Are sight words taboo?

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Are sight words taboo?

Post by phonicsmum » Thu Jul 12, 2007 8:52 am

Hi, I am trying to work out if I am a synthetic phonics follower! I do teach all the 44 sounds - but I also like to teach some of the sight words (I know most can be sounded out)...

I read somewhere that synthetic phonics does not teach the sight words - is this true - or do some of you teach them?

Thank you so much
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Post by Susan Godsland » Fri Jul 13, 2007 9:36 am

Welcome to the messageboard, phonicsmum :grin:

SP teachers don't teach sightwords/HFW as global wholes i.e. ask children to memorise them using their overall shape and prominent letters

Asking children to memorise scores of high frequency words (key words) as 'sight words' is a dangerous practice and why no genuine synthetic phonics programme includes the learning of words as logographs. Firstly, because words viewed as wholes form abstract visual patterns which humans find difficult to memorise; examination of different writing systems reveals that the usual memory limit for whole words is around 2,000-2,500, since no true writing system, past or present, has expected users to memorise more than this number of abstract symbols. When children reach their visual memory limits they will struggle to read texts containing more unusual words if they haven't, in the meantime, been taught, or deduced, the complete alphabet code for themselves. Secondly, for most children memorising words seems easy at first and, if its use is encouraged, it will become their main strategy, subverting their phonological abilities and setting up a habit or reflex in the brain which can be hard to shift. This latter point has been conceded by whole-language proponent Professor Dombey; ''Children who have acquired quite a wide reading vocabulary in the earlier logographic phase may well need cajoling, repeated prompting and considerable support to tackle words analytically' (quoted in RRF 45 p8)

In a paper presented at the DfES phonics seminar, Ehri wrote “…when phonics instruction is introduced after students have already acquired some reading skill, it may be more difficult to step in and influence how they read, because it requires changing students’ habits. For example, to improve their accuracy, students may need to suppress the habit of guessing words based on context and minimal letter clues, to slow down, and to examine spellings of words more fully when they read them. Findings suggest that using phonics instruction to remediate reading problems may be harder than using phonics at the earliest point to prevent reading difficulties (www.rrf.org.uk/51%20In%20Denial.htm)

The following is a quote from Early Reading Instruction (highly recommended reading!) by Diane McGuinness:
If, for example, we only use about 15,000 words (we actually use about
50,000 words in conversational English), why then didn't SOMEONE in the
entire history of developing a writing system use the whole word as a
unit for the writing system? Many early writing systems started out
that way, and they had to scrap this idea. The fact is that NO writing
system ever exceeded 2000 symbols. This is because that is the absolute
limit (lifetime learning limit) of a human's ability remember which
abstract symbol (or sequence of symbols) stands for which word. Think
about how hard even this would be! It takes Japanese children from
first form to the end of secondary school to memorize 1850 Kanji symbols
and which word they go with. The bulk of their writing system is
written with sound symbols, not word symbols. The beauty of using
sounds (syllables, diphones, phonemes)is that this drastically reduces
the memory load. It is simply impossible to do what he claims. If it
was possible then everyone would learn to read effortlessly, and the
English spelling code would be a piece of cake. It is not.

Furthermore, one should never think that just because "it seems like" we
read instantly, this is, in fact, what we do. Our brain processes
millions of bits of information all the time that we are not consciously
aware of, because the processing speed far outsrips our ability to be
conscious of it. An efficient reader has "automatized" or "speeded up"
the decoding process to the point where it runs off outside conscious
awareness. There is a whole section in the book on this as well. It's
in the back part of the book, end of last chapter. And there is a whole
lot more on this sight-word mythology scattered through other chapters,
like the study on deaf kids for example.
<One>, <once>, <two>, <who>, <the>, <are> and <eye>, are the only high frequency words that may need to be memorised as whole units i.e. are true 'sight' words, though no English word is completely phonologically opaque.

Hope that helps convince you to ditch the 'sight' words :smile:

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Post by Kelly » Fri Jul 13, 2007 10:10 am

Perhaps I am even more 'alternative' than you Susan! ;-) I do not teach any 'sight words' at all including the list of possibles you gave.

I teach once and one by explaining that the 'o' is making the 'strange' sound of 'w' 'u'. The rest is 'regular'.

Two = as 't' and strangely 'wo' is making 'oo'.

Who = 'w' is silent and the 'o' is making the same sound as in 'do' and 'to' which our kids learnt earlier.

The = some of us say th-ee some say th-uh. Personally I say a mixture of the two and encourage parents/teachers to teach it how they prefer.

Are = very simple ar-e.

Eye = strange, but I explain it that the 'e' is also silent at the start which is strange. The sound of the 'y' is 'normal' to us in our curriculum e.g. tyre, python, type etc.

Kelly

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Post by kenm » Fri Jul 13, 2007 12:26 pm

Kelly wrote:The = some of us say th-ee some say th-uh. Personally I say a mixture of the two and encourage parents/teachers to teach it how they prefer.
At my first school, c. 1939, I was taught th-uh when the next word began with a consonant and th-ee before a vowel. Some BBC announcers say th-ee before consonants, to the mild annoyance of my wife and me. Is this a regional variation?
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Post by chew8 » Fri Jul 13, 2007 1:14 pm

I was taught the same as you, Ken. My Collins Dictionary (updated 1994) treats this as correct modern usage.

Jenny C.

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Post by Peter Warner » Fri Jul 13, 2007 5:37 pm

Welcome PhonicsMum!

Susan wrote:
The following is a quote from Early Reading Instruction (highly recommended reading!) by Diane McGuinness:
Thank you, Susan. What page is that from?

And also:
Secondly, for most children memorising words seems easy at first and, if its use is encouraged, it will become their main strategy, subverting their phonological abilities and setting up a habit or reflex in the brain which can be hard to shift.
Geraldine Rodgers has written extensively (and quoted others as well) about that dynamic. She classifies them as 'objective' (identifying text by processing the phonic code) and 'subjective' (guessing at word identity from perceived context and/or appearance). The former is extracting meaning from the text (hopefully), the latter is imposing meaning into it (frequently inaccurately).

I've been saving pages (hundreds now perhaps) of uncorrected worksheets, as verification of the struggle going on. Getting a subjective reader to process the text phonologically (slow down and LOOK at the actual letters!) is a shift, and requires a tremendous effort. There is no question in my mind that the terms 'habit' or 'reflex' are correctly applied in this discussion.

The key point for me is to establish a foundation of perceiving alphabetic text as a phonic code in the mind of the student, before encountering words or sentences in class materials or homework.

When I deal with the written words 'one' and 'two', I intentionally separate them from the regular phonics teaching material, to reduce possible confusion. The first time I write 'the' and 'a' on the board (when we start writing sentences) I just read it out for them without much explanation or fuss. These words are different, don't worry about it, lets move on. That allows them to begin writing whole sentences quickly, without becoming a distraction.

Best regards, Peter Warner.
Peter Warner
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[url]http://www.english-in-japan.com[/url]

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Post by Debbie Hepplewhite » Fri Jul 13, 2007 6:24 pm

I have greater concerns about children who are more able to race ahead in their reading from default guessing (guessing from context, first letter etc.) than those 'middle' children who steadily apply their code knowledge and blend.

The ones who can race ahead are stumped when it comes to reading words which are a bit unusual to them and which they cannot so readily guess from the context because the words are not in their general oral comprehension.

These children then stab a few times at the word and you, the teacher, are telling them to do the blending but they have become lazy and have found it too easy to 'get by' without automatic and constant blending.

This is very frustrating for the teacher and it would easily lead teachers to think that the mix of strategies is a good idea because, superficially, it appears to serve the children well in the early days.

This is also an argument to ensure a balance of structured 'word level' work even when the children are doing well reading complete books.

Like Kelly, I think there are easy ways to address those very few words which are a bit unusual in the early days without resorting to over-emphasis or a sight-word approach.

Teachers tend to use only a few word examples for each new correspondence they teach in any event so what is that different if there are only a few words grouped together like 'to, do, who' and 'me, we, be, the (as in 'thee') and so on?

It is the FLEXIBILITY and TWEAKING that we need to stress as a key element of synthetic phonics and I do wish that 'Letters and Sounds' made a bit more of these features.

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Post by bwking » Fri Jul 13, 2007 8:47 pm

There is an aesthetic logic behind the pronunciation of our beautiful language, one which is unfortunately not taught at most schools, even private ones. Prescribed pronunciations don't appear in RP, and therefore in good dictionaries, arbitrarily.

'The' is pronounced 'thee' before vowels and 'thuh' before consonants.

'To' is pronounced 'to' before vowels and 'tuh' before consonants, etc. etc.. -

because 1) it sounds right and 2) fluidity and speed - if required - of speech are greatly enhanced.

There many similar opportunities for improvement. The great majority of people are quite arbitrary in the choice of pronuciation; very few have the natural 'ears to hear'. The earlier children are introduced to the euphonious variations the sooner the appreciation will set in.

Brian

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'social skills'

Post by phonicsmum » Sat Jul 14, 2007 3:46 am

Thanks so much for all the replies to the SW question!

I feel like a mum who is 'considering homeschooling' and asks the typical question/concern "But what about their social skills?" (homeschoolers will know what I mean here!)

I am still working all this out and asking the typcial questions I guess. Please be patient with me! I have always taught some sight words and so it is difficult to let go of that...but I am hearing your arguments against them.

So what phonics programmes are purely synthetic then...most of them seem to use sight words these days!

Thanks for listening!

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Post by Kelly » Sat Jul 14, 2007 9:45 pm

Phonicsmum,

Here is a link to the resources/links part of the RRF website: http://www.rrf.org.uk/links.html

You might find some of the other links interesting anyway, but as you work your way down you will come to a Synthetic Phonic Programme section which should answer your question.

Kelly

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Post by Kelly » Sat Jul 14, 2007 9:49 pm

Debbie,

While I remember, :roll: the Promethean Trust seem to have a new website. Perhaps the links will need to be updated? Their new website is: www.soundfoundationsbooks.co.uk

Kelly

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sight word frustration

Post by ewinner » Thu Jul 26, 2007 6:30 am

I teach All Day Kindergarten and so much stock is put into the district assessment that requires us to teach 125 sight words. Technically we are supposed to teach 16, but the expectation is higher 50-120. How do you provoke thought out of someone or district "big shots" who have bought into this "new eclecticism"? Or someone who is spouting the Whole Language rhetoric? I see it everyday and yet nothing ever chages, man I get so frustrated.

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Post by chew8 » Thu Jul 26, 2007 7:54 am

From your reference to 'district assessment', it sounds as though you are in the USA, ewinner. The sort of thing you mention should not now be happening in England, in view of the new government guidance.

Jenny C.

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Post by g.carter » Thu Jul 26, 2007 10:11 am

Is there easily extractible information on this board or on www.syntheticphonics.com www.dyslexics.org or elsewhere for ewinner to print out - just in case he/she comes across someone who is open-minded.....?

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Re: sight word frustration

Post by ElizabethB » Fri Apr 25, 2008 2:04 am

ewinner wrote:I teach All Day Kindergarten and so much stock is put into the district assessment that requires us to teach 125 sight words. Technically we are supposed to teach 16, but the expectation is higher 50-120. How do you provoke thought out of someone or district "big shots" who have bought into this "new eclecticism"? Or someone who is spouting the Whole Language rhetoric? I see it everyday and yet nothing ever chages, man I get so frustrated.
That's a big frustration to me, too! I warn every parent I know about the dangers of sight words and how to sound them out phonetically.

I used to just not like sight words. Then, I saw correlations between the number of sight words taught at schools and the percentage of reading problems at schools. (We're military, moved 5 times in the last 6 years, and I give everyone I know a reading test, I've now tested hundreds of children in dozens of schools across the U.S. The only schools I've found with no reading problems are a few Christian schools that use A Beka and the Catholic school near us that uses its own phonics program, and one public school that taught both spelling and reading phonetically. I've been testing children since I started tutoring in 1994.)

Then, I found Don Potter's website and read Geraldine Rodgers' books.

I now have sight word phobia. I didn't even let my daughter read anything with a lot of high frequency words until she had over-learned her phonics skills.

I have a page about why sight words are harmful and a link to a pdf document with the 220 Dolch Sight Words arranged by sound spelling pattern:
http://www.thephonicspage.org/On%20Read ... words.html

It's a useful tool when parents claim that the sight words have to be learned as wholes because most of them are irregular. The page also exposes how their commonly taught methods hide their irregularity by alphabetizing them instead of grouping them by sound and splitting them across grade levels.

I recently learned to my horror that some school districts even have speed drills on the sight words.

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