Every Word Wants to be a Sight Word When It Grows Up*
Automatic word recognition is required to facilitate reading comprehension.
To be recognized instantly, words must be stored in long-term memory as wholes, where the spelling, pronunciation, and meaning are fused together. The whole word must be “mapped” into your memory as an integrated unit.
The process of storing words for instant recognition follows the same instructional sequence for highly phonetically regular and phonetically less regular words.
These practices establish the neural connectivity among the letters, sounds, and meaning of the word.
It is the same process for highly regular and less regular words.
The lower the frequency of the word, and the more irregular spelling representations in the word, the more repetitions that will be needed and the longer it will take to store the word as a whole unit in long-term memory. This requires multiple meaningful exposures and interactions with the word.
The process of becoming a word that is recognized instantly does not involve:
The result is storage of the precise string of letters in memory as a whole word, but the process to get there doesn’t involve memorizing whole words.
A sight word is a word that has been mapped for automatic access and instant recognition. High frequency and low frequency words can be sight words. Regular and irregular words can be sight words. Every word wants to be a sight word when it grows up.
*Expression first used by Dr. Jan Wasowicz