Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Zero Expectations vs Insanity With Phonics

After two years of coming into work at 4 am to write a phonics book, I finally sent the manuscript to the publisher.  Big expectations required big work.  Unless something is messed up, it should be available this week.

I'm not crazy about the introduction, which includes a parenting manual, because I had to cut 50 pages in order to make the cost of the book less than it's price.  It's not so much of a phonics book than a complete change in lifestyle from slightly above average to super duper gifted.   When I created this course in 2011, I was knee deep in reverse engineering the cognitive skills test, and was haunted by something that the test author wrote in one of his papers.  In 1911 (or around there) E.L. Thorndike pointed out that all of the cognitive skills - the whole skill set - is active during the process of learning to read.  The child will over course continue to develop these skills over the course of their academic careers, but activities like math and reading comprehension are going to use a subset of skills.  Learning to read has the whole list.  Reading comprehension and math combined comes pretty close, which is why the Test Prep Math series looks like reading insanity and math combined, which it is.

Of course, there's a bit more work that needs to be done to get into a GAT program if the bar is 99.8%, which it is in Chicago, but proper training during phonics is such a huge advantage that it's possible a child who excels during phonics will have a permanent advantage.  I've spent most of my research hours devising ways for a child with no advantages at all to close the gap, with lots of success.  It's possible by high school to close the gap permanently, but between age 3 and age 15, I don't think it can ever fully be closed.   I've hinted at this in prior articles, but I've been reluctant to write about this extensively because most of us didn't think to start the work during phonics, and without putting the material on the market it's somewhat unfair of me to mention it.

In the introduction, I outline some of the parenting skills needed during phonics.  It's a small list compared to test prep.  One of the featured parenting skills, probably the most important, is Zero Expectations.  I'm amused at my own advice, to maintain Zero Expectations, when the whole point of the phonics course is to get a child from 0 to the 99th percentile.

It works this way:
  1. I expect you to get through this ridiculously ambitious workbook even through you obviously aren't the slightest bit prepared for reading and have none of the skills needed.
  2. The first lesson takes 45 minutes to 2 days, and you got everything wrong, but we're just going to keep going.
  3. As a parent, I'm willing to suffer through an abysmal performance over the next 4 to 6 months and viola:  my child 2 years ahead in not only this material, but a host of other skills as well.
This has been my experience on just about every academic project we've undertaken.  We've been doing some ridiculously ambitious projects at the 8 and 11 year level and it's the phonics experience all over again.   What's really cool is that it's the same core skills again.  I'm going to write about these next month in more detail, but some of the key ones emerged during phonics and were extended over the next few years, and we're still successfully using them.

I wanted to name the book "Gifted and Talented Phonics", but this would confuse people in thinking that the book is for gifted and talented children, which it is not, instead of children who aren't gifted and talented but will be by the time they get through the course, which it is.  The one secret that I know as a parent is that all kids learn how to read, although phonics helps a lot.   But, assuming they all learn to read, what else can be done during this period to take advantage of the 6 months spent sounding out words, especially if there is a GAT test in their future?  It turns out a lot can be done, and that's what this book is about.


  1. I have a first grader who is advanced and doing 3rd grade math at home. He had a math test at school and he did well mostly but he made a couple of mistakes on basic addition questions, he said 6+7 = 12 was his answer. ha How can we avoid this kind of laughable mistakes so the teacher can assess his math skill fairly and reasonably.

    1. This is fine. Reread my 100 postings about not worrying about mistakes and incorrect answers. Then get Test Prep Math Level 2 (not this year, it's for 2nd graders, and smart ones at that) which is designed so that no child can ever get the answer correct on the first 2 attempts ever again.

  2. My daughter started first grade this year (Yay!) which means I have a lot more time to focus on my 3.5 year old son (double Yay!) We started the Building thinking skills beginner book and some days he blazes through 20 pages and others we get a half page, thats the nature of three year old boys I guess. But my question is how do I focus on reading? I bought the Bob books and he's great with set 1 - mainly identifying shapes, but he's really inconsistent with his ability to identify letter sounds in set 2. I don't want to push forward until I know he's got a good grasp on the material, but I'm not really sure how to help him. I know he's close! We also do the brain quest flash cards periodically to mix things up, but they don't really address phonics either. Is it too soon to start your phonics book?

    1. It's good to hear from you again. It's absolutely not too early. One of 2 things will happen. Either it takes you 3 weeks to get past the first page because that's normal (what with exec skills and all) and then you slowly pick up steam, or you try once a month waiting for him to be ready and it turns out to be 3 yrs 11 months. I predict 3 yrs 9 months, but I also predict by age 6 his skills will be so phenomenal it won't matter. I've been working with kids with both phonics and SSCC and the transformation is stunning. (The only reason is I'm working with 6 year olds on a projects who happen to have younger siblings.) By the way, can I enroll your daughter in my current project? I'm baselining TPM 1.

    2. Thanks so much for the quick response! The book is on the way :) I figure we'll just plod along doing a page at a time until he suddenly perks up. I would love to hear more about your project - feel free to email me TuffToodle at aol.com