Improve student language retention with Drillster.

drillster-master-anything-anywhere-85150253In the spring of 2013 Educational Sciences graduate student at Utrecht University Joost van der Veen has investigated Drillster’s influence on the learning result of the students at the Berlage Lyceum in Amsterdam and the Bonhoeffer College in Castricum.

Drillster is an adaptive and interactive learning and testing application. Drillster uses an adaptive (self learning) algorithm and is based upon scientific research. Drillster keeps track of what each student has memorized, what she/he has answered correctly or incorrectly and when the material was last seen. Drillster determines the optimal order and frequency of practice questions at an indivual level. This results in students absorbing more in less time, and they retain the information longer.

The core question in this research was: Does Drillster have an effect on the user’s learning result?

In order to answer this question, the following question parts have been identified:

  • Is there a difference in learning result between those using Drillster’s adaptive mechanism and those learning using traditional methods (using a book, not adaptive)?
  • Are any positive effects still significant when taking into account possible effects of “number of hours spent studying” and “motivation for the subject matter”?

The analysis of the test results has shown that:

  • Participants using Drillster as a study aid achieved 10% higher marks on a final test;
  • Participants using Drillster were able to absorb the subject matter at least 40% quicker.

The research was set up in our Latin and Spanish classes. The learning material for both the study group and the control group was exactly the same. The study group used drills, whereas the control group used PDF files with the same (non adaptive) content.

The full research report can be read on the Drillster website. 

In my own English lessons I have used Drillster to set targets for mastering the irregular verbs. As the teacher, I can either make the drills myself or take them from the Drill Store. The drill first teaches the student the past tense of a verb and then later tests them on it. They can track their progress by seeing their percentage go up. The teacher also sees the progress of each individual student and of the class as a whole.

The question that arose at our school after this research is: If students have attained 100% in a drill over a certain period of time, is there still a need for formative assessments sessions in class? 

The group overview function gives the teacher insight into the progress of the students. Setting an irregular verbs test is usually simply way to ensure that students would study for them. As they are relatively easy to study 90% of the students would usually receive top marks. However I am much more interested if the students can use the irregular verbs correctly in context. Therefore, I would rather set the drill as a threshold before the students can continue with an assignment that makes them apply the knowledge that they have learned in a meaningful way.

What do you think? Should easy rote learning of basic content still be tested in formal class sessions when the teacher already has insight into which students know what. Are vocabulary tests a thing of the past?

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