Sight Words? Are You Serious? by Bill Eckenwiler

Sight Words? Are You Serious? by Bill Eckenwiler -

Sight Words?  Are You Serious? by Bill Eckenwiler

“Are we still teaching sight words?” asked the young mother of two. “I mean, Dr. Fussbottom, they were doing that kind of thing when my grandmother was a little girl. Haven’t we . . . . I don’t know . . . moved past that sort of old-school stuff?”

“A fair question,” he said. “It is always good to re-visit things we’ve done for a long time, and to ask if it is still valid to continue the practice. Let me share a few things about sight words, and then I’ll let you tell me the answer to your question.”

“All right,” she said. “But I’ve got kids waiting on me. You’ll have to make this quick.”

“Won’t take but a moment. I promise,” he said.

Gathering himself to his fullest stature and smoothing out his rumpled suit jacket, Dr. Fussbottom began.

“When a reader is attempting to decode a word, we sometimes say he is trying to ‘sound out’ the word. This is one of several decoding skills that become very useful to a reader growing in his or her reading abilities. As important as these skills are, it is also very important for readers to instantly recognize certain words without having to decode them in any way. These are words that appear over and over again so frequently that the reader needs to be able to simply recognize them on sight without having to labor in any way to decode them. For example, consider the word the. This is the most common of all words, and appears about 75 times every one thousand words. Other words like of, to, and, is, it, but, and was are just a few of these very common words that also appear with great frequency. Think about the following astonishing facts.”

He was gathering steam now, and he could tell he had this young mother absolutely mesmerized. Or maybe she was just being polite. He was never very good at making those distinctions, so he decided to go with mesmerized. Lest he lose the heightened drama of the moment, he quickly pressed forward.

“The 10 most common words make up 24 percent of all printed material. Just 10 words. The 25 most frequently appearing words make up about one-third of all printed material, and the top 100 words constitute about half of the words you will encounter in print. Can you imagine how much it would slow us down if every time we encountered these words we had to pause for a moment to decode? Every time you came upon the word the it would be like a speed bump. Multiply that by the regular appearance of a couple hundred similar words, and you can appreciate the value of knowing these words immediately on sight.”

Dr. Fussbottom paused, trying to read the young mother’s face. “I know you need to go,” he said. “Can I tell you just one more thing?”

“Sure,” she said. “Give me your one more thing.”

“Well,” he started. “To know a word as a sight word, there must be instant recognition. That means no decoding going on whatsoever. When we get to the actual testing of these sight words, students will be required to identify the word having seen it flashed for a second or less. The bottom line is that, even though sight word mastery is only one piece of the reading puzzle, you can do your young readers an enormous favor by making sure they have truly mastered a few hundred of the most common sight words.”

He paused and waited, looking at her expectantly.

“Okay,” she finally said. “I guess I am going to need to find some flash cards.”

“Actually, no,” he said. “I mean, flash cards are okay, but there are many other ways to teach sight words besides flash card drill.”

He saw the surprised and pleased look on her face. She said that she really did have to go, but asked if they could meet again. She wanted to hear more about alternate ways to teach sight words.  Dr. Fussbottom handed her his business card, and said, “Let me know when it’s a good time for you.” And with that he was off to catch his flight to Bratislava.

How do you help your struggling reader learn sight words?

Being Half Full on the Front Lines by Kristen Eckenwiler

Being Half Full on the Front Lines -

Being Half Full on the Front Lines by Kristen Eckenwiler

It is a privilege each year to be given the opportunity to stand before a countless number of parents who are searching for answers to the reading struggles they are dealing with in their homes. I have listened to parents who have remortgaged their homes, own all the curriculum available, or family members raising a sibling’s children because of death—and learning to read was not a priority. I shed tears with a Mom one year whose son had a terminal illness and he wanted to learn to read—and she was determined to teach him. Wow.

I love what I do and am thankful every moment for the enchanted ministry I get to participate in. However, I never want to give the impression that it is an easy task if you “just do it right.” I admire every parent who lays it on the front lines every day, sometimes with great strides, but most of the time with baby steps . . . and backward steps.

I will admit that I am by nature a true optimist. I hate the word “disability” because of its negative connotations. Many children struggle with learning to read. Some children are developmentally slower than others and eventually will learn to read just fine; other children truly labor under some kind of challenge. It has been my experience that most, if not all, children CAN and DO learn to read. This does NOT mean that they love to read and long to do nothing more. It does mean that, eventually, most children can learn to “decode” our language well enough to function in society.

No one knows your child better than you do. No one cares more about their success than you do. No one knows the internal and sometimes external battle you endure, the frustration of trying to teach someone you love who is just not “getting it.”

God knows.

I think that everyone needs affirmation and encouragement, so I make it a habit to speak words of life to parents who are in the battle. It is so important that they learn early on to be optimistic. Some days will be good; some will be not so good. Stay the course, believe, seek truth in all things. Most importantly, do all that you can to preserve the relationship you have with your child. Let them know often that you love them—no matter what.

How do you keep yourself and your child encouraged as you walk this struggling reader journey?

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