Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Giftedness The Hard Way Part 2

In the first article in this series, I introduced the concept of giftedness from scratch.   In this article, I'm going to walk through the mechanics.

Giftedness from Scratch

The subject matter has to be math.  It won't work with reading, a vocabulary book, Building Thinking Skills, or a COGAT practice test.  A practice test is pretty close but does not include the element of new vocabulary terms which contribute to the overall experience of finding out how ungifted your soon-to-be-gifted child is.  This will happen with reading eventually, maybe 6th grade or college, but there is nothing suitable for younger children.  It always happens with phonics, but you don't realize it because there's no concept of skipping ahead.

Say you have a Kindergartner, a 3rd grader, or a 6th grader.  Find a rigorous math book.  If the math book is full of 30 Kumon style arithmetic problems per page, it's not rigorous.  We need a thinker, not a calculator.  The book is 2 years ahead.  Your Kindergarten child will work with a 2nd grade math book.  Your sixth grader is going to be doing 8th grade math, or as my 6th grader likes to call it, 8th grade math hell.

The first step is to do the first page.   If this goes well, speed along until it doesn't.  (No child is perfect - some of them are already ahead in math.)  I'm looking for the shock that the child doesn't know what to do and that it's going to take a lot of work to get the job done.  The questions don't make sense.  There are new concepts.  Figuring out the answer - without the tools, since the child hasn't learned them yet - is impossible.

Real solid life achievement, regardless of intelligence level, is summed up in that paragraph.  This is after all, our long term goal as a parent.  The Polio vaccine, for example, the achievements by the Mayo clinic with child cancer, discovery of the Theory of Relativity, and everything else important all started with that last paragraph.  In the meantime, we need to focus our efforts on the shorter term goal of giftedness.

The parent has to help at first, which is a good thing.  The child needs to spend a lot of time reading the question and understanding it, trying again, not minding 5 wrong answers in a row, and being comfortable with the whole impossible process.  As the parent does the work, the parent can take a long, long time, do it carefully, and get wrong answers and try again.  In this way the parent can create the right expectations and environment by showing the way.

I like to help because a single question can take 45 minutes when I help.   I go through the question word by word, sometimes letter by letter.   I look at it different ways, discuss terms, and generally spend a lot of time talking.  I ask a lot of questions and ask the child to read the problem again (for the 19th time).  Then we solve the problem trial-and-error, guessing and checking, backwards, in multiple ways.  As side benefit to all of this is that the child becomes determined not to ask for help after that because it delays play time.

During this time my child repeatedly said "I can't do this."  If your child actually says, "You're asking me to do 2nd grade math and I'm only in Kindergarten!" then your child will be gifted with 100% certainty.   Mostly, children just cry.   There's a lot more to surviving this process, and I've extensively about the topic in my blog.  (By the way, you need to say "I can't do this YET" each time.)

Those missing math skills are a real challenge.  In the 2nd grade math example, you have to add and split double digit numbers.  This is a problem for a kid who just learned to count and is coming to terms with adding.   I generally find a supplementary book, one that is easier, to practice a few times a week while we're getting up to speed.  A side benefit of this approach is that on bad days, the child can choose which book to do, and he will always choose the easier one.

My overall goal is the fundamental skills and not the math.   If the child has the skills, he can teach himself anything and the sooner I won't have to help.  Besides, what Kindergartner needs to know 2nd grade math?

Missing skills for the 2-4 grade child are a bigger problem, because the skills you want to teach don't appear in the curriculum until middle school.   In the last article in this series I mentioned that alternating between work-ahead math one year and test prep the next is a more solid approach with bigger benefits at this age.  Since there is almost no test prep on the market at this age, especially at the level that I want our non-gifted children to get to, I wrote Test Prep Math Level 2 and Test Prep Math Level 3.   I'm not sure you can get from grade level to more advanced math without it at this detour at this age. We couldn't.

Missing skills for the 6th grader (working toward Algebra) are such a nightmare right now that I'm once again typing up exercises each week.  I can find pre-algebra concept and calculation workbooks, but nothing to teach the skills of translating questions into math syntax and manipulating equations that works.

Back to K.   Over the next 6 weeks, there is very little progress, and you and your child are getting to the point where you will be beyond tears, whining and yelling each session.   This is a big achievement.

I recommend 4 sessions a week.   At the K level, it is very important to do every single page, every problem per page.  (This is not possible at later grades unless your child doesn't have homework.)   If your child works alone, you may get 6 out of 6 wrong answers some days, and if the kid just spent 45 minutes actually trying, you won't bother asking him to do it over.   You might be using the easy book once or twice a week.  You might be filling in as the missing team member and doing it yourself, slowly, carefully, verbally, and getting it wrong the first few times and starting over each time.

Six weeks later, the child might actually know what they are doing some of the time.   You asked your child to do 2nd grade math, they just spent 12 weeks doing it, and they probably have learned the terms and concepts by now up to where they are in the book.   Kids tend to learn things they do. You child has become disciplined to the fact that he isn't going to get out of it.  There will still be bad days, because after all he's 5 or 6 years old, but some days he just does it.

At some point after 12 weeks, the child might be working mostly alone, getting some problems correct on the first try, and getting the page done in a reasonable amount of time.

For K, I recommend the two Every Day Math student journals, not just because of the approach to number sense, but also because after 5 or 6 months, the child will finish the last page of the first book. You can hand the book to your child and remind him how many times he told you "I can't do this" and then start flipping through each page.   No 2nd grader does every exercise, or every page, or even most of the pages.  You can state that as well.  Then you can go out for ice cream to celebrate. It's a big lesson that will pay off later.  By about half way through the second workbook, you might be making progress in math, but not in giftedness, because it becomes less of a challenge, so you can just shift to something else, like test prep or soccer.

I wouldn't put my child through this every year.  It's way too demanding.  But it works for 9 months one year.   I'm on pace to do this three times - K, 3/4, and 5/7.  The 9 months from K became a whole year from grade 3.5 to 4.5, and we're going to need about 24 months grades 5-7 because we can only do this once or twice a week.

Many school districts use the COGAT combined with a standardized test like the ITBS or SAT for entry into a GAT program.  Doing math 2 years ahead is a cheaty way of getting a high score on the standardized test, and lays the ground work for a demanding At Home test prep regimen for the COGAT.  As a bonus, your less-than-gifted child will be more prepared to keep up with the brainiacs that will sit next him in class should he end up in a GAT program, or be the braniac himself.

When it comes to test prep, the bafflement shifts from "what does volume mean" to the arcane rules of the matrix.  Everything else in the process I wrote above is pretty much the same.  The problem with starting with test prep is that you've got 12 weeks to turn a raw recruit into a marine.  The test prep material is expensive and there isn't that much of it.  If you burn through $100 of test prep material in that 12 weeks, you won't have anything left without spending even more money (if you can find anything left to buy) to do the real learning.  For grades K to 1, there is a solid year of material available for test prep, but grades 2-4, there is almost nothing challenging outside of Test Prep Math.  We did the grades 2-4 curriculum before age 6, so that should give you an idea of how challenging it is.

If, on the other hand, you've done nothing and the test is in 10 weeks, then I've got a completely different formula for getting over the test hurdle, but then you have to reread this article if your child passes the test, because, after all, they'll be sitting next to braniacs that actually like math.

Finally, suppose you didn't know that you should do anything before the test other than a good night sleep and your child didn't get the scores necessary to get into the program.  I get this question a lot. It's a completely different approach in two parts.  Part 1 - a quick and grueling boot camp, followed by Part 2, which is described above.


  1. So, when my Kindergartener comes home every day from school we talk about her day -- usually she doesn't tell me much, other than something silly one of her classmates did. Last week she tells me she got a sticker from the lady that takes her out of class..... ummmm what lady?!?! Turns out someone from the gifted program has been doing preliminary evaluations with her and has taken her out of class 3 TIMES!!!! to work on "reading, math, and puzzles like my workbook (NNAT test prep)." Awesome -- when I ask what's new and exciting in school -- this is the stuff I'm talking about kid! Anyway, a letter has been sent home requesting permission for the school psychologist to do their evaluation and after some digging I find out that she will be given the WISC -IV sometime in the next 30 days. Any advice?

    1. The WISC-IV strikes me as more of an IQ test than a CA test and is a bit out of my range. Aristotle Circle sells a practice workbook for $499 and a practice test for $149. I own shelves of material, but for obvious reasons, none of theirs. Plus, they're sold out.

      While the content of the WISC is not out of your child's range, the IQ type approach adds an important dimension for you to practice - taking a long long time going through answer choices. Look at this link to see why, bottom left of example on this page:

      Take this IQ example: Unscramble "MRSKEZOOT". A really smart person would just resign themselves that they go through every permutation of letters until a word shows up. A genius will get 25% into this exercise and come up with a short cut using vowel replacement. A smart person would guess a few times, and dummy would just give up. This is a level beyond the COGAT.

      If I faced this test, I would get puzzles of 100, 200, 300, 500, 500 and 500 pieces, and my child and I would just sit there for 2 hours every day doing puzzles, like it or not until she's a boring weirdo. That's the skill (patience and weirdness) on top of the NNAT practice you've been doing. It's either that or spend $499 on the WISC-V training which is in stock.

    2. iry... and....

      Thanks for the help :)

    3. sorry my 2 year old deleted the beginning of my comment lol. I said "looks like Santa is bringing puzzles...and tooth fairy