Immediate feedback and repetition in learning

One of our favorite quotes is from Anders Ericsson. He does research into the development of expertise or (as we often translate it) the research into excellent learning.

He claims that learners “… should receive immediate information feedback and knowledge of results of their performance.”*

But his next sentence is at least as important.

“The subjects should repeatedly perform the same or similar tasks.”

With DigLin+, we see how important it is to use these “rules” in literacy learning. The code must be cracked and this requires repetition and immediate feedback. And for literacy, also speed must be developed so that it is not only possible to “read” but also to understand what is being read. As long as grapheme-phoneme correspondence, analysis and synthesis take too long, there is no room in the working memory to give meaning to an entire sentence and to the meaning of the sentence in the whole text.

With  “paper” learning both of Anders Ericsson’s “rules” for effective learning are virtually impossible.


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Eigen regie en leren

Ik leer gitaar spelen of liever, ik probeer mezelf gitaar te leren spelen. En wat zo prettig is, er staan honderden mensen klaar om je te helpen. Ze hebben filmpjes voor je gemaakt, ze laten je zien hoe je kunt oefenen, ze geven tips, voorbeelden, werken stukken muziek uit op een begrijpelijke manier.

De man in dit filmpje is Marty Schwartz. Dankzij hem kan ik dit nu redelijk goed spelen. Ik zou kunnen zeggen dat Marty mijn leraar is. Al is hij ook weer niet echt mijn leraar. Ik leer eigenlijk zonder leraar. Het is een half experiment. Wat kan ik zelf leren en waar loop ik tegenop bij dat leren? Waar heb ik een leraar voor nodig?

Ik heb Marty Schwartz gekozen. Sterker nog. Ik heb dit nummer gekozen. Dit is wat ik wilde leren. Marty heeft het me voorgedaan. Me laten zien hoe je dit nummer moet spelen. En al voor en achteruit spoelend en oefenend heb ik stapje voor stapje geleerd hoe het moest. Dit filmpje was een bron en het wemelt van dit soort bronnen. Dit nummer is een vrij onbekend nummer (van een vrij bekende band) en ook daar was een instructiefilmpje van. Van vrijwel alles wat ik wil leren spelen vind ik wel zoiets als dit.


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Het vervolg op Diglin

Foto's 2013-01-26 01.44.29 PM

Diglin of de “Digital Literacy Instructor” is software om de klank-tekenkoppeling te trainen. Om kortom de code te kraken bij het allereerste begin van het leren lezen en schrijven. Het is in samenwerking een aantal universiteiten en het Friesland College gebouwd voor 4 talen. Vooral in Nederland wordt het nu op allerlei plekken gebruikt. Dat heeft geleid tot enthousiaste reacties van docenten (zie bijvoorbeeld dit blogartikel van Nico Knoester) en studenten.

Natuurlijk is er nagedacht over het uitbouwen van Diglin. Om meer oefeningen te maken en van woorden over te gaan naar zinnen en korte verhalen waarmee studenten verder kunnen oefenen.


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Diglin – The Educated Guess

It is the last physical meeting of our Diglin project. We have been working for three years on a project for Low Educated Second Language Learners. We have developed software with automatic speech recognition for four languages. It has been exciting and very interesting to work on this. All these different aspects. The differences between the languages, the pedagogical approach in this project, the differences in teaching in the four countries. The task of building something that could make a real difference.

It has also been frustrating sometimes.  There is the difference between the four countries and the languages. And we have so many different experts working in this project. Automatic Speech Recognition experts and software developers work together with experts in the field of learning a second language and becoming literate in this new language. In some cases it is really hard to understand each other. We went through difficult periods the past three years. We have encountered numerous (technical) problems in this project.

But I think somehow we all know we are working on an important project.


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Cause or effect? Grey matter and dyslexia…


“He is not good at math.” Or as Carol Dweck would say, “He’s not good at math yet.” There is a world of difference. In the first senstence it is already almost a final conclusion. He has tried everything and now we can conclude that he is not good at math. At least in Carol Dweck’s case it is still an optimistic observation. He could still become good at math.
We can then look for causes. We can find them undoubtedly in brains, genes, and, of course, also in the environment. And no doubt we will find causes. With dyslexia scientists also found something. Apparently a cause. People with dyslexia have less gray matter in the brains. Grey matter has the function to process information. That might mean that there is a biological cause for dyslexia. For learning this conclusion has a lot of consequences. Does it make sense to practice a lot if you know that your brains are differently than those without dyslexia? Just ask someone with dyslexia. They often think that dyslexia is an ongoing situation which you can improve a little but not much. For motivation to really practice this biological cause almost seems deadly. The “not yet” of Carol Dweck is skillfully demolished with such a cause.

There are a lot of fallacies in this “gray matter” observation. The first is that what seems a cause according to recent research sometimes may actually be an effect:

“Many dyslexics were not born with less gray matter, according to a surprising recent study. Dyslexics’ grey matter may have developed less because they read less.”


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Calculus (English)

zondag 7 september 2014

He’s a 12 year old boy and he is having problems with multiplication. Here and there he’s still adding and subtracting instead of multiplying. The timetables are not automatised yet even though this has been practised at school for years.There is a scent of dyscalculia around him. He doesn’t have much faith that this problem could be resolved. He is avoiding it as much as possible.

I work at a school for vocational education. In this school there is a department where we (students and teachers) are building resources to learn from. A few months ago we build this exercise:

Schermafbeelding 2015-07-13 om 11.59.54kopie

All the timetables are there and the exercise is counting your mistakes and keeps track of the amount of time you need to finish to finish them all. You have to correct every mistake before you can continue. The record right now is at 4 minutes and 37 seconds and it is in the hands of a fanatic colleague.

The first time the 12 year old tried this exercise it took him 15 minutes with a lot of mistakes. He didn’t work on it with a lot of focus. He didn’t really want to do it and he probably thought that it was not possible to get any better at and that he had reached his potential. His mom gave him a “high expectation” to do it in less than 8 minutes within a week. He had to do the exercise at least once a day and keep track of the results.

A week later on a Friday morning I received an app. He finished the exercise in 7:43 with only 6 mistakes. He was proud. Two of my colleagues and some students decided to try and beat his score which was pretty tough. They did not get his results the first time. We apped the scores back to him. In the end there was only one colleague who was faster. And then we received another app from the boy’s mum that her son kept at it and was now finishing in 6:49 minutes with only 4 mistakes. His mother told us the boy was jumping with excitement. He doesn’t have dyscalculia. He just needed to find his focus and put in the effort.

Somewhere between this first attempt and him beating the 7 minutes mark we looked at the numbers he had problems with, where he made mistakes or which took him a long time. They were 32, 54, 56, 63 and 64. Strangely enough almost everybody trying this exercise runs into problems with these numbers. Which multiplication leads to 56? Do you know? We trained on those numbers and eventually that led to 6:49 with only 4 mistakes. This is deliberate practise. Analyse the things that you are not good at and specifically train on those.

We ask almost everybody who comes here to do this exercise and it is surprising what is happening. Almost everybody tells us that some sort of anxiety arises, a sort of extra focus. I think this is partly because others know you are doing this exercise and because of the clock and the counting of your mistakes. You’re competing with others but also yourself. You really want to make as less mistakes as possible in as little time as possible. And I have heard several colleagues curse when they made a mistake or when they got stuck on a number. A lot of people started over again and again.

I also think that our brains are trying to find a strategy to finish this as fast and as accurate as possible. I noticed that the first time I did the easiest sums (1×9 instead of 3×3 – 1×20 instead of 5×4) and that I tried to fill squares close to each other to keep the board as clear and organized as possible. And the brains think of using a mouse instead of the track pad. My colleague told me his brains divide the numbers. With numbers below 50 he looks at the left-top side of the board and above 50 at the right-bottom side. And with a lot of those strategies the brains are working this way without really realising this. Only when asked you realise that you are using and adapting strategies.

A few weeks later I am at a conference about literacy and learning. I tell this story to a German scientist. She is interested and she starts using the exercise. First attempt: 11:43 and 5 mistakes. 1,5 hours later she scores 6:07 with 3 mistakes. She did the exercise 5 times and her “problem numbers” are 32, 54, 56, 63, 64. A few days later she sends another result. She can’t let go. She knows it can be done in 4,5 minutes and so she wants to achieve this.

Automatising timetables isn’t fun. It can be an enormous challenge. But it can be done. The boy saw that he became faster and made less mistakes each time he tried. And that’s what made him realise he wasn’t at his limit. That’s what made him put in the hours that were necessary to automatise timetables. It is all about a challenge and deliberate practice. The program with the fast feedback gave the boy a very effective opportunity to train and the possibility to see the progress. Perhaps most important, the boy started to believe that it was possible. And that’s what is worrying. The label dyscalculia might just have the effect that it crushes the believe that it is possible.

In the meantime the German scientist went on. She now has the record. She scored 4:21 with 0 mistakes. Can you beat that?

The record is now 2:02 with 0 mistakes… And you can download the program for free as an app if you have an IPad.


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