Saturday, December 31, 2011

Research on Reading - The Secret Weapon for Gifted and Talented Test Preparation

I should rename this site "How to turn your slightly above average child into a Gifted and Talented A+ student".   When I'm closer to the test, I'll probably panic and start focusing on which workbooks will give the child the edge.   But in the mean time, I've got important news for longer term test prep.

I've been reading academic research papers from the test authors to get some insight on what they test and why.  I came across this nugget:  "A big vocabulary will increase your child's brain power."  I put the actual quote at the bottom since it's so dry.  There are numerous articles on why testing for vocabulary is one of the key predictors of success in academics that go along with this theory.

For months I've been stumped on why kids who focus on reading at home do so well on the GAT tests, even though the GAT tests are nonverbal.  Now I know.   Having a big vocabulary opens the mind to learning new ideas and concepts, and vocabulary accelerates learning.   At a very young age, this can be a significant advantage on a test.

Bottom line for test prep - read every day to your child.  If you do nothing else, do this.

OK, here's the quote, from David Lohman and Joni Lakin in an article entitled "Reasoning and Intelligence".   David Lohman may or many not be the leader in his field, but he's the only one that posts all of his papers on his website.  When the author refers to reasoning tests, he is referring to assessment tests to distinguish these from aptitude tests.

"... concludes that the ability to infer word meanings from the contexts in which they occur is the cause of high correlation typically observed between vocabulary and reasoning tests. But there is also a synergism in that vocabulary knowledge allows comprehension and expression of a broader array of ideas, which in turn facilitate the task of learning new words and concepts. Thus, language functions as a vehicle for the expression, refinement, and acquisition of thought, and the humble vocabulary test masks an enormous amount of reasoning and remembering."

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Your Second Gifted and Talented Child

A GAT parent wrote into that of the 27 children in her child's Gifted and Talented classroom, 25 of them are the oldest child.

I've noticed this too, and it seems to be a consistent pattern and I cannot think of a counter example.

It is natural for a first time parent to hover over their first child, convinced that this person is the most special, cutest, smartest thing in the world.  There's time for Baby Einstein tapes, lots of reading, flash cards, whatever.  Then number two comes along and it's a different story.

I started this blog when I started training my second child for the Gifted and Talented exams.   It's not just that I don't want to short change him on the opportunities that his older brother got, it's that I don't want to have to drive to 2 different schools.

So the second child gets 15 minutes a day of my time for reading and worksheets.  The older one doesn't.  Skittles are passed out for challenging milestones for child #2.  I will just had a few to child #1 and say "You've already earned these."  The oldest is struggling to adjust to this new order.

Conversely, what if things went the normal route:  When the oldest child hits a Gifted and Talented program, there is 1 to 2 hours of homework a day that a parent needs to help with, and if the second oldest get less attention before, he now gets no attention.  That's why I think the GAT programs are primarily made up of the oldest child.  That's what I want to avoid.

And that's why my Top 10 Ten List for Gifted and Talented Test Preparation includes item #10.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Reading, Reading, Reading

My number two item on the top ten list of Gifted and Talented (GAT) Test Preparation is reading.

I learned this the lesson the hard way.   For the three months leading up to the test, I did some research to determine what could be on this super secret test.   I looked at a variety of tests that are known and used in GAT assessment.    It seemed to me that 4 and 5 year old would not be expected to read.  During the test, there would be a proctor that reads the questions to the children.   I looked at all of the different types of test questions and assessment strategies.   Reading might be present on an aptitude test, but not on a GAT test.

So for the three months leading up to the test, we focused on other activities.    This might have been fruitful work and I'll discuss the approach later.

The test came and went.   Little Billy (names withheld to protect the innocent) gave me a rundown of which type of questions from his practice tests were on the real test.  I never asked about word recognition, prereading skills, or anything at all in this category.

Four months or so later, the test results came.  According to the parents who post their scores online, a qualifying score was 150.   We weren't in the ball park.  

Over the next 8 months, I talked to many of the parents I know who subscribe to Competitive Parent Magazine, and asked how their child scored.   Answers varied.   Interpreting answers to this question is going to require a month of posts to explore.   But I learned that Little Johny down the street did much better than Little Billy.   My child, Little Billy, is a genius, and survived my special forces boot camp battery of tests.   So how could Little Johny have done so much better?    (I'm sure his parents would say because he's smarter, but I didn't ask.)

It wasn't until many months later that I put all of the pieces together, but according to my research, the missing piece appeared to be reading.   I cannot prove this statistically or scientifically.  Here's the evidence that I have.   #1   Little Johny had a top notch reading program.   (I am now adopting this for my 3 year old and it's going pretty well.)   #2   Other parents who have children in the gifted program seem to emphasize reading.   #3  I emphasized everything but reading.

I also found a neighborhood program for Mom's and Tots that has a high placement in GAT programs and classical schools.    This is the group that motivated rule #1 my 10 Ten List of GAT Preparation.  I'll have to talk to them more about the reading angle and get back to you, but my impression was that reading was central because some of them got into the classical programs, which test reading aptitude. 

It turns out that Little Billy did in fact get into the program and is doing quite well.   The kids hit the ground running with reading and writing.   I saw very little math in the first month.   So if the test is consistent with the material in the program, than somehow the test is designed to uncover aptitude or giftedness in reading.  I'm not sure how this is possible on a test where the kids are not expected to read.  

Right now, my working theory is that the activity of reading somehow unlocks a child's giftedness, launches a child ahead of his peers, or helps them take this mystery test.   I know of no way to teach a child to read without a parent reading and listening, so maybe this is a factor.  Maybe reading imbues the child with academic confidence or makes them comfortable looking at a test.  Regardless, it is now an important part of my next child's routine.

By the way, there is no such thing as Competitive Parent Magazine, as far as I know.  It was just a joke.  Just to be on the safe side, I just googled it  and found out it launched in England in April of 2009, but I can't find it on the web.  I think the article is satire.   You decide:  Article about Competitive Parent Magazine

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Three Months to Prepare

There are a variety of reasons why parents would like their child to be selected for a Gifted and Talented program.   Perhaps the child is really gifted and talented.   Maybe the child stated reading at age 2 and is already doing differential calculus in preschool.  I am not writing this blog for parents of these children.  In the big city, their are quite a few more reasons.    Gangs, schools where 50% of the students don't pass an easy standards exam, schools where 75% of the kids don't speak English in kindergarten.   Maybe the parent is just competitive and wants to cheat their kid into a school with a bunch of braniacs. 

Last year at this time, I found out about gifted and talented programs in the city of Chicago.   This only left about 2 months to prepare for a test that no one knows anything about.   For the novice parent in this situation, there really aren't a lot of resources available without spending a lot of money and almost nothing useful on the web.    The first thing I typed into Google was "How to cheat your kid into a gifted and talented program".  That was not fruitful.   So, I'm filling the void with this blog.

Out of desperation, I created my own test prep curriculum.    I don't think it hit the mark, although it probably didn't hurt.   After the test results were published, I interviewed every parent I could and tried to correlate test results with approach.   I learned a lot here and am inching my way toward the process for child #2.  In other words, one down, one to go.

This time around, I have the luxury of experience, and more time to research, experiment, and prepare.  The one thing that I'm finding is that a parent can spend a lot of money trying to help your little one get ahead.   I learned this with toddlers, when faced with the choice between a $50 stroller and a $500 stroller:  If you want to spend money to feel like you are being a better parent, someone will help you do it.    You get over this temptation to spend money after you have more children.  Last week, I walked through airport dragging my 3 year old in a car seat.  It had no wheels and his feet dragged on the floor.

In this week's post, we'll just cover the definition of gifted and talented children according to the school district.  Here are some variants.   These may sound sarcastic or circular arguments, but are in fact close to the official definition.  What are gifted and talented children?
1.  Children who pass the test for the Gifted and Talented Program.
2.  Children who will succeed in a Gifted and Talented Program (e.g., work ahead of their grade level, concentrate for long periods of time, and complete large amounts of homework.)

If you are serious about turning your child into an overachiever, look closely at these definitions.  It doesn't matter how you or your psychologist or neighbor or grandma define gifted, in this case the test is all that matters.   Presumably, the school district correlates test results with success in the program.  Secondly, if your child is really not cut out for this program (e.g., not the Michael Jordan of academics), then I image you will be miserable as a parent if your child is in this program.  It will be 9 months of daily shouting matches and crying over homework.

Regardless, the goal here is to take your slightly above average child and get them to this program, and set them up to succeed once they are there.  And not waste a lot of money doing it.  For those of you nearing the testing deadline, I'll be careful to point out the secrets that are timely.   For the rest of us, it will be plodding along with about 30 minutes a day of the right stuff.