StarSpell Reviews

Literacy & Learning Magazine:

Do you struggle with the word ‘millennium’? If so, StarSpell  is the program for you. Select ‘millennium’ from Starspell’s comprehensive list of words and you will be given a list that also contains ‘millimetre’ to practise on. Each word is presented – for a fixed period of time – in large type in the centre of the screen and in a sentence at the bottom of the screen. It is also spoken aloud. When the target word disappears, the pupil attempts to type it in correctly. If he succeeds, he gets suitable praise for having done so. If he types it in incorrectly, the word is rebuilt on screen so that he can try again. There is a target time for completing each list. At the end a record sheet appears which contains the word list the pupil has been working through. The words that the pupil has spelt correctly first time are starred and the time taken to complete the exercise is given.

Picking out an individual word from the main Starspell list is just one of the ways you can use this versatile program. When a pupil first logs on, he can choose ‘Find your level’ or ‘Look for a list’. ‘Find your level’ gives the pupil a choice of nine word lists. Select one of these and the pupil will be presented with an exercise identical to that above.

Once the chosen list has been successfully completed, a new list will be suggested. In this way the pupil can progress through to the most difficult word lists Starspell has to offer. These include such nuggets as ‘omniscient’’, ‘aerial;’ and ‘bronchitis’.

Choose ‘Look for a list’ and the pupil is confronted with nine headings. These range from ‘Important sight words’ to ‘Curriculum subject lists’, for example – and a new list of curriculum subject headings appears. Click on any of these –‘English’ for example – and a further list of 11 sub-headings appears into which all of these words associated with that area of the curriculum are divided.

Having selected a word list from the main Starspell course, pupils have two other options as well as these onscreen, spelling exercises. The first, ‘Extra’, consist of two games ‘Star Pick’ and ‘Star Guess’ which offer simple activities to reinforce previous spellings. The second, ‘Worksheet’, prints off a cloze exercise consisting of the sentences that appeared at the bottom of the screen with a space left in each one to insert the target word.

As an alternative to the main Starspell course there are two further options. ‘Onset and Rime’, which the authors recommend for use in Reception, provides four lists of exercises consisting of one - or two - letter onsets and two – or three - letter rimes. The other is ‘Literacy Hour’ which consists of specially designed sets of word lists to support the whole-class work of the Literacy Hour. These closely follow, term by term, the spelling work specified in each stage.

StarSpell  comes with a User Guide and a Spelling Guide. The former tells you all you need to know about installing and using the program, including how to edit the word lists should you want to, adding pupils’ names and managing their records, and customising the set-up. The Spelling Guide on the other hand provides a detailed overview of the approach to the teaching of spelling the program takes and to the choices the teacher can make when customising the program. Among other things this guide gives an interesting insight into the criteria used by Fisher-Marriott when writing the program. On page 36 they list what they consider are the ingredients of an effective spelling program. These are:

Not surprisingly StarSpell  meets all these criteria. If they are your criteria too, then StarSpell  is well worth checking out.

(Literacy & Learning Apr/May 1999, published by Questions Publishing)

Parent's Information Network

Reviewers found this program easy to install and did not experience any technical problems.

The program is an excellent program for language and literacy work and supports the National Literacy Strategy. Whilst the graphics are fairly basic with little animation, our reviewers felt that the spellings, accents and voices are very clear and there is a comprehensive dictionary of words. The three spelling courses and general depth of content were thought to be extremely good.

Our reviewers felt the differentiation created by the levels of work was an important feature. They were also pleased to see that the spelling lists could be customised to meet their individual needs and the new words could be added. We feel that this makes StarSpell  a substantial spelling package.

Also useful is its ability to monitor a child’s spelling progress in the form of record sheets which can also be printed out. Our family reviewers thought that parents may find it useful to take these sheets into school when asking for advice on literacy concepts they would like to explore further with their child.

The support material that accompanies the software is invaluable. Many parents may find understanding the Literacy Hour or ‘Onset and Rime’ difficult, but the User Guide and Spelling Guide give clear and concise explanations.

In general we feel that StarSpell is a quality program which will suit both the home and school environment. Our family reviewers commented on the cost of the program, but concluded that it could be considered value for money to families with more than one child or for a child experiencing specific difficulties where support with spelling would help.

We are pleased to inform you that, in line with this level of scoring and all comments received, StarSpell is awarded the Approved PIN Quality Mark.

(Parents' Information Network is "the only national independent organisation specifically dedicated to helping families get to grips with the new technology - buying using and learning with computers".