Sight words and high frequency words are associated with the whole language approach which usually uses embedded phonics. According to Put Reading First from the National Institute for Literacy, embedded phonics is described as indirect instruction where "Children are taught letter-sound relationships during the reading of connected text. (Since children encounter different letter-sound relationships as they read, this approach is not systematic or explicit.)".
"Overall we conclude that the synthetic phonics approach, as part of the reading curriculum, is more effective than the analytic phonics approach, even when it is supplemented with phonemic awareness training. It also led boys to reading words significantly better than girls, and there was a trend towards better spelling and reading comprehension. There is evidence that synthetic phonics is best taught at the beginning of Primary 1, as even by the end of the second year at school the children in the early synthetic phonics programme had better spelling ability, and the girls had significantly better reading ability."
Systematic phonics instruction is designed to increase accuracy in decoding and word recognition skills, which in turn facilitate comprehension. However, it is again important to note that fluent and automatic application of phonics skills to text is another critical skill that must be taught and learned to maximize oral reading and reading comprehension. This issue again underscores the need for teachers to understand that while phonics skills are necessary in order to learn to read, they are not sufficient in their own right. Phonics skills must be integrated with the development of phonemic awareness, fluency, and text reading comprehension skills.
Let’s back up and talk about terminology. A sight word actually refers to any word that can be read by sight. Differentiation is a sight word for us—we recognize it essentially instantly when we see it. 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.
In Year 1, they will start to explore vowel digraphs and trigraphs (a group of three letters that makes a single sound, like 'igh' as in 'sigh') further. They will begin to understand, for example, that the letters ea can make different sounds in different words (dream and bread). They will also learn that one sound might be represented by different groups of letters: for example, light and pie (igh and ie make the same sound).
In 1997, Congress asked the Director of the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) at the National Institutes of Health, in consultation with the Secretary of Education, to convene a national panel to assess the effectiveness of different approaches used to teach children to read. The National Reading Panel examined quantitative research studies on many areas of reading instruction, including phonics and whole language. The resulting report Teaching Children to Read: An Evidence-based Assessment of the Scientific Research Literature on Reading and its Implications for Reading Instruction was published in 2000 and provides a comprehensive review of what is known about best practices in reading instruction in the U.S. The panel reported that several reading skills are critical to becoming good readers: phonemic awareness, phonics for word identification, fluency, vocabulary and text comprehension. With regard to phonics, their meta-analysis of hundreds of studies confirmed the findings of the National Research Council: teaching phonics (and related phonics skills, such as phonemic awareness) is a more effective way to teach children early reading skills than is embedded phonics or no phonics instruction. The panel found that phonics instruction is an effective method of teaching reading for students from kindergarten through 6th grade, and for all children who are having difficulty learning to read. They also found that phonics instruction benefits all ages in learning to spell. They also reported that teachers need more education about effective reading instruction, both pre-service and in-service.