Speak It into Existence: An Effective Way of Learning Affirmations
As a child, what was your biggest struggle? Were you always comfortable with the person that you are, or did you have to learn to be? How long did it take you to recognize your comfort or lack thereof? How have you come to reconcile with it in adulthood? Whether we want to believe it or not, humans are lifelong learners. Be it in a classroom, or through the trials and tribulations of life, it is common for people to learn something new each and every day. Regardless though, how often is it that through this learning we feel fully prepared to handle the struggles we encounter? And in spite of our preparedness, were said lessons even adequate in teaching us how to handle such situations appropriately?
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In considering the inquiries above, looking to personal childhood experiences can serve as gentle reminders of future change. Individually, my biggest struggle in childhood was accepting my appearance. I struggled with size, being that I was heavier and taller than most of my classmates from Kindergarten to Eighth Grade. As a child, I was unsure of how to affirm myself, finding it difficult to appreciate the beauty that existed within me, and unable to love myself without conditions. Although at home and with friends I received some of the necessary support I needed to keep me afloat, self-love was not a subject area in school or at home that was covered extensively. There were rarely any structured educational practices around identity development for me or my school-aged comrades. It was only after I went to college that I started to do the work of introspective healing, taking the necessary precautions to improve upon my relationship with self. Through this, I often wondered how different life could have been if there was increased education surrounding identity development through self-love and self-esteem. Similarly, if there were educational tools to be utilized in both homes and schools that would implement self-exploration as a more central theme to educational curriculums.
As a result of my incessant pondering, I made the decision to start developing the very tools that I thought would have been beneficial to me and many others in our youth. My company, ABCAffirmations, would serve as an educational service looking to equip children, parents, and educators with the necessary tools to practice and tech self-love and care. Our first step, creating a seamless and universal product that delivers on the promise of both. This work will detail the key research findings regarding learning and teaching self-love via Affirmations flash cards.
A Brief History on Flash Cards
Flash cards are a quintessential learning tool utilized for a plethora of reasons. They are known to be a top study aid that spans across many different mediums, subject areas, and skill levels. Though having difficult origins to trace, the concept of the flash card became popularized in the 1800s, around the same time when paper began getting mass produced. Popularized by education innovation forefather, Joseph Lancaster, what were once called “reading cards”, became an affordable way of offering educational practice to understaffed and overpopulated schools in impoverished areas (Brainscape, 2020). Like any product with such ease of use and little to no production costs, the concept caught like wild-fire in the field of education. Before long, schools all across the country had adapted to using them.
These days we see them everywhere, but in more commercialized ways than before. For that, there is Ellenor Fenn to thank. As a famous children’s book author who often went by the name of Mrs. Lovechild, Fenn was one of the first to business people to incorporate “cut-out study cards” in her work Mrs. Lovechild’s Book of Three Hundred and Thirty-Six Cuts for Children (Travelflips, 2017). Due to her innovation in the packaging and sale of this tool, it is now somewhat taboo to create flash cards by hand. Arguably, the precedent she set made it easier for people to create and market modern day study tools like Phonics, BrainQuest, Quizlet, and other such entities. Considering the popularity and proposed effectiveness of not only the cards, but the methodology behind their use, it was hypothesized that they would be the perfect minimum viable product to test for the ABCAffirmations company.
Why Flash Cards Work
One of the main reasons that flash cards are so effective is because they allow for confidence-based learning through repetition. To give a brief definition, Confidence-Based Learning (CBL), is considered to be the measurable correctness of a learner's knowledge in combination with their confidence in retaining said knowledge (Hunt, 2003). In other words, CBL judges how well a person actually knows the material that they are aiming to learn vs. how well a person thinks they know the material. For instance, when small children begin to learn “sight words'', around the ages of 4 or 5, they have a tendency of being able to recognize some words easier or more quickly than others. This recall ability is based on how confidently the child is able to recognize the sight word, say it aloud, and be correct. Hence, a potential explanation as to why many children exhibit signs of excitement when they believe that they know the right answer and are able to give it without hesitation. Designed to increase retention and minimize the effects of guessing, CBL is able to provide learners with the ability to distinguish their own level of knowledge, as well as choose to give extra attention to the subject areas that need further practice.
To add, flash cards introduce an additional element of positive reinforcement that compounds the effects of confidence-based learning. For those unaware, positive reinforcement is defined as a form of encouraging discipline, which draws attention to an individual’s strengths, resulting in added opportunity for connection, effective communication, and empowerment between the enforcer and enforcee (Cherry, 2019). According to Beata Souders, cognitive behavioral therapist and PsyD candidate, “[positive reinforcement] is intended to encourage a desired behavior by introducing rewards shortly after the occurrence and therefore increasing the likelihood of repetition” (2020). This methodology is one that has been, and continues to be adopted in spaces that mold young developing minds. For example, consider a student being placed on the honor roll after earning decent grades for the semester or a front-line employee receiving a financial bonus at work after increasing their overall efficiency during the last quarter. Both could be considered forms of positive reinforcement because of the offer of an amicable reward that comes after a specific action. That being said, flash cards do both the job of building confidence in retaining knowledge, as well as making positive associations with the material being learned in the process.
But Kids Learn Through Play
Converse to the research that was presented above, there is a sizable amount of published counter research that offers dispute to the overall effectiveness of flash cards for children. In some researchers’ opinions, flash cards are not effective for school aged children at all. It is believed by some that flash cards are only effective in teaching memorization rather than actual comprehensive understanding. “Kids learn better through play” was the justification given by field journalist Akhila Vijaykumar on popular media site, The Swaddle (2017). Per her research, children are thought to only recognize and regurgitate the information given via flash cards because of their repetitive nature.
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In theory, they don't necessarily have the ability to fully comprehend some of the more complex concepts that they learn, especially because their brains haven’t fully developed. However, when learning through association [play], they are better able to grasp and apply new teachings to themselves and the world around them (Vijaykumar, 2017). Further research on the matter pointed to similar findings. Popular youth advocacy organization UNICEF put together an advocacy brief via the Education Section of their office headquarters to further support the notion. In it, they express that learning through play offers a more intentional learning experience during the critical development stages of a child’s life (from conception to the age of 8). Additionally, there is said to be more of an intentional focus on teaching lessons with joyful engagement, social interaction, and iterative practice for a number of different skills (UNICEF, 2018). Regardless though, this study, along with many others, do not fully discredit the effectiveness of flash cards as a general teaching tool. Many actually credit them for being a tool that helps more with memorization through repetition than anything else, a point that actually works out in the favor of ABCAffirmations’ product idea.
Affirmations Need Repetition
Regardless of the counter research conducted by early childhood education scholars and women's health media outlets, additional research surrounding the effectiveness of learning and embodying affirmations confirms our initial thoughts: Affirmations are still best learned through repetition for all age groups. Because of the ways in which the brain processes information, [repeatedly] speaking affirmations out loud can actually change the way we are conditioned to think. In a brain scan study conducted by researchers Geoffrey L. Cohen and David K. Sherman, it was found that 70% of people suffer from negative self-talk (2014). While this statistic does not necessarily account for people under the age of 18, it would be remiss not to consider the potential mirroring between parents and educators that exist within this 70% and the effect their habits would have on the children who spend time learning from them each and every day. To add, there was a particularly interesting insight offered by author Amy Miller in the article Engage the Power of Positive Thinking by Teaching Kids Affirmations that read, “Psychologically, affirmations are rewarding and beneficial because they train us to linger on thoughts we value and defend ourselves with reassurance during threatening situations. Consistent affirmation practice brings long term benefits of self-regulation and emotional management” (2017). Thus, it would make the most sense to pair the act of practicing affirmations with that of flash card teaching methodologies.
On to R&D
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In compiling and analyzing all of the research that has been done about flash cards, affirmations, and the most effective ways to teach children both, the viability of the ABCAffirmations Affirmation Cards still stands. Understanding that, while flash cards may not be the best teaching tool for school aged children, there is no evidence that discredits their effectiveness as an educational tool in general. Having been around since the early 1800s, while also withstanding countless innovations and iterations over time, it is safe to say flash cards will probably be utilized in educational settings for years to come. Be it so, there comes opportunity for further exploration.
Pairing the act of practicing flash cards with the act of practicing affirmations theoretically compounds the learning potential of emotional management and identity development. Through the repetitive nature needed for both activities, people at least at the age of 8 should be able to practice and comprehend affirmations flash cards. Alongside that, the combination of confidence-based learning and positive reinforcement makes for an introspective experience that is more in line with the goals of ABCAffirmations pillar of self-exploration. However, because there is not a product like this that currently has ample research available to the general public, only further testing would be able to give statistical proof to the idea. Thus, the idea is now able to move into a research and development stage. Here, ABCAffirmations will develop and test the ABCAffirmations Affirmation Cards on real children in real time.
Brainscape. (2020, October 29). The Origins and History of Flashcards. Retrieved December 14, 2020, from https://www.brainscape.com/academy/history-of-flashcards/
Cherry, K. (2019, November 29). Positive Reinforcement Can Help Favorable Behaviors. Retrieved December 14, 2020, from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-positive-reinforcement-2795412
Cohen, G. L., & Sherman, D. K. (2014). The Psychology of Change: Self-Affirmation and Social Psychological Intervention. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from https://www.annualreviews.org/doi/abs/10.1146/annurev-psych-010213-115137
Hunt, D. P. (2003). The Concept of Knowledge and How to Measure It. Retrieved December 14, 2020, from https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/d9d9/0efecf1d59e8a0c8f39be453d94589c6a605.pdf?_ga=2.6031344.294305662.1607981962-892172693.1607981962
Miller, A. (2020, April 20). Engage the Power of Positive Thinking By Teaching Kids Affirmations. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from https://www.parent.com/enable-the-power-of-positive-thinking-by-teaching-kids-affirmations/
Souders, B. (2020, September 01). Parenting Children with Positive Reinforcement (Examples + Charts). Retrieved December 14, 2020, from https://positivepsychology.com/parenting-positive-reinforcement/
Vijaykumar, A. (2018, May 15). Why Flashcards for Kids Don't Really Help Them Learn. Retrieved December 15, 2020, from https://theswaddle.com/flashcards-for-kids/
Travelflips. (2017, April 16). The History of Flashcards. Retrieved December 14, 2020, from https://travelflips.com/blogs/travel-and-culture/the-history-of-flashcards
UNICEF, H. (2018, October). Learning through play: Strengthening learning through play in early childhood education programmes [PDF]. New York, NY: Published by UNICEF Education Section, Programme Division.