Sight words, and from that, the pedagogy that teaches children to learn whole words instead of decoding them has a very curious origin. All teachers will be familiar with Fry's 100 words, and some will know about Dolch word lists (1) on which Fry's work was based.
It has entered the educational mind that sight words, or recognizing whole words, should be the way to learn. After all, it appears to be what Dolch was saying, which is a confusion of the terms sight-words and high-frequency-words, which we will look at shortly.
”Teachers’ of all grades, from Grade II on, find pupils who have very small or no sight vocabularies. The teachers wish to remedy this condition by drilling on the sight words that will be of most value[…]”
Although Dolch speaks of ‘learning by sight’ throughout his paper, which may lead one astray in believing that he had a whole word reading view of learning, he finishes his work with:
”If his sounding is weak, training in that skill will complete the remedial process, and the pupil will be able to do the learning from books that school work demands.”
Clearly stating that his list of high-frequency words in all literature, as opposed to Fry's more refined list of school literature, may be used in addition to remedial work on phonetic awareness.
Another related confusion as mentioned previously, is the difference between sight-words and high-frequency words.
"What many teachers call sight words are actually high frequency words. Because a small number of high-frequency words have less regular patterns (e.g., was, the), some people call all high-frequency words sight words and think that they must be learned visually and holistically by sight."
Duke, Nell K.; Mesmer, Heidi Anne E. – American Educator, 2019
(1) A basic Sight vocabulary (Dolch, 1936)
(2) Phonics Faux Pas: Avoiding Instructional Missteps in Teaching Letter-Sound Relationships (2019) Duke, Nell K.; Mesmer, Heidi Anne E. – American Educator