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Illustration typing vs. handwriting

"What's lost as handwriting fades?" asks a NYT article. Apparently, more than anticipated by those who assume that handwriting should no longer be taught in school.

Neuroscientists now provide some clues as to why handwriting seems to influence learning in such a powerful way.

“When we write, a unique neural circuit is automatically activated,” said Stanislas Dehaene, a psychologist at the Collège de France in Paris. “There is a core recognition of the gesture in the written word, a sort of recognition by mental simulation in your brain.

Posted by Rosevita Warda in education, how to learn, learn English, literacy, memory, practice, self-development, teachers, technology, your brain. | 1 Comment |

Child attempting to fly with homemade wings[...] All humans, short of being afflicted with certain types of organic damage, are born with an astounding capacity to learn, both in the amount that can be learned in one domain and in the variety and range of what can be learned. Children, unless stifled in some way, are usually virtuosos as learners. 

Pashler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D., & Bjork, R. (2008). Learning styles concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 9(3), 105–119.

Seems to me that if we just stayed true to this promise, and stopped micromanaging and polluting and disrespecting our children's minds, a lot of the problems we struggle with today would disappear.

Posted by Rosevita Warda in education, how to learn, memory, self-development, your brain. | 2 Comments |

One of our members, Steve Mitchell, shared this delightful quote with us:

It is often forgotten that [dictionaries] are artificial repositories, put together well after the languages they 

define.   The roots of language are irrational and of a magical nature." 
      -- Jorge Luis Borges, Prologue to "El otro, el mismo."

What a perfect way to say it!

Posted by Rosevita Warda in English, fun with English. | 1 Comment |

Autocorrect has become my worst enema
Posted by Rosevita Warda in fun with English, spelling, technology. | Leave a comment |

The biggest talent of your brain is forgettingLearning, it could seem, would be much easier, if the brain was designed like a computer:

A system that catalogs information, stores it, and allows easy on-demand retrieval.

Anyone trying to understand how the brain works does well to keep in mind -- and ultimately, to appreciate -- that the brain is not designed to be a hard drive, a simple data storage.

Its mechanisms are infinitely more complex and more sophisticated.

Its biggest accomplishment is not information storage, but its ability to forget selectively and intelligently; to select from the steady stream of information that which serves our survival and helps us live better with less effort.

Our brain doesn’t forget because it’s flawed or lacking capacity. Forgetting, instead, is an active and highly intelligent process during which the brain determines what is of enough value to be kept for easy retrieval, while saving precious energy on anything that doesn’t qualify for “top of mind” status.

In a world of continuous input, forgetting is much more important to our wellbeing than memory, so the brain’s main purpose is to forget -- effectively and selectively.

Forgetting simply means one thing: That the brain does not yet (or no longer) see evidence that the item is important.

Numerous studies in memory theory have proven, though, that learning that took place is not erased, and that forgetting is not a permanent “fading away.”

Instead, the learning item is simply less accessible if the retrieval paths to the information have not been reactivated and thereby enforced. Ultimately the brain is evaluating every bit of information to see what is relevant for our survival and well-being. This is why certain types of learning hardly need any reinforcement (“Touching the hot stove hurts.” - “The candy jar is over there”), while other learning processes - like learning vocabulary - need continuous reinforcement and practice.

It can be hypothesized that practice cycles work so well because they remind the brain that a certain word is important, although the brain may not yet have experienced for itself how knowing this word will add value. Continuous practice spaced out over time, enforces the retrieval path again and again, especially when paired with testing, until the brain infers that the item is important and eventually wires it into automaticity.

The value of memorization
A common objective to the concept of practice is that memorizing is a waste of time, since knowledge today is just a click away. The lure of such a premise is obvious, yet it ignores that critical thinking and creativity, so highly treasured as “21st century skills,” can arise only on a rich foundation of internal knowledge, which must include factual knowledge like vocabulary, mental arithmetic, as well as broader contextual understanding. Without these building blocks of tangible knowledge no castles of higher order thinking may be erected.

Some have also pointed out that memorization is a powerful trigger of the “rage to master” {Winner, 1998}, transcending the mere collection of knowledge in favor of a mental structure upon which new thoughts and a passion for knowledge can develop.

The argument that memorization wastes the learner’s time is even more disturbing, because it arises from a premise of scarcity: It assumes that the brain’s resources could be "wasted" on irrelevant knowledge; that our brains’ resources have to be micromanaged and rationed to save mental resources for genius.

Fortunately, the materialistic perception that there is a finite supply of mental resources, and that the more you spend, the less you'll have, is false.

Pursuit of knowledge follows a completely different paradigm that runs counter to materialistic principles. Learning, luckily, follows the same paradigm that applies to love and happiness: The more we give, the more we gain.

Our mental resources are strengthened and expanded by challenging them, and the only way to diminish the vast power of our brain is by leaving it unused or under-challenged.

The brain is not a muscle, but it responds in the same way to exercise.

Posted by Rosevita Warda in education, how to learn, LearnThatWord, practice, self-development, your brain. | Leave a comment |

Have you ever wondered why we have a test/study, quiz-like format at LearnThatWord?

Because it improves retention AND transfer of knowledge into new context. This means, not only do you learn more effectively, remember longer, but you are also much better at applying your new knowledge.

In addition, stretching your mind to retrieve something you "sort of" know, like you have to do in a test/study format, is building "mental muscle" and helps you build a mind that is more alert and responsive to learning.

Posted by Rosevita Warda in education, how to learn, LearnThatWord, practice, self-development, test, your brain. | Leave a comment |

Today, another exquisite article in the New York Times Magazine, called "Building a Better Teacher."

Decades of educational discussion and crisis remediation attempts have taken us to wondrous lands of ideology, deserts of testing, winding paths of experimental technologies. It brought us teacher assessments and merit pay, charter schools and busses shuttling students around. Study after study has promised to show the way, but it seems we're still in the dark: None has produced the necessary yield or the desired lift in performance.

Could it be because most innovations, improvements and ideologies leave the student component out of the equation? I know, I know... it is politically incorrect to include student attitudes and mind set in the calculation. It has become deeply ingrained in our culture to look at students as consumers, vessels to be filled, projection screens for our instructional finesse. Student failure by definition is always a teacher failure, an institutional failure, a societal failure.

And, I guess, it is, but not in the way we have come to look at it. Students don't fail because we don't make it easy or fun enough to learn. They fail because we allow them to look at education as something to be consumed, something that is separate and only marginally relevant to their lives.

The NYT article finds that teachers are the single most important factor influencing student achievement and that being a successful, student-boosting teacher could not really be taught. It made me reflect back on my time as a student. Why was it that we adored some teachers, while instantly, almost intuitively, deciding to sabotage others?

The teachers we despised were the ones that acted like they were working hard to teach us. Their attempts to make the material "easy" were often unnecessary, which made them insulting. 
Their countless repetitions in reaction to low student involvement were boring. If there were no signs that we cared in the first time, what makes you think we'd care the second, third, or fourth time around? The problem was not whether the material was hard or not, it was that we weren't convinced that there was a reason why we should care. You could sense in their attitudes that they considered us malleable, helpless children, potentially low-witted, not the developing, perceptive people we actually were.

The teachers we adored were the ones who challenged us, sometimes to the point where it was painful. They would make us work hard, but not because they were mean (we had those, too) but because they believed in our potential. They made us understand that they wanted us to succeed. They had very high expectations of us. They asked the ultimate questions, and always set the bar at a good, healthy, hard-to-achieve height for each student. Most of all they trusted us, conveying that every student could achieve it with the right amount of "try."

The most important characteristic of a successful teacher is that they care. The second - they have to have natural authority and leadership, a sense that they are resting in themselves, know their own self-worth, and can interact with a mixed bunch of diverse students from a "calm-assertive" position (as Cesar Milan would say). It would take us just seconds to figure out a new teacher entering the classroom: Did s/he possess "teacher power"? Was it the benevolent or the dangerous type? Was he a leader, who could challenge you in the best sense of the word, or a push-over, who would drop the ball as soon as the students started challenging them?

Posted by Rosevita Warda in how to learn, teachers. | 1 Comment |

"It takes 10,000 hours of practice to truly master a skill."

This is the much-quoted statement by Professor of Psychology K. Anders Ericsson, Florida State University. His conclusion that experts in a given field have clocked around 10,000 to gain expert level skills has been popularized by Malcolm Gladwell's bestseller Outliers: The Story of Success (affiliate link) and is now part of popular culture.

10,000 Hour Rule... Start Today 

The point that is often overlooked is that we're talking about deliberate practice... practicing in a structured and optimized fashion.

Clocking untargeted, random work for 10,000 hours is useless busy work. It won't matter that you've done it for 10,000 hours, it won't get you anywhere!

What is deliberate practice?

Deliberate practice should stretch your comfort zone, challenging you as well as guiding you to practice what you do not yet know.

Deliberate practice means responding and adapting to immediate feedback and scheduling the next step accordingly, so your skill and memory bank systematically improves.

Deliberate practice blends practice to build mastery and automaticity with introducing new material at the right time. It means working on your goals with high levels of motivation, even the repetitive "drill"-type components of your practice.

Deliberate practice builds memory effectively by scheduling review points in a well-planned cycle, responding to the point you accomplished mastery by moving on.

Deliberate practice means studying for results in a mindful manner. It's at the core of what we do at LearnThatWord, where every session is custom designed to your goals, skills and learning history.

Posted by Rosevita Warda in education, how to learn, learn English, memory, practice, self-development, your brain. | Leave a comment |

Since 2013 the National Spelling Bee includes an additional vocabulary component.

It is now no longer enough to spell well, you also need to pass a tests that quizzes you on what words mean. 

This is why we recommend to work on words up to grade 12 by using the VOCABULAR quiz:

 

You can activate spelling practice on the toolbar that is available at the bottom of the page during the quiz. Spelling tutoring is a premium feature.

How to select spelling practice in the vocabulary quiz

Naturally, the benefit of studying words so intensively is multiplied by you study both meaning and spelling.

No matter if you end up as a Spelling Bee champion, you'll certainly end up winning! 

Posted by Rosevita Warda in spelling, spelling bee. | 2 Comments |

In our last email, we talked about what it takes to join the Spelling Bee champions. I introduced some of the features of the Spelling Bee module you're enrolled in, and how you can change the grade level to skip over very easy words.

In addition to following the Spelling Bee module, you can also request your own words. There are lots of lists in our word list archive, or you can create your own.

Activating a list from the word list archive

If you search for Spelling Bee, SpellIt, Hexco or any other related term into the word list archive, you'll find hundreds of lists. You might also type in German, Arabic, Greek, Latin, etc. to find lists of words that have that particular origin. This helps your brain form clear patterns through practice.

The number of words and the lists ranking helps you select the right list. Click on the list name and click "add this list" for the first chapter. This list is now bookmarked in your portal and LearnThatWord will work on it with you.

Create your own list

You can also add your own list with a few clicks. This is especially useful if you're at the early rounds and were given a specific list from which words will be selected.

Simply enter them and activate the list for personalized study.

Practice cycle

 

Every time you start a new quiz, you will be taken through your personal practice words. Reviewing these words regularly is key to learning them in long-term.

In a hurry?
Want to see all the words in a large list at least once before starting to practice them?

Simply switch the order in which words are presented in your preference tab (under "my accounts"). This "cramming mode" is only recommended for special situations, because the real learning progress comes from going through your practice words regularly until you learned them.

Vocabulary/Spelling quiz

As a premium member you can activate spelling tutoring as part of the vocabulary quiz. This way, you study the meaning of words first (which you'll need at the National Spelling Bee in Washington, D.C.) and this is then followed by checking your spelling skills.

You activate this in the toolbar that pops up at the bottom of the page during vocabulary quizzes. Select "all words."

 

Lastly, you can make further adjustments, like turning the feedback sound on or off, on your preferences page.

For questions with our program we're always available via live chat, too!

Posted by Rosevita Warda in spelling, spelling bee. | 1 Comment |