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Sight Words Are Out: New psychological study

by Sarah Forrest|| 4 May 2017

The National Institute of Literacy’s Results 2007 National Assessment of Educational Progress told us that “more than one-third of 4th graders (and an even higher number of our at-risk students) read so poorly they cannot complete their schoolwork.”

And the problems start long before 4th grade. 6 or 7 year olds who struggle with reading often don’t improve on their own without the right kind of help.

One of the main problems plaguing many kindergarten classrooms is an emphasis on sight words, or flashcard based memorization of common words like ‘was’ or ‘of’. This sight word strategy can encourage some kids, especially highly visual learners, to apply that technique to all words. They try to sight memorize them rather than learning how to sound words out (decode).

A fascinating recent psychology study about something dubbed “inventive spelling”, shows how the most successful students in very early years (3-6) experiment with sound-based spelling. They are encouraged to use phonics to spell out words based on their sounds… not sight memorization of letter order. An early grasp of phonics easily trumps any number of sight words memorized as a predictor of future reading sucess. And in fact, as our experience at DM Education shows, sight words can actually discourage development of phonemic awaress in highly visual learners.

You can watch a video on why that is, here: 

Now, overly inventive spelling beyond early elementary may point to an underlying failure to grasp phonemic awareness at a core level. In that case, we would recommend a phonics-based intervention like DM Easyread or similar that helps re-route the child through the basics of phonics in a way that is fun, engaging, and visual.