StarSpell 3 Spelling Guide - Customising StarSpell

This Guide aims to demystify how spelling is learned. It shows smart ways to help learners, both using StarSpell and with activities away from the computer. All the practice in the Guide is based on actual classroom experience

Customising StarSpell

Modify StarSpell to meet learning needs

StarSpell delivers a powerful memorisation experience: it's visual, auditory and motor. Its colourful letters have visual impact and it offers clear and ample repetition of the spoken word and individual phonemes.

StarSpell Offers a wide range of options for further expansions on its basic routines.

All the options can be set by clicking Preferences in the main menu, then the appropriate tab. Each tab affects each of StarSpell's Five Modes as follows:

· Adjust lists tab All modes

· Display tab All modes

· Keyboard tab Spelling and StarGuess

· Games tab StarPick and StarGuess

· Animation tab Spelling and StarGuess

Each option is described next, below, with a sub-heading showing the learning need or needs for which it caters.

These learning needs include:

· Increase attention to a word's spelling focus

· Increase motivation

· Help study of the word

· Improve legibility

· Support writing-for-memorisation routines

· Repeated practice

· Revision and assessment

· Strengthen short-term memory skills

· Help memorisation

· Learn letter-sound matches

· Respond to learning preferences for letter-sounds or letter-names

· More thinking time/more reaction time

· Strengthen the review of learning

· Focus on high frequency words via Look & Learn.

Option: highlight graphemes (Check Display: Letter pattern)

For learning need: increased attention to a word's spelling focus

This option allows you to target the letters that are the spelling focus for the word. You choose to highlight the spelling pattern, in the letter pattern colour, as the whole word is shown.

This highlighting happens just after the word first appears.

Coach the learner to watch out for this "flash".


However, recognise when not to highlight.

Sometimes it prevents the learner from seeing the word as a whole.

Or switch it off when you want to make the mode more challenging.

Option: customise the letter colours (Click Display: Letter colours)

What the letter colours mean

Make sure learners know the significance of each colour.

The spelling pattern in the letter pattern colour flashes up when the word is presented. This happens just after the word first appears. Coach the learner to watch out for this "flash".

At the Check stage, any letters not wanted in a word are highlighted in the wrong letter colour, before they are binned.

Letters that were missing in the spelling are in the new letter colour.

Letters that are in the wrong place in a word are highlighted, as they are re‑arranged, in the wrong order colour.

For learning need: increased motivation

You can decide to personalise the colours of the letters to increase motivation.

For instance, give the learner some say in choosing the colours. This is enjoyable, and produces a feeling of ownership, bringing a closer concentration on active looking.

For learning need: help to study the word

Or you can personalise colour choice to increase understanding of what to look for when studying the word.

Option: customise colour preferences for letters and background

For learning need: improved legibility

Individual learners may find that for them certain colour combinations improve legibility.

You are able to choose the colours of the letters and/or background accordingly.

Adjust for your situation

You can adjust the background and normal letter colours to suit your lighting and the position of your screen.

Adjust for specific visual difficulties

There are some learners with specific optical preferences for the colours of the background and the main text.

In addition, learners with various types of restricted vision can benefit through changes in the colours.

Option: customise the font (Click Display: Change font)

The StarSpell font

The StarSpell font ("ABC") has been designed with great care for legibility.

Its clarity is suitable for the great majority of users.

However, you are able to alter it, perhaps to suit an individual learner, perhaps to inject some variety.

For learning need: improved legibility

You can change the size and style of the letters to suit the visual acuity of your learner.

For learning need: increased motivation

Choosing a suitable size and style also means that you can avoid any hint of the childish that might patronise older students.

For learning need: support for writing-for-memorisation routines

You can choose the style closest to the school's handwriting policy.

Or individual learners can change to a font close to their own style.

For example, you may decide on a font using letters with entry and exit strokes (e.g. Monotype Corsiva), reflecting fluent handwriting.

Option: hide some or all of the word (Select in Display: Word display)

For learning need: repeated practice

You could choose to display only the spelling pattern, with the rest of the word hidden. This option is useful for second and further practices.

This provides a strong reinforcement of the spelling pattern under focus.

Yet at the same time it is a more demanding task than working from a presentation of the whole word.

However, the learner still has available a spoken presentation of the word: the Ear and Radio remain, so the learner can listen again and again.

For learning need: repeated practice and revision; also for assessment

You could choose to hide all of the word, presenting it via picture, sentence (word deleted) and speech.

By not showing the word at all, the mode loses its LCWC nature, becoming instead a dictated word list.

This provides excellent second practice, and revision.

It is also a useful first practice for improving spellers, able to work from sounds alone.

Finally, it is a very useful diagnostic option, especially when deciding at which level a pupil should start.

Option: delay between viewing and typing a word (Select in Display: Enforce a delay?)

For learning need: strengthening short-term memory skills

There is the option to set a blanked-screen delay between looking at the word to study it, and the task of typing it (spelling it).

It gives learners time to practise recalling the spelling.

However, they are spared any worry about forgetting the actual word! Throughout this time picture and sentence-minus-word remain, to lighten the short-term memory load.

And the Ear and Radio buttons remain available, so the learner can listen again and again. Repetition of the spoken word allows whatever time is needed for concentration on the sounds.

For learning need: support for memorisation

During the blanked-screen delay between looking at the word to study it, and the task of typing it (spelling it), the learner can:

· Say the word out loud, thinking about its phonemes.

· Repeat the phonemes separately, in sequence.

· Visualise it:

o Using a forefinger to outline it on the table next to the keyboard

o Learners who need significant support to memorise may be helped by writing the word with a forefinger on some highly tactile material, such as fine sandpaper, velvet, or a tray thinly covered with sand or salt, or use a pad kept to hand for the purpose

o Another technique is to speak and write simultaneously; saying the word very slowly as it is written, lengthening the phonemes to match the speed of their written production: 'prrrr‑ooo‑duuuu‑uuc‑ti‑on'.

This consolidates the concept of words as sequences of phonemes represented by graphemes.

Option: choose letter-sounds or letter-names (Check in Sound tab)

For learning need: learning letter-sound matches

In Early Phonics it can be very supportive to have the letter-sound option selected. It offers constant, patient, clear reinforcement of these letter bonds.

Furthermore, for learners unsure of the capital/small-case bonds, it offers security; so as they seek letters from the capitals of the standard keyboard, they are reassured to have their selection confirmed by hearing each letter sound.

For learning need: preference for either letter-sounds or letter-names

Learners differ greatly in their learning styles, with different factors helping different learners in their memorisation. It is known, for instance, that some learners benefit from hearing letter-names as they write them, and StarSpell is able to support that. Try out the options with your learners, and involve them in choosing what is most helpful for them.

Option: customise the animation speed (Slider in Animation tab)

For learning need: more thinking time/more reaction time

You can tune the speed of all the activities, to suit individual learning needs.

Option: expand the 'Check' of LCWC

For learning need: review of completed list

A record of the learner's spellings appears on screen at the completion of each list, providing opportunity for further checking.

StarSpell is especially useful for High Frequency Words

The sequence for learning High Frequency Words (tricky words) includes:

· Meeting the word, and examining it with support

· Making/spelling the word

· Recognising the word in isolation.

The StarSpell Lists and the Phonics Lists activities fulfil these recommendations beautifully, in the following ways:

· Meeting the word, and examining it with support:

o Context sentences allow the word to be presented as part of "real language" (as does the picture, although pictures are not always possible for tricky words), and help ensure that the learner has understood the word.

o If a short compatible list is needed, these activities offer one.

o Also, the word is shown clearly and attractively, in isolation. And it can sit there for as long as needed, providing ample time for examination of the word. This allows you to point out the word's features and talk about them. Engage the learner in finding features (any little words inside a bigger word, any double letters, any letter strings shared with other known words, the letters' ascenders and descenders, any possible mnemonics).

· Making/spelling the word:

o The Spelling mode, the StarPick and StarGuess Spelling Game modes, individually and between them provide ample and varied opportunities for making the word.

· Recognising and using the word in isolation:

o Preferences: Sound: Speech allows you to switch off the spoken word in StarSpell Lists. This gives you a way to present the word with no support other than the word written chosen needs on screen. Beyond that, StarGuess in StarSpell Lists and Yr2 to KS3 Support challenges learners to spell the word without any written model at all.

Additional StarSpell customisation

This final part of the section brings together the remaining customising options of the versatile program that is StarSpell. All these are available from Preferences in the StarSpell Menu. They can be set for an individual or for a whole class.

The Visibility tab (Spelling mode only)

Pictures: to keep or remove

You do have this option, although perhaps there are few circumstances in which you would choose to remove the pictures; perhaps for certain learners who find the pictures a distraction, or who feel patronised by them. Or perhaps you may decide to increase the challenge of the mode by removing the element of context provided by the pictures.

Target time: to keep or remove

A target time has been supplied for each list, to give incentive to learners who benefit from such an element. It should not be taken too seriously.

But there are learners who are helped by a motivation extra to the task itself, such as aiming to improve on their own personal best time.

Judge where it might work to benefit your learner/s, or where it might have an opposite, de-motivating effect, and set target time on or off, accordingly.

Sentence: to show at foot of screen or remove

Removing the sentence from the foot of the screen leaves you with the spoken version, which of course provides a most useful set of dictated sentences with which any list can be further reinforced or assessed. You've hidden the written sentence from learners, but they can hear it as many times as needed by clicking the Radio button. The worksheet can still be printed out.

The reward (star shower)

Some may find this irritating, or patronising, so it can be switched off.

The Sound tab (Spelling mode only)

The spoken word: to keep or switch off

Turning off the spoken word produces interesting outcomes, to do with varying the learning task, with the likely effect of producing varying levels of difficulty.

Other sound effects: to keep or switch off

Turning off the binning sounds, the moving letters sounds, and the "praise" words may well benefit others within earshot (unless you are fortunate enough to benefit from earphones). But there may be users who find such additions inappropriate.

The spoken sentence: to keep or switch off

Apart from consideration to others working nearby, this switch-off enforces a greater reliance on independent reading.

The Sentences tab (Spelling mode only)

Sentence: to show at foot of screen or remove

Removing the sentence from the foot of the screen leaves you with the spoken version, which of course provides a most useful set of dictated sentences with which any list can be further reinforced or assessed. You've hidden the written sentence from learners, but they can hear it as many times as needed by clicking on the Radio icon. The worksheet can still be printed out.

There are other options. The sentence can be shown during the word's presentation, but hidden during the word's spelling; perhaps if it is distracting pupils with certain learning difficulties.

By default, the target word is blanked during spelling, but it can remain on display if you wanted the pupil to do a copying exercise.

Sentence: to highlight the target word or not

You can choose whether to highlight the word within the sentence, or not.

Sentence: type into gap or not

There is one last option here: you can switch on the option to type into the gap, for the spelling to appear letter-by-letter in the sentence-gap as it is typed. Switching this on will mean that learners gain the security of confirmation that part of the word is correct, as they continue their attempts on the rest of the word. It reduces the difficulty level of his task one notch, as it were. (Be aware that some pupils might misuse this feature to gain a perfect spelling score.)

The Adjust List Tab (all modes)

You can make two changes to how the words in a list appear:

· You can change the word order.

· You can change the number of words being spelled in one session.

The words are initially shown in the order the list is written, and you can shift the order the lists are spelled in three other ways:

· Last to first: Whenever a learner has to work on a list more than once you may wish to vary the challenge by running it in reverse order.

· Random order: Another variation to ensure differing challenges.

· Alphabetical order: This can be useful when a learner wants to transfer words into a personal wordbook.

You can also change the list order itself in Management: Edit word lists and remove or add words to a StarSpell list, or even create your own custom list.

The Keyboard tab (Spelling and StarGuess modes)

· There are various reasons for offering options for on/off-screen keyboard.

· Some will be to do with levels of keyboard skill; how far the complete keyboard is confusing or distracting; how out-of-reach are the fine finger movements of typing on small keys. The on-screen keyboard may simplify the task for some.

· Other reasons will be to do with how far learners have progressed in knowledge of the QWERTY layout. If bothering with that is getting in the way of concentrating on spelling, they may well find the alphabetical layout enabling.

· There are benefits to learners who are more used to lower case than the capitals of the standard keyboard: they may find it so much easier to work with the lower-case on-screen keyboard.

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