Archive for Older Students


Paul Krugman referred to 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. But we don’t notice it!

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.

Although tons of money is being poured into education for a whole variety of possible solutions including better pay for good teachers, smaller classrooms, adding computers, better assessment tools, etc., so far nothing has made too much of a dent in improving American education.

We insist that we DO teach phonics, but what went wrong? What are we missing?


Decodable text is the missing link between teaching letter sounds and reading books! It is the thing most lacking in reading programs today. “Open Court”, for example, used to be one of the best phonics programs available. 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. Their pre-decodable readers contains words such as “sandwich” and “napkin.”

When whole sight words are taught along with phonics while 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!


One 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 18 year old son with down’s syndrome 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 turned 84 the day after Christmas, and it’s wonderful stories like these that keep me as young and frisky as a newborn colt! (Well, almost…)


When my husband was an electronic technician in the Coast Guard his supervisor was constantly sending him to all four corners of California, with the booming command to “FIX IT! FIX IT!” regarding broken radios at various stations.

This is the time of year when I get similar messages from desperate parents whose children are still not able to read after trying everything from special ed classes to special tutoring. The programs they used were either incomplete, or way too complex with complicated directions. The school year has begun, and they want their children to read!

They have decided to try Phonics Pathways, and needed to know where to begin with an older child who has some reading skills but still struggles, guessing and misspelling all along the way, and is falling farther and farther behind.

Here is my advice:

(1) Begin with the very first review on page 16 of Phonics Pathways. They should be able to read these short-vowel sounds easily and accurately.

(2) Print out the “Short Sheet of Vowels” on page 256, and dictate a short-vowel sound. Have them write the name of the letter that makes this sound under the correct heading.

(3) The next review page is “Two-Letter Blends” on page 37. Students need to be able to blend these sounds together smoothly, and write the blend from dictation under the correct heading in “The Short-Sheet of Vowels.”

Keep proceeding in this manner with every review page in the book. Keep going until your student begins slowing down or struggling — that is the place to begin lessons!

Note that many review pages double as games as well. Playing these games is an excellent way to reinforce learning, and is fun besides!

If you don’t have Reading Pathways I’d suggest it — while Phonics Pathways is designed to be a complete text that stands on its own, Reading Pathways was written to provide extra practice and accelerate fluent reading skills while you are using Phonics Pathways. Check out “Free Downloads” on my website and print out the guide for how to use both books together.

If you need even more support material try Phonics Pathways Boosters — a book of games to enhance learning, and flash cards with pictured letters and phonograms, and a CD containing all the sounds in English in an easy-to-use format. Sample pages of all books are on my website

Finally, print out a copy of “The Short-Vowel Stick” on page 4 of Phonics Pathways. All short vowels are pictured and illustrated, and each student should keep one face-up on their desk at all times. They can see at a glance what sound the letter makes if they need help — kind of like name-tags for adults (which I for one always appreciate when I’m meeting new people!)

It’s good to be “back in the saddle” again. A lot has happened since my previous blog including a move to Marin, a heart attack, a triple by-pass, and a broken femur, but as old Shakespeare noted so long ago,

“All’s well that ends well!”

Dolores ~






Illiteracy and Outsourcing?

Much has been said and written about American jobs being outsourced  to other countries, and many reasons have been given as to why this is so. Here is one more reason to add to the list — illiteracy.

What on earth does illiteracy have to do with outsourcing? What’s going on, anyway?

According to a recent article by Robert Reich ( 7-18-12) America isn’t educating enough of our people well enough to get American-based companies to do more of their high-value added work here. He states our K-12 school system isn’t nearly up to what it should be, and that American students continue to do poorly in math and science relative to students in other advanced countries.

Take a closer look at Apple, for example: low wages are not the major force driving them abroad. The components Apple’s Chinese contractors assemble come from many places around the world with wages as high if not higher than in the United States.

More than a third of what you pay for an iPhone ends up on Japan, because that’s where some of its most advanced components are made. Seventeen percent goes to Germany, whose precision manufacturers pay wages higher than those paid to American manufacturing workers because German workers are more highly skilled. Thirteen percent comes from South Korea, whose median wage isn’t far from our own.

Sadly, workers in the United States get only about six percent of what you pay for an iPhone, which goes to American designers, lawyers, and financiers, as well as Apple’s top executives.

And the share of R&D spending going to the foreign subsidiaries of American-based companies rose from 9 percent in 1989 to almost 16 percent in 2009 according to the National Science Foundation.  ( 7-18-12)

And to think it all begins way back in first grade, with teaching reading! Because first, you read. Everything else follows. And if you can’t — it doesn’t.

The mightiest mountain in the whole world is easily climbed by taking only one small step at a time and keeping on going, and the biggest book in the whole world is easily read blending one letter sound at a time into syllables, words, phrases, and sentences using direct, explicit phonics.

Teaching reading is really very easy — anyone can teach it, and everyone can learn!

The Math-Reading Connection

The ability to think clearly, logically, and sequentially is a prerequisite for success in math/science. This skill is acquired, and is not innate.

Currently, reading is thought of as an innate, inborn skill such as walking or talking. It is believed that students will pick up this skill automatically if they are taught a few letters, but words are learned randomly, as a whole. Phonics is taught implicitly, and students are encouraged to guess at unknown words:  Implicit Phonics  Skill-based instruction and precision in reading are thought to be redundant to reading and comprehension.

Stastics on illiteracy rates clearly show otherwise. There is increasing evidence that systematic, skill-based instruction is indeed vital not only to the reading process but in our very ability to think logically and reason clearly. Sometimes it’s the brightest students who experience the most difficulty because they need to perceive patterns and relationships, and see how things fit together. Their minds rebel against a system that has no logic.

On the recent News Hour a savvy teacher said students don’t fail in high school, they fail in second grade because they have not been taught explicit phonics and are subsequently just carried along through school. She is absolutely correct!

When students learn the sounds and spelling patterns comprising over 95% of the English language in an incremental, progressive fashion math scores frequently improve without tutoring. Spelling improves dramatically! (Example: Why do we double some endings and not others in words such as “submitted, visited, marketing” and “compelling”? One simple rule covers over 90% of these words.)

Reading and reasoning develop simultaneously and synergistically. Moreover, brain imaging shows that dyslexia frequently disappears after students are taught how to read accurately with explicit phonics!* Accurate reading trains students to extract meaning from text, rather than insert meaning into text:  Explicit Phonics

Skill-based reading instruction is urgently needed and long overdue, but for the most part has not even been included in teaching colleges for over 50 years. Most of the old phonics texts have long been out of print. Once we provide this missing link in today’s reading curricula math/science skills will follow as has been demonstrated, because students have been taught to think logically and sequentially.

As the old Greek Herotimus once said:

“We are dragged on by consistency—but a thing may be consistent and yet false!”


*Dr. Guinevere Eden, Nature Neuroscience, 5-18-03