Friday, May 30, 2014

Growth Mindset

Carol Dweck from Stanford University gave a talk on the Growth Mindset at Evanston High School a few weeks ago.  It was great for parents.   If you want your average child to be gifted, this is how to do it. Conversely, if you think you have a gifted child, this is how not to ruin him.  Dweck has a book called Mindset: The Psychology of Success that you can check out from the library after reading the Amazon reviews here.

Here's the bottom line.  For a kid to succeed in everything they do, they need 3 things:
1.  The child must equate hard work with success, or equivalently, their success with their own hard work.
2.  The child must have a good attitude.  This is a long discussion, but the short of it is a joy of learning, handing failure well, bouncing back, excited about challenges, etc.
3.  The child must use their efforts wisely.
4.  The child must define and solve their own problems.  (I added this one myself.  Don't blame Carol Dweck.  The child must own this at some point.)

For three years I pursued #1 hard work with my children at a level that would make the Marine Special Forces Survival training look like a day in the park, although we only did about 15 minutes a day, so it would be more like a 15 minute walk past the park for the Marines.  Once you let go of the ridiculously unscientific idea that intelligence is anything but work, the child has no limits.

#2 is a problem because we are right in the middle of a $50 deal for straight A's on the report card.  I just learned from Dweck that this is the second worst possible thing I could do as a parent.   I had to convey this to my son, and tell him frankly, "Good grades are the enemy of learning."  I'm adding this to "Speed is the enemy of math", which I've already been following.

Because we only got 15 minutes a day (at age 4 - for test prep), I naturally progressed to #3 use the time wisely.  The wisest way to use time is to ask "What should I do here?  What do others do?  What did they do in Euclid's time?  Am I doing the best job?  What's the standard?".  Don't read any education literature, because 97.63% of it is completely wrong.  Ask parents of kids who are way ahead of yours.

This is all really hard to stomach for a competitive parent, especially for a 2 time "Compettie" winner.  I'm wrong person to summarize this material since I'm still struggling with it myself.  Read Dweck's book.

How To Use Time Wisely

Wise for Math is easy.  In general, wise is challenging problems and thinking, logic, computer programming.   Not wise is multiplication tables, long division, and repetitive calculation of any kind outside of a problem.  Of course, by 3rd or 4th grade, it's a necessary evil to memorize arithmetic in order to succeed at higher levels of thinking, and Kumon is a good idea if your kids doesn't have number sense yet, or if you're desperate and your kid is behind in numerous areas of math and he woke up one day in the 4th through 6th grade with a C in math, or worse.

Wise for Reading is not so easy for me, but consists of great books that require thinking, judgement and imagination, a range of writing styles, and vocabulary that requires some thinking and exploring on it's own. Wise includes a stack of books and magazines of any kind at any level even baby board books just for fun, and staples that have learning content (Stick, Captain Underpants, James Patterson etc have ZERO learning content for a child that has mastered the technical aspects of reading, but we like them anyway).

Wise for Science is almost anything because it's all really great stuff for little kids and it's almost always a project with some background research - the definition of good teaching for a gifted child.. Get a big jug of vinegar and a box of baking soda, and then google Science Experiments for little kids.  I just saved you lots of money on kits.

How Not To Destroy Your Child's Future

Dweck's audience was primarily over achieving North Shore suburban parents and their over achieving gifted kids.   Seeing this, Dweck gave a special talk on "gifted".   Here's how it went, in my own paraphrasing.

The director of a private school out East came to me for help.   This school costs $50,000 per year and the children are the cream of the crop.   Given the substantial tuition, the teaching level and resources devoted to these students are over the top.  The director pointed out that none of the children have ever succeeded after college.  What are we doing wrong, he asked?

There was a look of death in the audience.  (That was me realizing I'm ruining my child.)

Dweck went on to explain and prove scientifically that if a child thinks he is gifted, and this dumbass idea can only come from the parents, he is destined for failure.  Yikes!  Here's how it works:
  • Step 1:  I'm gifted!  Yeah!  Everything comes easy to me.  I'm better.
  • Step 2:  At some point, the child is challenged with something and doesn't do well.   This will come with 100% certainty. 
  • Step 3:  If I'm really gifted, then this would have been easy, and I would have done well. Therefore I am not gifted.  I better avoid challenges for fear that people find out I am a fraud.
Meanwhile, all of the kids who know they are not gifted just plod along with hard work and eventually surpass the gifted kids.

Logically speaking, there is no proof at all that intelligence or giftedness is genetic in any way, and lots of counter proof that it is not.   I can't get parents to understand this logic, even though it is simple.  Maybe inability to think logically is genetic.  Regardless, there are plenty of kids that are "Ahead" and working at an accelerated pace (meaning they read for 20 minutes a day while the rest of the country plays wii) and will likely always be ahead.

I'm renaming "giftedness"  with the term "ahead".   More on this later.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Review of Testing Mom

This is my 3rd or 4th in my ongoing reviews of test prep material.  I'm generally focused on tests like the OLSAT and the COGAT.   I have a suspicion that the Naglieri or NNAT is more like the OLSAT in terms of test prepabbility, but I didn't dissect it.  To jump to my full list of recommendations, see my permanent page on the right.
I think I'm the only test prep blog that is not on the payroll of and the only objective one.

With 25,000 test questions, Testing Mom is the 500 pound gorilla for test prep (even though she's a petite little woman in person).

Her Story
My favorite part of Testing Mom is the story.  A mom has a kid who doesn't measure up, spends time with him every day on Cognitive Skills building activities (aka test prep), and puts him into a GAT program with an adequate mental tool set and presumably an understanding that success requires hard work and dedication.

My Story
I signed up for a year of in the summer of 2011.   My 3.25 year old son was about 12 months from his test date.  I was on the fence with material buying decisions and just starting this blog.  So I went online and bought everything I could find, including 12 months of  At the time, this was $240.00.   (I just checked today and it's less.  I think it gets more expensive as testing season approaches.)

I spent a lot of time going through the practice tests, creating a curriculum and assigning a few questions to my son every night.  I kept a wall chart to track progress.  Testing Mom issues an email each day with practice questions, about 1/2 for aptitude and 1/2 for critical thinking.

During this time we also did lots of other things like reading, a math workbook and other material.  But we did lots of Testing Mom questions, including almost everything COGAT and OLSAT related on the site, and some things that were not.   We did everything all the way through the 3rd grade level.  At age 3.25, he struggle a bit, but by age 4 he would generally get everything correct without trying.   Much of the other test prep material I purchased I set aside for the following year, but we focused on.

We only got a 99.4% on the OLSAT and no seat in the GAT program.  Curse you!  Just kidding, of course.  Curse me for signing him up for the test too early.

When we took the COGAT like test at age 5 (the next year), I didn't use, and our 99.3% was good enough for a seat.

Testing Mom Con's
Let's start with the negatives.
  1. There are 25,000 questions.   You will be lucky if your child can do 1,500 in a year, and that's only if you are insane like me.  If you work on the wrong material, he won't learn well, and you're not an expert on the test.
  2. The material is too easy.  If the material was at the 99.8% level, which I needed, Testing Mom would lose most of her customers.  I did find quite a bit of material that was harder, but it was a small subset of the 25,000 questions.  Maybe this solves my complaint #1.
  3. While the material for the OLSAT will train your child for this test, it is unlikely in my opinion that the material for the COGAT will produce the cognitive skills that the COGAT test is looking for.  (Test scores generally drop dramatically from the OLSAT for K to the COGAT for 1st grade, and I think it's because the former is much easier to prep for).  
Testing Mom Pro's
These are the positives:
  1. Until the end of test prep season, I generally found material at my child's level, even if I had to go up 2 or 3 grades to get it.
  2. I don't think test prep is a good way to learn vocabulary, but Testing Mom makes a good effort.   Here's where 25,000 questions come in handy.
  3. The critical thinking questions on the email take time, and my impatient son and his impatient father just wanted to get the 5 or 10 questions out of the way each day.   I think the email might be as valuable as the test questions, and if I did this over again, we'd spend more time with the email.
My Recommendation
The best way to use is to sign up well in advance at a lower price and sample most of it.   It works best with tests that are easy to prep for at the younger grades, like the OLSAT (and I'm going to say the NNAT even though we didn't take it).  I don't think it works well for the COGAT and there are other alternatives.

I think I'm giving 2 or 3 forks, although I've never given out forks before and don't know what the scale is. There are plenty of books available to do a more careful job that don't involve a computer, which you can find here.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Bring Back the Word Wall

For the GAT test, a child should be at 99% in 3 areas:  Vocabulary, Problem Solving Skills, and Guts.

Lately I've been harping on problem solving skills because of the success I've had with Poyla's 'How to Solve It'.  But this is only 1/3 of the off season regime in this house.  I spend more time fretting about my children's advancement in vocabulary.  A solid vocabulary is necessary for all tests in between the preK OLSAT and the GRE.  Vocabulary is an adequate barometer of school success as well.

For vocabulary, I do three things.   I assign a few pages a week from the Vocabulary Workshop workbooks, post challenging words (from any source, but usually their books) on the refrigerator, and spend an hour or more a week finding books that boys will read.  Unlike math, the only pain involved is mine.

Here's our refrigerator:

The pink words are from the Magic Tree House book 1, which I'm using to help my new 10 year old learn English.

The blue and green words are from a 3rd grade vocab workbook that my Kindergartner is using. It's amazing where a kid will go with a few minutes a week consistently applied for a few years.  He doesn't know most of the words in the unit used to define the vocab words.  We'll be slowing down.

The blue words are for my 3rd grader's vocab book.  He goes much slower because he's already in a GAT program and already has a hard vocab book at school.   The only reason why I still have him do it on Saturday's is to encourage the other kids.

The 1st 2 kids went through a year or so of what I call "guts building".  No child will progress academically (at the 99%+ level) if he can't work hard.   This involves the ability to stick it out and bounce back when things are going poorly.  It involves me assigning very hard work work and then sitting there with them making them do it.

The 10 year old walked into the wrong house.  He's fun, jovial, really good at anything sports or physical, and very musical, as long as it doesn't involve any music practice.   He's hard not to like.  He laughs a lot and will play with anything, including doll houses, if these are the only toys available.

Like any normal child, he doesn't want to do homework, especially an hour of catch up math from a 5th grade workbook (he's in 4th grade).  If I leave him alone for 2 minutes, when I come back he's wandered away.  If I force him to stay seated, when I return in 5 minutes he may have not done anything.   Of course, the work is way above his current skill level and he doesn't really know what he's doing.  There's no textbook and no teacher.  And he doesn't understand the language.

This is why I frown on Test Prep consultants.  There's no way a consultant would put a child through the hell that is needed to get them to their potential.

In a year, this 10 year old will be very comfortable jumping into extremely hard work, and concentrating on it until it is complete.  He'll have a brand new tool set to make this happen, and I will have unleashed another Gifted Child onto the world.  He will be my first test taker for the Selective Enrollment exam for High School.

Let the boot camp begin.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Getting It All Wrong

It's spring break for my 5 year old, and that means double the math!  I won't be able to pull this off in a few years, but since there's virtually no work in Kindergarten, he can work nights and weekends and play the rest of the time.

I came home from work and found one page at 75%, not a bad effort.  On the next page, he missed 100%. So the first page I was kinda proud, and kind of disappointed that I wasted money on the workbook.  But on the second page, I was super duper extra proud with extra smiley faces.  I looked for treats, but couldn't find where I hid his Easter candy.  After he fixed all of his mistakes, all 100% of them, we watch 1/2 of one of the movies that I bought for last week's trip (to the disgust of the mother in line ahead of me at the Target).

Well, enough rambling.  Time for the Most Important Test Prep Tip Ever.

The reason this little guy got to 100% wrong was that little by little we inched our way to the point where a) he did the workbooks on his own without my help until it was too late and b) he worked his way through the easy stuff to the point where he get's things mainly wrong.   If you are reading this in October or November (or even December), you have to jump right into this point and deal with the crying and yelling.  If you are following along in April, you can spend a few months inching toward this.

Jumping in or easing in isn't really a big deal to the kid, but easing in allows the parent to learn how to sit there while the kid complains or whines or stalls or gets distracted or wanders off and still make it an effective test prep session with super hard material.   Also please note that this is the test prep off season, so we're doing academic math, but this basically applies to everything except for Flotsom.   And even Flotsom.

To get to 85%, you child can do the workbooks.  To get to 99%, he has to get them mainly wrong.

When you start seeing test prep material, maybe as early as September if you're bored, more likely later, you'll see advanced visual spacial matrices and think that somehow this will determine a smart kid.  But this is only the muck he'll have to wade through.  The real test will be the barb wire and the obstacles he'll have to dodge and climb over.  The matrices are just the excuse.

At 99%, the kid will have to figure out problems he's never seen before, extrapolate from examples, get things wrong and recover.  All of that was on the page of 100% incorrect.  The fact that kids learn 5x when they make mistakes was only a bonus.

There were months where I basically had to sit there with the workbook doing all of the problems myself.  It was workbook hell, if you ask me.  I'm not saying this is easy.

If you are plodding along with some reading or some critical thinking workbook or some math, keep the end goal in mind.  99%.   If you can work toward 100% wrong, you're half the way there.  Does this make sense to anybody?