Sunday, July 27, 2014

How To Learn for the GAT Test

My wife and I have an ongoing debate about learning and teaching.  In short, I refuse to teach our kids anything and this drives her crazy, and then she steps in and teaches them something and undermines my whole program of giftedness.

When my first son was going through Daddy Test Prep Boot Camp From Hell, I didn't know very much, but it seemed logical that gfited kids could figure things out on their own, and it also seemed logical that the only way to become good at figuring things out on their own was to practice figuring things out on their own.

Therefore, I decided that my job as a GAT Test Prep Coach was to make sure they sat without quitting while they figured things out.  I provided a stack of things that required figuring things out, mostly 2nd grade academic work (for a 5 year old) and whatever brain teasers I could make up.

As I became more seasoned at Test Prep Coaching and Academic Coaching, I started to teach some of the skills that gifted kids use to figure things out, like reading the problem a few times, looking for examples, trying an easier version first, solving it backwards, not crying, and other skills that I've written about elsewhere.  But I would never tell them what it was that they were figuring out.

My wife watches this and gets annoyed.  'Why don't you just tell him how to do long division', she says, and when I'm not around she'll actually teach the topic.  Then I say, 'You're spoon feeding him everything.  How is he going to survive graduate school?'  And she says 'He is only 7 years old.  He is not in graduate school.'

The reason why I'm bringing this up is that I think this is the #1 thing to keep in mind when you begin test prep season in 1 month.  Figuring Things Out covers 50% to 75% of the skills needed to past the GAT test.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Workbook Parenting

Five years ago when I started my career as an academic coach, all I had were workbooks.  I didn't know a thing about teaching kids, but my theory was that I would just give them a bunch of problems and let the problems do the teaching.  If it was too hard, I would give them easier problems, and if it was too easy, harder problems.

Later I started diagnosing "too hard" as missing skills, and then I would think about which workbook or exercise was appropriate to filling in the skill.  Straightforward if the missing skill is "addition facts" but more challenging if the missing skill is "paying attention".

This approach works surprisingly well.   Because of this approach, I own shelves of workbooks. At $7 to $30 each, it's been a good investment that has paid off.

My original vision with workbooks was test prep.  Therefore, I don't help with the instructions other than ask insightful questions ("Can you read the question to me for a third time?").  I figure a "gifted" kid should be able to figure things out for himself, and the only way to get this "gift" is practice.  This annoys my wife, who doesn't understand how I teach math without teaching.

This summer, in the test prep off season, we've been addressing gaps in academic material, specifically Reading Comprehension for a 9 year old and Math Word Problems for a 10 year old. Once again I'm looking for workbooks.

For reading comprehension, I'm using the half completed "Comprehension Plus Level E" workbook that my son brought home from school.  We're doing the other half.   Unfortunately, teachers can't make it through 100% of the material, and it's a parent's job to finish the job.  This topic happens to be part of every academic test I've ever seen.

For Math, I almost did Kumon.  We're missing number sense, English, and a whole bunch more. Instead, I bought 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade versions of Daily Word Problems off of the Evans Moore website (8$ a piece if you want to grade them yourself).  All of the parent reviews assure me that the problem can be done in "just a few minutes", which means dozens of these a day are doable.  We've only got 5 weeks of summer left.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Coasting Through Math

For the last 4 years, I've been overseeing math homeschooling a few times a week to supplement the school curriculum.   The results are stunning, and some of the goofier things that I did turn out to have a big impact on all academic work.

I'm going to describe how I implement it and where the payoff is.  I'm not really concerned that my kids are ahead in math, or even learn math.  Instead, I'm using this program to teach really powerful academic skills and cognitive skills.  That's were the big payoff is.

This program does not have to be started at age four.  I note below how to implement it for older kids, but it's basically the same approach.

Ages 4 -5 I use fun workbooks like Kaplan or Sylvan K math, and concentrate on building a huge vocabulary of any word that can be visually described.   "Rectangular Prism" qualifies, for example, but "arc tangent" and "prime number" do not.

Optionally, if the kid is ahead, I'll pick a 1st grade math work book next.  Something condensed.

During Christmas break of Kindergarten, we start 2nd Grade Math, one page a day.  I use the Every Day math because if the child does every single page, he can begin to teach himself new concepts.  I expect Common Core books to be similar.   (No text book, just the work book.)  What I'm really looking for during this phase is to make the child comfortable working with problems, vocabulary and concepts beyond his abilities.  I'm also looking for some days where the kid gets every problem wrong, and some days where the work takes a ridiculously long time.

For older kids - I just pick material 2 years advanced and am prepared to backtrack as needed to fill in missing skills.   It is important to work through material that is advanced.   The kids will eventually pick up all of the concepts, but without advanced material they lose out on a lot of ancillary skills.

Since I teach the kids, I keep the Poyla problem solving guide handy (see my math chapter at the bottom).  If he is stuck on anything, I walk through the problem solving steps with him until one of the solution techniques clicks with him.   I'm not sure which one will work, so we may try them all.

I will demonstrate to the child that he did every single problem in the work book (except the group exercises) and he has nothing to blame for his achievement but his own hard work.

In first grade, I just supplement the school math with some addition and subtraction worksheets, and move up to multiplication and division during second grade.  Think of Kumon here.  In my case, the children are taking accelerated math, so I can do this.  If the school doesn't provide accelerated math, I would do it at home instead of Kumon worksheets.  During school, I encourage my kids to take a break with material already covered - just do it fast, practice it, and then do something else like spelling or science.

If this goes well, the child can't help but notice that he is ahead through his own prior hard work.  This is the kind of confidence and self esteem is earned.  In other words, the right kind.

Next, I take a whole year off (in this case, starting around fall of grade 2) and let him sink, swim, advance, or slide back on his own.  This is the hardest part for me but teaches the most valuable lessons.

In third grade and beyond, one or 2 days a week he has to do a page from a 6-8 eight grade algebra book.  Sometimes this is ridiculous, but at this point, I've got a kid with the following skills:
  1. Hard work
  2. Ability to focus and concentrate
  3. Comfort with really difficult material that he doesn't understand
  4. Patience doing work until he gets it
  5. Not frustrated by wrong answers and mistakes
  6. Exposed to problem solving techniques
  7. Used to applying examples without 100% understanding
  8. Complete lack of fear
The payoff - the real surprise to me - is that I've got a soon-to-be 4th grader that learns really quickly.  I didn't expect this.

A few weeks ago we did exponent operations (multiplication and division primarily).  This didn't go well, and when I explained things I wasn't sure if any of them made sense even to me.  After a few weeks off, he did the test and got everything right.   It took me a while to calculate things and grade them.  An adult I know who will remain nameless got the sample problems wrong.

I can clearly see him applying his learned skill set to this exercise. 

I'm now trying to transition this approach to reading comprehension exercises.   This skill set listed above is not automatically working yet in its entirety , but we're making progress.  For example, he'll read a passage he doesn't fully understand and then get stuck on the questions.  I point out that he doesn't have to understand it, but just copy the sentences into the answer that address the question.   We can both do this with math.  But it doesn't work so well with reading.