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, http://www.aaeteachers.org ) 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!”





Reading Level After Phonics Pathways?


“I do have a question concerning your book. What grade level would someone be at as far as typical phonics/reading skills after finishing Phonics Pathways? My young five-year-old son just reached the pyramid, and was so excited to read his first BOB book after reading the pyramid.”


When someone finishes Phonics Pathways they are technically able to read anything in the English language, uncategorized or unhampered by “grade level.” However, that does not mean they will want to, or understand what they are reading.

For example, you and I technically would be able to read a book about brain surgery because we understand the mechanics of reading, but it is doubtful that either one of us would comprehend what we are reading.

So along with teaching the mechanics of reading, it is also necessary to develop  vocabulary and comprehension. As far as vocabulary goes this is best done with good books — reading to them using a wide variety of literature, and explaining the meaning of any words that may be too difficult to understand at the time. (Yet even if they don’t understand all the meanings of the words, just being able to read them and pronounce them is a considerable achievement!) Learn how to use the dictionary.

Good movies can help accomplish this as well, if chosen carefully. I’m also a believer in diagramming sentences as reading develops, to help organize complex sentences into logical patterns. And always, periodically, ask them to explain to you in a nutshell what they just read. Who did what? (You can also ask them how they felt about it, what they think might happen next, etc. but those are conversational questions that don’t directly deal with the content.)

In summary, exposing your young son to a wide use of new vocabulary using a variety of techniques is the best thing you can do to develop his reading skills and comprehension!


The Comprehension Dilemma: A Simple Solution

Today’s reading programs often produce excellent reading scores in the early grades, but by 3rd or 4th grade frequently comprehension begins a downhill slide. That’s the point where instruction shifts from decoding and word recognition to fluency and comprehension.

This phenomena is so widespread that researchers have given it a name: “The Fourth-Grade Slump.”

Oklahoma is one of several states that recently adopted new reading policies that call for 3rd graders to be held back if they flunk a state standardized test. “If our children are not able to read at grade-appropriate levels,” Gov. Fallin said when signing the measure into law last year, “they can’t learn the math, the science, the social studies as they … go through the education system.”

All the plans appear to take a page from the playbook in Florida, where a policy to end the social promotion of 3rd graders was enacted under former Gov. Jeb Bush.
Supporters say that retention is intended as a last resort, and that a key goal of the policies is to place a greater focus to make sure schools intervene early with struggling readers. Without an adequate ability to read, they say, children are ill-equipped to learn across disciplines and may never catch up.
Indiana state schools Superintendent Tony Bennett stated “It really comes down to this: How can we expect our children to use that vital skill of reading as a learning tool if they haven’t learned to read in the primary grades?” (Education Week, 4-7-12)

What happened? What went wrong? Wasn’t phonics supposed to address some of these issues?

The problem is, the definition of phonics is like that of beauty and is in the eye of the beholder. It means many different things to many different people!

Implicit Phonics teaches the words first, and then breaks them into parts.

Explicit Phonics teaches the letters first, and then builds them into words.

Implicit phonics teaches reading using beginning and ending letter clues, the shape of the word, and sentence context clues. Here is a demonstration lesson teaching reading using implicit phonics that is quite revealing: Implicit Phonics

 And here is a presentation of how to teach the same two multisyllable words using Explicit Phonics.

Implicit phonics and explicit phonics have vastly different results! Clearly, explicit phonics is the preferred way to teach reading with any degree of accuracy, precision, and comprehension.

Coming soon:

A simple recipe for reading that anyone can use to teach students of any age how to read! Ten easy steps reveal what to teach (and what not to teach)  using colorful graphic illustrations. Discover the most important features to keep in mind when looking for a good phonics program. Watch for it!


Early Decodable Readers


 Do you recommend any early readers? I want to thank you for creating Phonics Pathways.  I am using it with my 12-year-old daughter who joined our family two years ago from India.  She arrived knowing no English. After sitting in a classroom for over a year she was making no progress, so she and I began homeschool. 

“I started with the Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading (a good book but better for kids who already know English), then switched to Phonics Pathways after advice from another homeschooling parent.  It has been wonderfully effective at helping my daughter learn to read.  We take it slowly and review.  We have played the train game and the star card game.  She is interested in what “Dewey” has to say on each page.

“I have a master’s degree in library science, and I have a wonderful children’s book collection.  I am reading the “classics” aloud to my daughter after our Phonics Pathways exercises. Are there early readers you recommend that she could read herself”


Once students can read three-letter words and simple two-word phrases they are probably ready for gradually progressive and decodable readers.

“Decodable” is the key word here! The problem with most early readers is that Read more