Archive for General



Many phonics programs do teach letter/sound relationships, but then move directly into reading whole words and stories. Some children have no problem with that, but many others develop a roadblock. They reverse letters in words, and even reverse words in sentences,
and cannot seem to move forward. Why?


Neurologists now know that early reversals are normal for many beginning readers. Blending practice should be an integral part of reading instruction, but is not often included. Blending prepares students for reading just as crawling prepares us for walking.

This critical but frequently-overlooked step helps prevent or correct letter and word reversals and develops strong eye muscles. It is important to acquire this skill prior to reading real words, in order to correct or prevent any tendency to reverse letters which might only cement a bad habit.

Blending practice can be very cursory, or taught carefully in a gradually progressive manner. What follows is my particular recipe for reading that gets maximum results in the minimum time with the least amount of effort:

(1) Blending practice should begin with two-letter syllables. It is at this point that strong left-to-right tracking skills become solidified, and it’s important to do so before reading real words to prevent or correct reversals.

For example, take “sa.” Say the sound of each letter of the syllable separately, at first: “sss” “aaa.” Now say it again, this time blending the two sounds together: “SSSSSSSSSaaaaaaaaaaa .” (Take a deep breath first!)
This simple but powerful exercise is essential.

(2) Reading should be gradually progressive. It’s too big of a jump for many students to suddenly move from reading a single word into reading whole stories. Would we expect someone just learning how to play the piano to immediately play a sonata just because they could play the scales?

Try reading one word such as “red,” then two-word phrases such as “red hat,” and then three-word phrases such as “big red hat.” It’s fun to make up your own! If your students enjoy it consider getting Reading Pathways, a book filled with just this kind of eye-tracking practice, but in the shape of pyramids. (Take a peek!


(1) Try some of the eye exercises shown in back of Phonics Pathways (pages 251 and 252). They are the same ones given to our son when he was young by an optometrist specializing in vision therapy, and were very helpful indeed. (But they must be practiced on a regular basis.)

(2) And do try “The Train Game” on pages 258-259. of Phonics Pathways. The visual aspect of moving train cars seems to be especially helpful. Make up “The Train Game”s blank cars (page 259), write the word by syllables on the cars (such as “con” “strain” “ing”) and then have the student play “The Train Game” as directed on page 20.

Manipulatives like this can really help break through this roadblock, because the student initiates and completely controls the timing of the blending. That’s the critical part that makes all the difference. One reading specialist felt it actually rewired his students’ brain, enabling him to read from left to right for the very first time!

(3) Finally, consider beginning every reading lesson by having your student read aloud one of the simpler pyramid exercises in Reading Pathways. It’s a powerful “warm-up” for the lesson, much like stretching is before jogging.


Currently we are living in tough times, and all we can do is make the best of it. We may not have come over on the same ship, but we are all in the same boat.

Let us not bankrupt our todays by paying interest on the regrets of yesterday and by borrowing in advance the trouble of tomorrow. There is nothing we cannot live down, rise above, and overcome!

(There is a new video on my website that explains how I overcame some of my own personal obstacles — if you like, you can see it at, click on “About Us.”)

With that thought and those good wishes, I leave you for now. Peace be with you! Blessings,

                  Dolores :)


© Dolores G. Hiskes 2016

Common Roadblocks to Reading

Sometimes even when phonics is taught students experience difficulty in learning how to read. Why? Isn’t it sufficient just to teach phonics skills in order for students to become fluent readers? Not necessarily so . . .
There are a few roadblocks that can get in the way of learning how to read. This newsletter is the first of a three-part series describing these roadblocks in detail, with some
tried-and-true solutions:


At times even after students improve their reading two or three grade levels comprehension still remains static. They are able to read the words, but have no understanding of what they are reading. Why? A closer look at how phonics
is frequently taught reveals a significant factor contributing to this roadblock that is sometimes overlooked.
Many phonics reading systems require students to learn all of the phonograms first in isolation, prior to reading any real words. This has the effect of divorcing reading from meaning and can result in a reading-without-understanding syndrome. After all, a phonogram has no real meaning in and of itself!
Phonics Pathways is written so that meaning is introduced as phonograms are learned. It is built in from the very beginning. Short vowels are taught first, one at a time, with multiple pictures illustrating the sound being learned to hook meaning into what they are learning. After short vowel sounds are learned consonants are introduced, one at a time, again with multiple pictures illustrating every sound being learned.
Soon students begin reading words and two-word phrases

such as “sis sat”. Now ask your students “Who sat?” and/or “What did sis do?” Do the same thing with the next phrase: “sun set.” Ask them “What did the sun do?” and/or “What set?”

Many students enjoy a Treasure Hunt – our own grandkids went bananas over this! Write little messages that are totally decodable on small strips of paper, fold and put them into an empty kleenex box. Have them draw one, read it aloud, and do what it says. Sample messages: “kiss Mom,” or “pet cat,” or “hop ten times,” or “hit a desk.” It’s like a game. (In fact, it IS a game!)

You get the idea! Meaning is something that you and I
automatically attach to reading. But many children need this concept to be specifically taught. Like blending ability, it is not necessarily a skill students acquire automatically. But once this connection is made meaning will become automatic as the child progresses with his reading skills.
Continue doing the same thing as you work through the
book, and check from time to time to be sure your student
is really reading and understanding the passage. Have him
read a page aloud to you every so often and ask him what
it was about. Listen with eagle ears for any misrepresenta-
tions. Stop him and ask him to read that word or section
again. Have him self-correct if possible – that is what will train his brain to read accurately and not guess.
Does he understand the meaning of the words he is reading? If he is an English language learner, he may need extra help building his vocabulary skills. When YES Reading
Center in Palo Alto first got started there were many
English-language learners in the program with minimal
speaking and comprehension vocabularies. They would first be taught enough phonics so they could sound out a few words, and then they stopped Phonics Pathways for awhile to build up their vocabularies before proceeding with the book.
Mary Jane Edwards was an ESL instructor at YES, and writes:
“I have used a variety of course books that provide drills
and exercises in listening, speaking, reading & writing to
teach practical, conversational English. Some of my favorites were “Crossroads” by Irene Frankel et al. (Oxford Univ. Press); “Side by Side” & “Expressways” both by Steven Molinsky & Bill Bliss. These, as well as many others are available at the Alta Book Center, located near the SF Airport. The address is: 14 Adrian Court Burlingame, CA 94010. Tel: (650) 692-1285, or (800) ALTA-ESL. The website is: In order to choose correctly, one needs to know the students’ previous exposure to English & other factors, so visiting either the store or the website would be very helpful.”
It’s important that the habit of attaching meaning into what students are reading gets established very early in the game, because then comprehension will become automatic!
Stay tuned for “ROADBLOCK #2: REVERSALS”


Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.       


Simple but powerful words! Wouldn’t it be an absolutely
wonderful world if everyone put this into practice? (Just
wishing and dreaming here . . .)

With warm hugs and all good wishes for the New Year,


Copyright 2016 Dolores G. Hiskes


Teaching Reading Through the Ages

This issue of Dorbooks spells out how reading was taught fifty years ago, how it is taught today, and shares some summary thoughts. Enjoy!


(As excerpted from “Solomon or Salami?” by Helen R. Lowe, The Atlantic Monthly, November 1959.)

“Reading is more than a skill. It is an illuminating, enlarging and quickening experience, to which the majority of our high school and many of our college graduates are strangers. They read of their own volition hardly at all, often little beyond the newspapers, a few magazines, and an occasional best seller.

“Moreover, of those who reach high school level, we are told that only 15 to 20 percent are capable of a rigorous secondary school or college preparatory program, based on tests and cumulative school records.

“To learn something of the causes, character, and consequences of what has happened to the teaching of reading let us go straight to the evidence—to the students themselves—and we shall see that many of them do not know how to read.

“the lips of students of excellent and superior abilities. These are errors made by tenth, eleventh, and twelfth-grade students, taken at random from approximately a hundred thousand similar misreadings from the first grade to the college level:

Solomon             salami
delicacy              delinquency
groceryman        clergyman
hurricane            hammer
God knows         good news
inert                   inherent
imbecility           implicitly

“Misreadings of this kind can not be detected by standardized group tests. These are students who passed standardized reading tests and College Entrance Board Aptitude Tests.

“In addition to these spectacular distortions students make errors of omission, interpolations, paraphrases, conjectures, and complete improvisations so that paragraph after paragraph reaches their minds garbled, blurred, altered, and ungrammatical.

“What children know as reading is a difficult, tedious, confusing, time-consuming exercise in visual recall, association, invention, prediction, and substitution. This uncoordinated exertion mutilates or obliterates the meaning of the writer. Imposed upon students is a perverse and illogical concept of a word as a visual symbol of meaning instead of as a symbol of the sound which conveys the meaning.

“Their reading vocabularies are very limited in range, to reading only words they know and guessing at new words through context clues. They are confined within the boundaries of their current vocabularies and thoughts, interpreting things only from within their own shallow perspectives. The so-called reading of the disabled readers is largely meaningless, narrow, and without interest.

“Consider the effect of this kind of reading not merely upon the comprehension of content, but upon the capacity of think critically about anything at all. There is clear and abundant evidence that this dislocation of word and meaning carries over to other areas of learning.

“In the field of mathematics, for example, students are handicapped not only by their inability to read problems but by the very habits of mind which induced their reading disability. They surmise where they should calculate, and predict where they should reason.

“These students have no conception of reading as an experience that carries them beyond themselves, of opening doors that never close again.

“How can we teach anything to students who read lazy as snowing, remember as rabbit, and lieutenant as lunatic?”

(See the original complete 1959 “Solomon or Salami?” article at



“When our challenged son was 14 we had him tested at Scottish Rite Hospital because I thought he must have learning disabilities. I homeschooled him and he struggled so much. Scottish Rite told us David’s IQ was 66 and it was impossible for him to read at the level he did. So, how come he could read?
Answer:  I taught him straight phonics with Phonics Pathways, and I didn’t know he was mentally challenged, so I just expected him to perform normally.”


“My son Jimmy stumbled over the same words and eventually we would have to stop because we were both frustrated. The reading problem became much worse when we started reading math problems. It was like he had hit a brick wall.

“I called a friend and was just so totally overwhelmed when she suggested that he might have dyslexia. I had him tested  at the Dyslexia Testing Center in Boaz and found out he was severely dyslexic.

“I was shocked and  asked the Dr. how is it that he can read so well. She made a great statement that profoundly effected my thinking from that moment on. She said:

‘Our children up to 3rd grade are learning to read, but that after that they must read to learn. So with most dyslexic children they are extremely smart and have learned to memorize so many words early in reading, and they can pick information out of the pictures and guess at the words. So when the material becomes more challenging and less pictures you will start to see reading problems.’

“You might think your child is just being lazy, I did. I understand how to help my son now. He has to be taught phonics first. He has started to read without any prodding just since the past 2 weeks. To see the light turned on in his eyes is priceless.”

(Three months later)
“Dolores, I just had to share with you my most wonderful Mother’s Day gift I could ever have asked for. Jimmy went to Walmart with me to shop and he went running to the cards. He usually looks for a colorful card with child like pictures and has no idea what the card says. He found what he was looking for and stuffed it inside the envelope.

“He gave me the card yesterday and before I could open it he said, ‘Mom, you know how I have dyslexia and how hard reading has been for me. You know how hard we have worked this year. Okay now open your card.’

(The card:)

‘To My Mom: This is a story about a kid with a mom who believes in him and has taught him about important stuff- like chasing his dreams and trusting his heart It’s a success story and it was written by you. Happy Mother’s Day with love from your son.’

“It was all I could do to read through this card. I had no idea the impact I had on him this year. I had no idea the impact that he made on his own self. He is so proud that he can read now. This story would not have been possible without your gracious help. I am in such wonder of you and how wonderful you must feel knowing that you have made the difference in so many children and adults lives! I will be forever in your debt.”


“After my mom had a stroke she had trouble getting words from her brain to her mouth. Soon after she was back home I began using Phonics Pathways with her. She loved it! The sounds were one of the problem read she had, and it helped her so much. She is writing out her own Christmas cards and reading ‘baby’ books now. Today I’m proud to say that our library has its own copy of this book. We also have a growing population of Mexican families in our area, and we notice that many Hispanic children are using it to learn English.”
Barb Tessmann, Librarian, Oconomowoc, WI


When a frog is placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated, it never realizes it is in danger and is slowly boiled alive. So it is with education today.
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.

Soon we will have another presidential election. If we cannot read or think clearly and accurately, we tend to believe in slogans rather than analyzing statements using the subtle reasoning that is so needed to survive in today’s complex society . . .
We are in danger of being slowly boiled alive because of our creeping illiteracy!

Copyright Dolores G. Hiskes, 2015

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