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Specific learning difficulties and spelling

Beyond the generalised problems that can cause difficulty in learning to spell, there are more specific learning difficulties. These can be described as falling into five clusters:

  • Discrimination: visual and auditory
    • Visual discrimination: Learners have difficulty in making sense of the letters they see on the page; that is, when they read they have problems in discerning the fine differences between letters, and when they write they have problems in correctly reproducing letter-shapes. This includes problems with orientation (for instance, the classic b/d/p problem).
    • Auditory discrimination: Learners find it difficult to distinguish the separate sounds of words. They may also have problems distinguishing between similar-sounding letters: e.g. d and t, b and p, s and z.
  • Organisation. Learners might struggle with organisation in many ways:
    • Organising their time
    • Organising their ideas
    • Understanding left-right organisation of print
    • Understanding the left-right organisation of letters within words
  • Memory. Often there is no problem with long term memory, but learners certainly experience problems with other memory skills:
    • Poor memory for the abstract: This makes difficult the learning of letter-sound matches; also causes difficulties with the learning of spelling rules etc.
    • Poor visual short term memory: For instance, problems in copying from a board; what has been seen on the board can be forgotten by the time pen reaches paper.
    • Poor auditory short term memory; poor retention over short time spans: This causes difficulties in retaining the sounds of a heard word long enough to spell it and causes problems in following instructions.
    • Poor rote learning abilities: This can have great impact on the learning of letter-sound matches.
  • Movement. Learners might experience problems with the control of movement:
    • Gross motor skills; this can manifest as clumsiness
    • Fine motor skills; causing important difficulties for handwriting and keyboard skills
  • Sequencing: visual and auditory. Problems of sequencing have a lot in common with organisation and memory problems:
    • Problems in sequencing days, months, etc.
    • Problems in sequencing sounds and letters in words
    • Problems in maths processing.

The impact on motivation

All these difficulties often translate into poor motivation.

And motivation is the place where any remediation really must begin.

How StarSpell helps learners with specific learning difficulties

A structured, multi-sensory approach

All research points to a structured, multi-sensory approach as the key to helping learners with specific learning difficulties:

  • Structure: these learners need structure in their learning, provided by carefully planned, logical, small steps, and lots of opportunities for reinforcement and consolidation.

  • Multi-sensory activities: they need multi-sensory activities combining visual, auditory, tactile and motor experience. Such activities allow learners to use their sensory strengths while at the same time enjoying opportunities to improve on their sensory weaknesses. That is: strengths are utilised, weaknesses are addressed.

StarSpell offers a double package of support:

  • It is highly structured: it's organised around carefully graded frameworks of word lists.

  • It is multi-sensory: its activities involve visual, auditory, tactile and motor skills.

StarSpell supports each specific difficulty

Five clusters of specific learning difficulties are described above, along with their impact on motivation. Here's how StarSpell provides support for each one:

Discrimination difficulties

Visual discrimination

StarSpell's graphics are simple and unfussy, and support the learner's focus on the task. Fonts, letter-colours and background colours are all customisable.

In the Spelling mode, highlighting the spelling pattern helps focus attention.

The animation time can be controlled, so the slow binning of any wrong letters, the slow swapping of reversed letters and the slow bringing-in of new letters, all serve to provide the learner with ample observation time to process the necessary learning.

Auditory discrimination

All words have been very carefully recorded to be distinct, and are in a natural human voice.

These naturally-spoken words are available for as many times as learners need (by clicking the Ear), providing significant support for the discrimination of the sounds in the words.

And then, the Phonics mode, the only mode which deals with actual phonemes, incorporates the pronunciation of each phoneme of the word whenever its grapheme moves or is moved. Again, these are carefully and distinctly spoken in a natural voice.

Organisation difficulties

First, the organisation of the word lists offers a huge resource in itself, giving a structure to your learning programme.

Further, the whole design of the Spelling mode provides solid learning support, in its visual impact and (controllable) pace. But its chief help in this area is in slowing down and organising the Look-Cover-Write-Check routine.

Memory difficulties

Here again, the organisation of StarSpell's word lists provides a very secure framework for the long-term work of learning letter-sound matches.

Combine this structure with StarSpell activities, and you have a resource with immense impact to counter difficulties in this area of poor memory.

Motor difficulties

StarSpell offers support in two ways:

  • it makes no handwriting demands.

  • it gives keyboard practice which helps the learner to acquire tactile spelling patterns.

Sequencing difficulties

The value of the Spelling mode has already been noted for visual discrimination difficulties. That same help also applies to sequencing difficulties.

But furthermore, the Phonics mode is a markedly strong sequencing mode, providing significant experience. And then StarPick and StarGuess, the two games in the StarSpell Lists and Yr2 to KS3 Support sections, operate in similar fashion.

Between them, the four options offer extremely useful support to learners with sequencing problems.

Finally, motivation

All these difficulties translate into poor motivation and low self-esteem. But StarSpell works positively in the learner's favour:

  • The impersonality of StarSpell makes it kind and patient; it never gets cross; it allows learners to go at their own pace; there's the option to let it give steady, positive praise.

  • StarSpell is simple-to-use, so there are no distractions caused by having to master the program itself before one can get on with mastering spelling.

  • The activities are motivating in themselves.

  • There's an option to build in targets, for self-competition only.

  • StarSpell offers the advantage of being easily customised, through a wide range of permutations, to individual needs, making StarSpell par excellence a friend of specific learning difficulties.

To find out more about StarSpell click here.