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Word Recognition is the ability of a reader to recognize written words correctly and virtually effortlessly. It is sometimes referred to as "isolated Word Recognition" because it entails a reader's ability to recognize words individually—from a list, for example—without the benefit of surrounding words for contextual help.
Rapid and effortless Word Recognition is the main component of fluent reading. Words that beginning readers initially sound out through Word Analysis or phonics come to be recognized as whole units after readers encounter them repeatedly in connected text. This means that beginning readers need to read lots of connected text at an appropriate level to solidify their Word Analysis and Word Recognition abilities—to move from sounding out words to rapid Word Recognition. ABE learners need many encounters with a word in order to develop quick and accurate recognition of it. Practice with flash cards, lists, and word grids is needed to provide these repeated encounters.
Readers also begin to notice and apply known spelling patterns to decode new words by analogy, for example, using a familiar pattern such as consonant-en" as in Ben, hen, Ken to decode an unfamiliar word like fen (an archaic term for marsh). Even after readers become proficient at Word Recognition, they may still have occasion to use their Word Analysis or phonics skills when they encounter unusual words and complex multisyllabic words.
Learners who have difficulty with Word Recognition often misread words by substituting a similar-looking known word for the target word; e.g., reading carrying for carriage or immorality for immortality. If they are reading a text on a familiar topic, they can sometimes correct their miscues when they come to the end of the sentence or the end of the paragraph. It is fortunate when learners are able to self-correct based on context, but this inefficient strategy only works for very familiar topics. Learners who are reliant on context for Word Recognition usually have difficulty with unfamiliar topics and reading to learn the new.
It is critical to assess Word Recognition for any ABE learner who scores below GE 8 on a Silent Reading Comprehension test. In addition to finding out a learner's mastery level in Word Recognition, you should make notes of all errors. Then look for patterns among the words that were misread; e.g., syllable patterns like words ending in -tion, silent-e, or words containing double vowels (vowel digraphs) like strait. Patterns of errors by a learner or group of learners can be used to plan focused lessons in Word Analysis and Word Recognition.
Download a free assessment of Word Recognition with directions and watch the short video clip (See the box at the top right of this page.) on how to administer Word Recognition tests. Word Recognition testing only takes a few minutes per learner, but it is time well spent.
We know that a predictor of learning to read for children is rapid recognition of all the letters. "Rapid" is important because fast, accurate performance means not only that a task has been mastered but also that the learner has achieved a level of automaticity for that task.
Acronyms and Abbreviations
GE = Grade Equivalent
The term "sight words" has two somewhat related but different meanings in reading instruction:
- the many common words in English that do not conform to rules of Word Analysis or phonetic decoding—words like said, would, night, was, were, etc. (Some people refer to these words as "non-phonetic.")
- any words a reader can recognize instantly without sounding them out.
For the sake of clarity, ASRP uses the term sight words in the first sense only—the common words that do not conform to rules of Word Analysis. The second meaning—any words a reader can recognize instantly—ASRP includes in the category of Word Recognition.
With any learner scoring below GE 4 in Word Recognition, it is a good idea to assess her/his knowledge of the most common sight words. Two lists you can use to assess sight word knowledge can be downloaded free on this Web site: Dolch Basic Words and the Fry Instant Words. (The Fry list is based on word frequency in written English, so it includes some common words that are easily decodable such as did.)
Methods for teaching sight words as whole units vary. It all boils down to using as many modalities as necessary to help learners remember the forms and recognize these words instantaneously. Flash cards or other ways to have repeated visual exposure to the word, writing the word, using a finger to trace the letter sequence, and visualizing the word are some strategies for learning the words. Saying the word while looking, tracing, or visualizing brings in another sense—hearing—to help impress the word in memory. Again, repetition is the key to acquiring mastery and automaticity with sight words.
Approaches to instruction
Sight word teaching techniques should not be used as a substitute for teaching Word Analysis skills. Because most adult poor readers have difficulty with Word Analysis skills, they tend to use a sight word approach on unfamiliar words, when they should attempt to decode them. They substitute a word they know well for a new word that somewhat resembles it, e.g., carrot for carriage. The result is guessing, self-corrections, and misreading.RR
Non-native Speakers of English (NNSE) in Beginning and Intermediate Level ABE classes who already read an alphabetic language proficiently can usually transfer what they know about decoding from their native language to English. However, like native English speakers, they will need direct instruction with the many English sight words that are not phonetically regular (e.g., would) as well as the letter combinations that can be pronounced in various ways (e.g., -ough in rough, bough, and thought ).
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