As part of the TOS Crew, I received an online membership to AVKO. This quote from their website gives a summary of what they provide:
AVKO …focuses on the development and production of materials and especially techniques to teach reading and spelling, handwriting (manuscript and cursive), and keyboarding. AVKO is dedicated to teaching everyone how to read and spell, regardless of their mild to moderate learning disabilities, dyslexia, poverty, or opportunity.
AVKO is both a non-profit organization dedicated to making changes in the current educational system and the publisher of Sequential Spelling. At first glance, it appeared that many of the membership resources were items that supplement this curriculum. Since I don’t own Sequential Spelling, I set out to explore of what benefit the online membership would be to me. What I discovered was that the author, Don McCabe, who is himself both a dyslexic and a teacher, became very frustrated with the ways in which reading and spelling are taught in schools and in every major curriculum. For example, spelling words are usually taught as a weekly list of words that have little similarity in their patterns of spelling. While normal children may be able to handle this method (or maybe their spelling would be improving on its own with any curriculum at all), children with difficulty in reading or spelling fail miserable under this haphazard style of spelling memorization.
McCabe advocates teaching spelling using patterns of spelling at the ends of words instead of word beginnings. For example, a student might learn the “art” family by spelling art, part, start, carter, parting, started, and so on. Furthermore, no studying of the words is ever required. The student learns to spell the pattern by writing many many words. Each misspelling is corrected immediately. As a good speller who always felt that spelling instruction in school was a waste of time, this makes a lot of sense to me. Find out what the child needs to know and teach it in a way that encourages generalization to other words that are not even on the “list.”
Interestingly, while McCabe publishes a spelling curriculum, Sequential Spelling, he actually advocates using the extensive materials on the members section of the website to develop a customized spelling program which is more efficient and less expensive than the purchased program. These resources include The Patterns of English Spelling, which is a huge (over 1000 page) volume containing all of the English language word families and most of the English words in each family, complete with indexes. This enables the teacher to look up any misspelled word and immediately turn to the page that contains similar words that should be taught at the same time. Another resource is The Teaching of Reading and Spelling, (364 pages) which explains how to tutor using the AVKO method, including teaching reading, handwriting, and spelling. Several more resources, including a volume on Dylexia, are included and pictured below.
I will comment that McCabe comes across as having the attitude that his way is the best way. That always raises red flags with me.
One claim he makes that I have trouble with is:
“AVKO claims the underlying cause of illiteracy or dyslexia is a failure of our educational system to teach.”
As a speech-language-pathologist, I know that many preschoolers have delays in receptive and/or expressive language which then often lead to a diagnosis of dyslexia when they are school-aged. Language disabilities and reading disabilities are often closely linked. Therefore, it doesn’t make sense to claim that the educational system is causing the problem when many of these children had problems, diagnosed or not, long before they attended school. I will concede, however, that the methods used in the educational system often do not seem to be correcting the problems very well. McCabe challenges any school to try his system and to compare the results with the results of their current programs.
I gave Emily a survey test and picked out several of her misspelled words to give me a starting point. Then, I found the appropriate word families in The Patterns of English Spelling and each day we discussed a spelling pattern, then I dictated spelling words until she seemed to have mastered the pattern. The next day, I reviewed words from the previous day and added a new word family. We spent no more than 10 minutes a day practicing.
I do think that the website could have used some revision, though. The amount of material is overwhelming and it is hard for the reader to even know where to begin. If I didn’t “have” to spend time there to do this review, this would have been a site that I quickly passed on by. I believe that possibly the best place to start is by listening to one or more of Don McCabe’s audio seminars. He is an entertaining speaker and his talks give an excellent overview of his philosophies and methods. From there, download one of the resources for further study. I do have a caution, however. There is a humor section (Readings for Comprehension) on the site that has a few off-color jokes mixed in. I would not just print out a page for my student to read without checking it carefully first myself.
I think that AVKO’s methods are sound and that this could be a good way to teach spelling and reading. It is a bit more work than a pre-published curriculum, though. AVCO does sell a book called, "Individualized Spelling". This book lets the tutor and student find out his strengths and weakness in spelling and helps him learn just what he doesn't know. This particular item is not included in the membership. I believe that the $25 membership fee for this vast amount of resources is a bargain.
I received free membership access to the AVKO site in return for my honest review.