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Summary of AVKO Research: 1974 - present
And a challenge to researchers worldwide

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For the past 34 years the AVKO Educational Research Foundation has been investigating:

The findings based on an analysis of English orthography

There are five basic types of words in the English language, each with three different levels of difficulty. 

5 Types of English Spelling Patterns with 3 Levels of Difficulty

 

Simple

Fancy

Insane

Tricky

Scrunched Up ("sandhi" or "synaloepha")

 

1

cat, big, call, dog, run, stay, jump, at, shop, space

onion, person, station, caution social, crucial, picnic, nature, special

does, have, daughter,
should, laugh, was, cousin, laughter, eye

deer/dear, aunt/ant/Aunt,
be/bee/Bea, red/read/reed,
eye/I/aye, flu/flew/flue

it’s, didn’t, Mr.,
Mrs., Ms., Ave.,
Dr., St., they’re

 

2

stunned, chewing, missed, pinning, outfield, preacher, beginning, dining

suspicious, atrocious constitutionality, initially, chronicles, featured, linguistics, repetition

lingerie, corps, draught, salve,  soldering, aye, indicted, coups

do/dew/due, aisle/isle/I’ll, passed/past, mist/missed, affect/effect, taut/taught, accept/except, yolk/yoke

CIA, PED XING, @#$%&*!,  “sposta,” ASAP, “shooda,” “hafta,” “wanna,” “gonna”

 

3

peddled, strictly, squelched, belittled, enacted, forgeries, enabled, shackled, neglect, preferred

flambeau, Chablis, mousse, ennui, physiology, cuisine, psychiatrists, clich�, quiche, chateau, rendezvous, suede, escargots, pique, beret

potpourri, quay, hors d'oeuvres, victuals, clich�, conch, jai alai, ciao, ribald, lough, Qin

allusion/illusion, sects/sex, venal/venial, cache/cash, waiver/waver, spade/spayed, palate/pallet, salon/saloon, obsess/abscess/assess

e.g., "whudja," Ste., Y2K, i.e., sic, et al., SQ3R, WPA, CIA, WASP, “gotcha,” ASAP, tsk tsk.

A frequency chart from Origins of the English Language by Joseph M. Williams:

 

"Simple"

"Fancy"

Decile

English

French

Latin

Danish

Greek & Other

1st 1,000

83%

11%

2%

2%

2%

2nd 1,000

34%

46%

11%

2%

7%

3rd 1,000

29%

46%

14%

1%

10%

4th 1,000

27%

45%

17%

1%

10%

5th 1,000

27%

47%

17%

1%

8%

6th 1,000

27%

42%

19%

2%

10%

7th, 1000

23%

45%

17%

2%

13%

8th1,000

26%

41%

18%

2%

13%

9th 1,000

25%

41%

17%

2%

15%

10th 1,000

25%

42%

18%

1%

14%

 
Summary: After the 1st 1,000 most frequently used words about only one out of four words contain patterns encountered or taught in the first two grades of school. In other words, excluding the 1,000 most common words, 3 out of every four words will contain patterns neither taught nor encountered in the first two years of school.

There are 5 Basic Types of English Spellings with 3 gradations of difficulty

  1. Only the Basic words are generally taught or encountered in the first two grades.
  2.  The Intermediate Patterns are rarely systematically taught.
  3. The Advanced Patterns are not taught specifically or intensively and are usually assumed to be learned by osmosis.
  4. 75% or more of the words belonging to the patterns in bold face and color above cannot be read by poor readers.  Likewise, 75% of the words they cannot read contain these patterns.

AVKO has identified what needs to be taught.  When will the colleges of education and the state and federal departments of education take action? 

  1. The "Simple" words can be defined as those words whose base has but one syllable.  For example, the word fisherman can be reduced to the monosyllabic morpheme fish.  The phonics for these words are fairly consistent and should be taught in the first two grades.  Note that the -le ending in peddle, tangle and shackle isn't quite a complete syllable.  Although the words ending in -le are highly consistent as in the -angle, -endle, -idle, -oble, -oodle, and -uffle rimes, the words containing these patterns and the patterns themselves rarely occur in first and second grade textbooks.  The advanced "simple" words and their patterns also are rarely taught in first and second grade.

  2. The "Fancy" words can be defined as those words whose base (with rare exceptions such as the word "cache" which is both fancy and tricky) is composed of more than one syllable.  These words generally follow the phonics of the language that they come from such as Latin, Greek, French, Spanish, Arabic, German, etc.  The easy ones generally occur frequently enough in texts that most students learn them by sight.  The phonic patterns such as "on" being pronounced as "un" at the end of most words such as person, common, and nation generally is not taught.  The difficult fancy words occur less frequently and their patterns such as ci=/sh/ and ous=/us/ are not taught in most classrooms.  Also rarely taught are the advanced patterns such as the letter u (single yoo) may take the place of its identical twin the consonant w (double yoo) as in linguistic (the gw blend) persuasion (the sw blend).

    For a complete listing of all the simple phonic patterns and all the "Fancy" phonic patterns see Don McCabe's The Mechanics of English Spelling in The Teaching of Reading: A Continuum from Kindergarten through College.

    Attention Researchers: 
    For a test you can replicate in which both the mode and the median is 100% when 10 multiple "guess" questions are given that proves the existence of both "Simple" and "Fancy" words.

  3. The "Insane" words are what teachers often call "outlaws" or exceptions.  The common ones are easy only because they are so commonly used.  The words such as is ("izz"), are ("ar"), were ("wur"), are drilled one way or another into the young readers' heads.  But other words less frequently encountered may cause problems, such as laugh ("laff"), laughter ("lafter"), and daughter ("dawter").  The advanced "Insane" words are almost never taught.  There is no provision in most curricula for the teaching of these words even though the vast majority of students cannot pronounce them.  Most teachers have no idea that the word victuals is only correct spelling of "vittles" and that the word lough is pronounced "lock."  For the only listing of these insane words by categories of utility and frequency, see pages 535 to 548 in Volume 5 of The Patterns of English Spelling.

  4. The "Tricky" words are homophones such as be, bee, Bea, and B; dialect dependent homophones such as ant and aunt (Does aunt rhyme with can't or haunt?); heteronyms such as lead (v.) and lead (n.); typography dependent homographs such as to resume writing a job resume; similarity of configuration such as soldier and solder, or ambitions and ambitious; similarity of letters in words whose only significant difference is in the transpositions such as in expect and except; words of almost identical meanings but whose pronunciation is accent dependent such as "to reCORD" a new "RECord;" words with variant spellings such as Chanukah and Hanukah; words whose structural endings cause confusion such as hoping and hopping.  AVKO has yet to find one spelling curriculum or reading curriculum that attempts to ensure that the students are at least given instruction on most of these words.  Samples, yes.  Systematic, intensive instruction, NO.  For a suggested order for diagnosis and remediation of "tricky" words see pages 216 to 228 in The Teaching of Reading: A Continuum from Kindergarten through College.

  5. The "Scrunched Up" words. Wudja beleev dat duh titul uv en ardikul inna reel skolurly jurnle wuz: "Yoo all gonna hafta listen" end dis was by a reel eddycated laidy frum Hahvud Yoonuhversity.   Being able to read words that have been deliberately misspelled by writers is something that good readers take "for granite."  What we good readers in the field of education tend to forget is that not all people are as bright as we are.   Not everybody is acquainted with terms such as sandhi (pronounced "Sunday") and synaloepha.  For a quick diagnostic test on students' abilities to both read and spell "scrunched up" words, see pages 229 to 233 in The Teaching of Reading: A Continuum from Kindergarten through College.

The research findings based on an analysis of readings by adults and their testing at the AVKO Educational Research Foundation's free reading clinic.

  • Good readers (those reading at grade levels 8.0 and above) respond correctly and instantly to almost all phonic patterns.  Many of these good readers have never had systematic instruction in phonics.  They happen to be the lucky ones who have learned that which they were NOT TAUGHT.  Whole language approaches seem to work well for them.  What weaknesses they have in reading comprehension lie largely in having poor vocabularies, limited life experiences, and/or poor reading techniques such as "word calling" instead of thinking as they are reading.

  • Poor readers (those reading at grade levels 4.0 to 7.9) respond correctly and instantly only to the very basic phonic patterns such as -eek and -eak as in the words peek and peak.  They have difficulty with advanced patterns such as -ique in the word pique.  75% or more of the words that contain Difficult or Advanced "FANCY" patterns cannot be read by poor readers.  75% of the words that they cannot read contain the same patterns.  It has been found that when these patterns are systematically taught to them, they have a much greater chance of becoming proficient readers.  Many (but not all) poor readers can become good readers with intensive one-to-one tutoring that does not involve the teaching of phonics.   But this is cost-prohibitive for most school districts.  Almost all poor readers can become good readers if the classroom instruction includes systematic multi-sensory teaching of the advanced "FANCY" patterns.  Please note that only AVKO has made a complete listing of these patterns and grouped them together into word lists according to pattern.  Ask your local expert in references to find any book in any reference library that has examples of fifty words in which the letters "ch" have the sound of /k/ as in the words ache, echo, orchid, and mechanic.  AVKO has found 297!  The reference tool in which these can be found is Don McCabe's The Patterns of English Spelling which should be in every school library, but unfortunately isn't.

  • Non-readers (those reading at grade levels of 1.0 to 3.9 after having reached at least the 6th grade) do not respond correctly and instantly to many of the very basic patterns of the "Simple" words.  To advance to the next level they must learn the phonics of the "Simple" words, plus mastering the "easy" levels of the "Insane" words.

  • Methods of teaching reading used in regular and remedial reading programs rarely utilize the teaching of spelling patterns via handwriting legibility exercises or the teaching of spelling patterns via keyboarding exercises.  AVKO has yet to find a single curriculum that even purports to do so.  The other neglected method of teaching reading involves the teaching of vocabulary utilizing spelling patterns (roots, prefixes, suffixes), and most importantly the combination of immediate student self-correction with careful sequencing.

The Challenge to Educational Researchers Worldwide

To adequately establish the relationship of reading test scores to spelling, there needs to be a baseline study made.  The last such study was done in 1954!  For a better study to be made, we need the input of researchers as well as teachers, parents, and employers.  Please visit our Opinion Survey on Spelling/Reading, print it out, and have as many of your colleagues (and students) complete it and send it to Don McCabe.

A Challenge to U.S. Department of Education, All State Departments of Education, All Educational Organizations, and University Reading Researchers 

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