4th November 2005 at 00:00
NESSY. Bristol Dyslexia Centre. Single user pound;120; www.nessy.co.uk

Nessy is a reading and spelling program for children who have been assessed as dyslexic. It is based on phonics, beginning with simple words, and extending to all the key spelling patterns used in secondary schools. Each pattern is introduced with a lesson and reinforced by computer and card games; some have story books.

Once the scheme is loaded, the user can quickly move to any area, calling up or printing off games, activities and lesson plans instantly. This clear organisation enables Nessy to offer far more in a single CD-Rom than has been achieved before, and provide flexible and enjoyable reinforcement of spelling patterns to any pupils who need it, dyslexic or not. Many of the activities would make excellent starters for a literacy hour.

The stars of the show are 12 professionally animated computer games that can be used either with groups of words selected from the programme or from groups chosen and recorded by the teacher or pupil. Users have to develop good mouse skills to whack the rats before they eat the cheese, catch fish that change direction, or zap the monster before it zaps them. Errors are penalised, but only within the game, and there is help for those who need it. The game formats appeal to children of all ages, and users can choose which game to practise.

One child wrote in the handbook that the programme "doesn't feel like work", and a parent, noting that her son has asked if he can read to her, thanks the authors "for giving me my son back". Wendy Hurford, special education director for Jersey, praises its "infectious impact" for a range of pupils, including those with English as an additional language, and its value to teaching assistants.

The scheme's reading and spelling tests provide guidance on areas to work on, but some of the storybooks are tedious and the description of vowels and consonants does not explain the different functions of these letters and how they operate together. This can easily be remedied. As a whole, Nessy is an important new resource that will reduce stress and brighten children's lives.

John Bald

Literacy consultant

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