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


The History of Dorbooks (Part 2)

Part 2 of the “History of Dorbooks” will be a journey of Dorbooks highlights and growth over the years. There are so many wonderful moments in this history it is difficult to choose which ones to include. Perhaps I will narrow it down and just relate when Phonics Pathways was FIRST used in a local tutoring program, FIRST used in a school, FIRST used district-wide, and when it was FIRST used nationwide. So sit down, grab a cup of tea, and read on . . .


In 1994 Joe Michell School in Livermore became the first school to use Phonics Pathways as a tutoring program. Joe Michell School serves a diverse population, with a growing number of students in the free lunch programs who also live in subsidized housing. They were coming to school totally unprepared to learn. Joe Michell had the lowest reading scores in the entire district.

In 1994 the principal decided to implement an in-school tutorial program using Phonics Pathways. Parent, community members, and high school student volunteers received a brief one-hour training, and tutored every 1st to 3rd grade student in the hallway, one-on-one for 20 minutes, three times a week. In only ten months the school advanced from having the LOWEST to the HIGHEST reading scores in the entire school district. The teachers were elated!

4th grade teacher Pam Mendonca now has all these “graduates” in her class for the first time, and she observed “This is the most literate group I have ever had. Our tutorial program is worth its weight in gold.” One boy said to his teacher “I did it! I read it all by myself!” He could not believe that it was really true. Then he added “I am so good!” (Smiles all around!)

Director Kathryn Kaldhusal added: “When second-grader Maria first arrived she was scared, shy, and felt lost and left behind. Within two months Elaina arrived and Maria is full of pride as she now helps demonstrate to Elaina how to use Phonics Pathways and accompanying games. Within three weeks Elaina began phonetically reading three-letter words. These students are now launched on a life-long journey of discovery. And all this with only one paid part-time coordinator. What a gift!”


In 1996 Tovashal Elementary School in Murrieta became the first school to use Phonics Pathways in the classroom. Teacher Pam Barret wrote: “I began using Phonics Pathways in 1996 at Tovashal Elementary School. We had great success with first graders for the nine years that I was on staff as the first-grade team literacy leader.

“In March 1997, at Tovashal, after 8 months of using Phonics Pathways, we presented a special evening for parents, and ALL thirty-two first graders from my class (including English-language learners and those with a reading disability) got on the stage and read selections from The Book of Virtues. If every kindergarten and first-grade teacher had a copy of Phonics Pathways, intervention in the grades that follow would be a thing of the past. We also successfully used Phonics Pathways at Tovashal for the before-and-after-school tutoring for 2nd to 5th graders, where we trained our beloved “white-haired wonders” (grandparents) to work with these students.

“After leaving Tovashal Elementary School, I became an academic coach and shared Phonics Pathways, and its application, with an entire district full of teachers desperately trying to instruct struggling readers in Hemet, CA. From there, I shared Phonics Pathways as an instructional consultant in elementary schools in both Indio, CA and Culver City, CA.

“Teachers, parents, and grandparents at every school where I worked to train them, since 1996, were amazed at how much the students improved with Phonics Pathways. Additionally, three of my adult children, who are teachers, have been using Phonics Pathways in their own classrooms with their students. Yet another daughter used this book with the students she tutors in her business. Still another son and his wife have used Phonics Pathways while homeschooling their children to become successful readers. All 5 adult children have then shared their Phonics Pathways success stories with many others.

“Dolores, your amazing book has multiplied greatly within our small little sphere of influence for 18 years. Thank you for producing a generation of readers!”                                          -Pam Barret, Teacher-of-the-year, 1987


In 1997 Lowell School District in Whittier became the first district-wide user of Phonics Pathways. Reading specialist Bettina Dunne wrote: “This is Lowell Joint School District’s implementation year of Phonics Pathways. We are targeting all grade 3-6 students in the District’s Title 1 program. I needed to find a phonics program to use with our bulging upper grade Title 1 students. I previewed phonics program afterphonics program, and my criteria crystallized. The program must: (a) fit into the existing reading program, (b) be flexible enough for individual or small group work (c) require little or no preparation time (d) include all phonics skills with accessibility to all grades (e) be sequential (f) be as easy for instructional assistants to use as for teachers. (g) not be prohibitively expensive.

“I finally found this program when I attended the California Reading Conference and heard a presentation by Dolores Hiskes. Phonics Pathways was definitely the program of choice! We put the program onto card stock so it would be easier to use with small groups and have a longer shelf life. (We are still using the cards three years later.) It also made it easier to focus on certain skills. We used chalkboards for the writing portion. Chalk was our only consumable. The lack of worksheets put the focus on sound-symbol relationships.

“Students were soon able to experience phonics as it should be: hearing, seeing, saying, then writing. Our students saw and heard patterns in the language emerge. They became able to read words they had only guessed (and often wrongly) at before, and discovered strategies to help them decode unknown words. They experienced success. The instructional assistants were broadening their knowledge base as well.

“A record sheet was developed for each student participating in Jordan’s new Reading Assistance Program. Phonics Pathways was used five to ten minutes at the beginning of each 25 minute lesson. The 22 targeted students in third grade had an increase of 22 national percentage points in word study skills, moving from 21 to 47 NP, and an increase of 26 national percentage points in reading comprehension, going from 10 NP to 36 NP. And the first and second graders were decoding words better than many of their peers who were not even in the program! The second grade Spring 1996 SAT scores went up from the 1995 scores an average of 22 NP in word study skills and 13 NP points in reading comprehension.

“Here is a program that is concrete, ready-to-use, and successful. An added benefit: the students loved it! Third grade teachers liked having tools to support their spelling as well as reading skill lessons. They were seeing gains in skill and strategy acquisition higher than they were expecting. And it was just halfway through the school year!

Phonics Pathways does not solve all reading problems, but it is an invaluable aide in teaching phonics. It is a no-frills package that unlocks the secrets of sound and symbol relationships, allowing comprehension to become the focus. Students, now able to read words, can meet reading at its most vital level–they can read for meaning!”      -Bettina Dunn, Reading Teacher & Title 1 Coordinator

We will conclude “The History of Dorbooks” with “Part 3”. Stay tuned!

The History of Dorbooks (Part One)

This three-part historical series is an update to an earlier version first published in Phonics-Talk, the Dorbooks newsletter (vol. 66, 67, and 68). It is an overview of my involvement with teaching reading from the beginning, throughout the years, and where its current status is.

“In The Beginning…” Isn’t that how all good stories begin? Part One peeks nostalgically backwards with a reprint of an article written by Carol Anne Carroll on October 31, 2005, titled ‘Educating Your Children with Classic Grammar Textbooks.’ This beautifully succinct article summarizes the very beginning of Dorbooks:

“The adage ‘Necessity is the mother of invention’ was never truer than it is in the life of Dolores Hiskes. The unwritten part of that adage, however, is that the ‘necessity’ often involves a rather challenging experience, while the ‘invention’ develops slowly, often while the inventor isn’t fully aware of his or her discovery.

“It was the difficulty experienced by one of Hiskes’ two children in l961 that launched her publishing company’s successful phonics, reading, and spelling books.‘When my daughter was in the first grade, she hadn’t learned anything by Easter. She couldn’t read. She would get headaches and tummy aches, and didn’t want to go to school,’ Hiskes explains. After repeated attempts to get her daughter back on track had failed, she says, ‘I realized something was wrong.’

“In her research, Hiskes came across the book Reading With Phonics, and decided to have her daughter work with the book. ‘She became the best reader in her class,’ Hiskes notes.

“As she began to share the secrets to her daughter’s success, other parents came to Hiskes, asking if she would work with their children. ‘I would get the students no one else could teach,’ she explains, often when the family had run out of more traditional options., Hiskes was also traveling extensively with her husband, who made regular business trips throughout the world.

“On these trips, the personal struggle was soon put into a broader, global context. ‘I don’t know how to explain our processes, but this has just stayed with me,’ she notes.

“Taking an interest in the phonics and reading texts of other English-speaking countries, Hiskes soon discovered that many of the texts she found (and admired) were fading away. ‘I saw good texts going out of print and bought them all’ she says.

“In England, Ireland, Australia, New Zealand, Scotland, and Canada as well as America I kept running into good books fading away and going out of print. I kept thinking, ‘Someone should really bring this all together.’

“It didn’t take Hiskes long to realize that that ‘someone’ was her. Today her line of books is used internationally as well as across the country in schools, tutoring centers, and speech pathology centers, as well as in many private homes. The books have become successful as many parents, educators, and others turn to the texts as a way to help children read, changing struggling students into stellar ones.

“While students, parents, and teachers were taking notice, so too was the publishing industry. ‘I swore I would never sell out’ Hiskes says. And she hasn’t — although the book is undergoing a change in publisher. Jossey-Bass, a respected academic publisher, has recently created a Teaching Division and was looking for quality texts for its new venture. Hiskes’ Phonics Pathways books quickly caught their eye. While she was uncertain at first, she finally agreed to have Jossey-Bass publish the series, which they will do beginning in April, 2005.

“‘They convinced me because they can reach more people. But I have the copyright and retain total control over the book’s contents,’ she says, noting the importance of the book’s integrity to her, even under a new publisher.

“After all, within Dolores Hiskes, publisher, remains the poignant memories of 50 years ago, when she was Dolores Hiskes, frustrated parent. And Jossey-Bass understood. ‘I told the publisher, This is my baby. I’ve nurtured it for 20 years,’ she explains.

“And the publisher replied, ‘Don’t worry. You’re not giving your baby away, you’re sending it to Stanford!'” Carol Anne Carroll 2005

Next: Part Two, a summary of high points and a few surprises that happened along the way. Watch for it!


When my husband was an electronic technician in the Coast Guard his supervisor was constantly sending him to all four corners of California, with the booming command to “FIX IT! FIX IT!” regarding broken radios at various stations.

This is the time of year when I get similar messages from desperate parents whose children are still not able to read after trying everything from special ed classes to special tutoring. The programs they used were either incomplete, or way too complex with complicated directions. The school year has begun, and they want their children to read!

They have decided to try Phonics Pathways, and needed to know where to begin with an older child who has some reading skills but still struggles, guessing and misspelling all along the way, and is falling farther and farther behind.

Here is my advice:

(1) Begin with the very first review on page 16 of Phonics Pathways. They should be able to read these short-vowel sounds easily and accurately.

(2) Print out the “Short Sheet of Vowels” on page 256, and dictate a short-vowel sound. Have them write the name of the letter that makes this sound under the correct heading.

(3) The next review page is “Two-Letter Blends” on page 37. Students need to be able to blend these sounds together smoothly, and write the blend from dictation under the correct heading in “The Short-Sheet of Vowels.”

Keep proceeding in this manner with every review page in the book. Keep going until your student begins slowing down or struggling — that is the place to begin lessons!

Note that many review pages double as games as well. Playing these games is an excellent way to reinforce learning, and is fun besides!

If you don’t have Reading Pathways I’d suggest it — while Phonics Pathways is designed to be a complete text that stands on its own, Reading Pathways was written to provide extra practice and accelerate fluent reading skills while you are using Phonics Pathways. Check out “Free Downloads” on my website and print out the guide for how to use both books together.

If you need even more support material try Phonics Pathways Boosters — a book of games to enhance learning, and flash cards with pictured letters and phonograms, and a CD containing all the sounds in English in an easy-to-use format. Sample pages of all books are on my website

Finally, print out a copy of “The Short-Vowel Stick” on page 4 of Phonics Pathways. All short vowels are pictured and illustrated, and each student should keep one face-up on their desk at all times. They can see at a glance what sound the letter makes if they need help — kind of like name-tags for adults (which I for one always appreciate when I’m meeting new people!)

It’s good to be “back in the saddle” again. A lot has happened since my previous blog including a move to Marin, a heart attack, a triple by-pass, and a broken femur, but as old Shakespeare noted so long ago,

“All’s well that ends well!”

Dolores ~