The Science

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.


David Morgan Is Helping Children Learn At

Categories: About Spelling, Spelling Resources |

Poor spelling and literacy skills in children can lead to severe economic and social disadvantages as adults, something that David Morgan is very familiar with through his years of research and work with The Shannon Trust, a UK-based organization that promotes literacy, mentoring, and life skills development in prisons through guided reading programs. While working with adults who were not able to read, he realized that reading problems actually tend to start in childhood, and he started focusing on ways to help children learn to read. His company, Oxford Learning Solutions, has created an innovative product that is designed to teach children to read and spell by taking advantage of the brain’s natural tendency to use visual images. We asked David Morgan about this approach, and how parents can help children who are struggling with literacy issues.

US: “Dyslexic” is the general term used for people who have problems reading and spelling, but your site explains that there are actually some very specific aspects of this learning disability that need to be considered. Can you tell us why it’s important to identify these specific areas of weakness as the first step in improving spelling?

DM: You are right that within that umbrella of dyslexia we have now found eight different causes of reading and spelling difficulty. So, in my view, understanding what you are seeing is critical to giving the right help to a child. My first degree was in engineering and I guess that for me a complete understanding of any problem feels like the best place to start working on a solution. Many parents and teachers will have felt the frustration of pushing against a locked door with spelling. We always want to look for the key, rather than just pushing harder. Different children find different doors locked for them.

US: It’s true that many children – and adults! – have a hard time making the connection between sounds and letter patterns in English, since there are so many variations in the way a particular sound can be spelled. You point out that memorizing these pattern/sound combinations isn’t always the best way for children to learn, but the visual images that the Easyread system uses also need to be memorized. What’s the key difference in these two approaches?

DM: That’s a good question and the answer requires a slightly technical explanation, if you will bear with me.

In English there are 450 letter pattern to sound relationships used within words. These letter patterns are abstract and they are very inconsistent, as you say. So most children who struggle with spelling have chosen to memorize whole words instead, for reading and spelling. That can work OK in the early days, but the average adult can read 50,000+ words. Some children can memorize 20 words well enough overnight for a spelling test, but it is impossible to memorize 50,000 words. So it is like pushing water up a hill, trying to build spelling expertise in that way.

By contrast, Easyread has 45 silly, funny and bizarre images of real things, like the ‘Ants in Pink Pants’ and the ‘Eggs with Little Legs’. So most of them can be learned in one viewing.

Then we put the child in a reading environment where whole word recognition is hard and decoding is made easy, with the help of the images. That is what we call Guided Phonetic Reading. By getting them to decode for 5-15 minutes each day the children build a subconscious map of all the letter patterns used in different words. Eventually this map becomes strong enough for them to encode words for spelling.

This also explains why even a good speller can become unsure of a spelling when they ‘think about it’ too much. The reason is that they are no longer relying on this subconscious map, which cannot be accessed through conscious thought.

US: Several schools have reported great success in using Easyread to help improve reading and spelling skills in their classrooms. Can parents use the system at home even if their child’s school doesn’t, or will it create confusion for the child?

DM: You are right that it is a natural concern, which many parents raise, but many of the children using Easyread are receiving some form of different instruction at school as well as doing their daily Easyread lesson and we don’t find that causes confusion for them. The children are surprisingly good at compartmentalizing their different experiences through the day.

US: The Easyread system focuses first on learning how to read using the visual decoding tools you developed, which don’t directly teach spelling. If parents want to focus on spelling skills, can they still use Easyread?

DM: As you suggest, the natural urge is to work directly on a child’s spelling, but the children who we help have truly atrocious spelling because of their whole word sight reading strategy. We build the foundation they need to see spelling progress by changing their reading strategy. I know of no other way to turn around really bad spelling. On the other hand, if a child is already getting nine out of ten words correct, but is frustrated by small errors, that is a different problem which we are not currently set up to work with and a product like “7spell” is probably more designed for.

US: The manuscript to your book, “Why Connor Couldn’t Read,” gives a fascinating and easy-to-understand explanation of the science behind reading and reading difficulties, and what goes on in the brain. When will this book be published?

DM: Ha, yes…! That is a question I have been asking myself too, for some time! The reason for the delay is that an academic randomized control trial has been running in six schools over the past 24 months and we have been holding publication until the results from that could be included in the book. Over the years there has been a lot of hot air published, on occasion, in this field. So people are rightly skeptical and we have been trying to get our scientific evidence properly lined up first. Hopefully we should be ready in the autumn! After 15 years of work on the development of Guided Phonetic Reading as a new way to learn to read and spell, perhaps we will be set up for an ‘overnight’ success.

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