PHONICS TALK: The Dorbooks Newsletter
Volume 43 ~ September 2010
by Dolores G. Hiskes

 

We're No. 1(1)!* is the title of Thomas Friedman's recent editorial in The New York Times (9-12-10), in which he laments the U.S.A.'s rank as No. 11 in Newsweek's listing of the 100 best countries in the world. He wonders why we have spent so much money on school reform and have so little to show for it in terms of student achievement.

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*WE'RE NO. 1(1)!*

BIRTH OF THE BEAT

THE BEST WAY TO STUDY

FALL HAZE

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*WE'RE NO. 1(1)!*

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The *We're No. 1(1)!* article laments the fact that we spent so much money on school reform and have so little to show for it, and suggests that motivation may be a factor. Motivation is indeed important, as are many other factors. But that is not why students cannot read.

Imagine for a moment you are a small child trying to learn Russian and your teacher hands you a page of text written in Russian, and asks you to read it using a whole-word approach. (Russian has different symbols for sounds, and puts you in the shoes of a child trying to read without knowing letter sounds.) And when you can't, she tries various strategies:

1 - She provides self-esteem counseling, rewards, etc. to help
you feel good about yourself and get motivated.

2 - She tries "shared reading" where she reads a sentence, then
asks you to read the next one.

3 - She breaks the room up into small groups, so that you can
learn from one another.

4 - She tries *phonics* (telling you the beginning and ending
letters of a word so you can be a better guesser).

5 - She sends you to the Special Ed teacher who provides one-
on-one instruction and talks with you, reads the material herself,
and then asks you to read it.

6 - She holds you back a grade so that you will be more mature
and ready to learn.

And on and on and on . . . ad infinitum. But of course nothing
that has been tried so far works. You still cannot read the story
written in Russian. Whole-word methods of learning how to read
work no better in Russian than in English.

Even worse, with time we grow resigned and complacent, and our
literacy rate segues into the accepted norm. There are even rumors
of something called *visual literacy,* of articles about how wordless
books are excellent library materials, and that the age of handwriting
is over.

But wait!

Now imagine these students are told what sound each symbol has,
and shows how they can be slowly built and recombined into infinite
combinations to make words and tell a story. Voila! The children
begin reading Russian!

Here's a dramatic and heart-warming letter I received from a greatly
esteemed long-time teacher:

*When our challenged son was 14 we had him tested at Scottish Rite
Hospital because I thought he must have learning disabilities. I had
homeschooled him because he struggled so much. Scottish Rite told
us that Micah's IQ was 66 and IT WAS IMPOSSIBLE FOR HIM TO READ
AT THE LEVEL HE DID. So, how come he could read?

#1 - Straight phonics with Phonics Pathways.
#2 - I didn't know he was mentally challenged, so I expected him to perform normally.*

The real question is, *Why can't we see the noses on our faces?*

The problem is, that none of the current basal reading systems used
by schools employ this method anymore. "Open Court" used to, but
they were revised and now employ a phonics/whole word approach
to teach reading which cannot compare with the older versions of
this program. So if by chance you have an old version of "Open Court,"
hang onto it! It's worth its weight in gold! Otherwise, simply supple-
ment your program with any one of the good phonics books available
today and you will soon see 100% smiling faces and starry eyes . . .
ALL BUSY READING !!!

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BIRTH OF THE BEAT

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*Science News* has a fascinating article (8-14-10) suggesting that
music's roots may lie in melodic exchanges between mothers and
babies. Classical music lights up specific areas in newborn's right
brains and even more interesting, babies enter the world crying in
melodic patterns that these chubby-cheeked little ones have heard
in their mothers' conversations for at least two months while in the
womb. *Itsy Bitsy Spider* and other sing-alongs may actually
prepare babies to learn social rituals.

Psycho-biologist Colwyn Trevarthen feels the next step is to devise
a measure of musical interactions that combines facial expressions
and gestures with vocalizations, and that researchers everywhere
will tap their feet to the sounds of music reverberating in mother-
baby chatter.

*The Sound of Music* indeed!

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THE BEST WAY TO STUDY

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In an intriguing article in the New York Times (9-6-2010) Benedict
Carey suggests that age-old truths about good study habits may not
necessarily be valid after all.

In the past most of us have always told our children to clear a quiet
work space, stick to a homework schedule, etc goals, establish clear
boundaries, etc.

In recent years cognitive scientists have shown that some of this most
hallowed advice is flat-out wrong. In fact, a few simple techniques
can reliably improve what matters most: how much a student learns
from studying, such as alternating the room where a person studies
and studying distinct but related skills in one sitting.

In one classic experiment psychologists found that college students
who studied a list of 40 vocabulary words in two different rooms -
one windowless and cluttered, the other modern with a view on a
courtyard -did far better on test than students who studied the
same words twice, in the same room! Later studies confirmed this
finding for a variety of topics.

These findings even extend to aesthetic intuitive learning. In an
experiment recently published in *Psychology and Aging* researchers
found that college-age students and adults of retirement age were
better able to distinguish the painting styles of 12 unfamiliar artists
after viewing mixed collections than after viewing a dozen works
from one artist all together, and then moving on to the next painter.

These finding certainly seem to undermine the common assumption
that intensive immersion is the best way to master a particular genre
or type of creative work!

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FALL HAZE

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Summer is over, and it passed far to quickly for my taste. Still,
I have to admire the special beauty of the Fall Season -- the air
is crisp, apples taste better, winter vegetables begin to appear
in the stores, and leaves will soon begin to turn their beautiful
golden and russet colors.

And it's always such fun watching young shiny faces march off
to school once again, filled with such dreams and high hopes!

Some stores already have Halloween decorations and goodies
for sale, and after that Thanksgiving is just around the corner.
And then -- the Christmas season will be upon us with its lovely
healing and inspiring message of love, forgiveness, and peace
on earth.

And so the great world turns.

Thanks for your interest, and Happy Fall to all! Please continue
to send me your questions or success stories - I love hearing
from you!

Blessings, Dolores

Dolores G. Hiskes, President
"Phonics Pathways" - Six 1st-place awards-"Best Phonics Program in The Country"


Copyright Dolores G. Hiskes 2009- 2010

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