A Network Connecting School Leaders From Around The Globe
Our local school district still teaches "sight words." I know that people mean various things when they call words "sight words"-- words that kids don't have the phonics principles for yet, words that are high frequency, and words that "are not decodable." I also understand that brain research says memorizing whole words is a poor practice, and I know that "sight words" is a term that is being phased out in order to communicate that 80% of words are decodable, and emphasizing helping kids flexibly solve words using the parts that do follow predictable phonics rules. Will you please weigh in?
I know of no brain research that shows memorizing words to be a bad practice. In fact, we don’t know what information is stored in the brain about words (rules?, patterns?, images of the words themselves?), so memorizing some words could be beneficial to the overall reading process. There certainly is research that shows sight word instruction contributes positively to fluency and comprehension (Griffin & Murtaugh, 2015), and it isn’t clear t what role words themselves play in the development of orthographic mapping -- only that they may play some role (Price?Mohr, & Price, 2018; Schmalz, Marinus, & Castles, 2013).
When it comes to sight vocabulary definitions, I’m in the camp that reserves that label to words the students can recognize seemingly instantaneously. Curricula or instructional intentions play no role in the matter. If a student recognizes a word immediately on sight, then it is a sight word no matter how or why that word was learned.
Think of a sight word as being something akin to your best friend’s name. I’m not especially gifted when it comes to learning names. But I can tell you that my wife, Cyndie, would make life a bit unpleasant around here if I hesitated on her name. Sight words are like your best friends’ names. They are words that you know immediately with no hesitation.