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Reading Pathways, 5th Edition Review by Heather Jackowitz

By Dolores G. Hiskes

Reading Pathways (formerly titled Pyramid Reading Exercises) is the newly revised and greatly expanded 5th edition, subtitled "Simple Exercises to Improve Reading Fluency." Created to supplement Hiskes's celebrated Phonics Pathways, this versatile book can be used to supplement any beginning or remedial phonics course.

Part One comprises 42 simple pyramids using short vowels, long vowels, R-modified vowels, long-vowel digraphs, and short-vowel digraphs. Each word in a pyramid is first introduced alone, either on a facing page or below the pyramid. For example, on page 64, students first practice reading the following R-controlled words: Gert, Herb, fern, perfect, firm, worms, burnt, turn, search, earth, and pearl. Then the student begins reading the pyramid on page 65 from the top, adding new words on each line until he reads the full sentence at the base of the pyramid. For example, using those R-controlled words, the pyramid grows like this: "Gert; Gert and; Gert and Herb; Gert and Herb search for; Gert and Herb search for worms in the firm earth; Gert and Herb search for worms in the firm earth by the burnt fern; Gert and Herb search for worms in the firm earth by the burnt fern and turn up a perfect pearl!"

Parts Two and Three contain multisyllable word pyramids. Part Two consists of 26 pages of mini-pyramids. Each of these pages contains six mini-pyramids that build multisyllable words rather than sentences. Those words are then used in sentences below each pair of mini-pyramids. For example, on page 98, six mini-pyramids enable students to decode the following six words: energetic, substitute, introduction, bewildering, sentimental, and intercontinental. Under each pair of words is a sentence: "Cassie is a truly kind and energetic substitute teacher; Dee felt her introduction was odd and bewildering; John gets sentimental over intercontinental travel." Part Three consists of ten multisyllable "Brain Buster" pyramids. These pyramids pull all previous skills together, building sentences such as "Christopher repeated his unforgettable Olympic ski performance for the spellbound audience, as he raced down the slippery slope in the snowstorm."

Reading Pathways also includes suggestions for simple reading games to play with your child. In Part One, a double-page spread of long and short vowel words is arranged for reading practice. Words are initially grouped by similar vowels: rat, rate; fell, feel; pin, pine; hop, hope; luck, Luke. Once these are mastered, students practice with mixed vowels: rat bite, bad joke, lucky Pete. The author recommends copying these two pages, cutting them into individual strips, and placing them in a box. Students pull out and read cards one at a time for practice with mixed short and long vowels. Other simple multisyllable word games are suggested in Part Four. Using the index of words provided, students unscramble syllables to build words (Wordscramble), guess words as they are slowly revealed syllable by syllable (Wordsleuth), use the dictionary to define and use words in sentences (Wordmaster), or use the thesaurus to revise words in sentences (Wordswitch).

Reading Pathways is an excellent tool for any child, but particularly reluctant readers. My eight-year-old son gets overwhelmed easily while reading, but Reading Pathways has turned reading into a game and has given him confidence to tackle words and sentences that are more complicated in his beginning readers.

I do have two complaints about Reading Pathways. First, many of the sentences are somewhat nonsensical. For example, one sentence says, "John gets sentimental over intercontinental travel." My rational son is sidetracked with thoughts such as, "Why would John get sentimental about intercontinental travel? Why would he care so much about it?" After about three such sentences, I find myself saying, "Just read the sentences and don't worry about what they mean!" I'm not so sure this is a good message to send to a beginning reader!

My second criticism is that Reading Pathways does not teach children how to divide unfamiliar words into syllables for reading. Rather, multisyllable words are already divided for reading, which reminds me of the familiar proverb about giving a child a fish rather than teaching him how to fish. In addition, the same lines are used to build single-syllable words, which might confuse children. For example, the word "mint" is built this way: "mi, mi-n, min, mint." From what I know of dividing words into syllables, "mi" should be pronounced with a long vowel sound because the vowel is at the end of an open syllable. This rule enables readers to distinguish between the long vowel sound in "ro-bot" and the short vowel sound in "rob-in." A helpful exception to this rule is that "i" is often short at the end of an open syllable in multisyllable words. This rule is never explained in Reading Pathways but would make many words much easier to read (sen-ti-men-tal, in-ter-con-ti-nen-tal). If you do not know how to divide unfamiliar words into syllables for reading, you will find it interesting and helpful. I learned most of these syllable division rules from Explode the Code (EPS) and Romalda Spalding's The Writing Road to Reading.

Do not let these two concerns scare you away from Reading Pathways. It is an excellent resource that will provide much help for beginning and older reluctant readers. I highly recommend it.

Product review by Heather Jackowitz, The Old Schoolhouse® Magazine, LLC, June 2007