PHONICS TALK: The Dorbooks Newsletter
Volume 29 ~ September 2007
by Dolores G. Hiskes


The last newsletter focused on the definition and causes of dyslexia. This newsletter will discuss how to pinpoint weaknesses in children's reading skills, and how to address and correct them. Finally, we will share some most inspiring success stories and discuss what comes next.

Here are two simple tests easily administered by anyone that will help determine precisely whether your child reads with whole-language methods or phonics, and what grade level children are reading at.

Most of what is called dyslexia today can easily be treated and overcome successfully. Here is a roadmap that can be taken to remediate and correct any reading difficulties that might occur.

Teachers and parents share amazing and inspirational success stories about severely dyslexic students they have worked with, and how success has changed these students' lives.

Is phonics all there is to know when learning how to read? Some thoughts about what comes next.


Here are two quick-and-easy tests that will give specific
information about how well and accurately your child is reading,
what strategies they are using when reading, and roughly what
grade level the child is reading at:

(1) The *Miller Word Identification Assessment* will determine
whether a child's reading incorporates phonics as well as word
identification. Many children test at grade level in reading yet
fail in comprehension -- this test will help explain why.

There are two lists of words to read, one Holistic (commonly
found in most of the beginning basal readers) and one Phonetic
(less common but completely phonics-based). There are simple
directions for administering and interpreting this test, which
is available free in a PDF format on Don Potter's website:

(2) The *Reading Competency Test* is modeled after what is
known as the "Informal Reading Inventory" (IRI). The IRI originated
in the 1940's as a quick and relatively simple way for classroom
teachers to determine how well their students were reading grade-
level written materials. Its use has been proved satisfactory since
the IRI has been found to be a reliable and valid means to discern
how well students can read words at different grade-levels of
difficulty, and is used equally easily by parents or teachers.
It also is available free on the National Right to Read website There are simple directions for
administering and interpreting this test as well.


Letter and/or word reversals are frequent hallmarks of dyslexia.
We are not born with the ability to automatically read from left
to right -- it is an acquired skill which is absolutely necessary in
the earliest stages of reading. It paves the way to fluent reading
with ease, accuracy, and precision.

Quite simply, correct phonological processing is accurately being
able to blend letters together into words without guessing. When
phonemes are learned individually, blended into syllables and words,
and gradually built into sentences eye tracking is strengthened,
and eyes are patterned to track smoothly from left to right
across the page.

(1) Teach letter/sound relationships individually, and only teach
one at a time.
(We remember names better when we learn them
one at a time -- learning letter sounds is no different!)

(2) Practice blending letter sounds together. Begin with just two
letters and gradually build letters into syllables and words. This
essential step will avoid or correct any tendency toward letter/
word reversals, and must be a clearly established habit prior to
*real reading.*
(Crawling prepares us for walking, and strong eye-
tracking skills prepare us to read connected test.)

(3) Practice reading with controlled decodable text until reading
is well-established. This is especially important as most beginning
readers in today's basal reading programs are estimated to be
only 50% decodable at most, and throw students back into the
wild *guessing* mode you are trying so hard to overcome. For
example, here is a 50% decodable sentence: *Jan XXXX the
big XXXX about XXXX.*
(Rudolph Flesch and others have actually proposed
that all regular reading be completely halted until the
student had overcome his guessing habit.)

(4) And now -- they are finally able to *read for meaning* instead
of struggling while *meaning to read*. So go for it! Give them
some wonderful old children's classics, sit back, and just watch
those happy faces and starry eyes -- all busy reading!

(More detailed information about any of the above can be found
in previous Phonics Talk Newsletters -- see especially Volumes 3 through 5 for beginning strategies --and Volume 8 for a clear discussion of comprehension.)


The first example listed here is from a teacher who uses Phonics
Pathways and Reading Pathways in a literacy program with his
dyslexic and ELL students, as well as in a regular classroom, and
the second example is from a homeschooling parent of a diagnosed
severely dyslexic boy who used these books with her son after
a long, hard struggle. Everything else she had tried failed.

(1) Andy Banks teaches reading at the Tovashal Literacy Club (TLC)
in Murrieta, CA, which is a before school intervention for students
who struggle with reading fluency. He wrote:

*...Many students have gone from being at-risk readers
to proficient and fluent readers using Phonics Pathways.
Comparing CAT6 Total Reading scores from 2nd to 3rd grade,
Student A went from the 28th percentile to the 43nd per-
centile. Student B went from the 41st percentile to the 61st
percentile, and Student C went from the 23rd to the 82nd
percentile. These students also went up two levels on their
overall performance in Language Arts.

*Phonics Pathways has proven to be an effective teaching
tool not only in our reading intervention program but in our
regular classrooms and with parents at home as well. It is
an integral part of the instructional program at our school
and is an invaluable tool in providing the foundation students
need to be successful readers. I know that many of our
students would not have become fluent readers without it!*

(2) This Mom worked long, hard, and diligently with her severely
dyslexic son, and even Phonics Pathways was a real struggle for
the longest time. She despaired that he would ever become a
*real reader,* but then last Spring an amazing thing happened:

*Dolores, I just had to share with you the most wonderful
Mother's Day gift I ever had. Joseph went to Walmart with
me to shop and went running to the cards. He usually looks
for a colorful card with child-like pictures with no idea of
what the card says. He found what he was looking for and
told the lady not to let me see this card.

*He gave me the card on Mother's Day and said, 'Mom you know
I have dyslexia and how hard reading has been for me. you know
how hard we have worked this year. Okay, now open your card.'

This is a story about a kid with a Mom who believes in him
and has taught him about important stuff, like chasing his
dreams and trusting his heart. It's a success story and it was
written by you. Happy Mother's Day with love, from your son.'

*It was all I could do to read through this card. I had no idea the
impact he had made on his own self! We love Dewey's words of
advice as well. Every day Dewey is there encouraging us, or just
breaking the tension. It's strange how a paper worm can become
such a friend to someone!

*The point of this letter is to tell you HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY from
myself to you. This story would not have been possible without
your gracious help. How wonderful you must feel knowing that
you have made the difference in so many lives!*

Indeed, I can honestly say that this was one of the best Mother's Day
gifts I've ever received as well!


Phonics is only the beginning! It will allow you to read anything,
but it's important to develop other skills as well. You and I, for
example, could read a book on brain surgery, but we probably
don't have the vocabulary to comprehend what we are reading.

Develop your students' vocabularies by reading good literature to
them, teaching them to use dictionaries and thesauruses, and by
teaching them the meaning of suffixes, prefixes, and roots.

Make sure their reading choices are challenging but comprehensible.
Periodically ask them to repeat what they have just read in their
own words, to make sure they understand the meaning of the text.

Language arts skills involve many other disciplines including com-
prehension, vocabulary development, grammar, composition, etc.
But first of all, you must learn how to read. Everything else follows.
As reading teacher Bettina Dunne observed,

*Phonics Pathways does not teach comprehension, but it
unlocks the secrets of sound and symbol relationships
allowing comprehension to become the focus. Students,
now able to read words, can meet reading at its most
vital level -- they can read for meaning!*


This ends our two-part series on dyslexia. We hope that you have enjoyed it, and will feel free to share it with others who you think might find it of interest.

For now, enjoy the last bits of early Fall -- the weather here in California has been just spectacular. Now I look forward to seeing the leaves as they turn to such fiery, beautiful Autumn colors as we head into the colder weather of another season!

Very best to all,

copyright September 2007

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