7spell is scientifically designed, and utilizes principles based on decades of research in learning, retention, and psychology. Here is a summary of the theory and research behind 7spell's effectiveness.
Craik, F., and Tulving, E. "Depth of processing and the retention of words in episodic memory." Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Vol 104(3) (1975): 268-294. Print and PDF. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0096-34188.8.131.528
In this seminal study performed at the University of Toronto, Canada, the authors performed a series of tests in which they gave the study participants a sequence of words to learn, with information related to each word as it appeared in order. They discovered that when the information provided stimulated the participant's brain to process the word on a more involved level (referred to as "deep encoding" or "degree of elaboration" in the study), that word was more effectively learned and remembered. With 7spell, the user is given a wide range of additional information about each spelling word, including the word's definition - one of the key factors in enhanced memory, according to this study - as well as usage examples, synonyms, and antonyms.
Garcia, S.M., Tor, A., and Schiff, T.M. "The Psychology of Competition: A Social Comparison Perspective." Perspectives on Psychological Science, November 2013, 8(6):634-650. Print and web. http://dx.doi.org/10.1177/1745691613504114
Each person is influenced by a unique set of factors related to their own status and progress towards goals, but is also affected to a greater or lesser degree by the achievements and perceived standards of the people around them. This analysis of past and current studies looks at the way people view and are motivated by individual goals as well as societal achievement (competition). The authors conclude that effective use of motivational strategies must take both into account. This is something that 7spell accomplishes by providing each user with the ability to set personal goals, earn reward points, and view their own progress tracking reports, and also to publish all of those results on public social media platforms.
Kivetz, R., Urminsky, O., and Zheng, Y. "The Goal-Gradient Hypothesis Resurrected: Purchase Acceleration, Illusionary Goal Progress, and Customer Retention." Journal of Marketing Research, February 2006, 43(1):39-58. Web. http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jmkr.43.1.39
In a study focusing on the influence of reward-scheme programs on behavior, the authors found that when people see visible progress towards their goals they are more likely to increase the activity required to reach those goals. The study also confirms that most people are also motivated by receiving rewards for completing specific activities, even if those rewards are not immediately transferable to actual material or monetary benefits. Status points, rewards, and real-time progress tracking are all methods used in 7spell to encourage frequent spelling practice by awarding points for the completion of exercises and activities. Because the user can access their progress charts at any time, they will always be able to see how close they are to achieving their personal spelling goals.
Buton, M., Winterbauer, N., and Todd, T. "Relapse processes after the extinction of instrumental learning: Renewal, resurgence, and reacquisition." Behavioural Processes, May 2012, 90(1): 130–141. Print and web. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.beproc.2012.03.004
Instrumental learning, also called "operant conditioning," is a method by which behaviors are learned in connection with a stimulus, a reward, or both. In this research done at the University of Vermont, the authors studied the ways in which the information connected to a specific behavior is retained when the stimulus is removed, and how subsequent repetition or reward reinforces information recall and a resumption of previously learned behaviors. They conclude that there are two primary methods of reinforcing active memory and behavior: by creating a different way to test the subject's memory, and by providing the opportunity for intensive focused repetition of that stimulus-behavior response. These two methods are widely used in the 7spell activities and games to create the link between instruction and memory that is so crucial in effective spelling learning on the student's part.
Xue, G., Mei, L., Chen, C., Lu, Z-L., Poldrack, R., Dong, Q. "Spaced Learning Enhances Subsequent Recognition Memory by Reducing Neural Repetition Suppression." Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience 2011;23(7):1624-1633. Print and web. http://doi:10.1162/jocn.2010.21532
In this study comparing long-term and short-term memory, the study authors tested the neural activity of participants as they memorized a set of images. Half of the study participants used massed learning techniques, in which each new image was presented multiple times in a row; the other half were given the images in a spaced repetition mode, where the images were shown in alternating order. Although each participant saw each image the same number of times, the people in the spaced-repetition exercise were able to accurately remember more images, and for a longer period of time. Repetition is a key technique in learning spelling, and 7spell incorporates spaced repetition in two ways. First, the system uses randomized selection of spelling words from the user's current list to populate the activities and exercises, ensuring an interval between word reviews. Second, the system's Word Discover feature provides pop-up instant review of the words on that list, again in random order. By providing users with multiple opportunities throughout the day to read and review their words, 7spell provides all of the benefits of the spaced repetition methodology in its spelling instruction.
Blocki, J., Cranor, L., Datta, A., and Komanduri, S. "Spaced Repetition and Mnemonics Enable Recall of Multiple Strong Passwords." Cornell University Library, January 3, 2015. PDF. http://arxiv.org/abs/1410.1490v2
Spaced repetition is a memory training tool that relies on frequent and consistent review of information; mnemonics is a memory technique that involves multiple ways of looking at that information, such as the incorporation of images or story lines. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University focused on the combination of spaced repetition and mnemonics in evaluating how best to train people to remember specific pieces of information: computer passwords. They found that by combining the two methodologies, the results in both ease of learning and retention were increased. 7spell uses each method separately and together to help users learn and remember new spelling words by using the same words in multiple exercises, presenting spelling words in a variety of formats, and encouraging users to add information related to each word to make a personal connection that helps them to remember that word and its correct spelling.
If you’re feeling frustrated about your English skills and think that you’ll never get to the fluency level you want, look for something or someone to inspire you to keep going forward with your vocabulary and spelling study. Dan Dumitrache is a good source of inspiration; he started out not wanting to learn English in school, but eventually started studying the language (his inspiration? love!) and now is a qualified English teacher himself. What’s more, he’s not a native speaker of English – he was born in Romania, and is now teaching in Vietnam. His story proves the global influence of English, and that anyone can learn English with the right motivation. We talked to Dan recently about how he motivates his students to learn.
US: Tell us about your ESL classes – do you teach children at school, or do you have adult students who take private lessons?
DD: At the moment I work for Binh An Secondary School, which is a state school located 30 minutes away from Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon). I teach English for 14 year old students (they are in eight or ninth grade).
On Mondays I teach English for kids (3-4-5 years old) at Lan Anh Nursery School (kindergarten).
US: Why did you start the ESLVietnamZone website?
DD: Long time ago (I believe it was the summer of 2010) I tried to learn graphic design with the help of my wife (she is a graphic designer). In order to remember all of the techniques she taught me, mostly for retouching photos, I decided to create different files and write every step there. Soon, my computer became a complete mess and searching through all these file was painfully. So, I decided to create an online website (better organized) and be able to access everything from any of my devices. This is how I created my first website (it does not exist any more now). Everything was written in English since I communicate with my wife in English.
Writing for that website I realized how important writing is. It helped me learn new vocabulary, practice spelling, use grammar etc. It was a totally different experience than just communicating with friends in English. I felt (and I still feel) it was the best way of learning English. So, in 2011, I created ESL Vietnam Zone website, an informative blog related to learning and teaching English as a Second/Foreign language.
US: Should people concentrate on vocabulary and spelling first, or is it more important to get comfortable speaking English at the beginning?
DD: Everybody wants to speak first but it is impossible to speak if you don’t know vocabulary. In my opinion, people should concentrate on vocabulary first. Of course, spelling comes hand in hand with vocabulary. Using vocabulary in speaking (or writing) is equally important.
US: Your website provides information for ESL teachers as well, including lesson plans. Are these the same tools you use in your classes?
DD: Yes, mostly they are. I say mostly because sometimes it is just not possible.
US: What’s one piece of advice you’d give to someone who isn’t enjoying their English classes in school?
DD: This is a difficult question. There might be many reasons and identifying these reasons is the first step. Learners usually complain about teachers … “My teacher is not funny”. This is true in some cases and it can make a class less enjoyable. The vast majority of learners learn English because they have to learn not because they have a motivation. I believe that the lack of motivation is what makes someone not enjoying their English classes. Most of the learners don’t see results after a period of hard studying. My advice for someone who is not enjoying their English classes is: be active in the class and use English outside the class. In this way you see the benefits of learning English and it creates a strong motivation to continue studying English. These make your English classes more enjoyable.
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