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Can Steps determine my child's literacy ability?
To a certain extent! Steps can give guidance on where your child should start the program, but specialist advice is always helpful for children who have major difficulties with literacy. The more you or a tutor knows about your child’s needs, the better! Steps will not assess every aspect of literacy, but it will establish a reasonably accurate spelling age. This is a good indicator of where a child should start on the program, although it is often a good idea to start at slightly below where you think your child should be, particularly if there are confidence issues. The worst that will happen is that a child will progress quickly and successfully through the lower levels before getting to their ‘official’ start point. They will be building confidence and also consolidating earlier levels, which is always a good thing.
The program uses the spelling age, rather than reading age because some learners (particularly dyslexic learners) may have a much higher reading age than spelling age. This is usually because they use their good comprehension and language skills to guess from the context of what they are reading. In these cases, the spelling age is a more accurate indicator of what the learner knows about text. It is therefore a better guideline as to where a learner should start on the program.
How can I keep track of my child's progress?
You will be able to see from the medals if your child has successfully completed each activity. Your child will get a gold, silver or bronze medal – or a green tick! A gold or silver medal indicates satisfactory completion of that activity. Bronze for the occasional activity is acceptable, but it indicates that the child is finding that activity difficult. If the child gets a green tick, it shows that the activity was completed, but very inaccurately. Obviously, this indicates a problem. The problem can be that the level is too high for that child. Alternatively (and more commonly!) it indicates that the child was simply not concentrating at that point. The best course of action is to ask the learner to re-do that activity – and it is a good idea to sit in with them and watch to see what is going wrong.
In addition, you will have full, printable records. By clicking on the ‘logs’ button, you will be able to see every detail of what your child has done. You will see date, time of day, activity, word list and every error your child has made. This provides very comprehensive feedback.
You can also re-test spelling by using the Spelling Test function. However, bear in mind that this test is a normed, standardized test. Recommendations for this kind of test are that they should not be done more than once a year (ideally) or once every six months (minimum).
If you want to see if a specific word list has been retained after a few weeks, you can use the spelling test for that list (see the activity page).
Besides a computer, do we need any special equipment or books to use Steps?
No. There are remedial workbook courses, which can be used with the computer program, but these are not necessary in most cases. In most cases, parents choose to use Steps to reinforce their child’s learning. In other words, they are using the program to reinforce what their child is doing in school or with a tutor. However, there are cases where a parent is home-schooling or does not feel that their child’s needs are being catered for by the school. If the child is struggling with literacy and tutoring is not an option, it is certainly possible for parents to use the workbook courses alongside the software program. We strongly recommend that you purchase the teacher manual if you decide to do this, as the manual gives you all the teaching instructions (and the answers!).
How often does Steps need to be used?
This depends a lot on individual circumstances. In most cases, we would recommend 2 – 3 x 30 minute sessions per week, which can be extremely effective. However, Steps can be used every day if necessary – there is a lot of variety on the program! As a general rule, the more a child has been struggling with literacy, the more time they will need on the program, but there always needs to be a balance. Don’t forget to do extra reading and games with your child - and to incorporate plenty of talking about things they see around them. These are also important activities for language development and comprehension! No computer program (however good) should aim to replace that direct language interaction, which is so important for children.
Is there a beginning and end to the Steps course?
It depends. Steps can cover everything from the most basic alphabet knowledge up to advanced, specialist vocabulary. Every learner will have a specific starting point on the program, depending on their prior knowledge and ability. Many of those learners will continue to use Steps well beyond the stage where they have ‘caught up’ to where they should be on literacy. However, some learners can stop using the program on a regular basis once they feel that their needs have been met.
How will I know where to start?
You may have the benefit of guidance from a school or tutor. This is valuable because they will know your child’s needs. However, if you do not have access to that advice, use the spelling test function. When your child has done the spelling test, the program will tell you where to start. However, always keep an eye on their progress and, if you feel that your child is struggling at that level or would benefit from more reinforcement at a lower level, there is no reason why you shouldn’t move them back one or two levels. There is never any problem with starting a little lower than the ‘official’ guideline. The child will still be consolidating knowledge and skills – and probably gaining confidence because they are successful. If you have started a bit too low, they will quite quickly and successfully move through the lower levels anyway.
How long does Steps take to do?
In most cases, we recommend sessions of 25-30 minutes at a time. Most children will benefit from doing 2 – 3 sessions per week and some may need more. You can do shorter or longer sessions, depending on the time available.
Do I need to supervise my child/children when they do Steps?
Not necessarily, although this does depend on the child. Younger children or children who are really struggling will benefit from a parent sitting with them and helping as necessary. Also, when your child starts to use the program for the first time, it is necessary to ensure they understand what to do. They may need help with some of the more difficult activities – you may need to read the software manual (on your desktop!) for guidance on some!
With older children who are capable of working independently, it is not necessary to supervise continually, although you should keep an eye on what they are doing and check records regularly. Remember, children do tend to gravitate to things they enjoy most – and avoid the things they find difficult. Use the logs to check that your child is not spending all of his or her time on games!
Do I need the Steps workbooks as well as the software?
There are remedial workbook courses, which can be used with the computer program, but these are not necessary in most cases. In most cases, parents choose to use Steps to reinforce their child’s learning. In other words, they are using the program to reinforce what their child is doing in school or with a tutor. However, there are cases where a parent is home-schooling or does not feel that their child’s needs are being catered for by the school. If the child is struggling with literacy and tutoring is not an option, it is certainly possible for parents to use the workbook courses alongside the software program. We strongly recommend that you purchase the teacher manual if you decide to do this, as the manual gives you all the teaching instructions (and the answers!).
Is Steps suitable for preschool aged children?
Steps was really designed for children over 6 years of age and adults. There are certainly a number of activities which many 5-year-olds can do. These include the alphabet activities and some of the very basic wordlist activities with help. However, we do not recommend that Steps is used extensively with children below the age of 6 unless it is being used in a focused way by a specialist teacher or tutor, who will be able to judge which activities are appropriate to that age-group and use them in conjunction with practical face-to-face activities. Even then, we would not recommend that Steps is used with a 4-year-old or below.
On the whole, children below the age of 6 need a lot of personal interaction to develop their language skills and their basic letter/sound knowledge. It is much more effective to play ‘hands-on’ games with your child to build early skills and literacy knowledge. We can recommend suitable game activities/materials using our Schools Resource Pack on request.
Does Steps have enough range of content (challenge and interest) to keep my child wanting to do the program?
Steps has a very wide variety of activities and games which will challenge any learner (including adults!). Experience shows that the majority of children love the program because it provides the structure they know they need, it enables them to achieve success and also provides the reinforcement which is necessary for them to retain that knowledge. Each activity develops a different aspect of knowledge or skill, so the child has considerable variety. The games also incorporate a fun, visual element, including working against the clock (or against the computer).
However, be careful to present Steps to your child in the right way. It is important that they realise that Steps is a learning program – it is not intended to just entertain them. If you give them the impression that Steps is designed to compete with their Playstation in terms of entertainment, you will create the wrong expectations. Present it as a fun, enjoyable way of learning.
How does Steps keep my child interested?
Steps provides a wide range of activities for every list. It also has a range of games, which are challenging and enjoyable. Steps is a 3-D program, with quality graphics. This means that, visually, it is attractive, colourful and inviting – without being too ‘busy’.
How will Steps increase my child's literacy?
Steps will teach all of the aspects of literacy, including an understanding of spelling patterns, word recognition, vocabulary, comprehension and inferential skills. It develops all of the ‘skills’ involved in reading and spelling, not just the ‘knowledge’ aspects. In other words, it will also develop the phonological awareness and memory skills which are necessary for children to make genuine, lasting progress.
Results show that Steps is just as effective at developing vocabulary, comprehension, verbal reasoning and memory, as it is with developing the reading and spelling aspects. In other words, Steps develops all of the processing skills involved in literacy.
How can Steps help my child prepare for school examinations and assessments?
Steps develops all of the literacy knowledge which is needed for school assessments, but its emphasis on developing processing and perceptual skills also means that it increases ‘learning efficiency’ across the board. Interestingly, children who have been working on Steps have made significant gains in verbal reasoning (ability to process language concepts) and even non-verbal reasoning (logical and reasoning ability). Memory skills also improve significantly, which has an effect on every area of the curriculum.
You can also customize Steps by entering in subject lists and definitions. In this way, your child will learn the vocabulary needed for particular subject areas.
My son, Harry, is 10 years old. We are home-schooling Harry and he has just been assessed as being dyslexic. The assessor recommended Steps. Would you recommend Steps to Literacy home edition? Would this be a total programme for Harry’s Language Arts? Does he have writing opportunities in the workbooks?
If you are home-schooling, we would recommend using the software and workbook materials. If you can let us know Harry’s current spelling age, we can recommend the right level for the workbooks.
The Home Edition will be fine for your needs. It has the same educational content as the Network edition, but only caters for 5 users. It doesn’t have such extensive teacher facilities, but these are not necessary for a small number of users anyway.
Steps and the workbooks will cover all the key aspects of reading and spelling. However, the programme is much broader than that and includes reading comprehension, vocabulary and some aspects of grammar. Because it also works on the processing skills involved in learning, it will also develop the key difficulties associated with dyslexia, which are phonological awareness, visual and auditory sequencing, visual perception and memory (see the Big Five).
This is not intended to replace all the aspects of a language programme. It is still necessary to include general reading practice, including discussing texts and writing responses. The workbooks do include handwriting, proof-reading and dictation and higher-level workbooks will require written answers to comprehension questions. However, they are not intended to replace free writing/story writing, etc.
Does Steps cover Māori?
Steps is designed to cater for Māori content. You can put in and record your own Māori words and sentences and print out worksheets and other materials.
Can I use Steps for other languages?
To a certain extent! For technical reasons, the current version of Steps does not cater for accents other than Māori, although the next version (due early 2013) will enable a range of accents. However, you can currently enter and record words, sentences and definitions for any text-based language (without accents). The sentence can be in that language or in English. See the German example below:
Word Sentence Definition
ausgezeichnet Seine Arbeit ist ausgezeichnet. This word means ‘excellent’.