Archive for FAQs

Teaching Tips from Two Special Teachers


A recent study by highly-respected researchers reported on  the first large-scale oral reading testing that has been done in close to a century, in which the scores on this important test date have established once and for all that the sight word “meaning” method which has been omnipresent in American schools has succeeded in producing exceedingly grave reading disabilities in an entire group of adult readers.

But  these renowned researchers have their own explanation for this phenomenon: They call it the “New Science of Dyslexia.” They conclude that dyslexia is inborn, and that dyslexic’s brains function in different ways, and that it is separate from other reading disabilities. They say there is wide scientific proof that people with dyslexia have a different neurological makeup, easily identifiable through brain scans and diagnostic testing. Their conclusion is that dyslexia cannot be “cured.” They seek to build in other ways on the immense creativity they say is inherent in dyslexics.


The reading text these researchers recommend, features many of the very same techniques that the earlier part of the book said were inappropriate for dyslexics. In one section the author points out the difficulty of rote learning for dyslexics; but then she recommends using flash cards for drill and memorization of common sight words. But these folks are RESEARCHERS, not TEACHERS!

Ever since the pioneering work of Samuel Orton, educators have known that dyslexics learn best by multisensory methods, but this book does not mention the importance of such teaching.

The authors further states that parents of children in California have nothing to worry about because California has adopted their recommended curriculum. Needless to say, California test scores are among the lowest in the nation and do not bear out their contention.


Mercks Manual 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. . .”

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 journals define as dyslexic?

While it is true that brain scans from “dyslexic” students are different from those of good readers, the amazing thing is that once a student learns how to read correctly these scans clearly show brains that have gone back to being like those of normal students! Most dyslexia is just a result of improper teaching methods. The simple fact is, that most children labeled dyslexia CAN be cured!  The following two examples are cases in point:


Ann Edwards was a first-grade teacher at Litel Elementary School in Chino, CA. She has had twenty-four years experience teaching everything from kindergarten through ninth grade, and says while her mission in life is teaching, her passion in life is teaching reading.

Ann was chosen as 2004 National Right to Read Foundation’s “Teacher of The Year.” We were invited to the special ceremony for her that was held in Chino Hills, CA. This beautiful ceremony was attended by a wide variety of state and national dignitaries there to honor this very special teacher.

The highlight of the evening for us was when her entire first-grade class proudly got up on the stage and took turns reading selections from William Bennett’s Book of Virtues. ALL of her students were fluent readers! Amazing!


Ann began teaching her students to sound out the letters right away. She also taught them penmanship using graph paper — they see, say, hear, and write each letter in their “Little Book of Dictation.”

She met with the parents at the beginning of the school year to explain what she is doing and tell them what she expects of them as well. Every child gets a packet of homework to take home, which has the same pages from Phonics Pathways that she is using in class. Parents reinforce what Ann is doing in, and record what they have done in their child’s homework log sheet.

Students began using Reading Pathways as soon as they can read a sentence, and these pages were sent home as well. Ann told the students they can build interesting sentences as well — “the more words we can read the more interesting sentences and stories we can build.”

Ann tested the students four or five times a year with the Slossen Oral Reading test, and she kept a running record of the results. Most of her first graders were reading well into second or third grade by the end of the year.

Congratulations Ann — it was a great pleasure meeting you and being part of this wonderful ceremony!


Pam Barrett was a first-grade elementary school teacher at Tovashal School in Murrietta, CA. We first met Pam when we were invited to attend the surprise “Teacher of The Year” award she received in 1998 from the National Right to Read Association. We were invited because Pam uses “Phonics Pathways” and “Reading Pathways” in her classroom.

After using “Phonics Pathways” for only 4 months, Pam had put on a “Literature Evening for Parents.” Her students poured hot chocolate for them and put on classical music. Then all of her eager little first-graders went up on stage and read selections from William Bennett’s “Book of Virtues” to the astonishment and delight of everyone in the audience.

Then it was Pam’s turn to be astonished — she was presented with the National Right to Read Foundation’s “Teacher of the Year” award. It was a surprise to her, and was followed by many testimonials from those who know, love, and respect her for all she has accomplished and her great love for children. It was a tearful, joyous, and very special occasion!

While I observed her first-grade class, Pam sent several students up to read to me from Phonics Pathways, each choosing what they wanted to read. I was thrilled to listen to these literate young ones! Tiny little Emily turned to the back of the book and flawlessly read a sentence from the R-controlled section of the book. I asked her if she understood what she was reading, and she then very patiently explained it to me in her very own words!


At the beginning of the year Pam had her students sit on a rug with the first page in Phonics Pathways, and they learn that letter. She wrote it on the chalkboard and showed the page on an overhead as well. She sent the page home with the students so parents can reinforce that day’s classwork. Parents had to “sign off” that the work was done.

She handed out tickets for things well done: trying hard, improvement, being on time, reading first sentence, etc. At some predetermined time tickets are traded for prizes, frequently donated by local merchants: food, crayons, pencils, drinks, bowling, etc.

After students know the short-vowel sounds they peel off and begin working in small groups. They frequently practice round robin reading, and Pam liked to use “Collections for Young Scholars” for the kindergarteners once they are reading. (She used SRA Open Court Anthology 2002 for her first graders.) She paired good readers with mediocre ones.

Pam felt nonsense words are a great aid to reading accuracy and blending automaticity. Her students practiced with nonsense words on a regular basis, sometimes having relay races. Another game was to see how many words they can read in 30 seconds.

Pam uses a portable microphone to great advantage — students turned to the same page in Phonics Pathways, and she took turns handing the microphone to students randomly, saying “You’re on the air!” As they read the passage out loud, the others must follow with their fingers on the page. Great fun for all!


We soon learned that after seeing these spectacular results, all kindergarten and first grade teachers at Tovashal School decided to use Phonics Pathways and Reading Pathways. ALL kindergartners are reading three-letter words, and a few of them have actually finished the entire book.


Isn’t it time to stop digging the hole we are in and just say “THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES ON” and simply go with what clearly has worked well for so many students for so many years? When will we ever learn?


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

Long Ago and Far Away . . .

Did you know that phonics was first taught way back in the first century—95 AD?

 A very long time ago. An old Greek named Quintilian brought forward rhetorical theory from ancient Greece in his Institutio Oratoria of 95 AD, an exhaustive treatment of rhetoric in twelve books. Here are some of his edited excerpts regarding teaching reading (Parenthetical comments are mine):

“Why, again, since children are capable of moral training, should they not be capable of literary education? I am well aware that during the whole period of which I am speaking we can expect scarcely the same amount of progress that one year will effect afterwards. Still those who disagree with me seem in taking the line to spare the teacher rather than the pupil.

(Begin as soon as possible!)

“What better occupation can a child have so soon as he is able to speak?  The boy will be learning something more advanced during that year, in which he would otherwise have been occupied with something more elementary.”

(Teach it early but keep it simple!)

“Small children are better adapted for taking in small things, and just as the body can only be trained to certain flexions of the limbs while it is young and supple, so the acquisition of strength makes the mind offer greater resistance to the acquisition of most subjects of knowledge.”

(Teach letters and sounds simultaneously!)

“It will be best therefore for children to begin by learning their appearance and names together, just as they do with men.” 

(Build syllables first, then words, and only then sentences!)

“The syllables once learnt, let him begin to construct words with them and sentences with the words.” 

(Keep it short and simple!)

“And at the tender age of which we are now speaking, when originality is impossible, memory is almost the only faculty which can be developed by the teacher.”

(How we learn something the first time sticks!)
“It will be worth while, by way of improving the child’s pronunciation and distinctness of utterance, to make him rattle off a selection of names and lines of studied difficulty: they should be formed of a number of syllables which go ill together and should be harsh and rugged in sound: the Greeks call them “gags.” This sounds a trifling matter, but its omission will result in numerous faults of pronunciation, which, unless removed in early years, will become a perverse and incurable habit and persist through life.”
(Teach reading in small steps—only one sound, letter, or spelling at a time!)

“Vessels with narrow mouths will not receive liquids if too much be poured into them at a time, but are easily filled if the liquid is admitted in a gentle stream or, it may be, drop by drop; similarly you must consider how much a child’s mind is capable of receiving: the things which are beyond their grasp will not enter their minds, which have not opened out sufficiently to take them in.”

So what happened? Why aren’t we using these principles today? We are desperately trying all kinds of different methods to teach reading, from whole language to contextual phonics and from using blackboards to high tech—all kinds, that is, except the one approach that works for everyone.

We flop around like fish out of water and find ourselves in an ever-deeper hole . . . but we just keep digging anyway. An old Creole proverb succinctly states,

“The fish trusts the water, and it is in

the water that it is cooked!”