PHONICS TALK: The Dorbooks Newsletter
Volume 73 ~ December 2015
by Dolores G. Hiskes

PHONICS TALK: The Dorbooks Newsletter
Volume 73 - December 2015
by Dolores G. Hiskes


Most political messages today are geared toward an 8th-grade
reading level, according to Elvin Lim of Wesleyan University in
an article by Dave Broder, with a sharp decline in content—
especially of logical argument.

While simplification has its advantages, it comes with a huge
risk: The complexity of real-world choices can be, and often is,
lost. Politicians offer an easily digestible vacuous menu devoid
of argument and infused with platitudes, punch lines, and
emotional human-interest appeals.

Lim found that all of the presidents through Woodrow Wilson
appealed to *common sense* just 11 times in their recorded
papers, presidents since Wilson have done so more than
1,600 times.

The urgency and complexity of nuanced real-world choices
often is lost, while the issues themselves become increasingly
more urgent.


Paul Krugman wrote about the proverbial frog that, when placed in a
pot of cold water that is gradually heated, never realizes it is in danger
and is slowly boiled alive.

So it is with education today. While the debate of how to best
raise reading and math scores rages on and on, the United States
continues to lag near the bottom when compared to most civilized
countries today. Increasingly we can see the effects of this all
around us, from pharmacists who misread prescriptions to clerks
who cannot add. We are in danger of being slowly boiled alive
because of our creeping illiteracy.

In 1950 no European country enrolled 30% of its older teens
in full-time secondary school. In the U.S., 70% of older teens
were in school, and America's edge boosted productivity and
growth. We became the world's leading nation largely because
of our emphasis on mass education at a time when other countries
educated only elites.

That happy era ended around 1970 when America's educational
progress slowed to a crawl, and stagnated completely between
1975 and 1990. Today in the District of Columbia only 8% of
eighth graders meet expectations in math. America's lead over
its economic rivals has been entirely forfeited, with many
nations surging ahead in school attainment.


Decodable text is the missing link between teaching letter sounds
and reading books, and is the thing most lacking in reading
programs today.

*Open Court*, for example, is considered one of the best phonics
programs available today. But today's revamped version of this
wonderful old program teaches 130 high-frequency words in first
grade alone in order to move quickly into reading good literature.

When whole sight words are taught along with phonics when
learning the mechanics of reading it throws a monkey wrench
into the learning process.

In *The Mind and the Brain* Schwartz and Begley point out
that the left brain acquires knowledge by small, sequential
parts (learning math, letter sounds) and the right brain acquires
knowledge by seeing the whole picture (viewing illustrations,
learning sight words).

They found that activity in one hemisphere actually suppresses
the activity of the mirror-image region on the other side!

Not only that, but MRI imaging confirms that the neurobiological
basis of reading disability changes to normal after children are
taught to read with explicit phonics and gradually progressive
decodable practice reading!

When we learn how to play the piano we learn one note at a
time, and then practice scales until this knowledge is automatic.
After that we combine notes into very simple melodies, and
begin to use simple chords as well. Gradually, as our skills
advance, we move on to more complex pieces of music, finally
playing complicated melodies with great nuance and feeling.

We would never attempt to play a complex sonata when we
first learn the keyboard, and yet this is exactly what children
are expected to do when learning how to read. Once they are
taught the alphabet, they are expected to begin reading good

Marilyn Adams wrote *Human attention is limited. To under-
stand text our attention cannot be directed to the identities of
individual words and letters.*

Practice reading with progressive decodable text is the missing
link in most phonics reading programs today!


A mom sent me a video of her three-year old boy, who was
reading fluently from the back of *Phonics Pathways* with
great emotion and emphasis on meaning in all the right places.

Another mom wrote a note about her mentally retarded 18
year old who was told he would never learn how to read—
but now has almost finished *Phonics Pathways*. She wrote
*Nathan is doing fantastic with your book. He is in the room
right now working with contractions. We are flabbergasted!*

It's thrilling to me to hear about these success stories at all
levels of ability! I'm going to turn 85 the day after Christmas,
but it's wonderful stories like these that keep me young
and frisky! (Well, er…almost…)

In any case, have a joyful and blessed Holiday Season.
It’s a meaningful time of year for so many faiths, and I just
love it! I’m humbly grateful for my wonderful family and friends,
for the many years I’ve shared with my husband and best
friend Johnny, and for still being able to write these newsletters.
See you next year!

Love, peace and joy to all of you,

copyright Dolores G. Hiskes December 2015


Copyright Dolores G. Hiskes 2016
May be reprinted in entirety with reference to author




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