Thursday, November 12, 2009

Review: AVKO Foundation

AVKO Foundation, probably best known as the Sequential Spelling people, exists to provide free and low cost materials to all educators in an effort to provide literacy to everyone.  As part of The Old Schoolhouse Homeschool Crew, I was given a one year membership to their site.  And I was really excited to get it.

I have tried Sequential Spelling in the past with my oldest son.  We found it frustrating, mostly because he just did not have the stamina to write out 25 words a day at that time.  The one thing he did learn from that experience was something I didn't know that he didn't know:  that there IS one right way to spell a word.

I was really interested to see what a membership could do for us, and I have had fun poking around on the website.  I'll start with a couple of the negatives:  the site is a bit overwhelming and confusing, and it definitely takes a chunk of time to sort through it.

So, let's see if I can break that down a bit.  What you get when you log on to the members site is a page with a whole lot of links.  There are some main sections:

  • Free e-books
  • Readings for Comprehension
  • Supplemental Curriculum
In the free e-books section, you can download pdf versions of a number of AVKO products.  I'll use the numbers for these titles later in this post too.
  1. The Reading Teacher's List of Over 5,500 Basic Spelling Words
  2. The Patterns of English Spelling Volumes 1-10
  3. To Teach a Dyslexic
  4. The Teaching of Reading & Spelling: A Continuum from Kindergarten Through College
  5. The Teaching of Reading & Spelling: Starting at Square One
  6. Workshop Recordings - a link to six workshops that Don McCabe gave at five different homeschool conferences
  7. Sequential Spelling Response Book template (so you can print up your own spelling books and not have to purchase them)
  8. Worksheets for If it is to be, it's up to me to do it
Readings for Comprehension takes up the most space on the page, and may be the most confusing section.  This includes links to a lot of different individual pages with puns, humor, or inspirational readings.  (And I highly recommend that you read the material yourself, edit the Word document to remove any of the puns or jokes you don't want your child reading -- because there likely will be a couple -- and then print out a copy for reading material.)

This section also includes a subsection on Instructional Ideas.  I think this part gets lost among all the humor links.  The instructional ideas links include a page on how to create a customized "sequential spelling" program, along with things like tutor certification tests, syllable rules, and more humor.

The last section is the Supplemental Curriculum section, which also has subsections.  The first area includes links to word searches for Sequential Spelling users, but also some fantastic vocabulary cards that certainly are not tied to any specific program, and links to websites for idioms, vocabulary and proverbs.

Another subsection includes resources for the Engaging Language Kit.  The mp3 recordings are also linked in this section.  And finally, there is a link to, which is one of the ways of customizing your own Sequential Spelling-like program as outlined in the document in the Instructional Ideas subsection of Reading Comprehension. (Did I totally lose you there?  I told you... the organization of the materials is a big con, it is confusing to wade through.)

In addition to access to the members only page, you also get a 25% discount on all printed materials from AVKO.

Okay, so what did I think?  I love this site, and I am thrilled to have a membership.  For me, it is well worth the effort to figure out where things are.  I have been reading To Teach a Dyslexic (free e-book #3), which is essentially an autobiography by Don McCabe.  I started using Starting at Square One (free e-book #5) with Richard, and it just clicks for him so well.  I want to use the Continuum book (free e-book #4) with, well, probably everybody, but I haven't had enough time to really figure out how to make that happen.

And I used the information in the webpage about customizing Sequential Spelling to start Connor with a new spelling approach.  This uses The Patterns of English Spelling (free e-book #2) to work on specific word families -- using only the spelling patterns that I see that he needs to use.  Being able to print up the Student Response Forms (free e-book #7) is nice, but not necessary.

I also listened to all of the seminars.  I would recommend that if you do purchase a membership that you do space that out and not listen to them all one right after another.  He uses a lot of the same examples, and I think I would have gotten a lot more out of these had I spread it out to listen to one every couple of weeks.  But listening to one of his seminar recordings would be a great place to start if you do purchase a membership.  Which one?  I couldn't say... whichever title grabs YOU.

Do I recommend this membership?  Well, I guess that depends.  For $25, you do receive a lot of material.  But if you have children who have naturally picked up reading, and are fantastic spellers, this site is probably not for you -- unless they are fantastic enough to be trying for the National Spelling Bee, in which case, the free ebooks #1 and #2 might be excellent resources (and it is less expensive to buy a membership than it is to purchase those books individually).

If you have a child who is making solid progress in reading and spelling with what you are already using, there may not be enough here to be worth it either.

If, however, you are using Sequential Spelling, a membership is probably worthwhile, as you can purchase the books at a discount, and get a lot of other things to help you stay motivated or to remember why you like this program, along with actual supplemental resources to use with the program.

Or if you have children who show dyslexic tendencies, you may want to seriously consider an AVKO membership.  Since I have at least one dyslexic child (and at least two others who have exhibited some typically dyslexic traits), I definitely find value in this website.  Even if all I used were the six mp3 recordings and reading the autobiography, I think that alone would have been worth the membership price to me.

And you can check out what my fellow crewmates have to say about AVKO memberships at:

Any questions? I'd love to know what you would want to know in deciding whether or not this is something you want to purchase.

Disclaimer:  As part of the TOS Homeschool Review Crew, I did receive a one-year membership on the AVKO website for free from the vendor in question.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.  It does guarantee a review. A fair review. But I am not going to praise something unless I think it deserves the praise.  If I don't like it, you'll hear that.  And hopefully with enough detail as to why so you can decide for yourself if what I hate about it makes it perfect for your family.  For more about my take on reviews, visit my blog post here.

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