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Filtering by Tag: learning

The Emotionality of Learning

Alice Mangan, Ph.D.

Dr. Alice Mangan is a clinical psychologist in NYC who works in both her own private practice and in schools to provide consultation, assessment, evaluation, and psychotherapy services. Alice's research focuses on the relationship between school and family and the influence of learning disabilities on the lives of child, parent, and family. She is also a part of the MyloWrites Advisory Board- read her full bio here.

The below post is Alice's reflection on the first of four installments in the MyloWrites Kids Panel, a new video series that explores children's thoughts and feelings surrounding learning and writing. We often hear from teachers and parents about the struggles that students have with the writing process. Now, we hear the student perspective about writing, expectations, and how they think the experience could be improved. Watch Part One of the Kids Panel here, or at the bottom of this blog!

“Oh no!” groans 16-year old Andrew, after being asked the question, “What thoughts come up when your teacher assigns a piece of writing?”  The feelings that underlie his automatic response are immediately apparent: dread, worry, even fear.  Just imagine if each time a teacher assigned you a piece of writing, that this moment, and all the moments that followed, were accompanied by these troubling, stomach-ache inducing feelings.  For many students for whom most writing assignments are grueling, these feelings are a constant companion in their process of writing.

We can easily forget, as the grown-ups in children’s and adolescents’ lives, that learning, while typically thought of as a set of cognitive processes, is also a fundamentally emotional endeavor.   Whatever affective experience is attached to that which we are attempting to learn has an intimate effect on the quality of our engagement and how we will experience the process and the product.  Whenever we are in a process of learning something new, or struggling through something that is not as yet automatic, we are, as Piaget theorized, in a state of disequilibrium.  This state is inherently uncomfortable, anxiety provoking, and ultimately taxing to self-regulatory processes.  Such feelings can be so intense that we might be moved to abandon or retreat from whatever learning we are attempting in an effort to regain a sense of equilibrium.  In this reestablished state of equilibrium, our anxiety reduces, our frustration dissipates, and once again we can have a “good-enough” sense of our own competence and potential.  Still, that which we have been assigned to learn is left unfinished and un-learned, giving rise to yet another set of uncomfortable feelings against which we must defend.

As teachers and parents, when we observe this retreat from engaging in difficult (or not-so-difficult) learning, we may be moved to feel frustrated by the child’s retreat, perceiving in the student a kind of “laziness” or disinterest, or even impertinence.  And yet, these adult perceptions of the child’s experience miss the mark and may further compound the child’s sense of inadequacy. 

Arguably all children want to learn.  Children want to experience the feeling of competence and success that comes with the acquisition of new knowledge and skills.  Not only is learning a way to make one’s life more interesting and complex, it also is a way to secure one’s self-esteem and sense of agency in one’s life. 

So, what do we do to support Andrew, and others like him, for whom many experiences of learning are filled with dread? What are the elements that support our students’ sustained engagement in the difficult process of learning? How can we help students experience success? Here are just a few ideas:

1. We continuously keep in mind that learning is an emotional and a cognitive endeavor, and we understand that how the learner feels in the context of the learning experience can influence engagement in the process and the ultimate outcome.

We are attuned to what children may be feeling as they engage in learning, and we respond to this affective experience sensitively, adjusting our approach to help reduce anxiety and frustration.  

2. We engage in ongoing assessment that guides the construction of differentiated learning experiences for students. 

When we engage in a process of fine-tuned observation of students’ responses to instruction, we are better able to provide learning experiences that are optimal.  If students are within their instructional zone, they are less likely to feel flooded by frustration, anxiety and dread, and more likely to actually be available to engage in the difficult process of learning. 

3. We supply appropriate scaffolding for students’ learning.        

Based on Vygotsky’s “zone of proximal development,” scaffolding allows the learner to engage in material or processes that are within reach if given the appropriate supports.  Scaffolding learning may include teacher or peer modeling, breaking assignments down into component parts, collaborative learning, reciprocal teaching, and many more creative techniques.  As the learner develops competency and independence, the scaffolds employed become unnecessary, and thus are removed.  

4. We provide opportunities for students to make choices about their learning. 

Students are often more motivated to participate in the hard work of learning if they feel personally invested and engaged in the content and process.  Providing opportunities for students to make choices in their learning often secures this kind of investment. 

5. We make learning relevant and meaningful to students. 

When the knowledge and skills we teach are relevant to the lives and interests of students, learning feels more purposeful.  Purpose sustains engagement, even when the going gets tough. 

6. Above all, we remember that learning is often best done in the context of strong relationships and safe environments.  

We prioritize the building of healthy learning communities.  

We work hard to neutralize the negative charge frequently inherent in an environment that serves learners with a range of strengths, weaknesses and needs.  We help children to understand that difference is not pejorative, but merely descriptive.   

We model self-compassion and frustration tolerance, engage in a stance of curiosity when problems arise, and employ a flexible approach to problem solving.

And finally, we invest in our students, getting to know them, and building authentic connections based on an appreciation and respect for their individuality.  

Spotlight: Schools Without Internet in Rural America

Virginia Pavlick

As an Ed-tech company, we at MyloWrites are admittedly guilty of digital absorption. With all of the technological advancements that have been made in the past two decades, it is easy to become caught up in the world of liking, sharing, posting, and swiping. It is hard to imagine adolescents and teens who aren’t online, let alone those who simply can’t be. Yet in rural districts across the nation, students have become accustomed to the infamous spinning wheel of a struggling network connection.  Built on a foundation of working technology, we at MyloWrites feel as though this issue more than deserves our attention.

“The Slowest Internet in Mississippi”, chapter one of the three-part project Reversing a Raw Deal published by EdWeek, describes the struggles and frustrations that have become commonplace to rural schools without Internet (click here to read parts two and three). In Mississippi’s Calhoun County, author Benjamin Herold writes of the teachers’ inability to load their school’s online attendance system. Online research for class projects is out of the question, as is computerized state testing – an attempt made last spring is described simply as “a disaster”.  Perhaps most frustrating is the futility of desktop computers, SmartBoards and other expensive hardware; without an Internet connection, such devices just take up space.

The article focuses on one 17 year-old student who expresses her concern over the upcoming competition for college admittance. As a Mississippi State University hopeful, she worries that her high school’s lack of technological resources has cost her valuable learning opportunities. With so many new study and tutoring tools available online (MyloWrites included), this anxiety is valid. Even the college application process itself presents hurdles; how can students keep track of the numerous requirements and write multiple essays when they don’t even have access to university websites?

Herold states that 1 in 5 rural districts lack a high-speed Internet connection. And, for those that do manage to secure workable Internet, the bills are dramatically higher. Writes Herold,

“In places like the vast, sparsely populated plains of western New Mexico, that means telecommunications companies routinely bill $3,000 per month or more for Internet service most U.S. schools could get for one-sixth the cost.”

How can this be? The article cites geography and poor policy as top reasons, but also notes the malicious business practices of telecoms as a contributor. Companies like AT&T and Verizon Wireless have been known to take advantage of the system and charge obscene rates, while other smaller companies act as local monopolies.

Mississippi and New Mexico are not alone. In another recently published article, Education News writes of the Internet connectivity gaps prevalent in nearly all Alaskan schools. The national benchmark for Internet speed is set at 1000 Kbps; according to Education News, 93% of schools in Alaska fail to meet this requirement. Towns with high levels of poverty and Native American villages face the toughest challenges. According to the article, the main contributing factors are terrain, topography, and lack of infrastructure. Though rural states like Alaska and Mississippi do present geographical hurdles, for the rest of the country, problems with Internet speed seem nearly a decade old. Technological advances have opened a world of educational opportunity to connected students; how have we allowed others to fall so far behind?

Both articles acknowledge the increase in E-rate spending recently approved by the Federal Communications Commission as a glimmer of hope. The E-rate program charges fees on consumers’ phone bills in order to help fund the cost of Internet for schools and libraries. Though not without its criticism, the increase of E-rate money is generally thought of as the solution for which rural states have been waiting. Says Education Week of the recent legislation,

“The E-rate overhaul has opened the door for a major breakthrough here. In April, Calhoun County [Mississippi] received an offer for Internet connections 300 times faster than what its schools currently have, at about one-half the cost.”

But progress is moving slowly, and the battle is not yet won. MyloWrites hopes to improve awareness of the severity of the issue and encourage our readers to educate themselves and others about the E-rate program. We often forget how lucky we are to live in a place with such vast technological possibility that make educational resources like MyloWrites possible. Learn more about the FCC and the E-rate program here.

It's Not "Just An App"

Nancy Weinstein

MyloWrites is pleased to host this guest post written by Nancy Weinstein, founder and CEO of Mindprint Learning. Mindprint Learning is the first ever valid at-home cognitive assessment that provides accompanying plans and strategies for success. With an extensive business background and perspective as both parent and educator, Nancy's mission is to help parents navigate the world of education and technology.

I realize, it’s just an app. In most cases it’s only a few dollars, if that, and perhaps doesn’t necessarily feel worth the time investment of sifting through all those choices on the app store. Sometimes it might feel okay to let your kid pick an app they want. But in most cases, that’s simply not the right way to go.

Taking the extra few minutes to select the right app for your child can make the difference between a successful learning experience and, let’s just say, a very meaningless one. My team of teachers and I offer some simple yet important guidelines that can help ensure that your child’s device time includes both fun and learning…that will keep your child coming back, wanting to learn more.

Start by Defining Your Objectives

Simple enough but very important to be clear in what you want to achieve. Are you hoping for your child to learn something new? Reinforce or practice a skill that he or she might be struggling with? Have a new challenge in an area where he or she excels? There are thousands upon thousands of apps available. Being clear about your goal will make it easier to narrow down your choices.

Know Your Child

Never underestimate how much children will appreciate that you took into consideration their specific strengths, challenges and preferences. If you choose apps that they find boring, too easy, or too hard, children will become reluctant to try your recommendations. But when you put some extra thought into your choices from the get-go, you will earn your child’s trust to willingly try the apps you suggest. (As a mother of two middle schoolers, I am well beyond the days of telling them to “just do it” and expecting them to obediently listen.)


At Mindprint, our teachers work very hard to spotlight the best apps available. But we also make a point to let adults know which types of learners may or may not be a good fit with a given app. There’s no one size fits all. If you’re not a Mindprint subscriber, consider reading the user reviews in the app store. You can often get a good sense for who has used the app successfully and where they have run into difficulties.

That said, even moms and dads are not mind readers. You can’t possibly predict everything your child will like or do well with. Consider giving your child a few good choices. Maybe pick three or four apps and let them choose the one or two they want to try. Giving choices will demonstrate that you understand their needs, yet respect their opinions. It also fosters their ownership of the learning process and a greater likelihood that the app will be used.

Getting Started

Try the app before your child. Letting children figure out apps on their own can be a great opportunity to develop reasoning skills. But this approach is not appropriate for all apps or all children. Some apps are simply too complicated for children to navigate on their own the first time. Some children struggle without explicit instructions. Mindprint’s reviews will tell you which apps might require your initial support. However, trying an app on your own first is always the best rule of thumb. Then you can offer your child appropriate guidance, and they are less likely to want to give up if navigating the app the first time is confusing.

Adjust settings before your child plays. Many educational apps have settings that you can adjust so the app can grow with your child. You want settings to be a “just right challenge” similar to helping your child select a “right fit” book. Adjust settings based on specific needs including the timer on/off, sound/silent, and the difficulty level. Set your children up for success the first time they play, so they will want to play again. Be careful not to make the settings so easy that the child will think the app is not sufficiently challenging. Starting with the proper settings can make all the difference in your child’s positive experience and ongoing enthusiasm.

Try the free version first. Many apps, especially expensive ones, can be sampled before buying. We recommend taking full advantage of this option. In most cases, if there is both a free and a paid version, it’s likely you will eventually want to buy the app so your child receives the app’s full benefit and avoids distracting ads.

Keep the Experience Positive

Remember that children expect apps to be fun. Many children expect apps on their  home devices to be enjoyable. Educational apps might be more work than fun, but there are plenty of apps that do a great job balancing work and play. Those tend to be the best choices for parents to supplement. Of course, there are times when more hard work is necessary. In those cases, managing your child’s expectations upfront will be key to a successful experience.

Remember, it’s just an app. While it is important to put in the effort to make your child’s experience a good one, we are fortunate to live at a time when there are many, many apps available and they are generally far less expensive than games and workbooks. If you discover that the app is no longer helping your child or providing any enjoyment, move on and find another. There are so many good options that there is no need to stay with one that no longer meets your child’s needs.

My Personal Favorite Tip

I stumbled on this approach accidentally while scouring for good apps for my teachers to evaluate for Mindprint. My personal iPad was littered with apps for my team of teachers. Of course, I also had my kids’ choices like Subway Surf and Candy Crush. To my amazement, I noticed that my kids were playing my educational apps and had, for the most part, abandoned the ones most of their friends were playing. Without any encouragement from me!

So now when my team finds great apps, I just download them on my iPad and let my kids “discover” for themselves. I don’t say a word unless they ask me for help. Among the most pleasant surprises of the apps they play the most are: Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s Pocket Law Firm which taught them the Bill of Rights, Who Was? Adventure, an extension of the book series on historical figures and Mathtopia, a combination of math facts and Tetris.

So if you’re willing to share your iPad, download a bunch of interesting apps, don’t say a word, and I’m willing to bet that you, too, will be pleasantly surprised.

App Recommendations for Writers

One of the biggest challenges for student writers is the need to rely on several important cognitive skills simultaneously. Three of the most important skills involved in successful writing are working memory (the ability to mentally juggle information for multi-step tasks), verbal reasoning (inferring from limited information or making connections between multiple ideas), and vocabulary and verbal memory (recalling and accessing word-based information). A weakness in any one of those skills can make writing challenging. So if you want to help your student develop his or her writing skills, consider these winning apps that require no writing at all.

Quandary: This free role playing app helps students improve their understanding of community, governance and decision-making in a “choose your own adventure” format. Good for middle and high school students, it develops skills including, verbal reasoning, working memory, and flexible thinking. 

Mind the Gap!: This app can be challenging but excellent for building inferencing skills, while learning about interesting topics ranging from Louis Armstrong to Cinderella to DNA. The app includes over 500 famous texts. In each round, students are presented with 15 lines of text. They must figure out 30 missing words by inferring the context. Students can pick a topic they care about and develop their vocabulary, working memory, verbal reasoning and verbal memory. Great for middle schoolers to adults. 

The Opposites: One of the keys to great writing is vivid language. This word game centers around a brother and sister who face off with antonyms. As the siblings speak words, the player must tap on the correct antonym pairs before they bubble up to the ceiling. Students have the option to read the definitions and hear the words spoken aloud. The words grow increasingly challenging so it can be good for 7 year olds to adults to improve vocabulary and verbal memory. 

myHomework Student Planner: Okay, this isn’t a writing app, it’s a planner. But remembering your homework is the first step to doing it well. This is an excellent visual planner that easily enables students to input, track and color code classes and assignments. We offer the major caveat that our experts prefer written planners for students with organizational challenges. We find the physical act of writing and checking off assignments to be far more effective. We acknowledge our digital native children might disagree, so try this one. 

Kidspiration Maps: If your teacher hasn’t yet encouraged your child to use a mind map, it’s time to try it. Mind maps can be an excellent way for students to organize their ideas, particularly students who tend to prefer visual materials over words. Kidspiration Maps is one of our favorites for elementary and early middle school. There is an adult version for older students. Quite simply, it is easier to use than most alternative mind mapping tools and has cute graphics.

At Mindprint, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out the simple recipe of what makes a great app.  Unfortunately, it can’t be boiled down to a few key ingredients. That’s why we spend so much time on each app we review. However, if you decide to try to navigate the Wild West of the App Store on your own, make sure you consider these factors from your child’s perspective:

1) Is the content appropriate for me? Is it so easy that it’s boring? Or is it so hard that I don’t even want to try?

2) Is it easy-to-use and navigate to find what I need?

3) Does it look fun?

4) Does it encourage me to want to keep trying? Or does it make me feel bad when I make a mistake?

5) Can I see my progress so I want to keep improving?

If you decide you want more guidance, please visit us at Mindprint Learning. It’s easy to search for apps that meet your child’s specific needs. Or email us ([email protected]) and let us know what you’re looking for. We are always happy to help.