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Diary of a Resource Specialist

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Here is a heartwarming story from someone "in the trenches" in a public elementary school, who has had some rather amazing results using Phonics Pathways...


Dear Dolores,

I am Don Potter, an Instructional Resource Specialist. Our school district is really into Balanced Literacy, and some of it is excellent. Unfortunately, much of it is a hodge podge of information with no system or sequence to it. They mix phonics with whole language, in a unhealthy witches brew.

I wanted to tell you I am teaching three remedial students (two 4th graders and one 8th grader) using your textbook. I had previously tested them with three tests: Star, 1987 Riverside Reading Inventory, and Ed Millers new Miller Word Identification Assessment (MWIA). Miller's test indicates that they all have serious dyslexia.

When the two fourth graders got to the long vowels, I thought they were going to choke. When I finally got the fourth grade boy to the long "u" vowels, he just put his head down and cried. He begged me not to make him read them. He read every incident of "cute" as "cut," even though he knew that the entire pages was nothing but long u words. The girl simply said that it hurt her to read the long a words.

I believe the left to right tracking etc., is really helping them. The girl in particular has made it through the long e words, and everything seems to be getting easier for her. It will be interesting to see how the tests come out. I figure when they get *over the hump* they will experience growth in their reading.

The eight grader is a straight A student, and even pulled a 95% on his TAAS test. The teachers say he is a model student. But when he took the MWIA he missed over ultra-simple one-syllable phonics words. The test indicated that he had severe dyslexia. He read words backwards, turned m into w in some words, persistently confused "b" and "d." etc. He is a nice kid, and he has learned to successfully mask his problem by rereading passages and applying lots of comprehension strategies.

After hearing him read, I couldn't believe he could possibly be considered an excellent student. He studied Open Court in first and second grades, and was introduced to Spalding in third and fourth. He could go back and read all the words he missed when he spelled them and thought about them a bit, but his first response on seeing a word is often wrong. He seems to be developing security in his reading as he proceeds through the program. He hasn't gotten to the long vowels yet, so I can't say how he will respond to them. I only work with him about 1/2 hour each week so remediation will take a while.

Today one of my fourth graders finished the Pyramid book. He just came in the room every day for several days and would sit by himself and read for a while. I probably am not using it as intended, as I didn't listen to him read it. Rather than take him through Phonics Pathways which requires many, many hours of one-on-one tutoring, I just handed him Pyramid and suggested that he read it himself. He did, and enjoyed every minute of it. He really enjoyed the book. Today he said, "I am done Mr. Potter."

I immediately gave him a new 1987 Riverside IRI. The grade levels are "instructional level." Here are the results:

Beginning of remediation: Place in middle third grade. Very slow reading, struggles to identify words. (No MWIA given, I didn't have it at that time.)

After learning 68 Orton Phonograms and 840 High Frequency Words: Place in fourth grade. Good fluency, excellent decoding. He has learned to focus on words. Good phonogram knowledge. BUT the MWIA indicated continued whole-word dyslexia.

After working through Pyramid: Place in sixth grade. Systematic use of phonics facts, and automatic employment of the phonics habit.

The fact that he scored "place in sixth grade" on the IRI indicates that he has made great progress. I did not see any evidence of "whole-word" dyslexia as he read through the IRI this last time. I have my hopes up. It is highly unusual that a student could sit alone reading a book (Pyramid in this case) and come up with such fundamental improvement in reading. I want to move beyond helping them memorize more sight words so they can improve their reading; rather, I want them to alter their basic word identification processing skills. Some think such fundamental change is impossible after second grade.

My Phonics Pathways student continues to progress page by page through the book. It may take a few more weeks, but every indication is that something very fundamental is changing in his ability to identify words. Remember, this is without a doubt one of the most difficult cases in the entire school. I like these tough cases because they provide me with a great challenge. Finding the programs that work with them is a quest of a lifetime. Anyone can teach the other kids, it is these kids that require something special.

Manuel finished Phonics Pathways last Friday. He was one happy boy. It was long road down the path laid out by Phonics Pathways; but as you shall see, it was a path that lead to real literacy!

Here are his 1987 Riverside IRI scores over time:

Place in first grade.

Place in middle first grade.

Place in middle first grade.

After Phonics Pathways: Place in fourth grade!

Just look at this score! I tried to teach him my Spalding type program which works so well in kinder and first but got little results to show for my hard work. He made no progress between second grade (when I taught him in a bilingual class) and fourth grade. His third grade teacher was a WL teacher and it shows -- a year of no progress. He even went to a special tutor four days a week thought 3rd grade who was a Balanced Literacy/Guided Reading expert -- no progress!

I taught him Phonics Pathways and like magic he is reading on a solid fourth grade level. Don't ask me why my Spalding type program didn't work, I suppose it was because it is based on high frequency words, which in his case worked like sight-words, and he just couldn't break his whole-word reading habit. I drilled him in the phonograms, but he just couldn't get it. Well, he got Phonics Pathways!

Now for the best part: His MWIA score. I do not know if you are aware of this assessment. It is a very useful tool for measuring dyslexia. I give the MWIA II. There are two groups of 210 words, one group is mostly sight-words and the other is simple one-syllable phonics words. A comparison of the student's performance on the two sections of the test enables us to measure the degree and nature of the child's dyslexia. In fact, I gave the first test after months of trying to teach the Spalding phonograms, etc, but before beginning work on Phonics Pathways. Here are the glorious results:

Holistic WPM: 48
Phonetic WPM: 32
Slow-down: 33%
Holistic errors: 19
Phonetic errors: 79
Corrected 29 out of 79 phonics errors.

Holistic WPM: 52
Phonetic WPM: 36
Slow-down: 31%
Holistic errors: 9
Phonetic errors: 20
Corrected 14 out of 20 phonics errors.

His vastly improved decoding skills are what drove up his IRI scores. I especially noticed that when he read the words on the MWIA he had a very sharp and crisp articulation which was missing before. He read stories with much better oral fluency and expressiveness. His self-confidence is very much improved.

I was in a big hurry, and he is only with me for about 1/2 hour everyday so there was absolutely no time for review or any multi-sensory practice. This is what we were able to accomplish just starting at the front of the book and covering x-amount of pages every day. I am impressed. No he is not totally cured of his dyslexia, but we have so decreased its influence that he is able to perform on grade level--for the first time in his school career!

Oh, one last word: He could never remember the Spalding type high-frequency words, now he reads them flawlessly with proper decoding skills.

As you are no doubt aware, Phonics Pathways goes far beyond an other phonics program in teaching the entire scope of English orthography. And I do not believe I mentioned how much we enjoyed the wisdom of Dewey the Bookworm. We read all his sayings and discussed them--some took explanation, but all were valuable.

The educational world is looking for a miracle cure like Phonics Pathways, and here it is--available in a single, durable, inexpensive volume. Thank you!

With immense appreciation,

Don Potter
Instructional Resource Specialist

© 2002-2006 Dolores G. Hiskes

Teaching reading is really very simple - anyone can teach it,
and everyone can learn!

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