Phonics Talk: Teaching Secrets of Two Special Teachers

PHONICS TALK — The Dorbooks Newsletter
Volume 70 – September 2015
*Teaching Secrets of Two Special Teachers*
by Dolores G. Hiskes

Reprinted with permission from Dorbooks’ Phonics Talk. See their past issues here:


*The Emperor has no clothes on,* or *When Will We Ever Learn?,* or *What Goes Around Comes Around, etc.* This story could have many titles, you choose yours.

A recent study by highly-respected researchers reported on the first large-scale oral reading testing that has been done in close to a century, in which the scores on this important test date have established once and for all that the sight word *meaning* method which has been omnipresent in American schools has succeeded in producing exceedingly grave reading disabilities in an entire group of adult readers.

But these renowned researchers have their own explanation for this phenomenon: They call it the *New Science of Dyslexia.* They conclude that dyslexia is inborn, and that dyslexic*s brains function in different ways, and that it is separate from other reading disabilities. They say there is wide scientific proof that people with dyslexia have a different neurological makeup, easily identifiable through brain scans anddiagnostic testing. Their conclusion is that dyslexia cannot be *cured.* They seek to build in other ways on the immense creativity they say is inherent in dyslexics.

What’s wrong with this picture?

The reading text these researchers recommend, features many of the very same techniques that the earlier part of the book said were inappropriate for dyslexics. In one section the author points out the difficulty of rote learning for dyslexics; but then she recommends using flash cards for drill and memorization of common sight words.These folks are RESEARCHERS, not TEACHERS!

Ever since the pioneering work of Samuel Orton, educators have known that dyslexics learn best by *multisensory* methods, but this book does not mention the importance of such teaching.

The authors further states that parents of children in California have nothing to worry about because California has adopted their recommended curriculum. Needless to say, California test scores are among the lowest in the nation and do not bear out their

Mercks Manual defined 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. . .*

Since whole language programs do not teach students individual letter/sounds at first, how can they hear the sounds comprising the word? And if children are encouraged in first grade to substitute words for those they cannot read, do not these programs actually train children to do the very thing that journals define as dyslexic?

While it is true that brain scans from *dyslexic* students are different from those of good readers, the amazing thing is that once a student learns how to read correctly these scans clearly show brains that have gone back to being like those of normal students! Most dyslexia is just a result of improper teaching methods. The simple fact is, that most children labeled dyslexia CAN be cured! The following two examples are cases in point:



Ann Edwards was a first-grade teacher at Litel Elementary School in Chino, CA. She has had twenty-four years experience teaching every- thing from kindergarten through ninth grade, and says while her mission in life is teaching, her passion in life is teaching reading.

Ann was chosen as 2004 National Right to Read Foundation’s *Teacher of The Year,* We were invited to the special ceremony for her that was held in Chino Hills, CA. This beautiful ceremony was attended by a wide variety of state and national dignitaries there to honor
this very special teacher.

The highlight of the evening for us was when her entire first-grade class proudly got up on the stage and took turns reading selections from William Bennett’s *Book of Virtues.* ALL of her students were fluent readers! Amazing!



Ann began teaching her students to sound out the letters right away. She also taught them penmanship using graph paper — they see, say, hear, and write each letter in their *Little Book of Dictation.*

She met with the parents at the beginning of the school year to explain what she is doing and tell them what she expects of them as well. Every child gets a packet of homework to take home, which has the same pages from Phonics Pathways that she is using in class.
Parents reinforce what Ann is doing in, and record what they have done in their child’s homework log sheet.

Students began using *Reading Pathways* as soon as they can read a sentence, and these pages were sent home as well. Ann told the students they can build interesting sentences as well — *the more words we can read the more interesting sentences and stories we can build.*

Ann tested the students four or five times a year with the Slossen Oral Reading test, and she kept a running record of the results. Most of her first graders were reading well into second or third grade by the end of the year.

Congratulations Ann — it was a great pleasure meeting you and being part of this wonderful ceremony!



Pam Barrett was a first-grade elementary school teacher at Tovashal School in Murrietta, CA. We first met Pam when we were invited to attend the surprise *Teacher of The Year* award she received in 1998 from the National Right to Read Association. We were invited because Pam uses *Phonics Pathways* and *Reading Pathways* in her classroom.

After using *Phonics Pathways* for only 4 months, Pam had put on a *Literature Evening for Parents.* Her students poured hot chocolate for them and put on classical music. Then all of her eager little first-graders went up on stage and read selections from William Bennett’s *Book of Virtues* to the astonishment and delight of everyone in the audience.

Then it was Pam’s turn to be astonished — she was presented with the National Right to Read Foundation’s *Teacher of the Year* award. It was a surprise to her, and was followed by many testimonials from those who know, love, and respect her for all she has accomplished and her great love for children. It was a tearful, joyous, and very special occasion!

While I observed her first-grade class, Pam sent several students up to read to me from *Phonics Pathways*, each choosing what they wanted to read. I was thrilled to listen to these literate young ones! Tiny little Emily turned to the back of the book and flawlessly read a sentence from the R-controlled section of the book. I asked her if she understood what she was reading, and she then very patiently explained it to me in her very own words!



At the beginning of the year Pam had her students sit on a rug with the first page in *Phonics Pathways*, and they learn that letter. She wrote it on the chalkboard and showed the page on an overhead as well. She sent the page home with the students so parents can reinforce that day’s classwork. Parents had to *sign off* that the work was done.

She handed out tickets for things well done: trying hard, improvement, being on time, reading first sentence, etc. At some predetermined time tickets are traded for prizes, frequently donated by local merchants: food, crayons, pencils, drinks, bowling, etc.

After students know the short-vowel sounds they peel off and begin working in small groups. They frequently practice round robin reading, and Pam liked to use *Collections for Young Scholars* for the kindergarteners once they are reading. (She used *SRA Open Court Anthology 2002* for her first graders.) She paired good readers with mediocre ones.

Pam felt nonsense words are a great aid to reading accuracy and blending automaticity. Her students practiced with nonsense words on a regular basis, sometimes having relay races. Another game was to see how many words they can read in 30 seconds.

Pam uses a portable microphone to great advantage — students turned to the same page in *Phonics Pathways*, and she took turns handing the microphone to students randomly, saying *You’re on the air!* As they read the passage out loud, the others must follow with their fingers on the page. Great fun for all!



We soon learned that after seeing these spectacular results, all kindergarten and first grade teachers at Tovashal School decided to use *Phonics Pathways* and *Reading Pathways.* ALL kindergartners are reading three-letter words, and a few of them have actually finished the entire book.

Isn*t it time to stop digging the hole we are in and say “THE EMPEROR HAS NO CLOTHES ON*? and just go with what clearly has worked well for so many students for so many years? When will we ever learn?

It is good being back in touch with you again! I just needed a little time to get over the death of my best friend, fellow adventurer, and wonderful husband Johnny. I miss him terribly. But now I’m back in the saddle again, ready and eager for whatever the future may bring.Until next time, with love to all!


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