Archive for FAQs

Don Potter’s Challenge

Don Potter is a reading specialist from Odessa, Texas, who has also made it a point to collect many different kinds of reading books ( espousing many different ways and methods to teach phonics. He recently wrote:

“I have been doing much of my tutoring with Hazel Loring’s Blend Phonics, and the results are almost always excellent. But once in a long while, I get a student who undoubted has real dyslexia. Artificially induced whole-word dyslexia is generally easily cured with simple phonics. But on rare occasions, I get those students who I find almost impossible to help. They seem helpless when it comes to learning and using the sound-to-symbol correspondences. They always try to read words by the shape, and are very resistant to looking at all the letters.

“For these students, I turn to Phonics Pathways. Fortunately, they generally are have some ability with the short vowels. Since Phonics Pathways constantly reviews (and compares with the long vowels) the short vowels during the long vowel lessons, I am able to skip the short vowel lessons (to save time and money for the parents) and jump right into the long vowel section. I started a 2nd grader and a 6th grader on Phonics Pathways today. This is adventuring into territory where no other Bookworm has ever gone.

“I only trust Dewey for these hard cases. I will let you know how the tutoring goes. (You may recall that many years ago I cured a child with real dyslexia using Phonics Pathways. He cried the first time we did the first long vowel lesson, saying, “I hurt from the bottom of my feel to the top of my head.” He went on to become a great reader.)

“I learned right then and there a lesson I have never forgotten. There is something special about those lessons that enables the most challenged dyslexics to reprogram their brain to become good readers. I will send you full reports as the children make progress.

“A formal study needs to be done of the special features of Phonics Pathways that sets it apart from all the other programs. I feel very strongly that even the best Orton-Gillingham programs are missing some of the special features that you integrated into your book/program/system.

“The way you teach the long vowels by contrasting them with the short vowels seems to be a significant feature. Also the two word phrases that are just on the edge of full meaning. They particularly like reading the sentences where they sound out two word and then read the sentences. They can attain some fluency because they are prepared for the two new words, yet the other words are providing a review back to the very first of the program!
“Also there is enough practice to make a significant impact. Of course parents who use the program with their own children would never know nor need to know the linguistics, psychology, and pedagogy behind the program, but for a person, like me, who has dedicated their lives to teaching ALL children to read, it is very intriguing to sort out the factors that set Phonics Pathways apart from EVERYTHING else. The absence of pictures for the sentences and stories is more important that anyone might imagine. Kids with the whole-word guessing habit learn quickly to overuse pictures. The absence of pictures to illustrate the sentences is a very significant factor in the overall strength of Phonics Pathways.” 

Will Don succeed in teaching these struggling students how to read? Will he once again be able to venture into territory that “no other Bookworm has ever gone” and help them overcome their severe dyslexia?

Stay tuned!

Need Help With Your Memory? Two Tips:


This never-fail game has helped many students improve their memory. Kids love putting it together and playing it, and it helps with sequential memory.

Get a smallish box with a lid as I describe in “Getting Started” in the beginning of Phonics Pathways. A cigar box is perfect. Fill it with a variety of household items such as a paper clip, a pencil, an eraser, a hair curler, or just about anything that will fit in the box. It’s fun to help gather all the items together!

Put all items in a pile next to the open box, and have your student pick one up, feel it, put it in the box, and close the lid. He/she must accurately name the item.

Now repeat this process with another item, and just keep going until you cannot name them all anymore. (Be sure to carefully “feel” each item — this tactile kinesthetic activity will help them remember what the items are.)

This game helps develop their memory for sequential information, and also is a great aid when writing from dictation or just recalling information in general. Items must be named in the same sequence they were put in the box originally.

It’s like the “Memory” game in stores but more complete because it is multidimensional. It is deceptively simple but incredibly powerful. if it is played regularly you will be amazed by their progress in recalling information!


Researchers find that pacing study sessions promotes better retention. Proper timing between presenting class material and scheduling study sessions can dramatically affect learning, according to a study of over 1,000 people.

The longer the gap between when material was first covered and when it was revisited in study sessions, the more likely students were to remember it a year later. “Instruction that packs a lot of learning into a short period is likely to be extremely inefficient.” Hal Pashler, Science Daily.

It’s also true that shorter, briefer, but frequent study sessions result in better retention than longer study periods.

I remember studying for hours without end in school, and when we lived in Paris and I took a French class I again tried studying for an hour or two every night.

Then I put the theory to the test: I studied for shorter periods but more frequently. The shorter but more frequent study periods indeed resulted in better retention. Will wonders never cease?


A Thanksgiving Sonnet

Every so often I receive a letter that I simply must share with my readers. Here is one such letter:

“Hi Dolores,

“I would rather be writing this message on delicate, expensive stationery and dropping it in the mail to you, but I fear that it will slip my mind and thought this to be more timely.

“Our family is vacationing in Florida for Thanksgiving, and whenever I go on vacation I have more time to reflect. You are one of the first people I thought of.

“I just want to tell you how thankful I am for Phonics Pathways. I want you to know how much joy it brings me to use this book, and see someone who could not read emerge into a successful reader.

“This December 7th I will have worked with a 41 year old single mother for one year. When we first met, she had a difficult time with the short-vowel sounds. Now she knows the difference between a homophone, homonym, and homograph! 

“For “dessert” at our weekly session we read The Boxcar Children. She never had anyone read aloud to her. What a travesty! I read mostly, and then she reads some. 

“She has worked at a nursing home for 20 years earning minimum wage, and my hope for her is that when we complete the workbook she will realize that she is capable of doing more. She refuses any government assistance, lives with her disabled mother and gifted 10-year old son. He has had to shoulder much too much responsibility, due to the illiteracy of his mother and grandmother.

“I cannot tell you how great it makes me feel to see her progress, all thanks to you. Anyway, I really want you to know this Thanksgiving what an impact you have made on yet another person’s life. So, thank you again!”

(Name changed for privacy)    Jeanne Smith

(Thank YOU, Jeanne, for bringing such a beautiful song to my heart this Thanksgiving!         ~Dolores)

A True Fairy Tale

This is true story of how one person’s vision of literacy for everyone began in the back room of the old “Friendly Place” restaurant in East Palo Alto, and what happened as a result of her passionate and tireless dedication.

On a fateful day in 1999 Mary Wright Shaw attended the same publishers’ meeting that I did, where we all held up our books and briefly described them. She introduced herself to me afterwords, and said Phonics Pathways was just what she was looking for to begin a tutoring program for the many Pacific Islanders who were moving into East Palo Alto, and experiencing difficulty learning how to read in school.

Shortly afterward, with the help of Jean Bacigalupi, YES Reading was launched at the low-scoring Belle Haven School , consisting of 150 children tutored by Mary and her golfing buddies from the Stanford Gold Club.

I made frequent and continuous trips to Belle Haven to train the tutors, which grew to include Palo Alto community leaders as well. Soon Molly McCrory hopped on board, an extremely talented and energetic lady who arranged for a portable building to be housed on the Belle Haven campus, and single-handedly furnished it with desks and chairs donated by the Stanford Athletic Club.

At first kids had to be dragged in for tutoring, kicking and were terrified, but they soon grew to love the program and it was actually hard to get some of them to leave when the session was over with. One young boy remarked “I learned a lot, and it felt good. The tutors helped me learn to read. Now, after I sound out a big word, I know what it means. I am so proud and happy!”

Using Phonics Pathways, students in YES Reading improved one grade level in reading after only 1.5 months. (In comparison, Sylvan Learning took 3 months.) Improvement from illiteracy to 3rd grade literacy level took 5 months. (Sylvan Learning took 9 months.)

Mary Shaw stated, “The YES Reading Board envisions our tutoring center as a model that could be replicated in other communities, working in partnership with teachers and schools to help solve the problem of illiteracy in today’s complex and multinational society.”

And that is indeed what happened as a result of Mary’s and her team’s tireless and dedicated efforts! YES Reading became a highly successful state-of-the-art reading center, and soon expanded to San Mateo, Santa Clara, and the East Bay.

In 2008 YES Reading Center changed its name to Reading Partners, a non-profit organization funded through grants and donations from foundations, corporations, and individuals. At the present time it serves almost 2,000 students in 25 new school sites nationwide. It has evolved into a wildly successful program that has changed the lives of hundreds of disadvantaged students all across the country.

I call this a “True Fairy Tale” because while most fairy tales end with “..and they lived happily ever after” real life doesn’t usually end that way. But this time it did. Thanks to Mary Wright Shaw’s vision, energy, and dedicated passion just a few years ago, it truly is a dream come true!

Thanks Mary, with much love and admiration always!