A sound but competitive approach to spelling

Sally McKeown

Eye for Spelling For Acorn A-series and Nimbus, Pounds 37.50 (includes site licence), available for BBC machines until December. From ESM, Abbeygate House, East Road, Cambridge CB1 1DB. Tel: 01223 65445.

Most spelling programs are phonic. An Eye for Spelling from ESM is different: it looks at letter patterns within words, so the pattern "est" includes chest, question and orchestra. This is recognised as useful for those who have difficulty with phonics.

Pupils look at the words as they form on the screen, first in print and then in joined-up writing. Then they have to spell out each word, using an ordinary keyboard or an on-screen keyboard operated by the mouse.

There are a few problems with the program: it does not recognise correct spellings if they are written in block capitals or if the user presses the space bar at the end of the word. On my version, the on-screen keyboard was temperamental and would not always recognise the keys.

I found the educational thinking behind this package sound. It looks at letter strings, not individual sounds, and allows teachers to develop new lists relevant to individual children. It uses the tried and tested "look, cover, write and check" approach and will help to improve visual memory.

However the rewards ruined the program for me. If the pupil gets the word right, Podd, a favourite character from ESM, waves a chequered flag. This is followed by a burst of applause. Every teacher with any sense will turn the sound off to avoid disrupting lessons or causing embarrassment to the pupil. When the pupil completes a group of spellings, one of four graphics comes on screen: a motor race, a balloon race, a horse race and a boat race. The choice of graphics is insensitive as it reinforces the notion that spelling progress is competitive.

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