Practice might make perfect
Pounds 19.99; 60-minute video, pocket junior scrabble, mini Oxford School spellerRockhopper, Berkley House, 31 Bower Way, Chippenham, Berkshire SL1 5HW. Tel: 01628 667323
Modern classrooms use technology in all its forms to supplement a teacher's input, but even the most interactive and open-ended video or computer program cannot choose how it is used to the best effect for a particular child. Hence, most self-learning packages are concerned with knowledge rather than understanding.
The Rockhopper company's Spell Well video is such a resource. Presented by Carol Vorderman, of Channel 4's Countdown, it explains in a very clear way the rules we use for spelling in English - such as "i before e except after c", or "y becomes ies in the plural" - and lists examples of words for which the rule does and doesn't work. Watchers become familiar with the more common prefixes and suffixes, and simple language structure, such as the syllable, are defined. The presenter also explains how different dictionaries (standard and spelling dictionaries, thesauruses, etc) can help the speller in different ways.
This is a useful video for adults with poor spelling. Mnemonics were suggested which they would find helpful and the format was reassuring yet never patronising. Once the introduction -which is too long and zappy - is over, the video settles down to a pleasant pace with no distractions. One big disadvantage is that there is too much information to handle all at once. Learners need to be able to dip in and to repeat sections, which is difficult to engineer on a video.
There is a strong need with such drill material for parallel practice, and this is sadly lacking on Spell Well. For example, after following an explanation on "-ing" words, learners need to digest this concept by reading some in a context; perhaps incorrect ones should be included as an exercise.
The many techniques of the classroom could have been adapted for adult use to produce a written resource to complement the video. At the very least, the video needs some accompanying guidance; a CD-Rom format could have provided backup material in an adult way.
The videobox sleeve states that the resource will help "children and adults alike". This is difficult to align with the material. The voice tone, the lack of repetition and the age of the interviewees all point to an adult audience. This raises another problem. The video has been joined to two other resources to form a set: a Pocket Junior Scrabble game and a Mini Oxford School Speller. Both are good resources for key stage 2 pupils, but the video is not suitable for this age group. An adult would be better off buying an adult spelling dictionary and a normal Scrabble game.
* Rockhopper Ltd Education Show stand A79