Phonics Talk: Volume 74 – Common Roadblocks to Reading

PHONICS TALK: The Dorbooks Newsletter
Volume 74 ~ January 2016
by Dolores G. Hiskes


Sometimes even when phonics is taught students experience difficulty in learning how to read. Why? Isn’t it sufficient just to teach phonics skills in order for students to become fluent readers? Not necessarily so . . .

There are a few roadblocks that can get in the way of learning how to read. This newsletter is the first of a three-part series describing these roadblocks in detail, with some tried-and-true solutions:



At times even after students improve their reading two or three grade levels comprehension still remains static. They are able to read the words, but have no understanding of what they are reading. Why? A closer look at how phonics is frequently taught reveals a significant factor contributing to this roadblock that is sometimes overlooked.

Many phonics reading systems require students to learn all of the phonograms first in isolation, prior to reading any real words. This has the effect of divorcing reading from meaning and can result in a reading-without-understanding syndrome. After all, a phonogram has no real meaning in and of itself!

Phonics Pathways is written so that meaning is introduced as phonograms are learned. It is built in from the very beginning. Short vowels are taught first, one at a time, with multiple pictures illustrating the sound being learned to hook meaning into what they are learning. After short vowel sounds are learned consonants are introduced, one at a time, again with multiple pictures illustrating every sound being learned.

Soon students begin reading words and two-word phrases such as *sis sat*. Now ask your students *Who sat?* and/or *What did sis do?* Do the same thing with the next phrase: *sun set.* Ask them What did the sun do?* and/or *What set?*

Many students enjoy a Treasure Hunt – our own grandkids went bananas over this! Write little messages that are totally decodable on small strips of paper, fold and put them into an empty kleenex box. Have them draw one out, read it aloud, and do what it says. Sample messages:

*kiss Mom,* or *pet cat,* or *hop ten times,* or *hit a desk.* It’s like a game.

You get the idea! Meaning is something that you and I automatically attach to reading. But many children need this concept to be specifically taught. Like blending ability, it is not necessarily a skill students acquire automatically. But once this connection is made meaning will become automatic as the child progresses with his reading skills.

Continue doing the same thing as you work through the book, and check from time to time to be sure your student is really reading and understanding the passage. Have him read a page aloud to you every so often and ask him what it was about. Listen with eagle ears for any misrepresentations. Stop him and ask him to read that word or section again. Have him self-correct if possible – that is what will train his brain to read accurately and not guess.

Does he understand the meaning of the words he is reading? If he is an English language learner, he may need extra help building his vocabulary skills. When YES Reading Center in Palo Alto first got started there were many English-language learners in the program with minimal speaking and comprehension vocabularies. They would first be taught enough phonics so they could sound out a few words, and then they stopped Phonics Pathways for awhile to build up their vocabularies before proceeding with the book.

Mary Jane Edwards was an ESL instructor and writes:

“I have used a variety of course books that provide drills and exercises in listening, speaking, reading & writing to teach practical, conversational English. Some of my favorites were *Crossroads* by Irene Frankel et al. (Oxford Univ. Press); *Side by Side* & *Expressways* both by Steven Molinsky & Bill Bliss. These, as well as many others are available at the Alta Book Center, located near the SF Airport. The address is: 14 Adrian Court Burlingame, CA
94010. Tel: (650) 692-1285, or (800) ALTA-ESL. The website is: In order to choose correctly, one needs to know the students’ previous exposure to English & other factors, so visiting either the store or the website would be very helpful.”

It’s important that the habit of attaching meaning into what students are reading gets established very early in the game, because then comprehension will become automatic!

Stay tuned for *ROADBLOCK #2: REVERSALS*



*Never look down on anybody unless you’re helping them up.*

Simple but powerful words. Wouldn’t it be an absolutely wonderful world if everyone put this into practice? (Just wishing and dreaming here . . .)

With warm hugs and all good wishes for the New Year, Dolores

Copyright 2016 Dolores G. Hiskes

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