Truth About Sight Reading

….and why it fails kids.

What it comes down to is that reading a language like English, Spanish or German as though the words were pictures doesn’t give children all of the tools that are available to them. Japanese and Ancient Hieroglyphs are pictographic languages, Chinese is often thought to be pictographic as well but in actuality evolved into a phonetic one. English is a phonetic language and as such it should be learned that way. Children who learn that “eat” says ‘eat’ are going to have a hard time making the mental leap to “great” says ‘great’ not “greet”. That is if they even do manage to see the word that they know ‘eat’ within ‘great’ & associate the two. However the same child given the correct phonetic tools will be able to sound out new words using already acquired knowledge instead of having to relearn every word that they come across.

Many parents will attest to their child’s ability to ‘memorize’ a book, sometimes word for word or their toddler who can ‘read’ the titles on their favorite movies or books. They have learned that a symbol represents a whole, the pictures on the page represent mommy saying the words. Children develop ways of identifying a complex shape like a word or sentence by associating pictures or parts of the word with the whole. Which is why every time my three year old daughter sees a capital “R” she says “Look mommy it’s my name.”

The fact that she recognizes the “R” in any context, be it on the side of a bus or in a magazine represents a skill that I strive to teach her and a crucial one in reading; that is to separate individual parts of a word, examine and identify them. By encouraging her to identify letters that she knows in words all around her she is learning that words are made up of letters which make certain sounds. The foundation of phonetic awareness and a building block to reading.There is more on learning to read here.

Sight reading seems to have gained and slowed in popularity over the past few decades in the 1940’s the Look and Say method (think Dick & Jane) was at it’s peak, although many children learned to read this way late into the 1980’s. Glenn Doman’s book How to Teach Your Baby to Read popularized sight reading and gave flash cards a whole new meaning. While some principals in the book were valid, sadly a child learning the baby on a giant flash card says ‘baby’ doesn’t mean that your baby is going to be able to read ‘baby’ in a book even if it is in large print.

There are TONS of sight reading programs available to this day although it is not frequently taught in schools many teachers use the term sight word to refer to a wide variety of things. “Sight words” are words that a child has learned without breaking it down into it’s phonetic sounds. While there are words in the English language that are easier to learn as “sight words” they still contain phonetic properties that should be identified when the word is being taught. By teaching your toddler that the ‘n’ in ‘one’ says n as in ‘no’ you are giving her the beginning tools she will need to process & decode thousands of words quickly and effectively.

Reference SEDL