Archive for Comprehension

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


Teaching Reading Through the Ages

This issue of Dorbooks spells out how reading was taught fifty years ago, how it is taught today, and shares some summary thoughts. Enjoy!


(As excerpted from “Solomon or Salami?” by Helen R. Lowe, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1959.)

“Reading is more than a skill. It is an illuminating, enlarging and quickening experience, to which the majority of our high school and many of our college graduates are strangers. They read of their own volition hardly at all, often little beyond the newspapers, a few magazines, and an occasional best seller.

“Moreover, of those who reach high school level, we are told that only 15 to 20 percent are capable of a rigorous secondary school or college preparatory program, based on tests and cumulative school records.

“To learn something of the causes, character, and consequences of what has happened to the teaching of reading let us go straight to the evidence—to the students themselves—and we shall see that many of them do not know how to read.

“the lips of students of excellent and superior abilities. These are errors made by tenth, eleventh, and twelfth-grade students, taken at random from approximately a hundred thousand similar misreadings from the first grade to the college level:

Solomon             salami
delicacy              delinquency
groceryman        clergyman
hurricane            hammer
God knows         good news
inert                   inherent
imbecility           implicitly

“Misreadings of this kind can not be detected by standardized group tests. These are students who passed standardized reading tests and College Entrance Board Aptitude Tests.

“In addition to these spectacular distortions students make errors of omission, interpolations, paraphrases, conjectures, and complete improvisations so that paragraph after paragraph reaches their minds garbled, blurred, altered, and ungrammatical.

“What children know as reading is a difficult, tedious, confusing, time-consuming exercise in visual recall, association, invention, prediction, and substitution. This uncoordinated exertion mutilates or obliterates the meaning of the writer. Imposed upon students is a perverse and illogical concept of a word as a visual symbol of meaning instead of as a symbol of the sound which conveys the meaning.

“Their reading vocabularies are very limited in range, to reading only words they know and guessing at new words through context clues. They are confined within the boundaries of their current vocabularies and thoughts, interpreting things only from within their own shallow perspectives. The so-called reading of the disabled readers is largely meaningless, narrow, and without interest.

“Consider the effect of this kind of reading not merely upon the comprehension of content, but upon the capacity of think critically about anything at all. There is clear and abundant evidence that this dislocation of word and meaning carries over to other areas of learning.

“In the field of mathematics, for example, students are handicapped not only by their inability to read problems but by the very habits of mind which induced their reading disability. They surmise where they should calculate, and predict where they should reason.

“These students have no conception of reading as an experience that carries them beyond themselves, of opening doors that never close again.

“How can we teach anything to students who read lazy as snowing, remember as rabbit, and lieutenant as lunatic?”

(See the original complete 1959 “Solomon or Salami?” article at



“When our challenged son was 14 we had him tested at Scottish Rite Hospital because I thought he must have learning disabilities. I homeschooled him and he struggled so much. Scottish Rite told us David’s IQ was 66 and it was impossible for him to read at the level he did. So, how come he could read?
Answer:  I taught him straight phonics with Phonics Pathways, and I didn’t know he was mentally challenged, so I just expected him to perform normally.”


“My son Jimmy stumbled over the same words and eventually we would have to stop because we were both frustrated. The reading problem became much worse when we started reading math problems. It was like he had hit a brick wall.

“I called a friend and was just so totally overwhelmed when she suggested that he might have dyslexia. I had him tested  at the Dyslexia Testing Center in Boaz and found out he was severely dyslexic.

“I was shocked and  asked the Dr. how is it that he can read so well. She made a great statement that profoundly effected my thinking from that moment on. She said:

‘Our children up to 3rd grade are learning to read, but that after that they must read to learn. So with most dyslexic children they are extremely smart and have learned to memorize so many words early in reading, and they can pick information out of the pictures and guess at the words. So when the material becomes more challenging and less pictures you will start to see reading problems.’

“You might think your child is just being lazy, I did. I understand how to help my son now. He has to be taught phonics first. He has started to read without any prodding just since the past 2 weeks. To see the light turned on in his eyes is priceless.”

(Three months later)
“Dolores, I just had to share with you my most wonderful Mother’s Day gift I could ever have asked for. Jimmy went to Walmart with me to shop and he went running to the cards. He usually looks for a colorful card with child like pictures and has no idea what the card says. He found what he was looking for and stuffed it inside the envelope.

“He gave me the card yesterday and before I could open it he said, ‘Mom, you know how I have dyslexia and how hard reading has been for me. You know how hard we have worked this year. Okay now open your card.’

(The card:)

‘To My Mom: This is a story about a kid with a mom who believes in him and has taught him about important stuff- like chasing his dreams and trusting his heart It’s a success story and it was written by you. Happy Mother’s Day with love from your son.’

“It was all I could do to read through this card. I had no idea the impact I had on him this year. I had no idea the impact that he made on his own self. He is so proud that he can read now. This story would not have been possible without your gracious help. I am in such wonder of you and how wonderful you must feel knowing that you have made the difference in so many children and adults lives! I will be forever in your debt.”


“After my mom had a stroke she had trouble getting words from her brain to her mouth. Soon after she was back home I began using Phonics Pathways with her. She loved it! The sounds were one of the problem read she had, and it helped her so much. She is writing out her own Christmas cards and reading ‘baby’ books now. Today I’m proud to say that our library has its own copy of this book. We also have a growing population of Mexican families in our area, and we notice that many Hispanic children are using it to learn English.”
Barb Tessmann, Librarian, Oconomowoc, WI


When a frog is placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, it never realizes it is in danger and is slowly boiled alive. So it is with education today.
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.

Soon we will have another presidential election. If we cannot read or think clearly and accurately, we tend to believe in slogans rather than analyzing statements using the subtle reasoning that is so needed to survive in today’s complex society . . .
We are in danger of being slowly boiled alive because of our creeping illiteracy!

Copyright Dolores G. Hiskes, 2015

What’s New? Are both books needed?

Many customers have asked me what’s new in the 10th edition of Phonics Pathways. It has the same content it had before, but is enhanced with:

1—More practice pages.

2—Three added “Fluency Reality Checks” in strategic places. These nonsense words ensure that students are reading phonetically and not by sight.

3—“Dividing Multisyllable Words”. A whole new section details the ten rules on how to divide multisyllable words, illustrated with many examples.

4—A “Short Sheet of Vowels” master page.This multisensory reinforcement is designed to use throughout the book as needed, to accelerate learning and remembering the short-vowel sounds.

Questions and Answers:

Another customer asks: “How do you use these two resources together? Do you use Phonics Pathways and then the other? Or does Reading Pathways cover everything?”

Phonics Pathways is designed to TEACH reading skills including letters and sounds, rules, pronunciation, and comprehension.

Reading Pathways is designed to DEVELOP reading skills once they are taught.

Begin by using Phonics Pathways alone through page 52, where there is a pyramid-type exercise.

Now add Reading Pathways. It is a whole book of pyramid exercises that has the same progression of skills as that in Phonics Pathways, and will help enhance and develop the skills learned in that book.

There is a free downloadable guide on how to use these books together on my website: Go to, click on “Free Downloads,”  then scroll down to “Guide to Phonics Pathways and Reading Pathways.” This little booklet explains in great detail exactly how to use these books together.

Reading Pathways begins with one word and slowly builds into phrases and sentences of gradually increasing complexity, and is shaped like a pyramid. These exercises strengthen left-to-right eye tracking, increase eye span and accelerate reading fluency.

Reading Pathways also features more challenging multisyllable word pyramid exercises and games to further develop fluency and vocabulary. It removes the fear and mystique of multisyllable words, and helps students build the strong vocabulary so critical for success in today’s rapidly-changing world.

While Phonics Pathways is a complete reading program in itself and has been very successfully used as such for over 30 years, Reading Pathways is an extra aid that will help develop, ease, and accelerate reading fluency.

Happy reading!  



Teach Comprehension?

The Question:

A customer wrote: “I was wondering what you think about teaching reading comprehension “strategies.” If students are able to read accurately and fluently will they automatically be able to comprehend the material they read?”

My Answer:

Most of the time yes…but not always! I have a video tape of a three-year-old boy reading fluently from the back of my book with great emphasis on feeling and meaning (so much so it was sweetly laughable!), even stopping to ask questions now and then about what might come next. His mother had only taught him how to read with it, but nothing about comprehension.

But then there is the 4th-grade girl who could also read anything in the book — but had no idea what she was reading! She had never connected reading with meaning. Her teacher had called me because she was totally frustrated about what she should do.

I ended up taking the child back, back, and finally back to the first sentence in the book: “Sis sat.” She did not have the slightest clue as to what it meant.

I asked her what “Sis” meant, she replied “Oh, you mean sister?”

Then I asked her what “sat” meant, and she said “You mean like sat down?”

Then I asked her again what “sis sat” meant, and her eyes just shone. She excitedly shouted “My sister sat down!” and from then on she connected meaning with reading.

Diagraming sentences is another great activity for everyone, but especially someone who needs help with comprehension. Just knowing the subject and verb alone is a huge step forward!

So as you can see, there are students who automatically comprehend once they can accurately decode, but others who need specific instruction about comprehension. Most students fall in between these two rather extreme examples.

Nevertheless it’s always a good idea to check for comprehension every so often by simply asking a general question or two about what the child has just read: “Who did it? What did they do?” etc.

As Rudyard Kipling said,

        I keep six honest serving-men
         (They taught me all I knew);
        Their names are What and Why and When
          And How and Where and Who.
        I send them over land and sea,
          I send them east and west;
        But after they have worked for me,
          I give them all a rest!

                                     ~Rudyard Kipling, Elephant Child