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Software Evaluation

Starspell 2001

Publisher: Fisher - Marriott
Age Group: All Ages
Curriculum Area: This program is used to help teach spelling, it can be tailored to help the needs of all age groups.
Year of Publication: 1999
Specifications: Multimedia PC
Windows '95 + '98
Windows 3.1 + 3.11 NT or better with sound card 256 colours The more main memory and the faster the processor speed, the fewer delays there will be while Starspell 2001 is finding words and lists.
Available from: Fisher -Marriott Sofware, 58 Victoria Road, Woodbridge, Suffolk, IP12 1EL England.
Recommended Price: £180 for network licence. Available from Edtech, Discovery and other Educational Software suppliers.

Summary

Starspell 2001 is a multimedia CD-Rom. The major part of the Starspell program deals with the main Starspell lists. These lists were specially developed by Margaret Hughes (co-author of "The Development of Independent Reading", the OU Press, 1999). The lists work on the principle of a 'route map' through the spelling of the English language, tracing a progressive and comprehensive path from the simplest spellings onwards. There is an extensive section for the main subject areas (especially those in the English national curriculum). Starspell concentrates on words in frequent use in each area, which present potential spelling problems. There is also a set if further explorations.

The British government introduced the National Literacy Strategy in England in 1998. Starspell has specially designed sets of word lists to support the whoe-class work of the 'Literacy Hour', term by term. They follow closely the spelling work which is specified at each stage.

Starspell can also be tailored to the needs of the student by adding your own set of words and sentences. It can be used for Gaelige and other languages, but the teacher needs to input all these words.

Overview of Teaching with this Title

I used this title with students who were between 13 and 15 years of age and who have literacy problems and an average reading age of 7/8 years of age. The package works on a see, hear, say, cover and spell theory. Starspell 2001 was used in a networked room and each student worked on essential spellings and further on in the year worked on spellings tailored for them. Each student worked with the package on an individual basis.

The software lets the student see the word, then the software speaks the word. If the student wishes the word or sentence containing the word can be repeated. The students is them required to spell the word. If the word is spelt correctly the software will point out immediately to the students which letters are in the corrrect position and which are not. The student then gets another chance to type the word. This software will be best used by individual students either on a standalone computer or through a network as they can be working on their own and at their own pace.

Tailoring the package for individual students needs is very time consuming particularly if you are doing so a number of times on standalone computers. This title is an excellent piece of software used on a networked system.

The main strength of this program is that it will record when each student uses the package, what word lists the student has attempted, whether the student was successful or not and what the students attempts at each word were. Therefore, the teacher will be able to see clearly from the pupil record printout where the student is having problems and whether s/he is progressing.

The picture representations of the words in the word lists can be turned off so that the software does not appear too childish.

Content

The content of this piece of software is very good, it works on main Starspell lists starting with the simplest of spellings moving on to a list of spellings which include a main subject area, further explorations and a literacy hour support the whole class term by term. As the software can be tailored for the needs of the students it gives the teacher great scope to cover any spelling area in any subject.

A teacher can also use this software to teach Gaelige and other languages. However, the teacher would have to set up all the word lists, sentences and sounds themselves.

There are three different ways of learning the spelling, the first way "see, hear, spell." The second way is by playing the Starpick game, which means the learner has to click on each letter to spell the word (these are scattered randomly on the screen). The third way is by playing the Starguess game, which requires the learner to spell the missing word in a cloze exercise.

A paper worksheet can be printed out from any word list. The worksheet will contain preset sentences from the word list, with the spelling words removed (as a cloze test). The whole word list is printed at the bottom of the sheet.

A multisensory approach is taken by Starspell 2001 in that aural, visual and lingustic approaches are used.

Design and Navigation

On screen help is available at all times and offers clear instructions for using Starspell 2001 and the various indices contained within the program. Words are seen and then spoken and the student then spells the word. The time can be adjusted for the length of time you see the word and can also be repeated by clicking on an icon.

I have not tried to use this software with special needs students who use switches. Therefore, I do not know if it can accommodate them. There is no mention of the use of adaptive or assistive technologies in the help menu or the documentation.

There is no introductory sequence. The previous users name automatically appears on the opening screen as well as an option for different users to find their own names.

The feedback for the learner is immediate and they are shown immediately how they spelt the word incorrectly. The screen is uncluttered with just two icons for the student to click and space for their spelling to appear.

Installation and use

The CD will load automatically onto a standalone PC.

However, to load onto a network will take a little more time the details of which are outlined in the booklet. I was not experienced at installing software on the network and found the instructions to be vague. (Click here for information on how I loaded it onto the network.)

The documentation does show you how to set up new word lists on a standalone basis. It does not indicate how to do this when the software is run over a network. It can be done but some extra steps need to be taken. (Click here for information on how to do this.)

Supporting Documentation

The booklet does give clear instructions on how to use this program, to customise word-lists and to create new ones for a standalone system.

There was no supporting documentation to use with the students.

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