Saturday, October 22, 2016

GAT Parenting Skill #7 - The Speech

Test time is upon us.  It's time to start thinking about what you are going to say to your child after you drive them to the testing center.   A better time to start thinking about this is last month, but better late than never.  I'm moving Skill #7 to the head of the line.

When I first started research GAT tests, the best advice I found for going into the test was to tell the child, "This test is going to be like puzzles and it should be fun.  If you answer every question on the test, after we leave we'll go to the toy store and I'll buy you a toy."

At the time, it seemed like sound advice in context, if the context is a little bit of test prep, a good night sleep, and a parent who is totally freaked out by the whole processes and needs something to say so that they don't send their child into the test room feeling the same terror that the parent is going to feel watching the child go in.

Oh, there will be terror.  It's worse than terror.   It's horror.  Any parent who tells you that they just let their child go in hoping for the best with no pressure is completely lying to themselves and you should never trust this person again.

If this were a sporting event, I would be thinking "I hope you lose.  At least you would learn something required for later success in life, and it would be fitting payback for me having to drive your sorry carcass somewhere on a Saturday.   Who's dumb idea was it to start sports for little kids?" I've actually said this before.

But this is the test.   If your child somehow passes this test, they will be in a top notch academic program, and regardless of their poor intelligence and lack of qualifications, they will emerge years later in the ranks of the gifted.  That's the dirty little secret of GAT tests - they are great predictors of academic success because GAT programs do all the work.   It's like winning the Lotto is a predictor of wealth.  The other secret is that your child's classmates will probably come from families that do advanced math during breakfast just for fun and calculate exponents on their cheerios, but that is the topic of GAT Parenting Skill #8.

During the process of test prep, your child is building cognitive skills, being exposed to a lot more vocabulary, and having lots of conversations with the parent that slowly develop into more adult conversations.   It occurred to me that I could use this new level of thinking skills to get my child to understand what was at stake and to take it seriously.

Equally important, there's the issue of the repeated mistakes that resulted in a consistent 50% or less on practice questions going into the test.  These include not reading the question carefully, picking the first choice as the answer without looking at the other answer choices, doing the opposite of the instructions for classification problems (he liked to pick the most unusual item from the list instead of the one that doesn't share the primary characteristic of the others), and giving up when he's stuck on a hard problem.

We didn't talk on the way to the test center for our second attempt.  I asked him to read.  The prior year was a complete disaster.  I signed up for the test too early, with a young four year old in the 99% of shyness, who was terrified of animals and people, and I was a nervous wreck.  He was shy of a passing score, and I'm sure it was because he spent more time trying to figure out how to get out of the testing torture room than how to answer questions correctly.  When he came out, he told me of the question and answer choices on the question he got wrong.  This was a one-on-one test.  The proctor asked informed him that he was wrong and asked him if he wanted to try again. This is apparently part of the test, and if you read my books or articles on cognitive skills for kids, you know why.  He answered, "No, I don't want to try again."  I was devastated.  We didn't talk the whole way to the toy store, nor on the way to the bookstore that I drove to afterward to start the process again.

The next year was a bit different.  In the test center, the MC announced that children with the yellow tickets need to line up.  This test was for 1st grade, which is the entry year for my other son's school and our target.  I couldn't have done anything with a passing score the prior year, but the experience still left me with a profound sense of determination.  Other parents stood up with their children and said things like "have fun with the puzzles" and "no matter how you do is OK with me".

After the parents and their children left their seats for the line, I said, It's time to do it.  You're ready.  You are going to crush this test.  A lot is riding on each and every question, and if you screw up, you can't go to school with your brother.

From prior experience, I knew that the lining up process would take a while.  When it was his brother's turn, we showed up to watch the line going into the room and after a bit of franticness, it worked out OK.  So I continued, Don't answer a question until you've looked at it long enough to figure out whether or not it is trying to trick you.   All the questions are trying to trick you.  Read them all twice.  Don't answer a question until you look at each answer first.  Repeat that back to me. Check your answers.

Then as the line looked like it was about to move, after the third call, I asked, What do you do when you get stuck?  He replied, "Shape Size Color Count", and off he went.

Before I explain how to pull this off, and why, let me mention two other things.  After we signed in at the test center, way too early, we wandered around looking for vending machines for a pre test snack and tried to get on one of the public computers to waste time.  "Waste time" does not refer to my child not worrying, but me. Plus, I had to gear up for my speech and try distract my son from my nervous and pensive behavior.

On the way home in the car, he thoroughly explained the number, content, and difficulty level of each section.   At home, he began drawing question and answer sets, providing commentary as he went. The test is administered by the psychology department of a local school, and they have this brain wiping trick in the form of a scented sticker that each kid gets after the test.   I have my own brain restoring tricks, plus my son had developed a powerful memory during our time at the Word Board.

Back to the speech.  It has 3 parts, as you can see above.

The first part was my preamble about how important this is and how I expect him to do well.  I probably blew it, but I could at least try because we spent the last few months (well, years, but months should be enough) working side by side on a big long term project.  He knew for months that he would earn a trip to the toy department but didn't really care, because the team and the project were much more important to him at this point, not to mention my confidence in him and his big role, plus the passing of the baton, the legacy, and whatever else.  Thanks to billions of dollars spent on psychology, the army already knows this and I was just copying what they do.

The second part was the rules of the game.  How many times did I tell him to reread the question, look at all of the answer choices first, and check his answer?  Maybe 10,000 times.  A child who has these skills drummed into their behavior will perform at the 99% level eventually regardless of their actual level. After another year of continuing to repeat these rules, and coincidentally being disgusted with the boringness and lameness of math curriculum, I wrote the Test Prep Math series to drum these skills in to all kids with a sledge hammer.

I was able to brief him on the rules again and expect him to take these rules into the test because they had become part of his training, even if he chose to ignore them most of the time.  That's why I gave a preamble.  The preamble let him know that now's the time to use them.

The third part was pure genius, and the reason why I won Competitive Parent Magazine's Competitive Parent of the Year Award (known as the Compettie) in 2012.   One of the most important skills in all advanced subjects is to look at a problem from different angles or viewpoints, and one of the best ways to do this is to step back from the problem.  Getting stuck ends the process and results in frustration.   It prevents the back part of the brain from tossing out suggestions and ideas.  It has been proven by research that the back part of the brain contains 95% of the thinking power of the brain and if the front part would just shut up for a minute, the back part will give it the answer.

At first, I just noted that the key to shape, size, color, count was usually the answer to practice problems in both the verbal and the figure sections of the test.   Of course, the real test is much more complicated.   About a month before the test, in exasperation, I started saying "Shape Size Color Count" all of the time during practice and made my son memorize it under the head of "What do you say when you get stuck?"

What I actually did was give him a mechanism to address being stuck whereas before, his only response was frustration, impatience, and more stuckness.  I'm not sure he was able to use "Shape Size Color Count" to correctly answer a question that involved shape, size, color, or count.  I asked him after the test how many times he resorted to "Shape Size Color Count".  He responded two or three.  That means that he was stuck two or three times, and got unstuck.   I don't remember what the questions were, but I remember thinking that I succeeded but not in the way I thought I would.

The funny thing about high level cognitive skills is that they can be learned at any age, including my age, which is about 115 years old.   In this case, the problem is "What to say to your child on the way into the test", and if you spend a bit of time on the question and the answer choices, you'll see the answer.   If you get stuck, say "Shape Size Color Count" and try again.

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