moment of TOTAL realization when I recognized the word “Garage” with its multiple G sounds, silent E, etc. How tough could learning to read be, if a four-year-old could do it basically alone??
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