Archive for January 23, 2016



Many phonics programs do teach letter/sound relationships, but then move directly into reading whole words and stories. Some children have no problem with that, but many others develop a roadblock. They reverse letters in words, and even reverse words in sentences,
and cannot seem to move forward. Why?


Neurologists now know that early reversals are normal for many beginning readers. Blending practice should be an integral part of reading instruction, but is not often included. Blending prepares students for reading just as crawling prepares us for walking.

This critical but frequently-overlooked step helps prevent or correct letter and word reversals and develops strong eye muscles. It is important to acquire this skill prior to reading real words, in order to correct or prevent any tendency to reverse letters which might only cement a bad habit.

Blending practice can be very cursory, or taught carefully in a gradually progressive manner. What follows is my particular recipe for reading that gets maximum results in the minimum time with the least amount of effort:

(1) Blending practice should begin with two-letter syllables. It is at this point that strong left-to-right tracking skills become solidified, and it’s important to do so before reading real words to prevent or correct reversals.

For example, take “sa.” Say the sound of each letter of the syllable separately, at first: “sss” “aaa.” Now say it again, this time blending the two sounds together: “SSSSSSSSSaaaaaaaaaaa .” (Take a deep breath first!)
This simple but powerful exercise is essential.

(2) Reading should be gradually progressive. It’s too big of a jump for many students to suddenly move from reading a single word into reading whole stories. Would we expect someone just learning how to play the piano to immediately play a sonata just because they could play the scales?

Try reading one word such as “red,” then two-word phrases such as “red hat,” and then three-word phrases such as “big red hat.” It’s fun to make up your own! If your students enjoy it consider getting Reading Pathways, a book filled with just this kind of eye-tracking practice, but in the shape of pyramids. (Take a peek!


(1) Try some of the eye exercises shown in back of Phonics Pathways (pages 251 and 252). They are the same ones given to our son when he was young by an optometrist specializing in vision therapy, and were very helpful indeed. (But they must be practiced on a regular basis.)

(2) And do try “The Train Game” on pages 258-259. of Phonics Pathways. The visual aspect of moving train cars seems to be especially helpful. Make up “The Train Game”s blank cars (page 259), write the word by syllables on the cars (such as “con” “strain” “ing”) and then have the student play “The Train Game” as directed on page 20.

Manipulatives like this can really help break through this roadblock, because the student initiates and completely controls the timing of the blending. That’s the critical part that makes all the difference. One reading specialist felt it actually rewired his students’ brain, enabling him to read from left to right for the very first time!

(3) Finally, consider beginning every reading lesson by having your student read aloud one of the simpler pyramid exercises in Reading Pathways. It’s a powerful “warm-up” for the lesson, much like stretching is before jogging.


Currently we are living in tough times, and all we can do is make the best of it. We may not have come over on the same ship, but we are all in the same boat.

Let us not bankrupt our todays by paying interest on the regrets of yesterday and by borrowing in advance the trouble of tomorrow. There is nothing we cannot live down, rise above, and overcome!

(There is a new video on my website that explains how I overcame some of my own personal obstacles — if you like, you can see it at, click on “About Us.”)

With that thought and those good wishes, I leave you for now. Peace be with you! Blessings,

                  Dolores :)


© Dolores G. Hiskes 2016

Common Roadblocks to Reading

Sometimes even when phonics is taught students experience difficulty in learning how to read. Why? Isn’t it sufficient just to teach phonics skills in order for students to become fluent readers? Not necessarily so . . .
There are a few roadblocks that can get in the way of learning how to read. This newsletter is the first of a three-part series describing these roadblocks in detail, with some
tried-and-true solutions:


At times even after students improve their reading two or three grade levels comprehension still remains static. They are able to read the words, but have no understanding of what they are reading. Why? A closer look at how phonics
is frequently taught reveals a significant factor contributing to this roadblock that is sometimes overlooked.
Many phonics reading systems require students to learn all of the phonograms first in isolation, prior to reading any real words. This has the effect of divorcing reading from meaning and can result in a reading-without-understanding syndrome. After all, a phonogram has no real meaning in and of itself!
Phonics Pathways is written so that meaning is introduced as phonograms are learned. It is built in from the very beginning. Short vowels are taught first, one at a time, with multiple pictures illustrating the sound being learned to hook meaning into what they are learning. After short vowel sounds are learned consonants are introduced, one at a time, again with multiple pictures illustrating every sound being learned.
Soon students begin reading words and two-word phrases

such as “sis sat”. Now ask your students “Who sat?” and/or “What did sis do?” Do the same thing with the next phrase: “sun set.” Ask them “What did the sun do?” and/or “What set?”

Many students enjoy a Treasure Hunt – our own grandkids went bananas over this! Write little messages that are totally decodable on small strips of paper, fold and put them into an empty kleenex box. Have them draw one, read it aloud, and do what it says. Sample messages: “kiss Mom,” or “pet cat,” or “hop ten times,” or “hit a desk.” It’s like a game. (In fact, it IS a game!)

You get the idea! Meaning is something that you and I
automatically attach to reading. But many children need this concept to be specifically taught. Like blending ability, it is not necessarily a skill students acquire automatically. But once this connection is made meaning will become automatic as the child progresses with his reading skills.
Continue doing the same thing as you work through the
book, and check from time to time to be sure your student
is really reading and understanding the passage. Have him
read a page aloud to you every so often and ask him what
it was about. Listen with eagle ears for any misrepresenta-
tions. Stop him and ask him to read that word or section
again. Have him self-correct if possible – that is what will train his brain to read accurately and not guess.
Does he understand the meaning of the words he is reading? If he is an English language learner, he may need extra help building his vocabulary skills. When YES Reading
Center in Palo Alto first got started there were many
English-language learners in the program with minimal
speaking and comprehension vocabularies. They would first be taught enough phonics so they could sound out a few words, and then they stopped Phonics Pathways for awhile to build up their vocabularies before proceeding with the book.
Mary Jane Edwards was an ESL instructor at YES, and writes:
“I have used a variety of course books that provide drills
and exercises in listening, speaking, reading & writing to
teach practical, conversational English. Some of my favorites were “Crossroads” by Irene Frankel et al. (Oxford Univ. Press); “Side by Side” & “Expressways” both by Steven Molinsky & Bill Bliss. These, as well as many others are available at the Alta Book Center, located near the SF Airport. The address is: 14 Adrian Court Burlingame, CA 94010. Tel: (650) 692-1285, or (800) ALTA-ESL. The website is: In order to choose correctly, one needs to know the students’ previous exposure to English & other factors, so visiting either the store or the website would be very helpful.”
It’s important that the habit of attaching meaning into what students are reading gets established very early in the game, because then comprehension will become automatic!
Stay tuned for “ROADBLOCK #2: REVERSALS”


Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.       


Simple but powerful words! Wouldn’t it be an absolutely
wonderful world if everyone put this into practice? (Just
wishing and dreaming here . . .)

With warm hugs and all good wishes for the New Year,


Copyright 2016 Dolores G. Hiskes