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An Interview with Jeanne Clements: Prepping for the SAT/ACT

May 29, 2013 by

By Michael F. Shaughnessy

1)      I understand that there is a new SAT Prep Game or method to be released soon. When will this be released, and how will it be available?

Verbal Education recently launched on, May 15, 2013.  A 90 day subscription can be purchased online and activated immediately. As each group of words (and each mnemonic) is mastered, reports of progress are generated which can be accessed by the user or parent to monitor growth.

2)      It this targeted toward any specific age group?

Verbal Education is geared to raise SAT and ACT scores through vocabulary acquisition which makes it ideal for high school students, but it also works for students in grades seven and up.  The sooner students use this program, the sooner they learn how to learn words, and the sooner they will grow their vocabularies.  The larger their vocabularies are when they take the SAT or ACT, the higher their scores will be.  And, now, students will need more vocabulary in all grades because the new Smarter Balanced and PARCC yearly assessments which are coming soon emphasize vocabulary knowledge.  I’ve seen seventh and eighth grade kids, as well as high school students, get excited about remembering high level words and then really get a kick out of using them, especially to their parents.  When this transfer from passive to active, or receptive to expressive, vocabularies occurs, the kids feel empowered and their parents are sometimes shocked.  Some mothers and fathers have decided to play the games with their kids so they can keep up.  Every parent may not be able to help their children with Physics II homework but they can all play these games and help give their kids a command of the English language.

This kind of learning is also contagious.  Once these words enter their long term memories, students notice them being used on news programs, television shows like the Big Bang Theory, and of course, by their teachers.  It’s great when they know what everybody is talking about and what everybody is saying, even if theyare using “big words.”

3)      Has there been any research or evidence that this works?

Action research on this patented method was conducted on high school sophomores who were planning to take the SAT in their junior year.  Results showed that retention with the Verbal Education system is four time more effective than with any other learning process.  Kids who used it had a long-term retention rate of 80 percent or more.  Traditional teaching methods scored less than 20 percent.  Even the kids were surprised that they remembered so many words after weeks and weeks had passed after they mastered the targeted words.  Retention with the traditional learning method is “ephemeral,” dissipating in days or even hours or minutes.  With the games in the Verbal Education program, learning endures.

4)      Can you tell me about the format? Is this on C.D., on line, on some app or in a book or what?

Verbal Education is online, interactive, and incorporates the kind of adolescent banter that kids use in their lives and watch on TV.  This makes it relevant, comfortable and fun. Every word is taught in a visual and auditory format so kids not only learn what all the words mean and how to remember their definitions, but how to pronounce them and even how to use them in real-life, everyday dialogues that they can replicate and use in their own lives when talking to their parents or friends.

Words are grouped by how they are assimilated into long-term memory.  Each group of words uses the same mnemonic device so, in essence, all twenty words in one group use the same vehicle to travel into the user’s long-term memory.  It usually takes two to four times playing a game to master the words.  It takes 15 to 20 minutes to play a game of 20 words.  As each group of words is mastered, so is a powerful mnemonic that can then be applied by the user to any other word or words to acquire them.  Learning is exponential and unlimited.

Kids are often given the advice of using mnemonics in order to learn SAT and ACT vocabulary, but the advice is accompanied by only one or two examples.  Kids are then expected to come up with their own examples but they can’t because a couple of examples aren’t enough to teach them how mnemonics work or what the mnemonics are.  The Virtual Vocabulary games in Verbal Education give users 160 examples with hundreds of more applications, enough to teach hundreds of words and turn users into mnemonic mastersso they really learn how to make up their own. By the time they finish the program they know 400 high frequency SAT and ACT words and the eight mnemonics that work for vocabulary.

5)      Is it geared to both males and females?

Yes, in fact half of the voices that walk you through the game in Verbal Education are male and the other half are female.

6)      I have reviewed some of your examples, and it looks a lot to me like you have used Joel Levin’s ideas about memory devices. True or False?

Joel Levin and I have used the same sources for information but have applied them in different ways.  When he refers to scientific research, he is alluding to the brain-based research conducted on memory that has been chronicled in the last 20 years.  My research used 109 sources, and I turned the scientific findings into an actionable, practical, and kid-friendly way to learn the words that appear most frequently on the SAT and ACT.   Levin and I both use the principle of attaching information you need to know to information you already know.  My research, archived in a thesis at Gratz College in Philadelphia, identified the eight specific mnemonic devices that work with vocabulary.  All eight mnemonics are taught in the program.

7)      What about students who have a learning disability? Will this help them?

Feedback on the program from teachers and parents tell us that Verbal Education works extremely well with kids who have ADD because of the bodily kinesthetic engagement of clicking and matching and watching words “blow up.”  The audio and visual modalities also make it easier for kids with ADD and ADHD.  We even received a call from Green Correctional facility who reported that it was a hit among their inmates.  So it works with juvenile delinquents (who are often ADHD students).  It also works well with English language learners.  The audio and dialogue provides the context and language use for kids whose parents do not speak English at home.

8)      Now, some students have a receptive or expressive language disorder or delay. Will this assist them?

As you know, language enters our receptive vocabularies first, usually through listening to them being used by those around us.  High level words, though, are often missed through auditory reception, but Verbal Education structures auditory and visual assimilation through the magic of a computer program. By firmly planting the words in the receptive vocabularies of its users, it facilitates recognition of words that would not have otherwise been achieved.  Once this happens, transference from receptive to expressive occurs. And, because pronunciation is also taught in the games, users will be less timorous about using these new words.

9)      What have I neglected to ask?

Why now?

Verbal Education is the product at the intersection of education and technology and will empower a whole generation with a command of the English language that will break down barriers to good grades, reading proficiency, and first choice colleges.  It is a product whose time has come.  Teachers want to spend time in school on higher order thinking skills but declarative knowledge, like vocabulary, can be learned on the computer.  Most educators are identifying the skills that are BEST learned on the computer and those that are best learned in the classroom.  Vocabulary comes in high on the list to be delivered digitally and there is no other program that does it with powerful mnemonics, targeted high-level words, a game interface, and using all learning modalities.

How big of a difference can this program make?

Besides raising SAT and ACT scores, Verbal Education brings complex text into focus for students.  In reading a paragraph of text on a 1300 lexile level, a child with a poor vocabulary will not know about nine or 10 words.  Imagine the frustration level of anyone trying to read something that has nine or 10 important words blacked out?  This is what a person with limited vocabulary faces when he or she tries to read a text book, editorial, novel, or even a magazine.  Once empowered by academic words, a child can read anything he or she want to.

10)   Can I use this with poorly prepared college freshmen to help them prepare for the rigors of college?

YES!  College and the workplace require a cache or cadre of academic vocabulary that students will need to be proficient readers and writers.  These Tier 2 words, as they have been classified by the new common core, will also be necessary in the workplace.  In fact, we had one young business executive use it because, as he told us, he just wanted to sound smarter at work and this kind of program was perfect for him.  He liked the game interface and because he found it fun, he actually played it until he knew all the words.  In fact, this is one of the amazing effects of this program.  Kids actually use it because it is more fun to learn words this way.  When we tested it in classrooms, we thought our proctors would have to work to keep the kids on task.  It wasn’t necessary. The kids all played it with little or no supervision and they played for a full hour! We were all amazed.

On a side note: Taking the SAT and ACT may be more important than ever.  The new state standardized tests coming from Smarter Balanced in 2015 will becomputer adaptive tests.  If kids get used to this kind of measurement, they will need even more prep because both the SAT and ACT are not computer adaptive but fixed form tests.  I’m concerned that using computer adaptive tests in k-12 won’t help prepare our students for the rigors of college testing either

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