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Sight Word or Phonics?

Most parents and educators emphatically believe that the best, most reliable path to learning to read is through a systematic teaching of phonics. Even remedial dyslexic programs tend to be based in phonics. As I’ve said here before, is there really only One Right Way to reading?

Frank Smith, in his book, Reading without Nonsense, was one of the best, well, no-nonsense views on how children learn to read. In my book, The Right Side of Normal, I quote Smith as he shows how phonics is overrated in effectiveness:

 An ongoing debate surrounds phonics versus sight word, but when the way people read is analyzed, a strong sight word base prevails. In Reading without Nonsense, author Frank Smith reminds us that it’s even difficult for computers to be programmed for text-to-speech. Smith illuminates the reason:

 Here are 11 common words in each of which the initial HO has a different pronunciation: hot, hope, hook, hoot, house, hoist, horse, horizon, honey, hour, honest. Can anyone really believe that a child could identify these words by sounding out the letters?

 Smith clarifies when he says, “Phonics will in fact prove of use―provided you have a rough idea of what a word is.” This is why I advocate what I call a “phonics program behind a sight word approach.”

 I agree. I don’t see it as a debate between phonics or sight words. I strongly believe both are needed. And I strongly believe that it doesn’t matter which starts first, but it should be based on the learning preference of the child.

 The Intelligence Factor

Some parents or educators will swear that if a young child (between the ages of 2 and 4) begin the gold standard phonics teaching program, all children will learn to read painlessly and early. What I know about how brains work just doesn’t support this premise. And it causes many parents to question the intelligence of their child.

I have two children who taught me, in retrospect, that readiness to learn to read has nothing to do with intelligence. My fourth son is diagnosed with severe autism. My oldest son is gifted. I relate in my book, The Right Side of Normal, how my younger son learned to read, and how his particular brain strengths helped him to learn to read compared to his older brother:

 This son spent hours a day with alphabet puzzles, alphabet books, and alphabet toys. He knew his alphabet before he was two years old. The same was true of his numbers. He seemed to positively respond to the predictable pattern of letters and numbers. On the other hand, hearing words spoken to him was confusing, unpredictable, and frustrating. Books with patterned letters that created words were a source of comfort, pleasure, and predictability.

My fourth son was four years old when it occurred to me. I’d been trying to help him learn to speak and understand the spoken word, but it was slow going. He often misunderstood what he heard because of poor auditory input processing. Why not see if he could learn to read? If he could better understand the written word, would that help him understand what he was hearing of the spoken word? We could write things down as we spoke them. I saw that letters made sense to him, so maybe words would also. I bought a new flap book alphabet book and made picture flashcards of the words in the book. Matching was his favorite way to learn, so I helped him learn these words separate from the book. He picked them up quickly. There were three words per letter, and I taught him through the letter H. Then I showed him the book containing his flashcard words and had him start reading it with his new knowledge. His eyes lit up as he realized he could learn to read his alphabet books without someone having to read to him. His reading took off using these learning strategies.

 So many of us assume high intelligence (IQ) equates to early learning. And yet, this fourth son’s IQ tests in the mentally retarded domain. It wasn’t his intelligence factor that helped him learn to read at age 4. It was his strength in patterns and his love for letters. These strengths―and his readiness based on those strengths―helped him learn to read at age 4. His oldest brother has an IQ in the gifted domain. His strengths are in imagery and creativity. These strengths and his readiness based on those strengths helped him learn to read at age 9.

 Sight Word Reading

I think many parents, and maybe even educators, think of the Dolch words when they think of sight words. Dolch words consist of the top 220 high frequency sight words that can’t be learned by pictures or phonics. For right-brained children, learning to read with sight words means something very different. In fact, the explanation is in the definition of Dolch words.

A right-brained reader learns to read by translating words into pictures. This is because of their highly visual nature. This high level of visualization ability is what helps a right-brained child learn to read and comprehend what they read. These readers will more likely learn to read “giraffe” before any of the Dolch words because it can be visualized. Thus, it is a huge mistake to begin with Dolch word readers to teach a right-brained child to read by sight words. It is much better to start with reading nouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, and any other words that have pictures. They can start by reading alphabet books or children’s picture dictionaries or favorite repetitive books. You could also partner read and have the child read the nouns, for instance. What a great way to learn grammar, too! But, make it fun; not a chore.

 Phonics

Here’s the main benefit of phonics: That children understand sounds create words. That’s it. Let me explain my point. For young left-brained readers, who are part-to-whole learners, it makes a lot of sense to discover that c-a-t makes cat. They get excited. But quickly they convert that knowledge into sight word reading. Each time they come to cat, they don’t sound out c-a-t for long. We all understand that would be a slow and tedious process. You might find with young right-brained readers (between 5 and 7 years old), they continue to sound out c-a-t each time over months. That’s because they are whole-to-part learners and the part-to-whole understanding that sounds make words doesn’t make reading click for them. Not only is it not using their strength, it’s not honoring their learning time frame for reading acquisition (usually between 8 and 10). The reason lies in their pictorial, three-dimensional gift.

The argument that we need phonics to figure out new words is true and false. We don’t use individual sounds to figure out new words. We tend to chunk words into syllable sound bites. So, to figure out the word contentious, we would see con-ten-tious. That’s a mixture of phonics and sight word/sounds. Fluent readers take only small parts of a word to see the whole. This comes through in the interesting exercise of reading this:

 I cnduo’t bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg. Unisg the icndeblire pweor of the hmuan mnid, aocdcrnig to rseecrah at Cmabrigde Uinervtisy, it dseno’t mttaer in waht oderr the lterets in a wrod are, the olny irpoamtnt tihng is taht the frsit and lsat ltteer be in the rhgit pclae. The rset can be a taotl mses and you can sitll raed it whoutit a pboerlm. Tihs is bucseae the huamn mnid deos not raed ervey ltteer by istlef, but the wrod as a wlohe. Aaznmig, huh? Yaeh and I awlyas tghhuot slelinpg was ipmorantt! See if yuor fdreins can raed tihs too.

This means there’s also an image that can go with the “chunk.”

In this same context, some right-brained, whole-to-part learners, may need particular resources to help them notice these chunked parts of a whole. My builder son was like this for spelling. Upon observation, I realized he had no clue how to break a word down. I gave him some resources with Greek and Latin roots after which he excitedly came up to me and declared, “Why didn’t you tell me words were like LEGO!?” His point was that he could see how the individual blocks made the whole creation he made, but he hadn’t seen that words had individual parts that made the whole as well. Most right-brained children will pick this up in the appropriate stage (11 to 13 years old, or 1 to 2 years after reading fluency), but some may have need of being pointed to the right resource to help with the transition.

 Intensive Phonics Programs

I’m very careful how I use phonics. My current 12-year-old emerging reader is allowing me to see the reasons more clearly. Starting at 8 to 9 years old, he’s been exposed to the opportunity to learn to read. He’s picked up sight words, and he understands phonics. As the years progressed without fluency occurring, we continued to consistently offer reading opportunities. Periodically, I pick up a new program. One of those programs was ABeCeDarian, a program using the Phono-Graphix method made to be accessible to parents.

There came a time in the program, like most dyslexia programs of this nature, that it is “required” for the child to memorize certain sound combinations. In other words, they want it to be second nature. I instinctively rejected this idea. Why? As I use my honed observation skills with this emerging reader, he shows me he still has an instinct for sight words. Being that he’s a right-brained learner, he often will sound out each word meticulously if pressed to figure it out. If I do this too often, he will begin to continually sound out each word meticulously, thus, joining the ranks of slow, laborious dyslexic readers who, as the Eides have pointed out, have created their own strange style of reading. Though my 12-year-old falls into the later-than-normal fluent readers, I still have confidence that it will happen for him. I take in all factors, such as his birth father (public schooled) learning to read at 13-14 years old, his high energy level and main outdoor interests, his interest in books more slowly established (yet his reading level increasing as his interest naturally increases), his developmental stages being one stage later than average (so 11-13 years would be his norm), his instinct with reading fluency, and his overall intelligence intact.

I feel intensive phonics training is potentially more harmful than helpful. It’s a tough call for me to make since it’s accepted that the majority of children are forced to learn to read between the ages of 5 and 7. It appears that even 3 and 4 year olds are being exposed to it as well. Thus, no one considers researching different learning time frames or methods based on learning style. Yet, I feel strongly that those who suddenly come to reading between 8 and 10 after phonics teaching are simply right-brained learners who would have done so anyway if their process had been understood and honored. And those who don’t may have done better with a well-matched learning resource and/or giving them more time. Thousands of stories of later readers should prompt more research in this area to better understand and honor different ways and times for learning.

 I end with a philosophical quote from Frank Smith, author of Reading without Nonsense, “a teacher’s responsibility isn’t to instruct children in reading but to make it possible for them to learn to read.” There is a difference! I was fortunate that instinct led me to give space to each of my children to be able to show me how and when they needed to learn to read. I learned a ton through observing their process. It was also highly reinforcing to discover in translation how so much of their process aligns with brain research and learning style differences.

What are your experiences or insights regarding learning to read with sight words or phonics?

32 responses to “Sight Word or Phonics?

  1. But do keep in mind that Frank Smith was the ultimate big bad voodoo witch doctor of Whole Word and Whole Language. Personally, I always assume he got everything exactly backward.

  2. I missed some comments for some reason. I hear what you’re saying, Bruce, but I wonder if it’s only backward depending on how you learn to read? So, if you are a phonics person, whole word is “backward.” And if you’re a whole word learner, phonics is “backward.” From my vantage point, both ways to learn to read can be valid, and both are eventually needed to be fluent.

  3. I agree that both ways will be needed to be fluent. Even though you go the phonic way there are words that are easier to memorize like “the” for example…

  4. Thank you for your insight, Cindy. I have right-brained learners; four of them! They are all super different in their learning styles though, which keeps me on my toes. I have a twelve year old daughter that struggled to read for years. In our homeschool, we read in tandem for years, and now she reads beautifully and independently. I have no doubt that she would have been labeled dyslexic, if in public school though. She just needed time to mature!
    This same daughter (age twelve) has great difficulty with spelling. We have been working with the All About Spelling curriculum, which uses a multi-sensory approach to teach encoding and reliable spelling rules. We started the program about a year ago. I honestly can’t tell a big difference in her comfort level with spelling despite her diligent work. Can you please comment on types of activities that may help a struggling speller? Perhaps my girl just needs time to mature into becoming a strong speller like we experienced with her reading? I struggle with this topic and do not want to miss an opportunity to help her…she has commented that her spelling makes her feel awkward around friends and team mates. Any advice is very much appreciated.

  5. As a child with undiagnosed hearing problems reading using phonics was a painful and often tearful process. In sixth grade I was in the challenged reading group at school while reading the unabridged Count of Monte Cristo at home. I agree that reading instruction should be based on the learner and while phonics is an important tool when faced with new words, it is a tool not necessarily the basis for all reading instruction.

  6. Hi! Fascinating article…my son as a two year old ways recognizing words. I didnt call that reading. Yet now as an almost four year old he is laboriously sounding out cat over and over, exactly as you describe. Now I’m considering backing off from phonics and adding in words around the house. Thanks for the discussion about Dolch words too!

  7. I could cry with relief! This is exactly what we have been going through for the last year or so, and have been so confused. It is as if someone has shone a torch and now all is revealed. This will no doubt have saved my child’s self esteem, and our sanity. We have been just so worried, but now I can see this is just what has happened to us. Every word rings true and I am now looking forward to properly supporting my child from now on in a way that actually HELPS her and with confidence.

    • It makes me happy that this information is helping you and your daughter, Amanda! Once you have the key, it all makes sense, doesn’t it? It’s my passion to get this information out there for this very reason. I’m glad you found your way here. Happy reading journey!

  8. I have an 11 year old son with intellectual disability and autism who is an emerging reader. They are teaching him to read solely through sight words at school and it is working! We are considering bringing home for his education next year. Can you recommend a curriculum or program that teaches readers like these through a sight-word approach rather than decoding? He basically memorizes the word as a picture, rather than decoding. He has an understanding of each letter sound, bit I’m not sure he could ever put a word together using phonics.

  9. I just stumbled on this site and haven’t had time to really look at what it is all about. I found the article very interesting and completely agree with you about different children being ready to read at different times. There is a fair amount of research data on the idea that while many children certainly can be taught to read at a very early age, that learning does not translate to better achievement in school and may in fact damage the child’s ability to learn more fully, when it is developmentally appropriate. The emphasis on reading in kindergarten and first grade makes me nuts; many children will struggle at that age but learn quickly at 7 or 8 years old.

    That said, there is a real and important difference between a child who is simply not ready to read and a child whose brain functions in such a way that learning to read will be difficult at any age.

    As I said, I have not looked in detail at your site, and as a dyslexic myself, I am distinctly prone to misinterpretation in cursory reading, so I may be completely misunderstanding your point. But I am left with the impression that you are saying children will outgrow their difficulty reading if given enough time freedom to learn in a way that works for them? That sounds very like saying dyslexia does not exist, but is a function of a too rigid school system?

    If that is what you are saying, there is a massive body of scientific research that disagrees. Yes, the school system exacerbates the problem, and creates a problem in some children who would have been fine given time and a different learning environment.

    But dyslexia is a lifelong problem and the remedial programs developed by experts don’t just help a person learn to read, brain imaging studies show they actually change the way the brain functions while reading. Dyslexia is a neurological-based disorder that can be seen in brain scans. It is not outgrown; it is remediated as best it can be and then worked around.

    I can obviously read and – thanks to computers, google, the thesaurus, and spellcheck – write perfectly well. But I am still dyslexic. I still get lost in the city I’ve lived in for 41 years. I still can’t tell right from left. I still can’t spell the words license, psychology, weird, fahrenheit, – that last I misspell so badly every. single. time. that spellcheck can’t even figure it out and I have to google it, and still misspell it when I try to copy it here – and countless other words. I still rearrange sentences and substitute words when reading to my kids. My dyslexia is mild and I learned to compensate. I never had any intervention and the understanding and personally tailored teaching ideas you talk about would have done wonders for me in school.

    But my son is much more severe. Though he tests well into the gifted range, at nearly 12, in the 5th grade, he still reverses letters and numbers, struggle to tie his shoelaces, cannot stand to read anything other than Manga, makes transcription errors in math, and nearly went crazy trying to fit his very well written essay into the stupid box required by Texas standardized test STARR (or STAAR?). He would, no doubt, have learned to read eventually on his own, but the intervention program saved his self-esteem and sense of self.

    Well, there’s more, of course. Brevity is obviously another area in which I am impaired. 😉 but I have to go get kids from school.

    • Emily, I appreciate your sharing your perspective. I love that even though you have been diagnosed with dyslexia, you can see that there is a different learning pattern and timeframe with many children that is not honored in school and could be the answer to some reading challenges.

      As to your question if I feel there is no dyslexia, I address that in this post: http://www.therightsideofnormal.com/2013/06/12/dyslexia-or-right-brained-dominant/

      The short answer is that I do believe there will be a percentage of right-brained children who will struggle to learn to read. I would love to see the research concentrate its efforts on the attributes of being right-brained that may contribute to that. The biggest one to me is the three-dimensionality gift in right-brained people. By age 11-13 years of age, the brain is supposed to integrate enough to include two-dimensional translations. But maybe some right-brained people are so heavily three-dimensionally focused that this transition doesn’t occur (completely).

      I also understand how you can feel gratitude for the label for your child if he attends school. It’s true that if reading doesn’t occur by a certain age, it’s detrimental to their progression in that limiting environment. Outside that environment (school), it doesn’t have to be true. My desire is that the school system starts to recognize and honor the natural reading process for right-brained children outside the need to label it as dyslexia before the age of 13. Utilizing the reading skill acquisition strategies best matched to right-brained learners will help support most of them into joyful learners by the age of 11.

      My thoughts anyway, based on supporting six right-brained children into reading and supporting thousands of parents of right-brained children.

  10. I still do not get the Dolch word list. I’ve had a copy of it for years and do not know why. Ha.
    Please tll me why a word such as “up” is not phonetic! I seems to me that most of the words on the list follow the phonics rules exactly… What am I missing, here?
    Also, although some kiddos cannot decode, is it not beneficial to the as they age, to realize the letters are there for a reason, to help them decode words you never did put on a flash card? Say, if reading a medical term, will phonics never help them later in life?
    Not trying to negate, here, but just finally to grasp this concept for good!
    Thanks

    • Katharine, first, let me address your questions if knowing phonics isn’t still a good idea. In my post above, I say this, ” I agree. I don’t see it as a debate between phonics or sight words. I strongly believe both are needed. And I strongly believe that it doesn’t matter which starts first, but it should be based on the learning preference of the child.” So, yes, I believe it’s useful to know phonics. I just don’t think there is one better method, phonics or sight word, over another. The introduction to reading should be based on the learning preference of the child in question. For right-brained children, that often is the sight word method first.

      The second is trying to understand the Dolch word dilemma I bring up. Let me clarify. The Dolch words represent the 220 most COMMON words first and foremost. Second, within the Dolch word list are often common words that don’t follow phonic rules, such as the, of, was, is, should, one, etc. These often have to be learned “by sight.” And the last attribute is that there are many words on the list that will not be able to translate to a picture, such as the, is, has, it, will, would, etc. That all said, there are some words in the list that are phonetic (which wasn’t my point in this particular post) such as up, and can be translated to pictures (definitely was my point) such as jump. Typically speaking, based on right-brained children needing to translate to a picture, the Dolch word list is not an ideal place to start unless you sort out those that can be translated, such as the color words, action words, etc.

      Does this answer your questions?

  11. Yes, I think it does help a lot and demystifies the Dolch list quite a bit, for me. I certainly can understand a child’s need to memorize a word such as “the”, when first reading in even the most strictly phonics-laced plan. I remember learning sight words, over fifty years ago, in first grade, along with many we were required to sound out. I can even grant that calling some phonetic words “site words” because they require greatly advanced phonics, would be okay, to a point. My confusion was in calling simple phonetic words by that name, when they are simple and phonetic.
    I do believe all children should be exposed to both phonics and site reading. The combination both builds groundwork and adds wings, in my experience.
    Thanks for taking time to explain and to answer my questions.

  12. Pingback: High Frequency and Sight Words Grades K-6 | The Education Cafe

  13. We use our whole brain. Right and left brained people is a myth. Both sides of the brain work together.

  14. Phonics is essential. I learned by phonics and I was reading at 5 and whole novels by 7. You can use sight for a few small words but when you get in to the world of advanced vocabulary you can’t memorize it all by sight. You have to understand the rules of phonetics. I’m a nurse and I have to call out names I have never seen or heard of in my life. Because I’m a great reader and understand phonetics , I have had so many patients tell me I that I pronounced their name correctly.

    • I’m glad that phonics worked well for you, Faith! That is the point of this article…some people do well with phonics and others with sight words TO START. Eventually, most of us use both to be fluent readers. And I assure you that you’re using more sight word strategies than you may think if you are a fluent reader. We tend to read more by chunks than by individual sounds. It’s also why you can read this: I cnduo’t bvleiee taht I culod aulaclty uesdtannrd waht I was rdnaieg (taken from this article). Did you read the article? Because I agree that we need both.

  15. My first two learned to read effortlessly with, I assume, sight word recognition, and both read well above their age/grade. Both began independently reading at 5. One read at a sixth grade level by 6. The other prefers technical material to stories, but still read at least three years above grade level by the time he was 6, and has continued to maintain that growth. Neither has any phonics instruction, yet they can sound out a word if they need. They have derived phonics from the massive amounts of reading they have done. Once you have seen something enough, you know what to expect. My third, however, was started with a phonics approach, and not a good one. Her oldest sister decided to teach her to read at the ripe age of 3. She is 6 now, and still struggling. She is reading at grade level, but is far far behind my first two, and reads with much more effort. I was about to purchase a reading program, but the parts to whole idea was nagging at me. She already gets hung up on trying to sound everything out! I was concerned a phonics program would just make it worse, and cause her to over think it. Thank you for this article. We are going to stay our current (recent) course and discourage her from sounding out words and see if her reading improves.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, MT! I have found that if you see your child continually sounding out phonetically a word over a period of time, something isn’t clicking and more time is needed to mature into reading. I hope your reset will help your daughter ease back into reading at a time and in a manner that works for the way she learns best.

  16. As a counter point, my twin boys who are very “visual” learners are learning sight words in school and associating the “whole word” with a meaning, not a sound. Just the other night one read “small” as “little”. I’m sure this is because he saw the word and recalled an image of something “little” that went with it.

    This is my issue with sight words, it teaches “reading” as symbols and meaning, but doesn’t give any method to “decode” letters.

    It gets worse when they encounter a new word. Since there is no decoding mechanism that comes with phonetic reading, they guess at the meaning based on the picture on the page (regardless of how that word is spelled), or they just stop and get frustrated. They need to learn every word beforehand in order to do any real “reading”.

    I’m not saying that sight words aren’t needed. The English language has so many issues, that some worlds have to be learned this way, but I feel that it should be the aid to assist phonetic reading and not the focus of how we are teaching children to read.

    • This is why I feel that both are needed, J Mason. However, I feel that there shouldn’t be one preferred way over another to start; it should be based on their learning preference in making sense to them. You can start with either sight word or phonics as a base, and then add the other in to finish the process. I feel it’s important to start with what makes best sense to each learner, which is often based on their dominant brain processing preference.

  17. Some children will deduce phonics from reading – but many won’t. You cannot tell whether children will get phonics by themselves so they need to be taught. I agree with J. Mason’s point about having to learn by sight lots of words before real reading can take place (all 450,000 words that are in English?) – so knowing phonics is much more useful. Guessing words from context is not reading, and won’t help with things like instructions or recipes where words have no context. Also most pictures tend to disappear from children’s books as they get older – so they are left with context, and they can’t read some of the words because they do not know them.
    I deduced phonics (was also taught in them French) after my mother taught me to read (look and say, I should think, as I was 3 or 4) but my youngest brother did not learn to read until sent to a small private school where he was systematically instructed with phonics – he went to a state school (I think you are in the US – so a public school from your pov) which did not teach him to read. Learning sight words disrupts learning phonics and guessing (predicting) is an easier route to a word than sounding out, so doing either will cause problems later – typically a good sight reader founders (unless they work out phonics) by the time they are 8 or 9 – and problems start because books have less predictive text and fewer pictures.
    Re your example of muddled words with first and las letters in place, these words are readable because we are good readers – but they are very difficult to read and most struggle to read them (if you realize what the sentence is driving at it becomes easier but you won’t be able to work out the context if you are a poor reader, because poor readers rely on guessing from context and recognising a word by sight).
    Phonics is not only best, it is the only way – because phonics is not a way of teaching someone to read, it is the bones of reading. Alphabetic systems are phonic, they can’t be anything else, the sounds of the language are represented by the letters and groups of letters and there are a limited number of letters and groups (about 40 most common with 170 most common spellings – there are other, rarer, ones which are picked up once a reader is fluent). – there are 450,000 words in English and unless a sight reader deduces phonics at some stage they will not be able to read those words well or at all. English does not use heiroglyphics!

  18. I have been teaching children to read for 24 years now and the longer I do this , the more I am convinced that one size does not fit all ! Each child is unique and especially unique in the way they learn to read. It is a combination of phonics and sight learning that enables each child to learn to read in a very individual way. I’m not a fan of Noam Chomsky’s politics but I am a fan of how he breaks down the linguistic development of human beings. As a linguist, he is a genius. Read his books about the psychology of language . It really clarifies how human beings are uniquely created to become “readers”.

    • Thank you for the recommendation! I will look into it. It makes total sense to me that both are needed to be a fluent reader. As noted in this post, I have noticed that different children prefer different starting methods, but in the end, each piece comes together when it’s supposed to for that individual to help them become fluent readers. As you said, when we get stuck in their being one right way, from point A to point B to point C instead of point C to point A to point B for someone else is when we run into trouble. Thank you for sharing your experience teaching children to read!

  19. Bit if you are a good reader all the words you come across behave as sight words because we identify the letters so fast. We only sound out when we come across a new word -and if we know phonics we do it effortlessly. Boys do badly with whole word as they learn part to whole, girls tend not to be so specialised sosnage better with whole word. Generally direct instruction works better than oblique methods for everyone. And if all children were taught phonics well and had hood bold read to them they would all learn to read

    • After all my experience watching my children learn to read and hearing the stories of others, I stay far away from the idea that “if you do x, then all children will read.” I just don’t think that statement can be backed up. It’s interesting that you feel boys are part to whole. Since the boy gender is typically right-brained, it would make sense that they are more whole-to-part learners. Generally speaking, that’s what I see. (For instance, many men don’t read the directions to put something together; they look at the picture or come up with their own idea.) And since girls are more organized and that gender is more left-brained, I would think they are more part-to-whole. All of that said, again, it depends on the individual because we are so different. I’m very left-brained, but learned to read with whole words. But, I think I was just developmentally ready to read and I was able to translate words into their parts instinctively. My whole point of this post was to pose the idea that maybe there isn’t one right way, but that whichever way works best for you, sight word or phonics, that’s what you should start with. And with all that said, that most fluent readers will eventually become proficient at both.

  20. I really appreciate this article. As a child, I remember no specific instruction for reading. I was not taught to sound out words. Now as an adult with children, I find phonics to be painstaking and slow going with my own children. My son understands the phonetic sounds of the alphabet (he is 3) but does not at all grasp that the sounds can be used to make up words. He will just read out the word (I read to him at night and during the day) and he seems to just learn words based on sight naturally. I am not pushing him to read but he seems to have a natural interest in it.

    I am a fluent and rapid reader and personally find that there are far too many rules to learn in phonics instruction. So many words cannot be pronounced phonetically so even if a child stumbles upon a word that can be decoded, they are just as likely to stumble upon a word that cannot be. This article makes me feel better to allow my child to sight read to his hearts content, while his teachers can teach him phonics when he starts school.

    • An interesting thought came to me, Logan, about your not remembering specific instruction for reading for yourself. Could it be that either it didn’t make sense to you at the time so you ignored it, it wasn’t at the right time for you so you ignored it, or you already knew how to read your way and it didn’t seem to be of any use to you so you ignored it? Because most likely, there was instruction, but as a probable right-brained learner, it didn’t fit your needs. Luckily, you progressed despite it and with your own ability to learn your way!

      As for your child, I’m glad this article helps you let him proceed in the way that makes the most sense to him, especially at his tender age of 3. As you see from this article, I’m not saying one way of learning FIRST or the other is better (unlike what the world wants us to believe in that phonics is the only way). I believe either way should be valued based on what makes the most sense to the child in question. As you mentioned, the other can be taught later when it would make the most sense to the child and be beneficial to him (or not, like you). Thanks for sharing your experience!

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