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!

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