The Basic Concepts of Teaching Spelling
by Word Families
Many home school parents and teachers have used the concept of teaching rhyming words that have the same letter endings to help their children learn to read. When they would introduce the word at, they would also teach cat, bat, sat, and maybe even scat. Unfortunately, parents and teachers have never had any source book for finding all the rhyming words with the same spelling patterns. In the latest academic jargon word families are now called “rimes.” The consonants, consonant blends, and digraphs that precede the word family (or rime) are now called onsets. Use whatever term you wish with your children. In this book, we generally use the terms base or word family rather than the new jargon word “rime.”
The Patterns of English Spelling (formerly Word Families Plus) is now available to be used as a source book so that a parent or teacher can teach any word family. It is not just a simple collection of word lists. It consists of the complete morphemic-graphemic patterns to help the children (and quite often the parents and teachers!) to see the patterns that exist and to lock in on those patterns with their computer brains. For example, AVKO believes that if you can teach a child (or an adult) the word at, you can also teach him:
bat bats batted batting
flat flats flatted flatting
pat pats patted patting
mat mats matted matting
rat rats ratted ratting
batter batters battered battering battery batteries
flatter flatters flattered flattering flattery
matter matters mattered mattering
battle battles battled battling
rattle rattles rattled rattling
or for a more sophisticated example, from the word act you can build:
act acts acted acting active action
tract tracts traction
attract attracts attracted attracting attractive attraction
distract distracts distracted distracting distraction
extract extracts extracted extracting extractive extraction
subtract subtracts subtracted subtracting subtraction
contract contracts contracted contracting contraction
The AVKO Sequential Spelling Tests were developed to utilize the word family approach sequentially and to apply the very simple flesh-and-blood teaching machine techniques of having children correct their own mistakes when they make them— not hours, days, or even weeks later.
Perhaps the most important difference between the traditional approach to spelling and the AVKO (Audio-Visual-Kinesthetic-Oral) approach is that we use the tests as a learning device and not as a method of evaluation. We believe that the natural method of learning is learning from mistakes, and that is why we want children to correct their own mistakes when they make them — so they can learn from them.
The First Day
On your first day of teaching your children using Sequential Spelling, you should tell them:
I have some good news and some bad news. First the bad news. Today and every day until we finish this book, we are going to have a spelling test.
The good news is that you will correct your own paper. But before we start, I want you to take out a sheet of paper and put your name on it. Did you spell your name correctly? Good. That's my first test. My next test is like a doctor's test. It's not for a grade so don't worry about it. Okay? Now write the following sentence:
We are all beginning to be good spellers.
If any of your children shows signs of struggling with the sentence, just ask the child to try to spell just the word beginning. If he still finds it difficult to put down anything, ask him to just put down—in any order—some of the letters that might be in the word beginning.
Collect the paper/s. On the 5th day, you will be able to demonstrate that your children who couldn't spell beginning on the first day, were able to correctly spell it without ever having seen or studied the word. And remember that according to Harry Greene’s The New Iowa Spelling Scale (1954) only 8% of all public school 3rd graders can be expected to spell this word and just barely 60% of all public school 8th graders can spell the word beginning! We will expect that you will point that out to your children on the 5th day.
If each child has his own copy of the AVKO Student Response Book for Sequential Spelling, have them open their books to page 3. Note the location of Day 1. It is in the middle column of page 3. This is so that when your children start in the left hand column on page one (which happens to be the 61st day!) you can point out to them that the author, Don McCabe, wanted them to make a mistake right away, just so that you could show them the AVKO motto on the bottom of their page: