The Comprehension Connection

Which came first, the chicken or the egg? Should comprehension be taught before or after phonics? Or should they be taught together? Or. . . ? Read on!

Our grandson went to a highly-rated private school in Marin, but when he was in first grade he would guess wildly at everything he read.

He was taught to infer, predict, and guess at the words and meaning while still struggling to read the material accurately. If he guessed the meaning to be anywhere similar to the meaning in the story, he was praised for a correct answer.

I began working with him, and we were working on the “I” and “A” lesson on page 50 of Phonics Pathways. Just before he read “I hug Mom” I got inspired, and told him the next sentence was like a game, and that he had to DO what it said.

He looked at me uncertainly, read the sentence, and then slowly looked up at me with a beautiful look of stunned comprehension and a wide smile that I’ll never forget.

He hopped up, went over to his Mom, and gave her a great big bear hug, and then came back and hugged me too.

It was the first time that he realized he could get meaning OUT of what he was reading, as opposed to putting meaning INTO what he was reading. From that point on he had no more problems with comprehension — he was “reading for meaning,” as opposed to “meaning to read.”


Comprehension training can indeed be valid. But the big danger is that it is frequently brought to play much too early in the game.

We don’t learn ice-skating dance routines until we first learn how to ice skate well. In my experience we should not begin teaching comprehension (along with reasoning, visualizing, inferring, predicting, etc.) until those primary skills have jelled and are at an automatic level.

I’ve watched too many tutoring sessions in schools with reading specialists who begin asking complex questions about the text while the student is still struggling to read it accurately, The student just guesses the best he/she can, and if it’s anywhere similar to the meaning needed they are praised for a correct answer.


RecentIy I received the following letter from a parent:

“Dolores, I just had to share with you the most wonderful Mother’s Day gift I ever had. Jimmy went to Walmart with me to shop and went running to the cards. He usually looks for a colorful card with child-like pictures with no idea of what the card says. He found what he was looking for and told the lady not to let me see this card.

“He gave me the card on Mothers’ Day and said: ‘Mom you know 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’:


‘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 Mothers’ Day with love, from your son.’

“It was all I could do to read through this card. I had no idea the impact he had made on his own self! We love Dewey’s words of advice as well. Every day Dewey is there, encouraging us, or just breaking the tension. It’s strange how a paper worm can become such a friend to someone.”

Way to go, Jimmie–keep up the good work. You’re a READER now!


Indeed, the young boy mentioned above had been diagnosed with dyslexia. But was it inborn or induced by incorrect reading methods? In the earliest stages of reading if we are not trained to read from left to right by building letters into syllables, words, and sentences it often results in irregular eye movements and letter or word reversals. This results in slow and/or inaccurate reading which impacts comprehension. Eye-tracking skills must be well established BEFORE real learning can take place.

The concept of eye training is not new or unique to America. It has been part of Chinese and Tibetan medicine for many thousands of years. It has been my experience that “dyslexic” students have benefitted greatly from vision/motor training such as the teaching method of Phonics Pathways. Another mother wrote:

“My son is nine and this is our second year of home schooling. The activities in back of the book to help hand and eye coordination are three same exercises we did for Perceptual Vision Dysfunction Therapy with a specialist. 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 also has been a tremendous boost in our family to reinforce blending and eye tracking. My five-year-old read the very first pyramid story last week and it really made her day!”


On a recent News Hour a savvy teacher said that students don’t fail in high school, they fail in second grade because they have not been taught explicit phonics and are subsequently just carried along through school.

Furthermore, most beginning readers are only 50% decodable. These students are then labeled “learning-disabled” or “dyslexic” which is frequently confirmed with brain imaging.

Results? For example, sixty-two percent of Texas’ ninth graders passed the statewide achievement test results for English. What did they do to pass the test? They only had to get 37% of the answers right. Only thirty seven percent.

Is there no hope? There most definitely, certainly, positively IS! Newer exciting brain imaging research reveals that the neuro-biological basis of reading disability actually changes to normal as students become skilled readers after being taught direct, systematic phonics. (Dr. Guinevere Eden, Georgetown University, Nature Neuroscience, May 2003)

It’s never too late to learn how to read.



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