PHONICS TALK: The Dorbooks Newsletter
Volume 58 ~ July 2012
by Dolores G. Hiskes


Summer is a good time to sit back and think about what's working in your teaching, and what's not. This newsletter is comprised of a summary of common questions and common misunderstandings, and offers some workable solutions.

Several of these posts are taken from my blog, which is enhanced with interactive graphics to illustrate the lesson. So do check out the blog--it has highly-teachable demonstrations that cannot be shown in a newsletter! Visit the Phonics Blog.


( has interactive post)

( has interactive post)






Much has been said about pre-reading, and how much or
whether it is even helpful when learning how to read.
Let’s narrow this discussion to illustrations, and
take a closer look at whether or not pictures help or
hinder the reading process:

If a story has too many pictures in it that give away
the whole plot, it defeats the purpose of decoding
because we already know everything about it and there’s
no motivation to read any further. If it has just a few
illustrations, this can perk up the child and give him
a sense of what the story is all about, hook his interest,
and motivate him to go ahead and read it. However, some
experts such as Robert Calfee say that any pictures at
all distract from the decoding mechanism (Robert Calfee,
*Memory and Cognitive Skills in Reading Acquisition,*
Reading Perception and Language 1975)

We know that the left brain acquires knowledge in small,
sequential steps, such as learning math and letter sounds.
And the right brain acquires knowledge by seeing the
whole picture, as with illustrations and sight words.

And amazingly, researchers such as Schwartz and Begley
(*The Mind and the Brain*) have discovered that activity
in the right hemisphere of our brain actually suppresses
the activity of the mirror-image region in the left
hemisphere if introduced at the same time or too soon!

There IS a way in which pictures are highly beneficial
to the learning process when learning how to read, and
that is to include pictures of words beginning with
the sound along with the letters being introduced.

Illustrating letter sounds as they are learned greatly
accelerates learning, just as using Cuisinaire rods and
other manipulatives accelerate learning mathematics.
(See the blog for an example: *The Short Sound of E*)

It can be too difficult to hear these sounds within a
word when first learning, especially for English-language
learners and students with learning disabilities, so it's
best to use words beginning with the sound.

It’s especially effective to include multiple examples,
as this imparts the subtle range and depth that make up
each sound, much like a 3-D hologram.

Listening for and identifying these sounds also develops
phonemic awareness, the important first step in learning
how to read.

The best example I can think of to demonstrate this
concept is to try and read a Russian letter — Russian
has different symbols for sounds and puts you in the
shoes of a child trying to read without knowing letter
sounds. (See the blog for an example using a *Mystery
Russian Letter.*) Can you name this letter and say its

Now try reading this letter again, this time with
multiple pictures beginning with the sound of the
letter. Just say the name of each picture, and note
the beginning sound:

Finally, look at it one more time and discover both the
name and sound of this Not-So-Mysterious Russian Letter.
See? Now you can read Russian!

Earnest Hemingway once said it takes a man half a life-
time to learn the simplest things. It took me that long
to learn how to simplify and teach reading English!




This is typical of questions I periodically get about
how to develop ease & fluency reading multisyllable

*I was wondering what resources I should use now with
my 3rd grade reader. We have finished *Phonics Pathways,*
but I still feel he needs more instruction in decoding,
especially big words. Also, he also doesn’t always apply
the rules or know when to apply the rules.*

Good question! Just because a child may have had phonics
and is able to read simple words does not mean he is
therefore automatically able to read multisyllable words.
It takes practice — graduated, sequential and progressive
practice — moving from simple multisyllable words to more
difficult combinations.

Consider getting *Reading Pathways* — it is specifically
designed to develop ease, fluency, and accuracy when
reading long, multisyllable words. Words are built one
syllable at a time, and read first with a phonetic
spelling and then with the genuine spelling. You can
download sample pages at

*Reading Pathways* begins with simple word pyramids,
progressing to multisyllable word mini-pyramids, and
finally to complex four-syllable multisyllable word
pyramids. (See for active
demos of each style.) Students love the pyramid format
and tend to think of it more as a game than a lesson!

As far as not applying the rules or knowing when to
apply them, it sounds to me as though he may need more
review. *Phonics Pathways* is deceptively simple, and
it’s very easy to go through the book too quickly.
However, it’s important that every lesson should be
automatic in recall before proceeding to the next one.
Whenever you get to a place in his reading that he
stumbles on or seems unsure of, review. Review, review,
review! It’s so important to read accurately and not
guess at multisyllable words!

Recently someone wrote to me saying her son had thrown
his food wrappers on the grass as they walked in the
park. When she corrected him, he said *It’s okay Mom,
the sign says *Dumping Permitted.* But the sign actually
said *Dumping Prohibited.*

As Mark Twain said: *The difference between the right
word and the almost right word is the difference between
lightning and the lightning bug!*




When going through our closets and garage I found a poem
on a birthday card given to me by my much-loved mother-
in-law many years ago, and I'd like to share it with you:

*I do not wish you joy without a sorrow,
Nor endless day without the healing dark,
Nor brilliant sun without the restful shadow,
Nor tides that never turn against your bark.

*I wish you love, and strength, and faith, and wisdom,
Goods -- gold enough to help some needy one.
I wish you songs, but also blessed silence,
And God's sweet peace when every day is done.*
(Dorothy Nell MacDonald)

Perhaps these words may bring comfort to those of you
who may be experiencing withering heat, devastating rain,
or other upheavals in your lives.

Bless you all!




From time to time some of you have asked about Kiwi,
the sweet pussycat cuddling with Dewey in the front of
*Phonics Pathways.* There are added photos of her on
my blog, along with some details of her colorful life.

There are also photos of our new kitty Josi. Josi was
named for my publisher Jossey-Bass, and the photo of
her with *Phonics Pathways* has gone around the world
with their marketing director to illustrate how
Jossey-Bass aims to please every single customer!

Warmest regards until next time,

Copyright Dolores G. Hiskes 2012


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