Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Help Spread the Word About AVKO

Help spread the word about AVKO's services. Tell your friends, family, teachers, students, and community members about the services and resources that we provide, including our free and low-cost materials for language arts and keyboarding. We have added some more literature to the website to help others share what they love about AVKO.

- Overview of AVKO Services (PDF)
- Sequential Spelling tri-fold Brochure (PDF)
- Flyer to Help Create an Adult Literacy Course (PDF)
- Flyer to Recruit Volunteers for AVKO (PDF)
- A form letter to send to potential AVKO retailers (DOC)
- A form letter to send to libraries informing them of the resources we can provide them to better serve their community (DOC)
- A form letter to send to companies who might be interested in donating time, donations in-kind, or advertising to AVKO (DOC)
- A form letter to send to other non-profit organizations who might be interested in partnering with AVKO, establishing a referral network, and pooling our respective resources (DOC)

Become a volunteer for AVKO yourself!

Get involved in your community -- here are some ways to help out your community.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Take Advantage of The Old Schoolhouse's Freebie Friday Special

Take Advantage of The Old Schoolhouse's Freebie Friday Special on AVKO's Sequential Spelling. This special is only available until the 2nd of April (Thursday), so act fast.

Each Friday, The Old Schoolhouse has a Freebie Friday special for its members in addition to the over 40 freebies that they already make available regularly! This week's Freebie Friday special is on Sequential Spelling. Receive two levels of Sequential Spelling plus 1 response book for only $19.95!

Order from The Old Schoolhouse to receive this special.

AVKO Pamphlets Available for Only $1.00!

AVKO is making the Great Idea Reprint Series pamphlets available once again for the low price of only $1.00!  These pamphlets are an incredible value to homeschoolers, educators in the school system, and community organizers looking to create a literacy program in their community.  Learn how to evaluate a spelling program, evaluate a child's ability to spell the five different types of English words, teach the English spelling rules, take notes, and much, much more!  See the Clearance page of the AVKO website to place your order today.  Shipping for these pamphlets is only $0.59 each or FREE shipping for current AVKO members.  

Great Idea Reprint Series individual pamphlets - $1.00 ($1.00)
These pamphlets provide information on a very specific topic. To order one or more of these pamphlets, enter the title(s) into the comments field below.
  • A Common Sense Approach to Controlled Word Lists
  • The New AVKO Pre- and Post- Diagnostic Spelling Test on 100 of the Most Common Phonograms in the English Language (includes the Student's and Teacher's Edition)
  • A Sentence Dictation Test That Covers Over 300 of the Most Commonly Used Words
  • An L.D. Screening Device That Can Be Given to Entire Schools
  • Sample Word Family Puzzles that Special Education Students Can Create
  • English Spelling: The Simple, the Fancy, the Insane, the Tricky, and the Scrunched Up
  • Survey Tests for Types 1-5 Words: The Simple, the Fancy, the Insane, the Tricky, and the Scrunched Up
  • Suggested Order for Diagnosis and Remediation of the Simple Patterns
  • Suggested Order for Diagnosis and Remediation of the Fancy Patterns
  • Suggested Order for Diagnosis and Remediation of the Insane Patterns
  • Suggested Order for Diagnosis and Remediation of the Tricky Patterns
  • Suggested Order for Diagnosis and Remediation of the Scrunched Up Patterns
  • The Case of the Invisible Y or Why is there a Y in You and not in unionEunice, and huge?
  • How to Develop Your Own Sequential Spelling Tests
  • How to Evaluate Your Present Spelling System
  • An Index of Phonic Patterns by Vowel Types
  • The Three Different Words Spelled H-A-V-E
  • The Three "TOOZE": too, two, and to
  • The SQ3R Reading Formula Really Works
  • A Listing of Phonic Patterns for Older Students
  • Underlining or Highlighting: Cueing the Computer Brain
  • The Proper Editing of Notes: The Key to Successful Learning
  • Building a Better Vocabulary the Lazy Man's Way
  • Statues and Sanctuaries, or A Practical Use of Miscue Analysis: Building Egos/ Self-Esteem
  • Learning about the Learning-to-Read Process by Teaching Yourself to Read and Write Upside Down
  • Comprehension/Schema Theory: A Practical Application
  • Reading Improvement through SITDOWN: Student Individualized Teacher-Directed with Students Correcting their OWN.
  • Taking the sting out of Testing When Giving Word Recognition Tests to Special Education Students

The Power of Social Networking Sites

Read this story about a man from Britain who traveled around the world to New Zealand, relying completely on the freebies he found on Twitter.  The free resources are out there if you know where to look, how to network, and whom to ask.  

Sunday, March 29, 2009

New Supplemental Curriculum Materials for Members

Ever dedicated to providing as many resources as possible to our members, AVKO has added a section of the website dedicated to supplemental curriculum materials. This includes free handouts, worksheets, and lesson plans for language arts. For starters, we have added a worksheet allowing for a word or phrase (this is great for idioms, proverbs, or single words) and its meaning on the left column and a place for a picture to be drawn. This method works very well for learning definitions and meanings of phrases because the meaning is not simply memorized from the dictionary, but it is made more personal by the making of a mental image that reminds the student of the meaning. We have included many resources of lists of idioms, vocabulary words, and proverbs/adages for use with the worksheet or for other lessons of your own making.

We have also included word searches created from the words tested in the evaluation tests of each of the Sequential Spelling levels. Use these as a nice break from the normal spelling lessons, or for an extra credit exercise.

Finally, we have added some pre-made flashcards for vocabulary words and definitions. Whereas this method does not work well for many students, it can work well for students who simply trying to improve an already large vocabulary or who are more auditory than visual.

More supplemental curriculum materials will be added in the near future. If you have any special requests, please let us know!

These materials can be accessed from the members' section of the AVKO website.

Become a member today, for only $25.00 a year. Other membership benefits include a wealth of humorous and informative readings for comprehension, a 25% discount on all materials ordered during active membership, special members only discounts, and 5 free e-books for language arts reference, creating your own language arts curriculum, learning how to tutor the AVKO way, and other supplemental exercises for use with any language arts curriculum.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Get Your Students Excited About Reading with a Mailbox!

AVKO really encourages the use of the home environment to expose kids to regular reading...and even to...*gasp*...get them excited about reading. There are lots of simple and fun ways to do this, just by using what you have in the home. For example, the fridge is one of the easiest ways to implement a regular reading exercise, without making it really feel like an exercise. Post a cartoon, clipping from a newspaper or magazine, or vocabulary word with definition on the fridge. Each time that your child goes to the fridge for that day, he is going to see (and read!) what you put up there. This is an easy way to reinforce a spelling word that he missed the day before, or to preview a tricky word that will be coming up in a few lessons. You could also use the bathroom mirror, the bedroom door, a dry-erase board hanging up, or a bulletin board that is in a common place.

Another great way to accomplish this same idea is to give your child his own mailbox. Everyone loves to receive mail, and kids are no different! Slip in the reading for that day and your child will be excited to read it. See the Homeschool Tips blog for more information.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Educational and Homeschooling Humor

Sometimes we need a little levity in our lives. Cartoons provide that whimsy we all crave after a day of hard work, a frustrating lesson, or the tedium of everyday life. Here, I've listed a few sites that will help you get your funny fix:

Educational Cartoons for Teachers
More Educational Cartoons
Educational Cartoons from Dan's Cartoons

Popular Cartoons:

Calvin & Hobbes

Cartoons are great fun but they are also very useful gauges of a student's comprehension. You know very quickly if the cartoon was understood -- the student either laughs or groans, or looks terribly confused or asks you what it means.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

'Tis the Season for Homeschooling Conventions!

As we move into Spring and Summer, homeschoolers start to get that itchy feeling...it's time to think about curriculum for the next year, how they are going to afford everything, and which conventions they are going to attend. AVKO's here to help you out in your efforts.

AVKO will be attending the FPEA Conference in Orlando, FL on May 21-24, where Don McCabe will be a Featured Speaker, giving two speeches.

Additionally, AVKO will be represented by Sonlight, Chickabiddy Books, Brain Building Fun, Rainbow Resources, and our other retail partners at conventions all over the country. See our complete list of AVKO Retail Partners.

To see where you can find a Sonlight Curriculum booth at a convention near you, see Sonlight's List of Homeschooling Conventions for 2009.

For a more complete list of Homeschooling Conventions in 2009, see the list that The Old Schoolhouse has compiled.

Finally, be prepared for the onslaught of information and tempting curriculum treats; use Sonlight's "My Homeschool Convention Survivor's Guide".

Sunday, March 15, 2009

On Dyslexia Testing

Do you think that your child has dyslexia? Do you know that your child has dyslexia but you feel that you need a doctor's professional, medical assessment? Indeed, there is a lot of attention given to testing for dyslexia -- commercials, posters in schools, and pressure from friends. However, most of the testing out there is unnecessary, incredibly expensive, and utterly unhelpful. The child sits through a battery of tests, the parents dish out money they probably don't have, and they have confirmation of what they knew from the beginning: their child has a problem with reading and/or spelling.

Of course, it must be stated that there are some benefits of having the "official diagnosis" of "dyslexia" that must be stated. If the child is in a school system, especially during high school or college, with teachers who are not immediately amenable to making accommodations (such as increased testing time, having a test read to them, etc.), the diagnosis can tie the hands of the school under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Additionally, there are some psychological benefits of having a diagnosed label -- the child and parents may be able to place less blame on themselves for the child's inability to read and spell like other kids and instead "blame" it on the dyslexia. Whereas the label shouldn't be used as a "crutch," this can alleviate some anxiety and allow the parents and child to feel better about the problems and move forward with finding solutions.

What does AVKO say about dyslexia? AVKO believes that dyslexia is a rather catch-all diagnosis that ultimately is used to deflect the blame for a child's reading and spelling problems away from the teachers and educational institution and instead place it on the student. With proper teaching techniques, such as multi-sensory methods like Orton-Gillingham (on which AVKO's methods are largely based), students can overcome the "problems" associated with dyslexia.

For more information on dyslexia, including scientific and medical definitions translated into plain English, please see our "What is Dyslexia?" section of the website.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Literate? Fluent? Really?

Many teachers and homeschooling parents are pleased when their students can spell a satisfactory percent of the words correctly in the weekly spelling tests. But, this really isn't enough. Spelling lists based on themes are great for learning vocabulary words for the week, but they are not effective for teaching how to spell the spelling words. Once a week tests with busywork such as copying the words over and over again are really geared at memorizing the picture of the word and not how to break the word down into phonic patterns. Additionally, this type of curriculum is highly inefficient. Students will do the brainless busywork just to get it done and out of the way. They often cram the night before and can memorize it long enough for the test, and that's it. So, what is accomplished at the end of the week? They may have learned a few vocabulary words, but they may or may not be able to spell these same 20 or so words the next week. Conversely, with the Sequential Spelling approach, students learn to spell whole word families by taking the short and sweet daily tests, instead of doing busywork. They don't resent the work and they will have learned to spell that word family for a lifetime because they learned how to spell the patterns found within those words.

But, what is more troubling about traditional spelling curricula is what is defined as being "literacy" and "fluency" in a language. Knowing X number of words out of the 100 most common words is simply not enough. Being able to cram a few orthographies and regurgitate them for a test the next day is simply not enough. There are a lot of components of language that should also be focused on. AVKO also pays attention to these other components of language. These important facets of English communication are vital for self expression and comprehension ability; they are therefore peppered throughout the Sequential Spelling series and other AVKO materials.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Influence of French on English

Both English spelling and pronunciation are heavily influenced by the French. Many of the spellings and pronunciations that English learners call "crazy" are due to this French influence on the English language. However, people are a bit too quick to say that English has little to no regularity in its phonetic patterns. It's just that the regularity for the phonetic patterns for "big" words are not taught in our school systems. When one only has the phonics of "small" words to work with, it is impossible to read words like crucial, impartial, unique, or flambe. These words all follow regular patterns. See The Patterns of English Spelling for more information on word families, including a complete listing of words in the English language by word family.

For more information on the different languages from which English gets its "fancy" words, see the chart on the AVKO article "Read by Grade 3, Say What?".

For a condensed history of English's formation, see the article "How French Has Influenced English" on About.com. Another helpful resource on their site is a list of French Words and Expressions in English. These expressions and words are used often in English and many of them should be known by heart as they will be encountered often.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Kaplan Ad Exemplifies AVKO Philosophy

A powerful Kaplan ad spot exemplifies the AVKO philosophy of challenging the status quo, adapting the learning environment to fit the student, and the use of innovative ideas and technology to further the educational process. This video, though pertinent to the Average Joe Student, is especially pertinent to those who have ever struggled with a teacher who didn't understand them or their learning style, a learning disability, or dyslexia. Learn more about AVKO and our philosophies by visiting the AVKO website or reading the autobiography of Don McCabe, To Teach a Dyslexic.

An Inspirational Video About an Illiterate Man Making Wonderful Works of Art

Those with learning disabilities are often made to feel small. Early teachers are often the guardians of children's self-esteem; unfortunately, some lack the patience, compassion, or training to adequately work with learning disabled children. Even though children with learning disabilities may not be able to learn in the same ways as other children, they can most definitely still be "productive members of society," sometimes producing the most beautiful works of art. This is exemplified by this man who can make microscopic works of art; the artist knows neither how to read nor write.

On the word 'up'

[Author unknown; from an anonymous e-mail forward]

Lovers of the English language might enjoy this. It is yet another example of why people learning English have trouble with the language. Learning the nuances of English makes it a difficult language. There is a two-letter word in English that perhaps has more meanings than any other two-letter word, and that word is 'UP.' It is listed in the dictionary as being used as an [adv], [prep], [adj], [n] or [v].

It's easy to understand UP, meaning toward the sky or at the top of the list, but when we awaken in the morning, why do we wake UP? At a meeting, why does a topic come UP? Why do we speak UP, and why are the officers UP for election, and why is it UP to the secretary to write UP a report? We call UP our friends, and we brighten UP a room, polish UP the silver, we warm UP the leftovers and clean UP the kitchen. We lock UP the house, and some guys fix UP the old car. At other times the little word has a real special meaning. People stir UP trouble, line UP for tickets, work UP an appetite, and think UP excuses.

To be dressed is one thing, but to be dressed UP is special. And this UP is confusing: A drain must be opened UP because it is stopped UP.

We open UP a store in the morning, but we close it UP at night. We seem to be pretty mixed UP about UP!

To be knowledgeable about the proper uses of 'UP,' look the word 'UP' in the dictionary. In a desk-sized dictionary, it takes UP almost 1/4 of the page and can add UP to about thirty definitions.

If you are UP to it, you might try building UP a list of the many ways 'UP' is used. It will take UP a lot of your time, but if you don't give UP, you may wind UP with a hundred or more.

When it threatens to rain, we say it is clouding UP. When the sun comes out we say it is clearing UP. When it rains, it wets UP the earth. When it does not rain for awhile, things dry UP. One could go on & on, but I'll wrap it UP. For now my time is UP, so time to shut UP!

Oh...one more thing: What is the first thing you do in the morning & the last thing you do at night? U. P.

Don't screw up. Send this on to everyone you look up in your address book.

Now I'll shut up.

Using Humor for Comprehension: Funny Headlines

AVKO believes very strongly in using supplemental and humorous materials to improve on and even verify reading comprehension. Using funny materials like cartoons, comics, joke books, puns, etc. are great exercises because the students won't resist them as much, but you can also instantly gauge whether or not it was understood by their reactions (groans, furrowed brow, snort, chortle). This is much easier on the teacher and the student as opposed to doing boring comprehension questions after a text. And, if the questions are multiple choice, there's a good chance that they could get the answer correctly without truly understanding the text, or even the question.

Here are some funny headlines that can be used as such exercises [author unknown; from an e-mail forward]:
  • Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
  • Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
  • Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
  • Miners Refuse to Work after Death
  • Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
  • War Dims Hope for Peace
  • If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
  • Cold Wave Linked to Temperatures
  • Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
  • Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges
  • Man Struck By Lightning: Faces Battery Charge
  • New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
  • Astronaut Takes Blame for Gas in Spacecraft
  • Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
  • Local High School Dropouts Cut in Half
  • Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
  • Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead
Also check out Jay Leno's Headlines for more great headlines and AVKO's Readings for Comprehension.

What Curriculum Developers Don't Want You to Know About Spelling

The area of spelling is perhaps the least understood by publishers and curriculum developers.  Perhaps the reason lies in the fact that the last real study of spelling was conducted in 1953 by Harry Greene’s Project Spelling at The University of Iowa. It’s name?  The New Iowa Spelling Scale.  Note the word NEW!  However, even though it is over 50 years old it remains the only existing valid measuring instrument for student spelling.  Why?  Because it contains over 5,500 of the most basic words which were given to over 230,000 students.

It still can be used to determine just how effective any spelling program is.  All a school has to do is give a simple 20 word spelling test to its 3rd graders in the fall using 10 words that were studied in spelling in the first and second grades and 10 words of equivalent difficulty that they haven’t had the opportunity to study.  If the school’s spelling program is effective, there will be a statistically significant difference between the scores on the two sets of words.

The AVKO Educational Research Foundation is looking for schools who would like to be part of a study the relative effectivness of various spelling programs.  Please contact us if you are a part of or know of a school who would be interested in a pilot study.

Read the Rest of the AVKO Blog | Visit the AVKO Website

Monday, March 2, 2009

Write for AVKO's Blog

Are you passionate about homeschooling, educating, literacy, dyslexia, disabilities, or the English language? Consider writing articles for this blog. Review other homeschooling/educational websites; review curriculum; share your lesson plans; etc. Help the other educators and parents via the blogosphere. E-mail Brian at Brian@avko.org for more information.

March's Book of the Month

The "It-ss & Tooze", Apostrophes, and I Before E Made Easy is March's book of the month. Three books in one, this book of easy to understand grammar exercises will help your students master the common grammar foibles.

The "It-ss & Tooze"

Learn the difference between its (possessive) and it's (abbreviation for it is).


Learn how and when to use apostrophes -- contractions, possessives, and NOT for plurals.

I Before E Made Easy

Learn the complete I Before E rule and not the incomplete one that most people have memorized. With the complete rule, you won't have to second guess yourself with the various "exceptions" to the incomplete rule.

Read the Rest of the AVKO Blog | Visit the AVKO Website

Mondegreens & Using Song Lyrics to Teach Reading Comprehension

Maybe you've experienced one of these all-too-common phenomena:
  • You are singing along to a song you've loved for years on the radio and your friend breaks in with "Wait! Did you just sing [insert embarrassingly incorrect lyrics]?!" This leads to an awkward silence, defensiveness, and some heated debate. Eventually, one of you breaks down and looks up the lyrics, proving the other (or both of you) wrong.
  • You encounter a foreign, uncommon, or extremely formal word in print for what seems like the first time. A few seconds, hours, or days pass. Then, you realize that you had encountered this word or phrase for years in spoken form for years, but had misheard it as something very different, or just ignored it.
  • You, your child, or someone you know has memorized some piece of text (The Pledge of Allegiance, a Bible verse, etc.) and has been reciting it incorrectly for a long time because of what they thought it was or they just couldn't understand what the words were.
We as humans frequently mishear speech and music lyrics, but these errors can be a test of our engagement with the material and our level of comprehension. Do we continue to mumble out the words we aren't quite sure of in the bridge of a song, or do we actively engage with the material and try to figure out what the lyrics are (or simply look up the lyrics online)? When we hear a word we don't know, do we ask what it means or do we just ignore it and move on? Of course, it can be an automatic process to make some unknown stimulus match what we are already aware of, but as we mature and begin to have more awareness and engagement, we can start to short-circuit that process (while avoiding some future faux pas).

These misheard snippets of speech are called "mondegreens." You can learn all about the development of this term (from a mondegreen) and some popular musical mondegreens from the Wikipedia article. You can also find a compendium of misheard song lyrics on the website AmIRight, which has collected thousands of commonly misheard song lyrics. A religious music teacher has collected her own misheard hymn and Christmas song lyrics.

With this in mind, you can use music as a method of engaging your students while doing comprehension exercises. You can make fill in the blank worksheets or dictation exercises or simply start a discussion. Spoken dictation exercises are valuable to learning English, but making exercises from music gives the advantage of having the words be more jumbled -- there is background noise, pronunciation may be modified to fit the music/rhyme, words may be stretched out, and words may be sung very quickly. In addition to teaching the lyrics of a popular song or memorized piece of text, you are teaching the valuable skill of engagement in information and doing what is necessary to comprehend it.

A final note about mondegreens: many of the mishearings may complete the sentence in a way that is syntactically proper (correct grammar) and may even make sense. However, it is vital to consider the complete context. For example, "How I love cheese sauce!" definitely completes a sentence using proper grammar, and the sentence makes sense. However, does it belong in a praise and worship song? No! This can easily serve as a teachable moment for your students about the importance of context clues while they're reading.

Remember to have fun with the language!