People interpret the meaning of the term 'sight word' in different ways. The most common understanding is that sight words are high frequency words (HFWs/very common words in print) which need to be learnt as whole shapes using visual memory only. This is advocated by infant teachers who use mixed-methods. The HFWs, they believe, are mostly ''non-phonetic'' or ''too irregular'' to be learned through phonics. Additionally, they think that if children can get off to an early start reading predictable-text scheme books by using memorised sight words along with multi-cueing (guessing) strategies, this will be 'confidence-boosting'. Yet, as researchers Ashby and Rayner point out, ''one could argue that these children are only pretending to read, as the inherent magic of reading rests on the reader's independence'' (Ashby/Rayner.p60)
A different understanding is found where 'sight words' are theorised to be the initial stage of a biologically-driven developmental process of learning to read. Uta Frith's stage model is perhaps the most well known. The 1st stage of her reading acquisition model is 'Logographic', where children see familiar words solely, ''through their crude visual features such as shape or size''.https://esol.britishcouncil.org/sites/d ... sition.pdf
Uta Frith's developmental stages of reading acquisition model.
Jenny Chew comments, ''The belief in sight-words as a first step is found everywhere'', but Chew goes on to say, ''Teachers must not be brainwashed into believing that logographic reading is natural if in fact it is the result of teaching, as the evidence suggests to be the case.''http://www.rrf.org.uk/archive.php?n_ID= ... eNumber=45
2001. Jenny Chew's article critiques Uta Frith's developmental stage theory of learning to read.
The supporters of the Dual Route reading theory have a different interpretation of the term 'sight word'. It is one which is stored, they believe, in an 'orthographic whole-word store' in the brain, all its letters in the correct order ready for instant processing, going straight to 'meaning' without any phonological decoding. In their opinion, expert readers read all words holistically, except for rare or unknown ones. N.B. the Dual Route theorists' interpretation of the term 'sight word' is embedded in the 2006 Rose Report (Rose Report 2006 Appendix 1.paras 52, 54).
Synthetic phonics practitioners say that a 'sight word' is a word that a reader has successfully decoded many times before. As a consequence, it is read so fast that it seems to the reader as though it is being read instantly, going straight to meaning without any phonological decoding. As 'Feenie' explained on Mumsnet, sight word learning, ''means learning them to automaticity - recognition on sight, not teaching them as sight words (wholes)''. Diane McGuinness points out, ''One should never think that just because "it seems like" we read instantly, this is, in fact, what we do. Our brain processes millions of bits of information all the time that we are not consciously aware of, because the processing speed far outstrips our ability to be conscious of it. An efficient reader has "automatized" or "speeded up" the decoding process to the point where it runs off outside conscious awareness''http://psi.sagepub.com/content/17/1/4.f ... teid=sppsi
Literature review on eye movement & word identification: ''readers naturally access the sounds of words while reading silently'' p16
Modern eye-movement studies show that expert readers process all the information about a word at once using parallel processing; ''the word-superiority effect demonstrates that skilled readers process all of the letters when identifying a word' (italics added. Ashby/Rayner p58) and 'represent complex aspects of a word's phonological form, including syllable and stress information'' (italics added. Ashby/Rayner p57), but this is done at a subconscious level. Only when the skilled reader comes to a previously unencountered word do the skills of phonological decoding come back into consciousness. ''(R)ecent brain studies show that the primary motor cortex is active during reading, presumably because it is involved with mouth movements used in reading aloud. The process of mentally sounding out words is an integral part of silent reading, even for the highly skilled'' see p90 http://www.psychologicalscience.org/pdf ... eading.pdf
''We have known for about a century that inner speech is accompanied by tiny muscular movements in the larynx, detectable by a technique known as electromyography. In the 1990s, neuroscientists used functional neuroimaging to demonstrate that areas such as the left inferior frontal gyrus (Broca’s area), which are active when we speak out loud, are also active during inner speech. Furthermore, disrupting the activity of this region using brain stimulation techniques can interrupt both “outer” and inner speech'' (http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog ... ner-speech