Skip to comments.K-12: Sight-Words vs. Vocabulary Words
Posted on 01/11/2018 2:31:46 PM PST by BruceDeitrickPrice
Many people use the phrases sight-word and vocabulary word interchangeably, when they are quite different. This confusion, I believe, serves a sinister purpose for our Education Establishment.
A sight-word is a one-dimensional object. You know it visually, thats all. When you see the graphic design, you are supposed to respond in an automatic or conditioned way. You say the sound represented by the design. The Education Establishment pretends this is reading but its not.
On the other hand, a vocabulary word is a multi-dimensional object. Most importantly, you know it phonetically. You say the sounds represented by the letters. This is real reading although the Education Establishment would like to pretend otherwise.
When Whole Word was first introduced circa 1931, the phrase sight-word had a very precise, very limited definition. Remember that children did not learn the alphabet or the sounds. Spelling or sounding out a sight-word was out of the question. Students might know many hundreds of sight-words and not be able to spell any of them, or sound them out.
As noted, a vocabulary word has many dimensions. You interact with a vocabulary word in several ways. You can spell it. You can sound it out. You know its syllables. You know its meaning. You might know the origins of the word. You might know synonyms. In short, you really know a vocabulary word. (QED: when a sight-word can be sounded out, it instantly becomes a vocabulary word.)
Vocabulary words are wonderful and every child should memorize as many vocabulary words as possible. Traditional education has always included booklets with lists of vocabulary words for children to learn. We need to return to this practice and double down on it.
On the other hand, no child needs to know even one sight-word. They are a waste of time and, and beyond that, actually destructive. They clutter up the brain with things you dont need to memorize, and prevent the acquisition of a phonetic reflex. Its precisely this wrong, wasteful, and inefficient approach to reading that the Education Establishment seems determined to perpetuate. So, probably by intent, they have got parents and teachers using these words in a sloppy way. Naïve parents repeatedly hear the phrase sight-word and think this thing must be acceptable. Its not.
Our Education Establishment is so goofy and twisted but finally so obvious. They agitate against memorizing the multiplication tables, place names, dates, historical facts, or the details of vocabulary words, things that are very valuable. At the same time, the Education Establishment advocates for the brute memorization of sight-words, three to five per week. A pathetic and destructive accomplishment. Lets spell this out: useful memorization of academic material is declared bad, which is a lie. Pointless memorization of sight-words is said to be good, another lie. On that perversion is built todays very inefficient school system.
The nasty little scam of American K-12 is the tendency to conflate sight-word and vocabulary word so that everybody will be confused. The goal seems to be to sneak in as many pure sight-words as possible. As young students move along that road, they lose the ability to become fluent phonetic readers. Their wiring is messed up. This confusion has the separate impact of making discussions of reading issues nearly impossible.
For average people, the upper limit on memorizing sight-words is 100 up to 500. Thats not a way to learn to read. But our Education Establishment pretended that it was. They still pretend its a good way to start. But 100 sight-words is almost an insurmountable goal for most first graders. In the same time that a child can learn phonics and be able to read almost any English words, you can keep the child busy learning almost nothing. What choice would you make if you had any conscience at all?
Starting in 1931, all of American elementary education depended on the memorization of sight-words, which is why our elementary school children were always in such bad shape. The Education Establishment needed an alibi and that tended to be dyslexia, probably a fancy word for kids not being read because they were made to memorize sight-words.
The best reform strategy now is to eliminate every sight-word. They are spoilers, preventing true literacy.
Nora Chahbazi, phonics expert, notes that: Students move from sounding out words to automatically knowing the words, which can appear as if they have visually memorized it When they havent. This explanation is beneficial to share with the multitudes of educators who believe that sounding out words hinders fluency, which is inaccurate and actually backwards. Typically, one to four repetitions at sounding out words results in committing the word to memory.
The Education Establishment has got teachers and parents using sight-word and vocabulary word as if they are synonyms. In this way ourSchool officials provide cover for making children memorize what they dont need to memorize, a sight-word. We have a lot of confusion now in elementary schools, which hurts everybody except the following: publishers of books with controlled, i.e., limited, vocabularies; administrators who create and supervise unnecessary levels of remedial instruction; and ideologues who don't believe in universal literacy.
Yes, its a serious business with threats on all sides. Sight-words are the beginning of many problems. Avoid them.
Bruce Deitrick Price has been writing about education for 25 years. He is the founder of Improve-Education.org. His sixth book is SAVING K-12 What Happened To Our Public Schools? How Do We Fix Them?
I don’t know why we continue with the sight word fiction. It doesn’t work, never did.
Phonics worked much better.
Seems like they deliberately made reading far harder and more difficult than it is.
“I dont know why we continue with the sight word fiction. It doesnt work, never did...Phonics worked much better.”
Agree - (and nothing personal next) but if you don’t know the answer to your question, you don’t understand who controls education and what they want for this country.
BTW, if you have a kiddo who is condemned to a see-and-say school and is behind in reading, buy a set of Bob Books. I used them when my kids struggled and they are fantastic, all phonics based. Buy a used set in good condition as the new ones are pricey.
They went for a philosophy that says reading comes naturally, like walking. The whole language approach is very confusing and frustrating for children. I did a lot of research on this inane approach years ago when my kids briefly entered public school.
Long story short, I wound up home-schooling, building a nice little tutoring business, writing my own reading/spelling program, working with our local boards to get SOME phonetic teaching, and now I’m helping home-school the grandkids.
I have come to the conclusion that it’s intentional - an illiterate population is much easier to control.
When I was learning Russian, I noticed that I was instinctively using a phonics method to learn the words.
I think you’re reading to much into it. (no pun intended).
I don’t think sight reading is applicable until somebody really learns how to read and what they are reading.
If you’re reading slightly above your reading level or self educating you’re going to ‘sight read’ and it’s going to be effective.
For learning how to read it’s not a good method, for advanced reading and reading some foreign languages sight reading is automatic.
Just my opinion.
I think you can combine the two.
My son started school when we lived in the Caribbean and they called 1st year what we call our kindergarten...i.e. you start at 5 years old.
They used a British set of books, if I remember right, they were Peter and Mary books, and they introduced the sight words they would add in each book inside the cover of the book. They also taught phonics, and we had worked on phonics at home for a couple years, but they integrated the sight words with the phonetic words. (when we came back to the states we put him in school and he wasn’t learning anything he hadn’t already been taught overseas...we eventually made the switch to homeschool.)
If you think back to Elementary school (for me I’m talking way back in the late 50’s early 60’s) we used Dick and Jane (can’t forget Spot) and watch them run and stop and do all kinds of other things (words) and in a way there were also sight words integrated in those books because there are words that are much easier learned “by sight” than “sounded out.” (the person who mentioned Bob books was right, my nieces used them with their kids.)
I taught Jr High for 30 years. I had kids who could say the words, but had no idea what the words meant. I told them that they weren’t reading. Reading is when the writer’s ideas enter the reader’s brain.
Twice I was given an extreme example of this. I often assigned vocabulary words. Only my best students would attempt to define the words using their own words. Some kids would look for the vocabulary words in the text (they were often highlighted to make it easier) and get the definition that was. The rest would simply copy what they found in the text’s glossary. Twice I had kids copy the definition from the Spanish glossary that our history book, in the name of diversity had included. No, they weren’t Spanish speakers and they weren’t clever enough to be ‘cute’. They just didn’t notice that they had copied out a page of definitions in a language they didn’t understand.
Guess how they did it.
They taught little children the sounds of each of the letters first. Then they taught them how to put vowels and consonants together. Then they showed them how to put them together to make words.
This is how little kids learned to read in the "Dark Ages."
What John Dewey did in the early 1900s was to influence the teacher colleges, beginning with Columbia, on how to take out that one very important step of getting the children to first become familiar with he sounds of each letter. By 1923 he had made headway.
That one step does more to handicap a kid from reading fluently than anything else. And as a result, we can have illiterates graduating from high school and sometimes college.
They just didnt notice that they had copied out a page of definitions in a language they didnt understand.
= = =
You have just defined a “High IQ Democrat”.
Reading is when the writers ideas enter the readers brain.
= = =
This is a Fantastic description of our human capability!
Ideas transferred and communicated via little black and white squiggles.
Evolutionists/Anti-Godless don’t get it.
Because uneducated and under-educated people are easier to brainwash to believe that globull warming is real and socialism can work and more government control with less freedom is good. Typical liberal lies.
“-————Starting in 1931, all of American elementary education depended on the memorization of sight-words”
That was certainly not true in Boston.
I was in elementary school in the late 30s,early 40s,and then taught first grade in the 50s.
It was phonics,not sight words.
Phonics worked for my kids every time.
I disagree. knowing words at a glance is a valuable skill. First one learns the sounds letters make, then one learns to put the sounds together to read words. Then one learns to recognize frequently used words on sight so that one is no longer putting sounds together to read the words but is immediately recognizing such high frequency words. This is an important part of reading fluency.
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