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Waiting to introduce spell-check might be the best choice if your fifth grader is spelling significantly below grade level. Why? Because spell-check won’t be very helpful unless your child understands some basic rules about spelling.

Does your child know how words are formed and how they fit together in sentences? Is she still struggling to master the connection between letters and sounds? Ask your child’s teachers to see whether they recommend using spell-check now or if they recommend waiting.

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) recommends waiting until a child is spelling at a fifth-grade level. The IDA also advises that kids start out using spell-check with an adult. Your child will need help learning to use this tool. She’ll also need you to be her proofreader, at least in the beginning.

That’s because the spell-check tools in Microsoft Word and other mainstream programs don’t do a great job of examining words in context. Let’s say your child types “I lik this storie.” Microsoft Word’s spell-check will flag lik and suggest a long list of words to use instead.

The tool’s first three suggested replacements for lik are like, ilk and lick. Hopefully your child will know to choose like. Then the spell-check will flag storie and suggest stories as the top choice to replace it. If your child chooses stories, then the updated sentence will be “I like this stories.”

But that updated sentence isn’t right either. The next step is the spell-check tool asking if your child wants to say these stories or this story.

This means it takes three steps to correct a four-word sentence.

I’m using this example to show how a mainstream spell-check tool can only help if your child is able to read each suggestion and figure out which one is the correct match. This can be a tall order. Even with the help of one of these spell-check tools, your child is still likely to have trouble putting her thoughts down on paper.

When you and the teachers decide your child is ready to use spell-check, you might want to look for tools that were developed for students with dyslexia. These tools usually do a better job. They tend to correct spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Examples include Ghotit and VeritySpell. Both are good for children, especially under the watchful eye of a parent or teacher. Both tools also define each suggestion and show examples of how to use it. This feature can help kids with dyslexia find the word they’re trying to spell.

Lots of apps, games and other tools can help kids practice spelling. But the most important way to help your child with dyslexia is to work on connecting letters and sounds. That skill is called phonological awareness. And it’s the foundation for learning to read—and spell.

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