Is Professor AVKO Right?
to Educational Researchers at Every
this paper was first written,
twenty-five copies of it were sent to
some of the leading educators in the
United States. With it was a
simple request for a response. To
respond required only checking one of
four boxes, writing a few appropriate
comments, then putting it inside a
stamped self-address envelope that we
provided. A month later we had not
received a single response from any of
these top people in the field of
second set was sent out to the same
people, this time with a checklist that
they could simply mark and return in
another stamped self-addressed envelope.
Among the choices was: "Somehow it got
lost. Please send me another
copy." One educator did that.
Another was sent to him that same day
his reply came. Not another answer
came from him or anyone else. That
was in 1991.
invite everybody to try the experiment
that is in this challenge. We
invite you to see for yourself IF
Professor AVKO is right. If you
agree, just maybe, you might help us
spread the word that the current rate of
illiteracy in the United States does not
have to continue. If we follow
AVKO's simple concepts we can
drastically reduce the rate of
by the way, the greatest of all
discoveries have been simple.
Fire. The wheel. The
alphabet. The printing press.
Asepsis (Doctors, wash your hands!).
The last simple medical discovery has
saved more lives than any other medical
discovery. But when Dr.
Semmelweiss, who made the simple
discovery, tried to convince his
colleagues in the medical profession
that the death rate from puerperal
(childbirth) fever did not have to be
13.10%, his ideas and his statistics
were not accepted. To do so, the
medical profession would have had to
admit that they were needlessly killing
women because they were too lazy to wash
their hands. It was much easier to
lock Semmelweiss up in an insane asylum
than to shut him up. And so they
suspect that Professor AVKO's ideas are
much like those of Semmelweiss.
They are so simple, so filled with
common sense, that educators do not want
to accept them because to do so, they
would have to admit that they have
allowed millions of people to remain
illiterates, because they didn't bother
to teach them what they need to know in
order to learn to read: the real phonics
of the English language which does not
necessarily require "phony phonic
last sentence must have so infuriated a
college instructor that she fired off a
rebuttal. This highly negative
response was written by J.R., the
resident expert on reading instruction
at Mott Community College. It got
into her hands because Dr. Fred Duprai,
who was a pediatric dentist at the Mott
Community Health Center, was so
impressed with it, he gave it to a
friend of his at the college who gave it
Duprai was amazed at the highly negative
response. So I not only have
included her response but my responses
to hers. Now for the essay, then
Professor AVKO Right?
years, Professor AVKO has maintained
that the cause of our nation's literacy
problem is largely iatrogenic.
That is, teacher induced. AVKO
claims the underlying cause of
illiteracy or dyslexia is a failure of
our educational system to teach.
His explanation is that it is too easy
for educators to shift the blame to
parents, economic factors, racial
factors, socioeconomic factors, cultural
factors, underpaid and/or undereducated
teachers, lack of discipline, or
whatever (Anderson, Herbert, Scott,
et.al, 1985). Psychologists have
long maintained that projection is
common to all of us, educators included.
We teachers are not immune to passing
the buck. These college
instructors blame the elementary
teachers for not practicing what is
taught to them in their college
education classes (Kerr, D.H., 1983).
They will not accept the responsibility
for neglecting the teaching of one
crucial area of educational curriculum.
That is, phonics is not being taught in
any American university at the present
time! Mentioned in textbooks, yes.
Taught, no. It is this area that
this challenge is all about.
Professor AVKO maintains that no matter
how much money is thrown at education
(witness the 60 Minutes segment
on the Kansas City, Missouri school
system), no matter how many computers
are purchased for schools or for
students, no matter how highly paid our
teachers become, no matter how small our
classrooms become, we will not greatly
reduce the number of functional
illiterates in our society. He
accepts that definition of functional
illiteracy as identified as Level 2 in
the most comprehensive literacy survey
conducted to date, Adult Literacy in
America. This book is the
result of the National Adult Literacy
Survey conducted by the National Center
for Education Statistics under
authorization of the U.S. Department of
Education (Kirsch, Jungeblut, Jenkins,
Headstart is a start,
but only a start. No matter what reading
system is used, no matter how small the
classes, no matter how well paid and
well educated the teachers, no matter
how many computers are in the classroom,
no matter how slick and glossy the books
being used in those first three grades,
large segment will start slipping
further and further behind as they
progress through the grades.
No matter if
we finally throw out the drug dealers,
take back our neighborhoods and our
neighborhood schools, and restore
old-fashioned discipline, the results
will essentially be the same.
Why doesn’t the system work? Because
there is a serious flaw in the
underlying assumption held by those who
have decision making ability regarding
curriculum, whether in the colleges of
education or in the public school
In grades 1-3 students learn to
From grade 4
up students read to learn.
happens is that in grades 1-3 students
are just beginning to learn how to read.
They are only being exposed to
words that, for the most part, follow
what we call simple spelling patterns
(McCabe, 1992). These words may contain
many letters. For example, the word
misunderstandings contains 17
letters and five syllables. Yet, it has
a base of only one
syllable, stand. All of the word
parts can be found in other words used
in the curriculum of grades 1-3. Mis-
is a common prefix. Under is both
a common word and a common prefix. And -ing
is a common suffix as well as the -s.
You can take that
word misunderstandings and match
it with any word in column B on page 38
and you will find that nearly everyone
who can read at all will be able to read
that word misunderstandings, but
may not be able to read a much shorter
word such as precious in column
B. Whole word advocates have a difficult
time explaining that phenomenon. Their
typical explanation for a "big" word
like elephant being easier is
that it is a concrete noun and has a
high frequency of occurrence. However,
the word misunderstandings does
not ever occur in books, charts,
magazines, or even on bulletin boards or
chalkboards in grades 1-3. The word
precious, by all concepts normally
associated with readability, should be
easier to learn to read and to spell
than the word misunderstandings.
But it isn’t, obviously.
Students in grades 1-3 learn little
story telling words such as: See
Spot, Dick, and Jane come running and
hopping down the bunny trail to our
house. But they have
learned to read well enough to
Students from the fourth grade up are
expected to correctly apply what they
have learned from reading little story
telling words to reading "big" subject
matter related words that have patterns
within them that do not regularly occur
in the reading materials used in the
first three grades. In the next sentence
a sampling of these subject matter
related words are
function in a
Not only are these words long but these
words contain abstract concepts that
need to be taught. And, each one of them
contain at least one phonic element
and rarely encountered in early
children’s story telling literature.
Teachers in grades four on up should be
taught to recognize specific reading
problems and to teach the reading,
spelling, and the meaning/s of those
words that contain these special phonic
But don’t blame the teachers. Even if
they wanted to take courses in phonics,
not a single
phonics and/or the
taught in any major
university within their schools of
education! Surfing and wine-tasting,
maybe. Phonics, no!
Teachers in grades four through college
must not be allowed to continue to blame
teachers in the first three grades for
not doing a good enough job teaching the
youngsters to read.
an ongoing, dynamic process.
Review a demonstration showing how words
with patterns that are not
systematically taught are more difficult
George Bernard Shaw
He claimed, tongue
in cheek, that the word fish
could be spelled ghoti
= /f/ as in enough.
o = /i/
in women. ti=/sh/
as in nation.
Learn why George Bernard Shaw was wrong.
Yet, the patterns that make the words in
column B above more difficult are highly
regular. For example, the pattern
is almost always pronounced /sh/ as in
etc. Somehow good readers learn to
respond to them. Dyslexics have a
miserable time with them.
Good readers who are horrible spellers
will often substitute
spell the words
Professor AVKO’s theories are wrong,
then it follows logically that people
who can read will, half the time, pick a
column B word as the easier word.
Certainly, total non-readers (such as
those whose native written language is
not a Roman alphabetic language) will
average 50% when quizzed. But readers,
whether dyslexic or not, will invariably
pick the word in Column B as the more
difficult word. And they don’t know why.
All they know is that somehow the word
precious is a tougher word than
pretends even though precious
occurs more frequently in print than the
The obvious is true: Words whose phonic
components are either systematically
taught in the first three grades or
whose phonic components are in words
commonly presented for learning in the
first three grades will be chosen as the
easier word. Words whose phonic
components are not taught and rarely, if
ever, occur in words commonly presented
for learning in the first three grades
will inevitably be chosen as the more
If the vast majority of students are to
become good readers and not just the
"elite" who can read the word elite,
educators should find a way to ensure
that all students are given the
opportunity to learn the words that
contain the phonic components that are
neither taught systematically nor occur
in words presented for learning in the
first three grades.
The consensus among the reading experts
selected by the NIE for its report,
Becoming a Nation of Readers, was
that the teaching of simple phonics
should be completed by the end of grade
2 (Anderson, Hiebert, Scott, et.al.,
1985)! From there on in, instruction in
phonics is not indicated! Professor AVKO
disagrees. He does agree that
idealistically the teaching of "simple"
phonics should be completed by the end
of grade two. Professor AVKO wouldn’t
mind if the completion of the teaching
of "simple" phonics were to be completed
by the end of grade three. However, AVKO
contends that mastery of "simple"
phonics is not enough for the majority
of learners. The phonics of words whose
base has more than one syllable should
be taught systematically starting at
least as early as grade four.
On this page are two simple pencil and
paper test that can be administered to
as many individuals at the same time as
a researcher desires. Please notice that
the second test is a control version of
the first test. If a researcher wants to
verify that the number of letters and
specific letters has nothing to do with
the difficulty, but rather the patterns,
the control version totally eliminates
the patterns while retaining the
identical letters. The letters are the
same. However, the consonants in each
word are put first and deliberately
placed in such a fashion that
pronunciation cannot take place. The
vowels are placed at the end of the
word. Again, if there are multiple
vowels, care was taken to order them in
such a way as to make any reasonable
pronunciation difficult. Previously we
supplied cards to enable different
methods of giving the test individually.
Now, they are available only upon
Test given to over 1,000 adults (Mostly
teachers). Nearly everybody had a
perfect score! The lowest score recorded
was by a featured speaker at a reading
conference! The median and the mode was
100% correct. Only the mean was lower.
Survey Test given to over 1,000 adults
(Mostly teachers). Nobody had a perfect
score! On this test the mean, median and
the mode was where it is supposed
Mark the easier
word to read, spell, teach, learn, (your
choice) with a check mark.
word to read, spell, teach, learn, (your
choice) with a check mark.
Your Own Test
logical first step is to
list the different
patterns of English
spelling and then check
them against those
patterns that are in
your curriculum. Sounds
easy enough. Except,
where are you going to
find either list? It
only took me a little
over 20 years to make my
list of patterns and to
categorize them and
cross index them so that
I can look up any word
in the index and find
the page or pages that
contain all the words
that share the same
pattern. This reference
tool I named The
Patterns of English
contains almost 1,000
pages. It is in a 3 inch
3 ring binder to make it
easy for teachers to
remove individual pages
for copying purposes. It
is available from the
school’s spelling or
reading curriculum might
contain lists of initial
blends, digraphs, short
vowels, and long vowels
as if these lists
contained all the
patterns. They don’t.
For example, let’s take
the word, word.
The vowel o is neither a
short nor long o.
Rather, it sounds the
same as the -ur sound in
fur. The onset w is
consistent, but the
"rime" is not ord as in
lord, etc. But
there is a pattern, the
wor- pattern which is
the only way we spell
the sound "wur" except
in the word were.
A few examples are:
work, worth, world,
and worm. The
sound "or" is spelled "ar"
when preceded by the w
or qu (/kw/)! The words
war, ward, warp,
wart and quart
do not rhyme with car,
card, carp, and
Sorry, but you will have
The Patterns of English
patterns that need to be
taught in order to
check your school’s
spelling or reading
curriculum. What can I
say? I’m prejudiced. I’m
Report of the
D.C.: Dept. of
Greene, Harry A.
and Bradley M.
Loomer, The New
America (p. XV).
U.S. Dept. of
Kerr, D. H.
education in the
in L. S. Shulman
& G. Sykes
of teaching and
McCabe, D. J.
Spelling. Birch Run,
McCabe, D. J.
Spelling. Birch Run,
McCabe, D. J.
Up." Birch Run,
McCabe, D. J.
of Over 5,500
by Order of
Birch Run, Mich.:
Zeno, Susan, et.
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