Archive for General

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


Paul Krugman referred to the proverbial frog that, when placed in a pot of cold water that is gradually heated,never realizes it is in danger and is slowly boiled alive.

So it is with education today. While the debate of how to best raise reading and math scores rages on and on, 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. We are in danger of being slowly boiled alive because of our creeping illiteracy. But we don’t notice it!

In 1950 no European country enrolled 30% of its older teens in full-time secondary school. In the U.S., 70% of older teens were in school, and America’s edge boosted productivity and growth. We became the world’s leading nation largely because of our emphasis on mass education at a time when other countries educated only elites.

That happy era ended around 1970 when America’s educational progress slowed to a crawl, and stagnated completely between 1975 and 1990. Today in the District of Columbia only 8% of eighth graders meet expectations in math. America’s lead over its economic rivals has been entirely forfeited, with many nations surging ahead in school attainment.

Although tons of money is being poured into education for a whole variety of possible solutions including better pay for good teachers, smaller classrooms, adding computers, better assessment tools, etc., so far nothing has made too much of a dent in improving American education.

We insist that we DO teach phonics, but what went wrong? What are we missing?


Decodable text is the missing link between teaching letter sounds and reading books! It is the thing most lacking in reading programs today. “Open Court”, for example, used to be one of the best phonics programs available. But today’s revamped version of this wonderful old program teaches 130 high-frequency words in first grade alone in order to move quickly into reading good literature. Their pre-decodable readers contains words such as “sandwich” and “napkin.”

When whole sight words are taught along with phonics while learning the mechanics of reading it throws a monkey wrench into the learning process. In “The Mind and the Brain” Schwartz and Begley point out that the left brain acquires knowledge by small, sequential parts (learning math, letter sounds) and the right brain acquires knowledge by seeing the whole picture (viewing illustrations, learning sight words).

They found that activity in one hemisphere actually suppresses the activity of the mirror-image region on the other side!

Not only that, but MRI imaging confirms that the neurobiological basis of reading disability changes to normal after children are taught to read with explicit phonics and gradually progressive decodable practice reading!


One mom sent me a video of her three-year old boy, who was reading fluently from the back of “Phonics Pathways” with great emotion and emphasis on meaning in all the right places.

Another mom wrote a note about her 18 year old son with down’s syndrome who was told he would never learn how to read—but now has almost finished “Phonics Pathways”. She wrote:

“Nathan is doing fantastic with your book. He is in the room right now working with contractions. We are flabbergasted!”

It’s thrilling to me to hear about these success stories at all levels of ability! I turned 84 the day after Christmas, and it’s wonderful stories like these that keep me as young and frisky as a newborn colt! (Well, almost…)

The History of Dorbooks (Conclusion: Part 3)

Recently we began a three-part series on the history of Dorbooks. Here now is Part 3, completing the series. It relates how Phonics Pathways was first used in what evolved into a major national tutoring program, as well as a short example of “what goes around, comes around!”


It all began in 1997, when Mary Shaw and Dolores Hiskes first met at the Bay Area Independent Publishers Association in Marin. Mary was concerned over the rising crime rate in East Palo Alto and Dolores had recently finished Phonics Pathways. 

They decided to combine forces and do something about the rampant literacy problem.. “What good is the internet if you can’t read?” Mary asked. “The key is reading—all else flows from that.” She applied for a grant to begin a reading tutoring program. Here is an edited version of what Mary wrote:

“In the shadow of prosperous Palo Alto, California and Stanford University lies East Palo Alto, a small city of primarily Blacks, Hispanics, and Pacific Islanders, many of whom live on marginal incomes. The 190 Census lists the city’s population as more than 5 percent Tongan, Fijian, and Samoan. In 1997 this estimate is 10 percent and growing. Because community resources are few for these families, teenagers spend their time hanging out on the streets where drug sales, drug use, delinquency and violence are social norms.


“To ensure the program’s long term survival, Dee founded Pacific Islander Outreach, Inc. (PIO), a non-profit organization dedicated to changing the life circumstances of these disenfranchised young people.

“To get these young people off the streets “Mama Dee” Uhila, a Samoan, opened her home in 1993 to any student from East Palo Alto. Every day and on weekends Mamma Dee cooked a meal and provided homework assistance for youngsters who soon occupied every room in her small house. Many were gang members and already in and out of Juvenile Hall for drug related offenses and minor crimes. Dee would often see these kids on the street until two or three o’clock in the morning. Most of these students are habitual truants who, even when attending classes, are in-school dropouts. It became very apparent in the home study houses that a frequent cause of these students’ poor academic performance and disruptive behavior was their lack of basic reading skills.


“To address this critical need, PIO created a Reading and Advocacy Program in the fall of 1996. The goal was to prove a safe, welcoming environment in which to learn, to learn to read, to study, and to do homework–and to do this in a place where the youngsters were willing to go. The program operated out of the “Friendly Place Restaurant” two afternoons a week.

“The Reading and Advocacy Program depends on the recruitment, training, and supervision of adult volunteers from surrounding communities. They attend a two hour training session conducted by Dolores G. Hiskes, whose text Phonics Pathways is the instructional material of choice. Dolores coached the PIO in setting up the program and contributed many of her ancillary educational materials. A $6,500 grant from the Charter Oak Foundation provided seed money. Staffing consists of a part-time program coordinator, a part-time volunteer coordinator, and a corps of fifteen community volunteers. Students are tutored one-on-one in bi-weekly, half hour sessions, and along with the dedication of volunteer tutors has resulted in significant improvement of reading scores in the Ravenswood City School District.”

And so a tutoring program was born!

Mary continued, “The growth of the program has surprised everyone. Many students are wait-listed. Tutors, parents, and students alike are very enthusiastic about the program. Another tutor donated $25,000 to ensure that the lease would be paid at the restaurant where the tutoring takes place.

“And the Stanford University Athletic Department recently donated thirty surplus tables and eighty chairs so that the program would have appropriate furniture for one-on-one tutoring.”


Mary approached Jean Bacigalupi who was on the Board of YES (Youth Empowering Systems) a national nonprofit group that works on youth and education issues, requesting they sponsor the tutoring program. YES said yes!

Ms. Bacigalupi, who has volunteered her time and effort to many causes in her life, recalls how she became involved as a tutor. “At one point, I told Mary, I’m tired of sitting on boards–I want to work with kids!”

In 1999, in partnership with the school district and the Menlo Park Public Library System Mary, Jean, and tutor Molly McCrory created a state-of-the-art YES Reading Center at the Belle Haven Community Library, which serves both the school and the community. In 2001 it was incorporated as a 501(c)(3) under the name of YES Reading. And the YES Reading Center was born! Starting with just three volunteers working in the school library, the organization quickly grew to serve more than 100 children at Belle Haven. One enthusiastic tutor gathered statistics on its success, and found that while Sylvan Learning Center improved reading ONE grade level per year, YES Reading Center improved reading TWO grade levels per year–and for far less money!

The location soon changed. Stanford University recently donated a double-size portable classroom to the Belle Haven campus, which was renovated by the University Rotary Club of Palo Alto. Molly McCrory put her formidable decorating skills to good use making it warm, attractive, and inviting to students and tutors alike. Molly enthusiastically commented, “One visit to a tutoring session would be enough to convince others to sign up. They’d be hooked. It’s a way to change the life of a child.”

And so the YES Reading Center grew and grew!

Mary wrote, “Parents say it is heartwarming to see their children progress from non-readers to eager readers who want to do their homework. Some of the children have shared that they are doing better in school already. The minister of a local church, whose daughter is in the program, suggested we start a similar program for adults–“so that my people can get a job and get off welfare.” A Samoan mother, observing the volunteer tutors, best expressed the feelings of so many of the involved East Palo Alto families.

“She quietly remarked, “God has blessed our children!”

“(signed) Mary Wright Shaw, Board Member, YES Reading Project, Youth Empowering Systems, Menlo Park, CA”


YES Reading Center began replicating to nearby Title I elementary schools. in 2008 the name YES Reading Center was changed to Reading Partners. A whole new team of financial supporters, managers, recruiters, and marketers were brought on board, and as a result, Reading Partners has exploded to serve more than 7,000 students in schools throughout California, Colorado, Maryland, New York, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas, and Washington D.C. Very impressive indeed!

Different materials were added to the curriculum, which resulted in 1.5 to 2 months of growth per year in literacy for Reading Partners students.

While falling short of the results when Phonics Pathways was used (YES Reading improved reading comprehension two grade levels per year) this growth is nonetheless exciting.

And to think it all began with just one little book!


In the beginning of this series I mentioned how I first taught our own two children how to read. Now they are grown, with two children of their own. And guess what? Our grandson came home from first grade needing help with reading! I was told they do teach phonics, but one of the words in his little first-grade reader was “neighborhood.” (Welllllllll..if you think that’s phonics, then I have a nice bridge I’d like to sell you…)

So I rolled up my sleeves and went to work teaching him, and he learned how to read in no time at all. I would chase him into his seat with a big, furry, fake fly, which periodically “buzzed” around him to keep him in line. And always with him and every student I’ve ever tutored, at the end of every lesson I would read a chapter from “James And The Giant Peach.” I also did a magic egg trick, and promised to tell him the secret when he finished the book. And so he did, and so I did! He is now 20 years old majoring in economics at college.

Realizing that things haven’t changed much, I decided to teach his younger sister how to read before she went to kindergarten. Our granddaughter was feistier and said she already knew how to read, so I had her teach her stuffed animals (with a little help from her grandmother–ahem!). Every time she finished a little booklet she made Grandfather sing the song on the back cover. His singing voice is even worse than mine, so she rolled on the floor laughing and so did I! She is now 18, and a theater arts/communication major at college.

What a wonderful world this is, and what a wonderful life I’ve had. Sure, we’ve had a few health issues over the years, some more serious than others. But I have miles to go before I sleep–miles to go before I sleep.

       “A crimson autumn leaf am I,
        Golden, dancing, glowing bright.
        Not yet my time to drop!”

Warm hugs to all of you. May the Spirit of Christmas be with you now and throughout the coming year, and ever afterword.

        Blessings, Dolores