PHONICS TALK: The Dorbooks Newsletter
Volume 45 ~ February 2011
by Dolores G. Hiskes


What I love about a New Year is the feeling of new beginnings. A second chance with everything: new goals, dreams, activities and -- dare I say it? -- even new ventures!




Christmas came and went in such a blur I did not have time to act upon the Holiday Special I was going to offer. And then one morning I woke to the realization that I could offer a "special" any time. Why not have a post-Christmas special? What better time to lift spirits than right now, with so much icy cold weather and rain howling around us?

And so to help sweep away these gray wintery blues, from now until the first day of Spring (March 20) I will give away a sound/spelling CD with every order received. Yes, FREE! No matter how small the order, I will give away a CD of "Speaking Pathways" with the order until March 20, the first day of Spring.

English is so very important, and "Speaking Pathways" has proven invaluable to help English Language Learners pronounce English sounds correctly. And this poor old world needs all the help it can get in communicating more effectively and civilly at all levels of society.



The best way to begin using this sound CD is simply to listen to t
he whole thing first from beginning to end, to get an overview of
how it is organized and a sense of the rhythm, flow, and patterns
used in teaching these sounds.

Then listen to the section of the CD that has the same sound as the
lesson you are working on in Phonics Pathways. For example, as you
work through the short-vowel sounds listen to the short-vowel
lesson you are working on.

1--First, just listen to the vowel sound as it is spoken on the CD.

2--Next, play that section again, and this time you say the sound
long with the spoken sound on the CD.

3--Finally, play this section once more, and this time listen for this
sound within the words in the sample sentence that is given as well.
It's much more difficult to hear these sounds inside of a word so you'll
have to listen very carefully!

The complete test of this CD is also available as a free web download
at, enabling students to read the sounds
at the same time that they are listening to them. Simultaneously reading
and hearing sounds and words greatly accelerates learning them!

Hearing these sounds enunciated correctly will jump-start reading for
everyone. English language learners will especially benefit as the sounds
in their native language are frequently quite different from the sounds
of English.




For the first few years of school struggling readers manage to get by--
material is simple, illustrations reveal content, and there is much repetition.
But in fourth grade comprehension frequently plummets. This phenomena
is so wide-spread educators call it the "Fourth Grade Slump." Fourth grade
is when reading instruction shifts from word recognition and decoding to
development of fluency and comprehension. This has been going on for
some time (See "Phonics-Talk Volume 31 from April, 2008)

"Education Week" recently featured yet another article about the '4th Grade
Slump.' In this article Laurie Cutting, Associate Director of the Kennedy
Krieger Institute's Center for the Study of Reading Development, wrote:
"When you're younger, you're learning to read. When you're older, you have
to be comprehending very well what you are reading. It becomes a tool for
learning not a tool you are learning. It is possible that for some children the
slump could simply reflect reading problems not addressed early enough."

Timothy Shanahan, the director of the University of Illinois at Chicago's
Center for Literacy, said that the slump in students' reading ability occurs
because teachers start to assume pupils 'get it.' "These may be kids who
were in need of reading help. In 2nd grade that kid is going to get extra
help with his reading. In 4th and 5th grade they're not getting that help."




Illiteracy has primarily been addressed with band-aid measures such as
reducing the number of words in basal readers which only postponed the
problem. Dr. Patrick Groff reports that from 1922 into the 1940's, the number
of words in the basal reader's vocabulary decreased by 45 per cent, so when
students looked at the words again and again eventually they memorized them.

Louisa Moats wrote: "Leveled" books are supposed to increase in difficulty with
each advancing level. However, difficulty is defined in many of these series by
the amount of verbiage on a page and number of new words introduced, not by
the relationship between what has been taught and what students then read.
Students become ever more reliant on memorization and guesswork."

Smaller classrooms has not helped much. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
wrote "Many high-performing education systems, especially in Asia, have
substantially larger classes than the United States." In South Korea, secondary-
school classes average about 36 students; in Japan, 33; in America, 25.




There is evidence that real change may be around the corner:

Even the International Reading Assocation's "Reading Today" featured an article
by Timothy Radinski and Pamela Hamman titled "Fluency: Why it is 'Not Hot'".
They wrote, "Many of the experts and practitioners we have talked with have told
us that reading fluency is not hot because fluency instruction has become so
focused on increasing students' speed, regardless of whether or not students are
making meaning as they read. Reading fluency has become a speed reading
contest and divorced from the essence of reading -- comprehension. A literate
person is one who derives meaning, not speed, from the printed word."

But it's later than we think:

Howard High of Intel Corp. wrote "Now our business operations are two-thirds
in the United States and one-third overseas. But that ratio will flip over in the
next ten years."




First you read. Everything else follows. And if you can't -- it doesn't. Explicit
phonics is the clearest connecting link to our speaking vocabulary and the printed

There is a new biography of Cleopatra available that is considered "a historical
account of significant achievement."

The author writes, "Cleopatra learned to read first by chanting the Greek
alphabet, then by tracing letters incised by her teacher on a narrow wooden
tablet. She then went on to practice them in continuous horizontal rows,
later in columns, eventually in reverse order, and ultimately in pairs . . . when
Cleopatra graduated to syllables it was to a body of abstruse, unpronounceable
words, the more outlandish the better. The lines of doggerel that followed
were equally esoteric, the theory seems to have been that the student who
could decode these could decode anything. Maxims and verse came next,
based on fables and myths . . ."

Nonsense syllables and words have always been part of Phonics Pathways since
the very beginning. Guess there really IS nothing new under the sun!




I will be giving a workshop for the CARS+ Convention on February 19 at the
Doubletree Hotel in Sacramento, at 2:30. I will be speaking on "The Missing Link:
Phonics" as it relates to comprehension. There is no more timely subject!

I'm looking forward to this conference, and if any of you will be attending, I'd
really love to see you!




Meanwhile, Time passes. We have to believe that Spring really IS just around the corner.
I, for one, cannot wait! I'm absolutely more than ready!

Stay safe and be well.

Love, Dolores

Copyright Dolores G. Hiskes 2011


Close this window

Return to homepage