https://www.duolingo.com/dijkzeul

Sharing Experiences about Teaching with Duolingo

I am not sure as to whether I like the format of the Duolingo forums, because there seems to be a lack of structure, but I will try and see how well this works and I am open for suggestions on how to teach and learn with Duolingo.

I work at an US-American university teaching my native language German. I am the only German teacher here, so I had the liberty to change basically anything about how German is taught here. This past Fall semester was my first semester teaching and I think I might have learned even more than my students.

After deciding that it was a bad idea to have each of them spend $300 on 30 year old text books we switched to use Duolingo as their home work assignments and as a resource for basic grammar.

The classes start next Wednesday (January 20th) and I am very excited to try out something so very different from what I had inherited here. I will use Duolingo with three courses. One is fresh and has no experience, one had one semester with me and would like to use Duolingo and the third is an intermediate class, with some decent experience in vocab but not really speaking.

I would like to document this adventure on the go and facilitate some supervision and exchange.

So if anyone wants to share experiences or read about what is happening throughout the semester I would love comments and suggestions. I don't know if this forum is the right place for this. But I wanted to start here by asking you guys. Is there a place that people use to share their experiences? Is there another forum, a set of blogs or anything? If not what about creating something?

I'll be happy to read some opinions and input and I would hope to be able to get some well documented feedback back into the community to help the development. :)

So again, any suggestions? Have I overlooked something?

January 15, 2016

21 Comments


https://www.duolingo.com/dijkzeul

So, this was week three. I have had 8 sessions so far. Let's have a look:

My two advanced classes are still building a tree of what they know. Most of them were not able to test out of anything but most lessons come easy to them. Until now we are reviewing together, using Duolingo as a guide.

I have made the following observations: The students get through it very easily when it's a grammar module. Vocab troubles them though. Duolingo is obviously not a good tool for learning vocab as it only throws a word at you with no context. Using spaced repetition will help to retain words though. I keep trying to keep class full of interesting ways of being exposed to interesting words. Grammar seems to be fine.

My baby, the beginners gives mostly satisfying observations: 1. The people on the quizzes were people who did regular work than bulk work. This should not be a surprise but for me it hints toward the need for easier monitoring of streaks. I can look at how many days they were active but I get into moral trouble. How much do I want to monitor? How much can I expect students to be responsible for themselves? Right now I expect the divide to grow worse but I will remind my students of how to be successful.

  1. People who work ahead do not neglect reviewing basic skills. I had feared that they would perform badly if they went to the basics quickly but that does not seem to be the case. Good job Duolingo (or German tree team) for having lessons cover previous material on the run. Nevertheless I do encourage my students to repeat the assigned lesson one or two days before class. I also tell them that if they feel interested in going further, they should study vocab outside of Duolingo (especially Vocab for topics they care about).

  2. In class exercises bring up many questions that have an answer on Duolingo. I have not yet determined if that is because they do not read the tips and notes or because they did not understand them. I myself have trouble seeing how people go through lessons without knowing the tips and notes and not be frustrated about it. I am thinking of tracking this simply to see how much this correlates with success. I will also ask them what would make them more likely to read them. One thing seems certain though: there are 10% to 20% who really go into the grammar and enjoy it. The others do the required minimum, which works well for many of them but not for all. I think it is a good sign in a university when there is a huge margin of how much people learn because it empowers people who want to study and are curious. I would therefore not require my students to do more.

  3. They do their homework. Simple as that, they know I can check and they do it. I sometimes look a while before class starts and even then, almost all students are done. That means that they are not doing it in a hurry before class. Great!

  4. They enjoy what we are doing! They come to class and have thought about German before they get there. The flipped classroom (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flipped_classroom) seems to work. It might seem counter intuitive but Duolingo makes us speak a lot more then the last semester. Obviously because it leaves us more time to do so.

  5. I have not yet assigned any written work in class. Most students write down a lot though. Seems they are eager to learn. :)

  6. I run out of interesting speaking assignments. I try to enforce strict German only during exercises but that also means that students have to talk about something. How do I have somebody talk for 30 minutes when they only know 50 to 100 words? I posed myself the challange to have all students talk in every class. Most traditional textbooks do not anticipate that and do not challenge the students. But that means I am challenged to be creative. It's fun though. Teaching without learning would just be wrong.


My goals for the next weeks:

Even more speaking Getting everyone to properly use anki Create a paper test that mirrors the material up to the first German Checkpoint in Duolingo. Then have most students do well on it :)

That's it for now. If anyone is actually reading this I would be happy about an upvote. Got enough Lingots... Even more so I would like to hear what your experiences are!

February 8, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/dijkzeul

Oh and also: The Sales Representative of McGraw Hill came by my office and inquired as to why I had stopped forcing my students to by their (very expensive and not really helpful) books. They advertise new online learning content (you have to pay extra) which sounds kind of like Duolingo or Rosetta Stone. He wanted to come by in March and show me how it works. Until then, sad book publishing company ... no more money from my students!

February 8, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/jrikhal

I read with a lot of interest your posts (and upvoted :))!

February 8, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/vivisaurus

Amazing, dijkzeul! A couple of questions I had while reading: What are your ways of keeping students exposed to interesting words? What are your favorite creative ways to encourage students to speak? This is so interesting, I'm glad you are sharing your experiences with us. :]

February 8, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/dijkzeul

So, after a few weeks, here an update:

We have done almost ten weeks with a total of 30 sessions in three different classes so far. That is 90 hours of teaching in class :D

What have I done?

I have started assigning weekly 200XP in Duolingo on top of the modules that they are supposed to reach. This is paired with the requirement to be active on 4 different days a week as it had shown in the beginning that days active is the best predictor for success. I check this every Monday.

Mostly now, class consists of me giving the students a setting and have them talk on something or play a game on vocab or grammar. Obviously the settings are limited depending on what has been covered. The games repeat, which is good because it facilitates instruction and setting them up.

I have had some of them create Anki packages which they have to upload for the class when the corresponding Duolingo module is due.

We also came up with the "gender wall". German nouns have one of three grammatical genders, which have to be memorized and barely have any system to them. Every week, every student has to bring one new picture of a noun that she knows the word for and put it on the wall to "its group". This way students use their spacial memory to remember arbitrary gender. (Who would have thought that pants are female, dresses neutral and skirts male?). Knowing that the clock is next to the camera helps them to know that both are female in German.

Observations: 1. The students have no trouble keeping up with Duolingo Skills on a one per session basis. They have yet to complain about this being too much work.

  1. about 80% to 90% of students have completed the modules I require, by the day they are due. Only 20% seriously worked ahead. --> most students complete the module not long before we talk about it in class.

  2. There is a huge gap in how much students are able to do. Some start with free speech creation (after 10 weeks! yay!) and some have neither figured out conjugation nor simple word order.

  3. Anki is complicated to set up. I had anticipated every student creating a detailed anki set corresponding to a Duolingo skill. That miserably failed. All used different not types and different card types. This is despite me creating a 14-page long picture totarial pdf that went through it step by step. I ended up creating an own selection for all students so everyone had something.

  4. They are generally happy and appreciative in class. I have the feeling all of them always do what I ask them to do. When I talk to give examples to the class, some are distracted but they normally manage to do the tasks anyway.

  5. I wish I could move Duolingo modules to do some stuff at earlier or later times. We have not seen past times yet, but also certain types of verbs are omitted due to grammatical constraints. I wish I was able to assign a lesson to an advanced student without making her to all the mdoules inbetween in advance.

  6. My two (somewhat) advanced classes, who had had classes without Duolingo before, do well. We loosely talk about the modules but also deal with other stuff that they (presumably) find interesting. One of them starts to get into areas that we haven't discussed in the past and they seem to learn new structures well. Vocab is still a problem though.

Thoughts on all of this: Wow, time flies, all in all I am very happy I abandoned the text book. Mostly I think the benefit comes from having to grade less and being able to track more. The students got used to Duolingo well and use it, as it seems, appropriately.

I have failed at introducing Anki. Some students have started using it but I have not yet gotten to enforce it. This shows as many of them struggle with vocab more than with grammar. I wish Duolingo had a working Spaced Repetition Feature. What they have now is of no use to us.

I would also love an accesible Duolingo Vocab spreadsheet, with word type, lesson a word first occured in, english translation, and maybe even additional info like past verb forms, gender for noun, case that a prepostion comes with. I would not at all mind sharing the one I created from the Duolingo database by adding my own info, but this was far more work than would have been necessary.

Sometimes with a group this big (over 20 people) you have to leave people behind if they are not willing to work. Some regularly do not do their homework, this means they basically already failed on points. But There is only so much I can do to keep them working. I guess that is part of being a teacher: You can't help them all...

In general, I have learned how immensly important classroom management is. Every student should be familiar with the kind of task given and assisgnments should either be collected and graded or not be given as being assignments. Obviously students get frustrated when they cannot be sure which work is necessary and which one is just there. A long term plan cannot be substituted by the Duolingo tree. That is especially true for a collective review plan. Duolingo might ask them to refresh lessons, but that does not mean that they get to practice and explore much natural language.

German still is fun. I appreciate teaching my native language :D

Anyway, I am looking forward to wrapping up this semester and evaluating how much the students actually learned. I am also wondering if anyone actually gets to read this. If so, upvote and comment :) I will like to share more if anyone actually reads this :)

April 4, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/vivisaurus

I definitely read this and share with others. :]

April 5, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/dijkzeul

So here is a first week summary :)

I had each class twice. Both of my non-beginner classes were supposed to do the placement test. As mentioned before, it was not available if they had used Duolingo in the past. That was unfortunate. Many of the ones that did the placement test, came out as not knowing much and in some cases not knowing anything at all. There are several reasons for this and some might overlap:

  1. They actually did not learn much in 3 semesters of college German
  2. Duolingo tests and teachers totally different skills from what the classes teach
  3. Some of the placement test vocabulary is very Duolingo specific (mostly nouns) and not knowing the specific nouns limited how they performed on Grammar

  1. The first thing is partly true many students say that past semesters did not encourage them to study so they crammed and lost much of their knowledge. The past teacher indirectly encouring that behavior by asking them to learn great amounts of vocabulary but at the same time not repeating old content. Still my students are able to talk with me and tell me how their holidays went and what they did with whom. There certainly is some skill there.

  2. I know that part of Duolingo is enabling people to (cheaply) pass tests as the initial threshold to gain access to further education. I also think that this is part of what keeps motivation high. The students continually test their progress and are able to "measure" success. That is not possible when just learning how to speak with you classmates, as you are never exposed to a real challenge or proper feedback.

  3. I have no Idea how the feedback engine works. On one hand, from interviews with Luis von Ahn I remember that the engine would be able to measure milliseconds of differences in response time and notice how single words were less well remembered than others and so forth. On the other hand I know that if I strengthen a Duolingo Lesson it turns to golden even if I still get some words wrong every single time. I also do not know how the test sentences come to life. Is there a group of people specifically creating those? Overall I am left with the question how knowledge of specific vocab influences ones performance in grammar on Duolingo.


Other than that, I have a wish for a feature. I would like to see how strong the student is with a certain skill in the course progress page. Right now I can see how many lessons and practices where completed when and also when a specific skill was learned first. I can also check if a student has practiced a skill by looking at the indiviual activity log. But I cannot tell how much the student should practice based on the strength of their tree. Would it be possible to give the green checkmark symbol color changes as well? Maybe from red to green like a traffic light or from Strong green to faded green?

Those are my thoughts for the first week. I have not come across any problems so far which is obviously great. I'm looking forward to your comments, suggestions, opinions etc. :)

January 23, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/dijkzeul

And for some reason the forum cannot make two lists with the numbers 1,2 and 3 following each other. The list is automatically transformed into one big list with the numbers 1,2,3,4,5,6. And yes I tried to edit this :D Found a way, looks weired now but better than nothing :)

January 23, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/vivisaurus

That is fascinating, I am eagerly following your experiments. Each course has a dedicated group of people creating the sentences and helping out in sentence discussions, as well as creating tipsnotes, looking at reported sentences to add more alternative translations—and creating+testing new versions of the tree. We also have a dedicated group of scientists at Duolingo specifically focused on developing and perfecting the way our learning algorithms work. I believe vocab knowledge will influence your grade, but the beginning of a course should have vocabulary that is not obscure at all. You should be able to see a list of vocabulary words on your Schools dashboard (which I believe you already know). If students didn't get far, they can delete their progress and try the placement test again. Or skip to the checkpoints/clear certain skills. Instructions here. Thanks for the write-up! :]

January 25, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/smorrall

Great idea! I would like the color changing check marks as well! That would be a fantastic visual for all.

January 28, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/ekowahyudi

I am an English teacher. However, I do not teach in a school. I teach in a hotel in which most of my students here are able to speak English. However, they have a challenge in writing the words as well as grammar. But they don't have time to attend the class given their work.Thus, I decided to use Duolingo to tackle this issue.

It's been almost two weeks since use Duolingo classroom. So far, it works flawlessly and my students' respond was positive! They use Duolingo on a daily basis while they have spare time at work. I was really delighted with this and believe that my decision to use Dualingo is indeed fruitful.

I also like the feature of assignment. Though not all my students were able to complete the assignment on time, I do believe this feature is a viable way to make my students improve their English. I am looking forward to the improvement of this feature.

However, some features of Duolingo websites are not available on the apps. Let's say activities. I think this is quite a crucial feature as my students also want to know their friends' activities or to like or even comment. I know we can open the website instead and I told them the same thing. But one of them said that they already have the app, why do they need to open the website again? To be honest, I agree with them and would really appreciate it if this feature could be added to the app.

But overall, Duolingo is a great help and a boon to us. There are tons of app out there that offers the same service, but nothing beats Duolingo. I will, of course, keep using this Duolingo since I also aim to learn a foreign language other than English.

January 23, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/vivisaurus

Hotel, that is neat. May I ask what language your students are learning from? Thanks for sharing, ekowahyudi!

February 8, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/ekowahyudi

They are Indonesian, so their first language is Indonesian.

March 29, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/MrsD.

I wonder if there is enough practice in each section. Some of the students are just whipping through the lessons. To add-I just started using this as of two days ago, so I haven't been able to test it out as much I would've liked to...I am still trying to figure out why the account as a teacher is linked to an account as if I'm someone who wants to actually do lessons. It doesn't make sense to me.

January 15, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/dijkzeul

I am sure there is not enough practice in a lesson itself. But I think Duolingo does a decent job at repeating concepts within other lessons. I have set up Duolingo as homework preparing the lesson ahead, which should mostly consist of practising and applying what the lesson covered in oral and maybe written form. Last semester I had the problem that I was not able to collect the home work the had done in their workbook because the grading would have been 1. with a delay on feedback 2. a lot of work for me. I hope to use Duolingo more as a supplement when it comes to practice. I want to base the structure of the course on Duolingo though because it is more coherent than the old textbook and definitely uses more core vocabulary (which happens to have lots of cognates with German anyway).

In addition Students will have to keep one sort of Vocab system that makes them repeat all learned vocab on a regular basis. I will recommend Anki for students that have a computer or smart phone accesible.

But on my questions: Has anyone started exchanging ideas about this somewhere else? It would seem that I should not be the first one to try something like that....

January 15, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/jrikhal

I wonder if there is enough practice in each section.

Didn't you try it to test and see?


If they make no error, they'll have few(er) questions. In each lesson, the more they answer incorrectly, the larger number of questions they have.

January 15, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/dijkzeul

Well as far as I know duolingo, it is very easy to get though lessons without understanding them completely. Especially if you do not read the tips and notes (which, if I am not mistaken, are not available on the app on phones). After all, getting it right is possible with tooltips and will get a lot more progress than it costs go get one wrong. I understand the concept of positivle encouraging "progress" but I think that duolingo alone would probably lead to very shaky grammar/vocab skills if not supplemented.

So as to "the more they answer incorrectly, the larger number of questions they have." Literally that is accurate but I "more" might simply not be "enough". Duolingo claims that there are algorithms at work that show you the stuff that you are weakest on, but I have not seen the algorithms themselves yet and the performance could definitely be better in my eyes sometimes I am made to repeat a lessons and some words will be reset to strong even if I did not get them right once.

I have read over and over again, that it would lower retention rates to make duolingo force everyone to learn harder. I understand that. But since retention rate does not matter for me (my students do not get to choose) I will have to challenge them outside of Duolingo because the challenges inside might not be good enough. :)

January 17, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/vivisaurus

I would love to read about this, and I'm sure to Duolingo team would be super excited about it too. Any teacher documenting the experience can help us shape the teacher tool and improve it so that it's just right and works amazingly for as many teachers as possible--and you intend to do it in an organized way, which makes the feedback even more valuable. Please share here so we can ride along on the trip, and maybe we'll even want to arrange a call or email report at the end so we can provide valuable feedback for our designers and engineers (if you are interested). :D

January 15, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/smorrall

Great idea! I just started this program 2nd semester and the students seem to be in love with it. I am very interested in seeing what else is offered and how their interest level will be as we continue.

January 28, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/Nimo130924

Thanks for your advise. If you are interested in learning Chinese, I would like to help too:)

January 17, 2016

https://www.duolingo.com/redgreenbird

hey man, I'm new here ( in duolingo) and I just wanted to say that I tried to follow your experience, i am try to learn english by myself so good luck see you

January 26, 2016
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