Automaticity is a Myth

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					Automaticity is a Myth
Whole Word Presupposes An Impossiblity Called Automaticity

Summary: Sight Words, Dolch Words, Whole Word, Balanced Literacy--all the methods that start by
having children memorize word-shapes--assume that it is possible for average children to recognize
(and name) many hundreds of words by their shapes. Children must do this quickly, even instantly--
an ability that is called automaticity. This ability is praised and promoted on hundreds of websites
and in thousands of schools. It's routinely said that children "must" achieve automaticity.

I argue that this claim is sort of a sick joke, like telling all children, "You must learn to dunk the ball."
I've just finished a thorough analysis of this issue for Here's how the piece


"During the last dozen years the Education Establishment has stepped back from Whole Word, or
pretended to, and retreated to a mixed-bag approach called Balanced Literacy. This is the official
position in many public schools.

In this shift to Balanced Literacy, the Education Establishment pretends there is much greater
emphasis on phonics. Isn’t that progress? In fact, this claim is often a lie. That’s because children
may be forced to start reading by trying to memorize --with instant recall--the 220-word Dolch List.
While there may be far fewer Sight Words to learn in total, all of them just happen to be at the very
beginning. Sight Words are thus a bridge that children have to cross to reach the land of reading.
Many don’t make it to the other side, and end up illiterate or dyslexic.

Thousands of websites, experts, and schools categorically state that children must master their Sight
Words. Typically, these claims make it seem easy to achieve the magical skill called automaticity.
Easy? Sure, easy for some, like gymnastics or speaking fluent Russian. I would counter that only
people with exceptional memories can attain automaticity. For most people this goal is a distant
mirage (as I’ll prove).

What we’re dealing with here, it seems to me, is a truly outlandish swirl of quackery, at the center of
which is the Myth of Automaticity."

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