IT behind 'astounding' gains in spelling age

18th November 2011 at 00:00
A five-year mission yields top results and may be extended over East Renfrewshire

An East Renfrewshire teacher's five-year quest to improve pupils' spelling using IT has led to remarkable results and the possible extension of her approach across the authority.

Children who struggled with deciphering words, some of whom were mildly dyslexic, improved their spelling ages by an average of 14 months and, in certain cases, by up to 30 months in a school year.

The results emerge in a paper by Fiona Lyon, head of additional support needs at Our Lady of the Missions Primary in Thornliebank. It will be presented at the Scottish Educational Research Association conference next week.

Each year of the study started with a spelling test involving 500 P3-7 pupils. Those with low scores were given twice-weekly instruction using two software packages designed to target specific weaknesses.

Dr Lyon, a chartered teacher who is also a dyslexia adviser in East Renfrewshire, wanted to establish whether there was any advantage in an IT-based solution, as opposed to traditional methods.

With three or four classes containing 30-33 pupils in each year, it was not practical to take groups of pupils from each class for extra work on spelling and phonics. Previously, one or two pupils in each class had been identified as moderately dyslexic and were receiving extra help; Dr Lyon hoped her idea would open up extra support to the next 15 per cent of strugglers, some of whom showed signs of dyslexia.

For 25 minutes at a time, pupils used Wordshark 3s and Education City activities, which allowed more personalised, fun approaches and an emphasis on visual representations of words - a technique suited to dyslexic pupils.

Dr Lyon has described the results as "astounding": the average 14-month gain in spelling age contrasted with a gain of only six months for pupils who fell just outwith the test score that would have enabled them to participate.

The improvements were inversely related to age: the younger the pupil, the more effective the intervention. Those who had once toiled with spelling had progressed so far that "they really looked forward to their spelling lesson", Dr Lyon observed.

There was a blip, however, in the 2008-09 P6 class, where the average rise in spelling age was only 9.3 months. This, she suggested, "can be explained by the absence of a pupil-support assistant one day a week".

The methodology is well established in the school from P3 up and "continues to reap dividends", according to headteacher Charlie Jamieson.

Dr Lyon's chartered status had helped her become a "leader of learning", he said. She has shared the findings with colleagues across her authority, and East Renfrewshire Council is looking into whether the success could be replicated in other schools.

Education convener Alan Lafferty was impressed that, by allowing users to sign up at home, the approach got parents involved in improving their children's spelling.

The annual conference of the Scottish Educational Research Association takes place on 24-25 November, in Stirling. www.sera.ac.uk

henry.hepburn@tess.co.uk.

Original print headline: `Astounding' gains in spelling age credited to one teacher's IT project

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