Archive for Phonics or “Phonics?”

Dyslexia Revisited

What is dyslexia?

Most experts agree that, in general, dyslexia is the result of an inability to distinguish and/or process the sounds that make up speech, for whatever reason. When trying to define dyslexia, it’s difficult to find any one group that totally agrees with another–in either its definition, diagnosis or treatment.

What can we do about it?

Some experts feel that dyslexia is inborn and can never be cured, while others believe there is no such thing as dyslexia, and it is just a result of improper teaching methods. It is at this point where opinions begin to diverge. Merck’s Manual defined dyslexia as:

“Failure to see or hear similarities or differences in letters or words…Inability to work out pronunciation of unfamiliar words…Tendency to substitute words for those he cannot see. . .”

Since whole language programs do not teach students individual letter/sounds at first, how can they hear the sounds comprising the word? And if children are encouraged in first grade to substitute words for those they cannot read, do not these programs actually train children to do the very thing that medical journals define as dyslexic?

My own experience is that while true dyslexia is much rarer than is commonly thought, it indeed can be an inborn organic phenomenon. Our own son has it.

Although he was taught how to read with explicit phonics, he still struggled with learning. Although he is now over 50 years old, has graduated with honors in Microbiology from the University of California, and frequently reads a book in one sitting, he still needs to think twice before writing “b” and “d” in order not to reverse them!

Children exhibiting dyslexic symptoms who were taught with whole-language methods have what I term “whole-word dyslexia” and no longer exhibit any signs of reversals or confusion once they learn how to read properly. It can be impossible to differentiate from true organic dyslexia.

How can we tell the difference?

What difference does it make? Whether dyslexia is organic or educationally-induced, treatment still consists of good phonics remediation. Whether irregular eye movement patterns are a cause or consequence of poor decoding skills, the remediation is still the same!

When phonemes are individually learned, slowly blended into syllables and words, and then built into sentences, eyes are being patterned to move together smoothly from left to right across the page. It is eye training at its simplest, most basic level.

It is my experience that if bad training can be a cause of dyslexia, then good training can help overcome it! We are not born with the ability to automatically move our eyes from left to right-it is an acquired skill that is absolutely necessary in the earliest stages of reading. Without it, irregular eye movements, reversals, etc., can become established that result in slow and/or inaccurate reading. Eye-tracking skills must be well-established before real learning can take place.

Some students get over this hurdle quickly once they learn how to read correctly, others need more time and training to correct irregular eye movements. Sporadic and irregular eye movements have become so firmly entrenched that specific convergent eye exercises are needed to help them get over this difficulty.

Do exercises really help?

This process actually can be painful for some students! Don Potter, a resource specialist, once wrote to me:

“This 4th-grade girl put her head down when she started the long vowel sections of Phonics Pathways because she said it made her hurt all over. Previously there had been heavy use of context, requiring a lot of self correction to get through a passage. Decoding had been mostly by context and configurational clues.

“Comprehension was seriously impaired because of lack of attentional capacity, and she had often exhausted herself with the decoding, and frequently inserted words that weren’t there.

“She experienced a great deal of mental anguish when she had to read the long-vowel endings in Phonics Pathways Rewiring the brain is no fun, but what a tremendous difference it has made in her reading!”

If a child must concentrate so hard just to decide the phonemes correctly, he cannot focus on meaning at the same time. It’s not that eye convergence and tracking exercises will teach reading per se, but rather it will set the stage for allowing learning to happen.

“Eye training” is not new or unique to America–it has been part of Chinese and Tibetan medicine for many thousands of years. No doubt there are false and overblown claims made by many practitioners.

But it is my experience that “dyslexic” students who were taught how to read incorrectly have benefited greatly from vision/motor training, which in its simplest form should be embodied in any good phonics reading programs. It’s certainly an important component of Dorbooks products!

One mother recently wrote,

“My son is 9 and this is our second year of homeschooling. In October our local library included your book. I was the first to take it out and I now have our own copy. I read in the back about the activities to help hand and eye coordination. These were the same exercises we did for Perceptual Vision Dysfunction Therapy.

“What a difference it made! My son loves it so much that it is one subject I get “Great Mom, I love doing Phonics Pathways!Reading Pathways has been a tremendous boost in our family to reinforce blending. My 5 year old read the very first pyramid story last week and it really made her day!”

Whole-language programs frequently claim they do teach phonics. But the question is, what do they mean by “phonics”?

So  B E W A R E !! As Mark Twain said:

“There is nothing in the world like a persuasive speech to fuddle the mental apparatus and upset the convictions and debauch the emotions of an audience not practiced in the tricks and delusions of oratory!”                                                                  ~My very best, Dolores


Dyslexia Begone!

What Is Dyslexia?

Most experts agree that dyslexia is the result of an inability to distinguish and/or process the sounds that make up speech, for whatever reason. Letter and/or word reversals and/or confusion are frequent hallmarks of dyslexia. Merck’s Manual (a medical journal) defines dyslexia as: “Failure to see or hear similarities or differences in letters or words…Inability to work out pronunciation of unfamiliar words…Tendency to substitute words for those he cannot see.”

What Can Be Done About It?

Some experts believe dyslexia is organic and inborn, while others feel dyslexia is the result of improper teaching methods. Both views are true. This post will address dyslexia caused by improper teaching methods.

We are not born with the ability to automatically read from left to right, and if we are taught to read a whole word at a time we are just as likely to read it from right to left as left to right. Left-to-right eye tracking is an acquired skill which is absolutely necessary in order to learn how to read.

Just as crawling prepares us for walking, blending letters into syllables and words gives us strong eye-tracking skills which prepare us to read connected text. Direct, explicit phonics is the clearest connecting link between the printed page and reading with accuracy and precision, without guessing.

Most of today’s phonics reading programs are only 50% decodable, meaning half of the letters and words have not been taught yet. Students are encouraged to guess at a word. Beginning and ending letter sounds are given as clues to help students read the word, and it’s OK to say “horse” for “pony” or “house” for “home” because the meaning is the same.

Think about it: students are trained to do the very thing that Merck’s Manual  defines as dyslexic!

Let’s take a closer look at how this works. Here is a two-word phrase in Russian, which has different symbols for sounds and puts you in the shoes of a child not knowing how to read yet. It is only 50% decodable: Russian

No luck, eh? Let’s add more clues with beginning and ending letters and see if we can read it now: Russian

While that does make sense—and that could be the word—unfortunately that is not the word! When students are trained to guess and/or substitute words, they are putting meaning into rather than extracting meaning from the story.

Now read these words again, this time with completely decodable text: Russian

As we’ve just seen, even misreading only one word on a page can change the entire meaning of the story. “Chocolate bananas” are not “chocolate bunnies!” This analogy may be whimsical, but there are much graver ramifications. (See “The Comprehension Dilemma: A Simple Solution.”)

Whether dyslexia is inborn or acquired, direct, explicit phonics is the only and indispensable key to fluent and accurate reading with excellent comprehension. Learning how to read logically and sequentially also develops clear and precise thinking skills that spill over into other disciplines as well — math usually improves without tutoring, and critical thinking in general sharpens.

One first-grade public school teacher supplements her regular reading program with Phonics Pathways and had all of her first-graders reading in only three months, including English-language learners and students with dyslexia and other learning problems.

She then had a literature evening for parents, and all 32 students got up on the stage—including English language learners and those with learning problems—and read selections from William Bennett’s Book of Virtues. It was a magical moment, and the parents were absolutely thrilled. Just blown away!

A District reading teacher concluded: Phonics Pathways does not teach comprehension, but it unlocks the secrets of sound/symbol relationships allowing comprehension to become the focus. Students, now able to read words they could only guess at before, can meet reading at its most vital level — they can read for meaning!”


We live in uncertain times, and discretionary spending for many of us is almost non-existant. Fortunately there are a few inexpensive programs available to use as a primary source or supplement to your current reading program.

But beware! There are also many watered-down “phonics” programs available that mix phonics and whole language despite rhetoric to the contrary, with titles like “balanced literacy,”embedded phonics,” “complete language arts,” etc. (See “Whole-Language High Jinks: Language Wolves in Sheep’s Clothing” by the noted educator Louisa Moats. Education Matters, March 2007, ) It is imperative to dig beneath the surface and scrutinize the actual content of the programs themselves.

Perhaps no one described this kind of obfuscation better than our beloved Mark Twain:

“There is nothing in the world like a persuasive speech to fuddle the mental apparatus and upset the convictions and debauch the emotions of an audience not practiced in the tricks and delusions of oratory!”





The Comprehension Dilemma: A Simple Solution

Today’s reading programs often produce excellent reading scores in the early grades, but by 3rd or 4th grade frequently comprehension begins a downhill slide. That’s the point where instruction shifts from decoding and word recognition to fluency and comprehension.

This phenomena is so widespread that researchers have given it a name: “The Fourth-Grade Slump.”

Oklahoma is one of several states that recently adopted new reading policies that call for 3rd graders to be held back if they flunk a state standardized test. “If our children are not able to read at grade-appropriate levels,” Gov. Fallin said when signing the measure into law last year, “they can’t learn the math, the science, the social studies as they … go through the education system.”

All the plans appear to take a page from the playbook in Florida, where a policy to end the social promotion of 3rd graders was enacted under former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Supporters say that retention is intended as a last resort, and that a key goal of the policies is to place a greater focus to make sure schools intervene early with struggling readers. Without an adequate ability to read, they say, children are ill-equipped to learn across disciplines and may never catch up.
Indiana state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett stated “It really comes down to this: How can we expect our children to use that vital skill of reading as a learning tool if they haven’t learned to read in the primary grades?” (Education Week, 4-7-12)

What happened? What went wrong? Wasn’t phonics supposed to address some of these issues?

The problem is, the definition of phonics is like that of beauty and is in the eye of the beholder. It means many different things to many different people!

Implicit Phonics teaches the words first, and then breaks them into parts.

Explicit Phonics teaches the letters first, and then builds them into words.

Implicit phonics teaches reading using beginning and ending letter clues, the shape of the word, and sentence context clues. Here is a demonstration lesson teaching reading using implicit phonics that is quite revealing: Implicit Phonics

 And here is a presentation of how to teach the same two multisyllable words using Explicit Phonics.

Implicit phonics and explicit phonics have vastly different results! Clearly, explicit phonics is the preferred way to teach reading with any degree of accuracy, precision, and comprehension.

Coming soon:

A simple recipe for reading that anyone can use to teach students of any age how to read! Ten easy steps reveal what to teach (and what not to teach)  using colorful graphic illustrations. Discover the most important features to keep in mind when looking for a good phonics program. Watch for it!


Phonics or “Phonics?”


“Our school has a very good basal reading program which includes phonics, yet many students (including my own) are still struggling. It does seem to me that phonics simply may not work for every student.”


This is a common misconception!

Most schools use a form of phonics called IMPLICIT PHONICS. Words are learned as a whole along with letter sounds, using their shape for clues.
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