Archive for Teaching Reading

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!”





Phonics vs. Whole Language

Fifteen years ago Mr. Charles Richardson, founder/chairman of The Literacy Council, wrote an article titled “Reading: Phonics vs. Whole Language” that sadly remains all too relevant today. It can be seen at, but here is an edited excerpt:


The principal of Barclay Elementary, an inner city in Baltimore, fought hard to remove Whole Language and import the phonics-based program used in the prestigious Calvert School nearby. With the Calvert curriculum in place for four years, test scores soared from the 30th to 60th percentiles, and special-education referrals went down by three quarters.
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