Vowel clustering teaches children to break words down into letter sounds, also called phonemes, and then put those sounds back together to make a word. There is no memorization of sight word lists, and children do not learn phonics rules. Children study letter sounds and combinations of sounds so they can sound out words and improve their reading skills. For children to learn to read, they must be competent in phonemic awareness or decoding (breaking down) words into letter sounds and then encoding (reassembling) those sounds back into pronounceable words. Neither Look and Say (Whole Word), Whole Language, or even a combination of old style phonics rules and Whole Language help children improve phonemic awareness.
Teaching At-Risk Students to Read: Why Camp Sharigan is Effective is my forthcoming book, which Springer has scheduled for publication in December 2016. This book explains reasons and cites research showing why the whole-language method is not the best way to teach children to read. If your child is bringing home sight-word lists to memorize, your school is still teaching whole language. Encourage the school to switch to phonemic awareness instead.
Scientists have actually proven this by studying how the brain responds to different teaching methods. An important study published in the journal Brain and Language show why phonemic awareness is better. To explain this, here is a passage from Teaching At-Risk Students to Read: Why Camp Sharigan is Effective:
"We should change from whole language to phonemic awareness. Why? Neuroimaging research confirms that phonemic awareness is better. A recent neuroimaging study by Yoncheva, Wise, and McCandliss (2015) studied how the brain responds to different teaching methods, particularly whole language (memorization) versus phonemic awareness (sounding words out by letter sounds). Their neuroimaging study showed that when beginning readers used phonemic awareness or 'letter-sound relationships' to decode words they could even pronounce new words that they had never been introduced to. Yoncheva, Wise, and McCandliss (2015) also stated that it was better to teach children to sound out the word 'c-a-t' rather than teaching the child to memorize the word 'cat.' In their neuroimaging study, research showed that the brain responds better to sounding words out rather than trying to memorize words. The authors went on to say that teaching method has a direct 'neural' effect on learning to read."
Quotation used with permission from Springer
Elaine Clanton Harpine, Ph.D.
Elaine is a program designer with many years of experience helping at-risk children learn to read. She earned a Ph.D. in Educational Psychology (Counseling) from the Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.