Phonics Pathways – Author – Dolores Hiskes

This is the beginning of a series of articles about some of the “hero’s” of literacy.  Often these hero’s are unsung, and like it that way.  Many of the authors of reading programs began their journey with a child who was not learning to read in school, and rather than just wring their hands they took action, as Dolores Hiskes did.  The result is an excellent instructional program that any parent, or teacher can use to teach a student to read.  I met Dolores and John Hiskes in 1996 at a conference in California where she made a “12 minute” presentation to a small group of teachers.  Over the years since then I have seen first hand the outstanding results her program has produced, and the acclaim it has received from educators and parents all across the USA.  Other “heroes” stories will follow.  We have listed 38 programs that can be used to teach a student to read, and any one of them, if used consistently as they are intended, could eliminate illiteracy in America.  We have the solution to the continued poor reading scores that have persisted for decades. 




It is autumn solstice already! Where did summer go? For that matter, where did the years go? Perhaps it is time to take a moment to peek nostalgically back at my involvement with teaching reading. When did it begin? Why did it start? Below is an interview that Carol Anne Carroll did with me in 2005 that does a good job of summarizing the beginnings of my journey with reading. I think this will be a three part series, but who knows, perhaps it will become a book!


Part I

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 “invention” develops slowly, often while the inventor isn’t fully aware of his or her discovery.

It was the difficulty experienced by one of John and Dolores’ two children (now both in their mid-50*s) that launched her publishing company’s successful phonics, reading, and spelling books. When their 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, Dolores explains. “After repeated attempts to get her daughter back on track had failed,” she says, “I realized something was wrong.”

In her research, she came across a book, Reading With Phonics, and decided to have her daughter work with the book. “She became the best reader in her class,” Dolores notes. As she began to share the secrets to her daughter’s success, other parents came to her, 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. At the time, she 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, Dolores 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,” she says. ”In England, Ireland, and Australia I kept running into good books and couldn’t resist buying them.”  She kept thinking, “Someone should really bring this all together.”

It didn’t take her long to realize that she was that “someone.” Today her series of books is used 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 and educators turn to her textbooks as a way to help children learn to read, thus 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,” she says. And she hasn’t — although her books are now being published by Jossey-Bass, a respected academic publisher. Her new publisher had recently created a Teaching Division and was looking for quality texts for its new venture. Her 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 did in April 2005. “They convinced me to make this change because they could reach more people” she said, “but I have total control over the book’s contents,” noting the importance of the book’s integrity to her, even under a new publisher.

After all, Dolores Hiskes, now an author, still retains the poignant memories of 50 years ago, when she was Dolores Hiskes, the frustrated parent. And Jossey-Bass understood. She told the publisher, “This is my baby. I’ve nurtured it for 20 years.”  But the publisher replied, “Don’t worry. You’re not giving your baby away, you’re sending her to Stanford!”

Dolores G. Hiskes is President of Dorbooks, Inc. PHONICS PATHWAYS has won six national First-place awards and been named “The Best Phonics Program in the USA.”

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