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Does Steps include Maori content?

Steps has the facility to cater for Māori wordlists.  The program has macrons enabled and a user can record their own words and sentences in Māori. Steps is being used by a number of Māori immersion schools.

Why are we using a Placement Test on StepsWeb instead of a Spelling Test?

As many of you will be aware, Steps (the software version) has a Spelling Test.  It’s actually the Schonell Test, which is widely used and very well standardized.  However, on StepsWeb, we’ve included a Placement Test instead.  The main reason is that, although a spelling test is handy, it can give a very misleading idea of progress.   Common problems are:

  • We have had experience of people re-testing a learner far too soon.  Strictly speaking, a standardized test shouldn’t be done within 12 months.  In reality, 6 months is fine for most learners, but less than that is just not reliable.    We’ve even had parents or teacher aides who have re-tested after a couple of weeks and phoned us up to tell us that Steps isn’t working!
  • A spelling test is only a guide.  You can’t test for every word a learner knows, so the test uses a representative sample.  A few careless errors, or a bad day can give the impression that a learner hasn’t made progress. 
  • A spelling test doesn’t tell you everything.  We have had several schools ring us to tell us that they’re disappointed with a learner’s progress.  On asking a few questions, we’re usually told that class teachers have noticed a big difference, confidence has increased, reading levels have gone up.  It’s just that the spelling score doesn’t appear to have.  Learners develop at very different speeds and many will show improvements in other areas a long time before progress in a spelling test becomes apparent.

How does the Placement Test on StepsWeb differ from the Spelling Test?

The Placement Test is not intended to give a ‘level’ or ‘score’, but to identify what words or word patterns a child actually knows.  The words tested are taken from the Course levels.  If the Placement Test identifies, for example, that a child doesn’t know all their days of the week or a particular phonic pattern, it will place them on the appropriate level to gain that knowledge.  This is likely to correlate reasonably closely with spelling age for most learners, but may not in some cases.  In particular, children with major gaps in their literacy knowledge may score at a higher level on a spelling test than they do on the placement test, which is intended to identify those gaps.

How should I use the Placement Test on StepsWeb?

Instructions on entering a learner are available here:

When you enter a learner for the first time, you can set them to take the Placement Test (default setting), or de-select that box to choose a starting point yourself.

In most cases, it’s best to let the learner take the Placement Test.  It should give a pretty accurate idea of where the learner should start on the Courses.  However, if your learner is already on Steps, you can choose to place them on the same level on StepsWeb so that they are not repeating activities.   If they have been making good progress on Steps and are retaining information well, this will be appropriate.  

Again, bear in mind that the Placement Test is a guide.  If you are experienced in this field and know your learner well, you may very well decide to start the learner on a different level for a variety of perfectly valid reasons.  However, bear in mind that their score on the Placement Test does, at least, indicate some gaps in knowledge, which need addressing in one way or another.

Should I use the Placement Test on StepsWeb if my learner is already on Steps?

Several teachers have told us that they have got a child who was already on Steps to do the Placement Test, only to find that the suggested starting level is below the child’s current level on Steps.  This can happen as a result of a few careless errors, in which case it’s OK to just override the programme and put the learner on their original position in Steps.  However, if StepsWeb is putting the learner well below their current position, it may be an indicator that the learner is not retaining words well enough.  This can happen when you’re progressing too fast, not incorporating enough revision and reinforcement and not checking for retention.

In cases like this, it’s a bit more tricky, because we don’t want to demoralise the learner by going over work they’ve already done.  Suggestions are:

  • Test some of the previous units yourself to see if the learner is genuinely forgetting the material.
  • Incorporate more practice and reinforcement, using the hands-on games and the additional printable materials for each unit until the learner has genuinely caught up.
  • Place the learner on the workbook courses if they weren’t already.
  • Obviously when checking progress, you need to look through the logs on Steps to see how well the learner has been doing.  We would expect teachers/teacher aides to be doing this on a regular basis anyway, but we’re sometimes quite shocked to find schools where no-one ever checks the logs.

Can Steps help children and adults from non-English backgrounds who want to improve their English skills?

Steps has a very strong emphasis on language development and comprehension, as well on the literacy aspects such as reading and spelling.  It therefore caters for learners who have language needs, including learners of English as a Second Language (ESOL).   The program will teach learners how to use words in context, including developing an awareness of sentence structure and grammar.  It is also a valuable vocabulary-building tool.

Will Steps help adults who want to improve their reading, writing & spelling?

Yes, Steps is designed for learners of all ages.  The format and presentation are appropriate for older learners, including adults and it caters for every level of literacy, including vocational or tertiary education.  There are advanced courses on Steps which develop literacy, vocabulary and comprehension skills for adults.  There is also the facility to add your own words, which means that you can enter words which are specific to your workplace or courses.   The program will assess your literacy level and place you on the right level of the program.

Is the Steps content different for high school students, young children and adults?

The Steps content is organised according to literacy level, not chronological age.  This means that a high school student who is struggling may be doing the same activity or list as an advanced junior student who is doing extension work.

There are also banks of words and activities which are designed for advanced learners or for adults needing workplace literacy or vocational content.  These would obviously not be appropriate for young children.  Steps will assess your child and tell you where they should start.

Is Steps only for children or adults who are struggling with reading, writing & spelling?

Steps caters for a much wider range of skills than just reading, writing and spelling.  The language development aspects mean that a learner can also use the program to develop their vocabulary, grammar knowledge and comprehension.  It can also help higher-level learners who need some support with advanced or specialist vocabulary.  The facility to add sentences and definitions also means that Steps can be used to learn terminology.

Does Steps help with spelling? If so, how?

Yes, but it is not just spelling in isolation.  Steps will teach a word or spelling pattern in considerable detail, ensuring that the child can recognise the word without hesitation, decode it (work out the letters/sounds in the word), spell it, break it down into individual phonemes (sounds) or into onset + rime and blend the sounds together.  However, Steps does much more!  Steps also ensures that the child understands how to use that word in context and to define the word.

With a learner with processing difficulties (such as dyslexia), it is quite possible to teach that learner to spell a word and then find that he cannot read it!  They involve different processing skills.  Or you can find that the learner can read and spell the word, but has no idea how to use it in a sentence.  Steps covers all aspects.

Where can Steps be done?

The Home Edition of Steps is designed for use by parents or by adults/older learners who want to improve their own literacy/language ability.  It can be done anywhere which has a computer!

The Network Edition of Steps is designed for use in schools, training institutes, and specialist tuition centres. It can be used anywhere onsite with one of these institutes.

StepsWeb is now available for both Home, Schools, and Tutors. It can be used on any device with an internet connection!

Is Steps easy to use?

Yes.  As teachers and trainers, we have many years of working with a range of computer programs which are, in many cases, excellent resources, but are very complex to use effectively.  We have seen teachers struggling to get to grips with programs in schools because they simply don’t have the time to spend hours reading through manuals and adjusting complex settings.  Likewise, parents often struggle because they want to help their child, but don’t know how best to do this, or what level or activities are most appropriate.  Steps has been designed to be very intuitive for parents, teachers or individual learners.  Settings are clearly explained, logically laid out and easily managed.  We also provide a comprehensive software manual for those who like to read up on detail, videos showing you how to use the program in different settings and a helpline for any individual queries.

Is Steps just one program? Or is it different for different ages and abilities?

Steps is one computer program, but it covers a wide range of different ages, abilities and learning needs.  It includes activities or sometimes complete courses which meet the needs of learners between 6 years of age and adult and caters for many different learning styles and needs.

Steps can be customised to any individual learner right up to and including university level.  It can also be customised to any subject or topic area, or vocational needs.

How is Steps different from other literacy / reading programs?

Steps is different from other programs because it not only develops all of the ‘knowledge’ about literacy, but also the processing skills involved in literacy.   What this means is that it doesn’t just teach a learner a particular word or spelling pattern.  It teaches that word/spelling pattern in such a way that the learner learns how to use that word in context, write it from dictation and fully understand its meaning.  The program also develops processing skills such as phonological awareness, visual and auditory sequencing, visual and auditory memory and visual perception.  This addresses the main reasons why some learners struggle in the school system.  The ‘more of the same’ approach doesn’t fix their underlying problems, whereas working on the processing skills is much more effective.

Every aspect of Steps is research-based, including the games!  Every activity has an educational purpose, which means that all of the time a learner spends on the programme is constructive.  Steps also incorporates the most recent research into how the brain processes text.  Recent neurological research has identified that many learners with literacy difficulties are using the wrong part of the brain for reading fluency.  Too much emphasis on the wrong strategies can actually develop the wrong areas of the brain, but Steps incorporates activities which specifically activate the part of the brain (occipito-temporal), which is responsible for reading fluency.

Does Steps support the educational content covered in school?

Yes, Steps covers all of the aspects of the literacy curriculum, including key processing skills such as phonological awareness.  The program will teach the learner phonic knowledge (letter-sound knowledge), orthographic knowledge (understanding of more advanced word/spelling patterns) and also develop aspects such vocabulary, comprehension and an awareness of grammar.

Steps can also be used to support any subject curriculum area.  There are a number of word lists which cover school topics or subjects.  However, it is also possible for a learner or teacher to enter their own lists to support different areas of the curriculum.

What key literacy areas are covered by Steps?

Steps is designed to cover what are described as the ‘Five Big Ideas in Reading’(USA National Reading Panel 2000).    These are:

Phonological awareness (awareness of sounds and sound patterns)

Phonic knowledge (letter-sound knowledge)

Fluency (the ability to instantly recognise words from their overall shape)

Vocabulary (an understanding of word meaning)

Comprehension (the ability to understand and interpret language)

Many people think of literacy as being just reading and spelling, but these are really just some of the building blocks.  There is much more to it and there is limited benefit in just developing reading and spelling skill if the learner has not been taught to ‘contextualize’ this knowledge. 

This is where many literacy teaching materials and approaches fall down and why Steps is significantly different.  In Steps, knowledge and skills are taught and reinforced in context, which also develops the ‘Five Big Ideas’, as well as the core knowledge.

Does Steps develop memory skills?

Yes,  memory is a very high priority.  Steps has activities which develop all key aspects of memory which affect literacy.  This includes visual memory, auditory sequential memory and working memory.  Many of these activities have also been shown to be very effective  at improving listening skills!

Why does Steps have games?

The games in Steps are intended to be enjoyable – they are often used as a reward.  However, we believe that no time should be wasted!  All of the games in Steps have an educational purpose and are research-based.  They should be used as active teaching activities, not just as free-choice rewards.

Incidentally, we also believe it’s good to have fun when you are learning!

Does it matter which order you do the activities in when you do a list?

Yes.  The activities are intended to be done in the order specified.  This is because they are designed to be used in a specific, logical order to develop the right processing skills.

Does Steps help with Dyslexia?

Yes.  Steps even caters for learners with very severe dyslexia.  Learners in this category have processing difficulties affecting some or all of these areas:

  • Motor development
  • Sequencing
  • Visual perception
  • Phonological awareness
  • Working memory (and often other aspects of memory)

Learners in this category also need significantly more reinforcement.  Research shows that a non-dyslexic learner needs typically between 4 – 10 exposures to a word to fix it in long-term memory.  A dyslexic learner, on the other hand, can need 500 – 1300 exposures to the same word!

Steps provides this level of reinforcement in an enjoyable, varied, multi-sensory way, as well as developing the processing skills.  It is important to remember, however, that a dyslexic learner may need to progress much slower than a non-dyslexic learner.  Each learner needs to progress at his/her own speed and going back over previous material is an important part of providing the huge amount of reinforcement which dyslexic learners need.  There is a considerable amount of automatic reinforcement built into the Steps program to cater for this, but parents always need to be aware of the need to check that things have been remembered in the longer term.

Does Steps help with ADHD?

Attentional difficulties are often linked with poor executive control, which is the brain’s ‘mechanism’ for coordinating and processing information.  Steps has a number of aspects which develop executive control and working memory.  These include some of the memory activities, and also activities which require a high degree of concentration and focus.  In this way, Steps helps to develop the attentional skills themselves.

Steps is also designed to cater for learners who cannot concentrate for long periods on the same kind of information.  It incorporates a huge range of different activities, which practise and develop skills and knowledge in a variety of ways.  In this way, even children who struggle to focus in class can cope with working on Steps.


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