Say No to Guess and Go!

Every parent in my school community knows about sight words. They may be called star words, snap words, or something else, but we know what they are. Early childhood classrooms feature from 25 to more than 100 words students must know on sight by the end of the school year. That’s not a problem—the fluent reading of words. The problem can be in how those words are taught.

Does your child say the when the word is and? How about and for the word said? In my first grade classroom, at the beginning of the year, this happens quite frequently. I call it the “Guess and Go” syndrome. I believe this kind of reading error is a result of children being taught sight words. They are taught to recall how words look. They are not taught to make the sounds they see, from left to right, across the word. If they had been taught to make the sounds they see, children would not say see when they come to the word look.

Teachers often post the students’ sight words on the walls of their classrooms. They review each word frequently. The children are asked to practice using the words in various ways. Eventually, the word sticks in the memories of the students. If it doesn’t stick quickly enough, parents are asked to make flashcards for the words to review them with their children.

Here’s the problem: When taught to rely on their memory of how words look, children are prone to make errors in their reading.

Following are the kindergarten sight words in my school:

Most of these words follow general, easy to learn phonics guidelines:

a, I, go, no, so, he, me, we     (open vowel)

am, an, and, in, is, it, up, can (vc/cvc)

like, see, look

These do not follow general, easy to learn phonics guidelines:

do, to, you, my, the

So what do I recommend?

I believe that we must return to the Sound by Sound approach (left to right) and reserve the Sight Word approach (memorizing words) for the words that do not follow phonics guidelines. Even the words I call “true sight words” have the expected initial sounds.

An intervention specialist in my building was working with a student who was behind. She became frustrated with his slow rate of sound by sound reading and began practicing sight words with him. What he needed was practice sliding sounds together to promote fluency.  The fluent blending of sounds promotes fluent reading. It just takes some practice. Otherwise, what are children expected to do when they come to a word they have not memorized?

What are your thoughts?