(My student’s) mother asked me to write to you to explain why I don’t want you to do the sight word intervention with (her child). Hope this email helps to clear things up. If you have further questions, however, feel free to contact me.
To make a long story short, I work with kids who tend to have speech, memory, processing, directionality, and/or retrieval issues. Although many of these kids are never officially diagnosed, they often have dyslexia or other specific learning disabilities. When they come to me, most are in the habit of miscalling words, saying such things as “the” for “this”, “a” for “I”, “we” for “he”, “have” for “has”, “can” for “and”, etc. Because of their visual processing issues and poor memories, they just can’t keep similar-looking words straight. As they get older, they continue to make these switches and many others…until they are taught to read from left to right, looking for “tricks” (digraphs, diphthongs, etc) as they go. Unfortunately, even after they have worked very hard to correct the problem, kids like these who were encouraged to learn sight words before they were actually taught how to read words often struggle with inadvertent word switches like these forever, frequently calling out similar-looking words instead of the correct ones whenever they stop paying very close attention to the letter order. As you can probably imagine, this tends to affect their comprehension and enjoyment of reading. We are trying to prevent this from happening to (my student).
When (my student) first came to me, he did not know most of his letters and sounds. He didn’t attempt to read any words. He had severe speech issues as well. I had to teach him how to make the sounds the letters made as well as help him to remember each one. Then I worked on teaching him to blend sounds together. He has been progressing very nicely ever since…except when he tries to just “magically” know the word without sounding it out. Then he starts getting the words all mixed up. When I see this happening with my students, I always caution parents to stop working on sight words with their kids because I don’t want them to mistrain their brains and create a habit that is nearly impossible to break completely.
I can always tell when someone is working on sight words with my students (or encouraging to “figure out words through context”) because my students go from sounding everything out to “guess reading,” where they just try to “know” words instead of figuring them out. Every time (my student) starts to do this, his reading goes downhill. For example, one day, instead of reading, “He has a rash on his leg.”, (my student) read, “We have a rash on him leg.” He switched “in” and “on” in another sentence. I had to remind him to go back to reading not “guessing”. Once I got him sounding out the words again, he began to read the words correctly again.
In short, kids who show that they struggle to keep the sight words straight should not be taught to read through “sight word practice”. Being asked to look at words and say them quickly upon seeing them miswires their brains and causes long-lasting damage to their fragile reading skills. I have seen it happen time and time again over my last two decades of teaching. I’d hate for it to happen to (my student) as well. I’m sure that you would, too.
I can assure you that we will be working on the words on your lists as they fit in with whatever “trick” I am teaching (my student). That way he can continue to build the good habit of looking at words from left to right to read them rather than very quickly looking “at” them, which often causes him to confuse similar-looking words. As we go over more and more “tricks”, you should find that (my student) will be able to read more and more. Eventually, he should be able to read well above his expected level. His speech should improve as well.
Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions. This is a cause near and dear to my heart. Together we can help students like (my student) learn to read and write successfully. That’s what it’s all about.
All my best,