Spelling tests can be extremely demoralising for dyslexic children and preparing for them can be time consuming and stressful for the whole family.
My spelling is still rubbish but it didn't stop me doing well academically. I got great grades in my GCSE's (O levels at the time), A levels and in my degree. Since then the “spell check” tool has been invented, which makes life MUCH easier! In school, however, children have to take regular spelling tests which can negatively impact their self esteem. Parents can struggle with how to best help their child learn spellings. My strategy of saying 'don't worry mummy still can't spell either' wasn't that successful and everything else I tried was horribly time consuming as I had three dyslexic kids to help.
IT can transform how children prepare for spelling tests.
Fortunately technology can offer a range of extremely helpful solutions to both learn and perhaps more importantly test spelling, freeing up parents to get on with other jobs or spend time with another child. The best IT solution for your child depends on:
the device they have to work on (iPad, laptop, Mac, etc)
Below, I've put together a summary of some of the technology available to help child to learn their spellings. This technology should really be a complement to and not a complete replacement for traditional learning methods.
There is still HUGE value in 'look, cover, write, check', no matter how much more appealing playing games on a tablet or computer can be to children. Technology is fun and may save time, but recent research has shown that writing by hand engages the brain in learning and that neural activity is far more enhanced when children are printing by hand.
Young child with a tablet
This enables you to input your child’s spelling lists and either record each word yourself, or use one of the 150 pre-recorded spelling tests. This test can now be shared between up to 5 devices and they are all in UK English.
Research indicates that children learn best when they listen to their own voice, so you could help them record their spellings. This could, however, be time consuming.
Current price £3.99
Older children with an iPad or iPhone
A+ Spelling Test
You can see straight away that this app has a far more mature look and feel than Squeebles, but it has very similar basic functionality - to create your own word list and record your own voice.
Rather than just take a test, A+ has a practice mode and enables users to play games to unscramble spellings, which is more fun in my opinion than just testing. The best thing is that this App is FREE!
There is only an iPad/iphone version.
There is an app with the same name available for Android for £0.61 but it is not from the same company and the reviews are not as positive.
Children of all ages with a laptop, Mac or desktop computer
This is a great free option. All you need to use it is an internet connection and it can be used on any device. Just type in www.spellingcity.com. However, as you need an internet connection, it is no good when in the car picking up siblings. There is also a version for tablets, iPad, Android and Kindle Fire.
Once again, it enables you to input your own spellings but you are not able to record your own voice. The words are all pre-recorded in an American accent. My kids liked this (too much American TV!) and I preferred not having to record words myself, as it can become very time consuming, especially if you have a number of children using it.
The best thing about Spelling City is it has lots of games that children can play to help them learn their spellings - it doesn't just test them and can therefore be much more fun. The free version of the app has 9 free games. There is a paid 'premium option for £29.99 per annum for up to 5 users. I recommend starting with the free version.
Children from 9 years up with a laptop, Mac or desktop computer
Spellzone is much more than an automated fun spell test. It is an online English spelling resource with thousands of pages of teaching test and games. It is suitable for children from nine years old and allows them to upload their own spelling lists that are then automatically incorporated in the games.
This increase in content is reflected in the cost. The current prices being:
1 user cost £19.95 + VAT per annum
2 users cost £29.95 + VAT per annum
3 users cost £49.95 + VAT per annum
** subject to change so do check most up to date
Parts of it can be tried for free by both families and schools. If a school buys a license there are good economies of scale and, best of all, a school license can be used at home.
Spellzone have recently introduced The Spellzone Starter Course that teaches the basic phonic spelling rules using multi-sensory activities and tests. It will help all learners, especially those with difficulties such as dyslexia. Some of it can be tried for free. As always, I recommend you try before you buy. I hate wasting money on solutions my children don’t use. If your child likes it, encourage the school to buy a license. Many secondary schools already use it, so it is definitely worth asking. Once your child has a login, they can use it at home.
Many of the package used to teach typing also allow children to input spellings, so they can practise as they learn to type.
Rather than teach a particular list of spelling, intervention programmes are designed to improve students reading and spelling by helping increase their decoding, fluency, phonological awareness, comprehension or vocabulary.
There are many intervention programs with different strengths and weaknesses. These will be detailed in a seperate article.
I wonder how many of my spelling & grammar errors have got past spell check on this page?
I am certain that despite my best efforts and using all the technology at my disposal, there will be some mistakes on this page. But I don't allow my fear of making a spelling mistake stop me doing what I want to do.
Many children I work with are far too fearful of making mistakes. Dyslexic children need to be encouraged to be creative and use their immense talents. If they spell something wrong, it really isn't a big deal.
Weekly spelling tests unfortunately don't promote confidence or freedom to do what they are good at. Dyslexic children do need to be taught to spell and I appreciate the patience of classroom teachers in helping them do this. Thanks to them I can model something totally different with the children I work with. I make sure I make lots of spelling mistakes (which isn't hard), then shrug my shoulders and say 'I cannot spell, so what? There's always spell check!'
Final tip. When dyslexic children are using Word (or another word processing package) Switch off the automatic spell check. Yes, you did read that correctly. I recommend using spell check, but not till they have got all their ideas down and organised their thoughts. Once they see a squiggly red or blue line it kills creativity and the flow of ideas.