York students' spelling ages soar with Spellzone

Millthorpe School, York"Spellzone really is an incredibly simple, engaging and cost effective resource for schools to use and administer, and it makes a big difference to literacy levels."

Mary Griffiths, Director of Inclusion, Millthorpe School, York, UK

Spelling ages up two years in just six monthsA York school has seen students' spelling ages accelerate by up to two years in just six months through the Spellzone online spelling programme.

Millthorpe School is an 11 to 16 mixed comprehensive school in the heart of the York community, with a focus on equipping young people for the challenges, opportunities and responsibilities of adult life by helping them develop socially, emotionally and culturally.

Director of Inclusion, Mary Griffiths, used Spellzone for a six-month pilot for Year 8 students, linked to the school's literacy agenda. She says she was looking for a solution that was cost-effective - both in terms of course materials and staffing – which students could work on remotely, and was aware of Spellzone even before it was recommended to her for this project.

"I had heard good things about the programme, and then a colleague recommended it to me, too. Part of Spellzone's appeal lies in its ease of implementation; after an initial presentation introducing the programme and demonstrating how it works, it was easy to administer with just an hour of teaching assistant time needed each week to manage and oversee it over the six-month trial – reviewing progress, prompting students if they needed it and giving out rewards."

Engaging parents and students

Based on literacy skills scores and reports from teachers, Mary identified 12 students with literacy difficulties to take part in the online trial. She then made sure that each of the students enrolled on the programme had support and buy-in from their parents, which she believes was key to its success: "At the beginning of the programme, we sent a letter to parents outlining the opportunity to join an exciting spelling trial, explaining the programme and clearly setting out what we would do; what their child would need to do and what they themselves would need to do to help their child get the most out of it.

"The students and their parents each signed a form committing to help improve spelling by undertaking the activities outlined in the letter – allowing their child computer access at home for ten minutes every day and signing off on a weekly home/school record."

The school also implemented a reward system to recognise progress and commitment to the programme. Rewards ranged from certificates and stationery to chocolate treats, and culminated in an afternoon off school for a cinema trip.

The results

Millthorpe School saw students' spelling ages increase by an average of 24 months over the six-month trial, with one student's spelling age progressing by a staggering 58 months.

"Every intervention we implement is heavily audited to evaluate effectiveness and Spellzone delivered above and beyond expectations," she says."There's no doubt that a 400% improvement represents a superb result."

Mary attributes the success of the trial to a range of factors:

Ease of implementation& measurement: "Spellzone really is an incredibly simple, engaging and cost effective resource for schools to use and administer, and it makes a big difference to literacy. The programme almost managed itself; the most we had to do was monitor the students' work, which was also very quick and easy to do. It is also very easy to measure progress."

A valuable interactive learning tool: "The interactive nature of the programme makes it easy for students to engage. This is the first time we have implemented an interactive intervention, and the results speak for themselves. It's certainly something we are looking to develop further within the school."

Making spelling part of students' everyday learning: "The Spellzone programme is very well structured, and the results of the trial fully support the widely accepted view that short, regular practice can have a dramatic impact on ability."

Securing commitment from parents: "When parents identified a time slot for Spellzone and it became part of the daily family routine, it really was incredibly successful. Parents were very supportive of the programme; the feedback we had from them was very good, and they saw their children reap the rewards of that joint commitment."

Rewarding commitment: "The rewards ladder proved successful in incentivising the students to remain committed to the programme."

Where next?

Mary will be repeating the Spellzone programme again this year with both Year 8 and Year 10 students, with plans to enrol 30 students on the programme over the course of the coming school year. She is also working with heads of department to use the keyword list facility within their literacy work: "I now see Spellzone as a permanent fixture in our Year 8 literacy work, and a valuable homework tool. I'm keen to explore opportunities for using it elsewhere in the curriculum, too," she says.

Millthorpe School

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"Spellzone really is an incredibly simple, engaging and cost effective resource - it makes a big difference to literacy levels."

Millthorpe School, York