Monday, April 25, 2016

The GAT Choice

I'm watching parents fret about whether or not to pull their child out of the neighborhood school and put them into a GAT program.  It might be easier in other parts of the country where there is only one GAT program in the district or a pull-out program in the same school.

You can follow the discussion in the comments on this cspobsssed.com article.  This is a wonderful blog for stressed out parents.

Parents wonder about the administration, the teachers, the curriculum, the workload, the other students, and whether or not this is a good fit for their child.  I have spoken to parents at length about these topics at many GAT programs in the city, and of course have 2 kids plodding through one of the programs.  Allow me to answer some of these questions.

The administration at these schools never seems to be responsive to parents or have any good plan that addresses the "GAT" program in their school even if that school is 100% GAT.   Parents looking for a top notch administration should probably move to a different country.

The teachers have the same mix as any other grade school.  Some are great and experienced, some are new and trying to figure out how to teach kids.  Some emphasize behavior and discipline, some emphasize skills, and some learning.  The emphasis is usual appropriate to the age group.  Teaching styles vary.  No lineup of 8 teachers will be perfect anywhere at any time for every child.

The children are the best part of the program because they are typically really bright and academically oriented, and there are kids who do 4 sports a year and kids who play 3 instruments. 

The curriculum, at least in Chicago, is 2 years ahead, except for math, which is only 1 year ahead.   This works differently for different kids in different subjects.   It's like a big buffet of knowledge, and the child and the parent has to negotiate how much of what to fit on the plate.  The workload can vary from not enough for advanced children to overload for kids catching up.   Teaching 3rd grade reading, vocabulary, and grammar to a 1st grader can be tough to swallow, but most of the kids catch up.

I believe that a GAT program is an obvious choice because of the kids in the program and the curriculum.  A few great teachers makes it better.  All we need is an administration to show some interest in the term "GAT" and communicate this to the parents.

The biggest challenge for the decision process is the "fit" for a child.  These programs are for the brightest of the bright, for families that put academics in first place, ahead of everything else.   The typical kid will read an hour a day on his own outside of whatever is assigned in school because the child likes to read.  An hour or two of homework on top of that is common.  A problem will result if parents have aspirations for their child to be in a GAT program, but no desire to focus the whole family on academics.  

I've occasionally talked to a parent who is disappointed that the GAT program is too easy.   My advice is for the parent to take the opportunity to fill in other gaps like sports and music, and wait a few years for things to get harder.   My second grader recently complained that his math curriculum is too easy and he's not learning anything.  I told him to take a few years off of math, and promised that it will eventually be much, much harder.  

More commonly, I talk to parents with children that are overwhelmed with the homework or the curriculum.   They've found themselves in the big leagues of academics, surrounded by children who are primarily concerned with reading, math, and science.   Maybe they weren't thinking about this when they enrolled their child.   This is a great opportunity for their child to work really hard and raise the bar.   Or they should take a step back and decide whether or not this is what they really wanted.  If the homework is too much, think about how the child would fair without the homework against children who are doing 2 or 3 hours of academic work on their own each day.  Homework is going to help level the playing field for their child.


8 comments:

  1. have you published your long list of award winning picture books that you rented from the library? is it broken down by age/reading level? child is 3 and we're in the "read-to" stage.

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    1. The list are available in a few places with a little bit of work. I'll publish an article soon on how I did this. In the mean time, I'm about 65% done with a special phonics book for beginning readers. It will contain the approach I used, which doesn't exist. The prerequisite will be children who know 26 letter sounds and can spell "CAT". Get out the letter blocks and start with "A", and use the sounds, not the names of letter. I'll be writing a lot about reading at this stage and revising my permanent page on the right in the next few months.

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  2. Dear Norwood,

    I enjoy reading your blog. I'm interested what do you think is the real benefit for the children attending GAT schools. Thank you!

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    1. The GAT programs teach children how to be effective learners and doers. The concept of being born GAT is a myth. Once the kids catch up and homework becomes doable, it puts them ahead a few years, on par with the rest of the world. They get the full benefit of education.

      The greatest benefit, however, is that I can trust my kids in difficult situations and with lots of responsibility. It's like a junior marine corps.

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  3. Need your recommendation on best pre algebra curriculum.. Something that has an element of problem solving like your math books, Challenging but student friendly!

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    1. There's not much out there yet. A revolution in math started a few years ago but it hasn't hit the curriculum yet. We use CMP math from Mich State, which emphasizes problems and understanding but deemphasizes math. This is as close to best practices as I can get. In the summer, I use SAT test prep books which is the exact opposite. I like the content of Kumon pre algebra books a lot, but we're not using them because of The Seventh Grade math project that is on the link in the top right of the blog. What grade are we talking about?

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  4. I am looking for a fifth grader going into sixth. . My son knows 60% of pre algebra concepts so there are some holes to fill but his school will be taking this to a whole new level in the fall and he needs to get ready for beyond the mechanics of pre algebra!

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    1. Sorry for the late response. I highly recommend the pre-Algebra books by Kumon. As much as I've blasted the Kumon approach for teaching the wrong thing, their pre-Algebra books have good problem content. The only problem with these books is that they list out all of the problem solving techniques in the beginning, like you can master how to solve each problem type, which kills learning. You can show these to your kid, but let him struggle with the problem first and get it wrong, then invite him to peruse the list of problem solving techniques to see if there is anything helpful and try again. You don't want to master techniques, but master grit and thinking. Stop giving your child fish.

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