Wednesday, August 24, 2016

All That Isn’t Gold May Not Glitter

With the Olympic torch having been extinguished on Sunday, the athletes are now home with their medals. What do they see when looking at the glistening bronze, silver, or gold? The answer may be somewhat counterintuitive.

While we would generally think of second place as being a more desirable ranking than third place, silver medalists tend to exhibit less happy responses to their Olympic results than bronze medalists. So close to the gold, they are inclined to focus on what they did not achieve; whereas bronze winners are confronted with being so close to not having won any medal at all, and thus tend to be more satisfied with their results. The differences in silver and gold winners’ responses are marked, whether revealed by self-report, observation, or even careful examination of the facial muscle movements and eye positions that differentiate polite smiles from genuine ones.

The phenomenon at work here is counterfactual thinking, i.e., the human tendency to wonder, “What if….?” Upward counterfactuals are better alternatives (e.g., “What if I had won the gold?”) and downward counterfactuals are worse alternatives (e.g., “What if I had not gotten any medal?”), with the salience of either type of counterfactual alternative depending on the situation. The primary function of counterfactual thoughts is to manage ongoing behavior. Considering what might have been is key to improving in the future.

In one interesting study, college students were contacted immediately after receiving an exam grade and asked to write down any counterfactual thoughts that came to mind. In other words, they were to list anything that might have occurred differently that would have resulted in a different grade. The more they thought about how they might have done better, the more they changed their study habits and improved their performance in the future. Counterfactual thinking, it seems, can be a helpful academic tool in the long run, even though it may be unpleasant to go through the "If Onlys" at the time.

While counterfactual thinking may be why a silver medalist is disappointed, it may also be why he or she has been able to succeed to the point of becoming an Olympic athlete to begin with, and with many triumphs along the way. Counterfactual thinking, in healthy moderation, could help nurture the growth of Olympic students as well.

Friday, August 19, 2016

“Plan B” for Challenging Behavior

One book we really like here at The Yellin Center is The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross Greene, Ph.D. The book’s been around for almost 20 years and, despite its name, is a great resource for anyone who is a parent or teacher of children who experience challenging behaviors. Almost every child could use help with some behavioral expectation, whether it’s escalating sibling rivalry or difficulty stepping away from social media as bedtime approaches. Greene’s book outlines a method of collaborative problem-solving, in which children and adults work together to solve problems and curb challenging behavior while improving communication skills.

Dr. Greene starts by debunking those myths we’ve heard so many times – that kids are choosing to behave badly and they just want more attention. The mantra of the book is that kids do well if they can; when the demands of a situation exceed the skills a child has to adaptively respond to those demands, challenging behavior will occur. In other words, lots of children want to succeed and follow the rules, but they are delayed in the development of some of the necessary skills for doing so. Children with executive functioning difficulties are particularly at risk, as they often have trouble with controlling their behaviors and emotions when things start to get heated. The goal then is to figure out what skills the child is lacking and how this is resulting in a behavioral difficulty. The method, which he calls “Plan B,” walks caregivers through three steps:
  • empathizing with the child by seeking out his or her perspective about the difficulties he or she is having
  • sharing the adult’s concerns respectfully by noting how it is affecting the child and other people in the child’s life
  • inviting the child to join in the process of brainstorming potential solutions that address the concerns of both problem-solving partners

“Plan B” helps parents, teachers, and students work on their executive functioning skills while they’re working through challenging behaviors. The book also addresses ways the process can be used with siblings, between two students, and as a collaboration among parents and teachers. Are you wondering why it’s called “Plan B”? The more traditional reward-and-punishment approach (“Plan A”) to sparking behavior change might work for a lot of students; but those who lack some of the executive functioning skills like inhibition, flexibility, and frustration tolerance need something that will help them build those skills up as part of the process. There’s a lot to learn from Dr. Greene’s collaborative approach to problem-solving, and many useful tools are available for free on the website.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Six Questions to Ask Before Using a New Educational App

We talk a lot about the latest ed tech developments here at The Yellin Center. We often share reviews of our favorite learning tools, or suggest where to go to find and vet new resources. However, it can be hard to figure out what tools to use, and how to decide if a digital tool is the best way to meet the specific need of a particular learner. We do not believe in integrating technology for technology’s sake; to be of any value, the tool being used needs to address and support a specific learning need in the student. There are also holistic aspects to consider, like the learner’s interests and affinities, when determining if a specific tool will be the right fit for a specific student.

Through our evaluation process here at The Yellin Center, we determine a specific learning profile for each student that highlights their strengths and challenges. From there, we develop a learning plan that will provide parents, teachers, and the student the tools they require to amplify the student’s learning. In our learning plans, we often suggest a breadth of digital tools after thoughtfully considering the learner and the variety of tools available. Our goal is to connect each student to specific tools that will suit their individual, personalized needs.

How do we decide what tools to recommend? One way is to ask a series of questions, which we thought might be helpful to share with our readers.

1. What are the learner’s specific areas of need and are there apps that target these areas?

For a student who struggles with phonological processing, we will begin by researching tools that address phonology and seeing what is available. For some areas, for example orthographic memory, it is much harder to find educationally robust tools to recommend.

2. What content or skills do we want the learner to learn or practice? Does this app address these needs?

If phonology is the concern and the child needs specific practice in rhyming and blending we will explore the available apps, looking to see what areas of phonology the app addresses to determine if this learner’s needs will be met.

3. Who are the creators of the app and what makes them experts in this learning area?

Most apps have an “about” section that explains who their developers and staff are, which allow us to understand and vet their credentials. Other, more robust, tools will sometimes have research sections on their websites or information about the results of case studies that have been conducted to demonstrate the efficacy of the particular app. These are really helpful in understanding how educationally rigorous a tool is.

4. Is there likely to be transference of the skills learned in app to the real world?

We believe that games can be an effective way to learn, with the caveat that we want to ensure the skills being learned are universal and not specific to the game being played in-app. We always look to see how the skills are being taught in the app, and how likely they are to help the student develop skills across contexts. For example, if the app teaches rhyming, we look to see if it is done in such a way that when a child sees two rhyming words on a pencil and paper task in school that they will have understood the concepts strongly enough to identify the rhyme. 

5. Is there a tracking mechanism to show the child and others the progress being made?

We also believe in the power of play, and that not all play is for “educational purposes”. However, when it comes to academic skill building, we like to see apps that show a student’s progress. We find students feel like their time is well spent when they can see themselves progressing toward their own goals.

6. Is there a comparable or better app at a better price point?

Some apps are expensive, and it isn’t always the most expensive app that is the best. So, we always look and consider the cost of each tool recommended and make sure there isn’t anything out there that is as helpful but more affordable.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Building Success through our Approach to Failure

With this post, we are pleased to introduce the newest member of our blogging team, Yellin Center Learning Specialist Jacqui Kluger, M.S., Ed. Jacqui has spent the past five years as an instructor for graduate and undergraduate psychology and education students in the City University of New York system, as well as working at several public and private schools. Welcome aboard, Jacqui!

We already know that when we view our abilities as plastic, or malleable and always growing, we (and our kids) approach roadblocks and challenges in a more constructive way. The question, then, is how to pass a growth mindset along so students have the tools to persevere in the face of hardships at school. A recent study by Kyla Haimovitz and Carol Dweck began to answer this question. They found that the way a parent approaches experiences of failure predicts how students perceived “being smart.” In other words, parents’ “failure mindsets” were related to whether children viewed their own abilities as fixed or plastic. 

Haimovitz and Dweck point out that a parent’s approach to failure is visible to students through parent behavior towards student failure. How a parent reacts when a student comes home with not-so-good news has a big impact on how that student feels about his or her abilities and intelligence. Some adults have a “failure-is-debilitating” view, which is the belief that failure is a reflection of our ability and is a setback. Others have a view of failure as an opportunity and a time of growth that leads to increased ability and mastery down the road. When parents focus on students’ current performance or fixed ability in the face of failure, kids do the same. When we focus on the opportunity at hand – the learning and mastery that comes after the initial failure – then kids begin to develop the growth mindset we know is so important for academic and socio-emotional success.

All students experience failure at some point in their educational careers, whether it’s a low exam grade or not getting the lead role in the winter play. According to the study, we should react to students’ failure with support for their learning and mastery. This may include providing strategies for different study methods, seeking outside support, promoting interest and enjoyment of material beyond quantifiable performance, or simply highlighting the idea that learning is an ongoing process. Let’s not forget that the journey is more important than the destination.

Photo: Erin Resso for flickr cc

Monday, August 8, 2016

5 NYC Ed Tech Companies Changing the Face of Education

We love Ed Tech! Here at The Yellin Center we take pride in keeping up with the latest developments in educational technology. We strive to know what is happening and what innovations are being made in the field. By staying up to date we are able to suggest the most relevant tools to the students, families, and educators we serve. We do this, however, through a lens of mindfulness. We believe that no app or website is a silver bullet, and that every digital resource is merely a tool to amplify learning, just like paper and pencils tasks.

Here in New York City our neighbors include some pretty influential and innovative ed Tech companies. Some of these companies create tools that we have vetted and have found to be of incredible merit. Frequently, we find ourselves recommending these tools to our learners. We want to showcase some of the great tools and companies that come from our very own backyard, right here in New York City.


Newsela is an online news website for kids that publishes daily articles. They draw their content from sources like the Washington Post but provide the materials across Lexile levels, making the content accessible to readers of all abilities. There are also integrated features that allow students to answer open ended questions about the text or to quiz them on what they learned.


Flocabulary is an online producer of educational songs and videos to help students learn key concepts across curricular areas. Whether a child is learning how to find the perimeter of a rectangle or how to use a comma, Flocabulary has a highly entertaining rap song to help them master the concept. Often the rhythm and rhyme in a song or rap can help students better integrate the concepts and recall the information later. We love what Flocabulary is doing.


Brainpop, like Flocabulary, also produces educational videos, except this time without the rap. They have a robust library of informative animated videos across curricular areas, and include materials for English language learners through BrainPop ESL. For French or Spanish speakers there is also a BrainPOP Français and BrainPOP Español. So, regardless of your abilities, or language background, BrainPop is likely to have a resource to help you learn a new concept.

GameUp is the newest addition to the BrainPop learning resources. GameUp is described as “a vetted and always-expanding collection of cross-curricular digital learning games from leading game designers, paired with implementation materials.”

Code Academy

We've written before about Code Academy, an innovative program to help people learn to code for free. They strive to make their learning interactive, and ensure every learner has access to the tools required to master these pivotal 21st century learning skills.

Learn with Homer

Learn with Homer is a research backed digital reading program to help build children’s early reading skills. We have talked about them before and there is a reason they’re one of our favorite tools. The app is comprehensive, and will build upon previously mastered skills in order to teach new reading skills. They have conducted extensive research and lent their app to researchers around the country to vet - and the results are impressive, to say the least.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Studies Look at ADHD in Adults

A new study, led by a team of British researchers, looked at young adults with ADHD and found that a significant number of these individuals did not exhibit symptoms in childhood as required by the definition of ADHD in the The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, (DSM-V), from the American Psychiatric Association. 

The DSM-V definition of ADHD requires that the individual have:

Six or more persistent symptoms of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity, several of which were present prior to 12 years of age, that interferes with functioning or development, which are present in two or more settings (eg. at home and at school or at work), and which interfere with social, academic, or occupational functioning.

The researchers looked at a subset of more than 2,000 individuals as part of a study of twins, and found that adults with ADHD included both those who had "childhood onset" ADHD that persisted into adulthood and those who did not meet the DSM requirements for ADHD in childhood but who met them (absent the age of onset) in adulthood. Specifically, they found that, "among 166 individuals with adult ADHD, 112 (67.5%) did not meet criteria for ADHD at any assessment in childhood." 

The British researchers noted differences between the childhood and adult onset groups in areas such as severity of symptoms and comorbid mental health conditions and suggested that more research is needed to determine the relationship between these two types of ADHD and whether they are really the same disorder.

A second study, this one led by Brazilian scientists and published in the same journal as the British study, led researchers to conclude that their findings did " not support the assumption that adulthood ADHD is necessarily a continuation of childhood ADHD. Rather, they suggest the existence of 2 syndromes that have distinct developmental trajectories."

As the British research team noted, "the extent to which childhood-onset and late-onset adult ADHD may reflect different causes has implications for genetic studies and treatment of ADHD."

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Alarm Clock Apps and Devices for Sleepyheads

There must be folks who jump out of bed in the morning bright and early. There must be folks who don't want to roll over and get just a bit more sleep. And there must be folks who are never, ever late to get started because they hit the "snooze" button on their alarm clock, only to wake up with just enough time to make it to work or school. There must be ... somewhere..


For the rest of us -- and our kids, who will face school mornings all too soon -- we've come across a some ingenious ways to avoid oversleeping. We hope you find one or more of these helpful. 

The Walk Me Up app is an alarm that won't shut off until you are actually up and walking around. Your phone needs to be on with notifications enabled. Free for iOS devices.

The Barcode Alarm Clock requires you to not just get out of bed, but to take a photo of a bar code you have previously selected (your breakfast cereal, your toothpaste, etc.) to turn off the alarm. You can also set it to require multiple bar codes for items that you encounter as you move through your morning activities. Described by one reviewer as, "Very loud and annoying"(which is the point of this alarm), The Barcode Alarm Clock is free for iOS devices. 

In a similar vein, Alarmy (Sleep If U Can) requires you to set it up by registering a photo of a place in your room or house (the bathroom is one possibility). Then, once it is set, you need to take a photo of that place to turn off the alarm. Its creators note with pride that it has been described as "The World’s Most Annoying Alarm." It's free for Android devices and $1.99 for iOS.

Would you prefer something that's not dependent on your phone? You might want to try Clocky, which rolls off your bedside table and hides, making beeping noises until you find it and turn it off. It's more expensive, at $27.99, but if it works for you or your heavy sleeper it might well be worth the investment.