## Saturday, January 21, 2017

### The Birth of a Skill

A few weeks ago, I sat down with a child who just turned five to work through Shape Size Color Count.   This book is for a child who is about 4, give or take, but she is one of my Pre-K Phonics testers and is going to sit for the COGAT next year.  A few weeks with SSCC won't hurt.

Up to this point, it never occurred to me to check what would happen with an older child who never had math phonics. With really young children, the work is slow going, as in a few problems a day while the skills set slowly matures.  It's gratifying to see the results down the road, but the process can be slow and painful, with setbacks.  This is by design.  The best thing you can do for a child is present the child with material that is really challenging, something they don't get on the first try. In other words, something that requires a lot of thinking and learning.  Growth in cognitive skills happens with 1-5 questions that take a long time, like 15 to 20 minutes for a 4 year old.  With a 5 year old, we were doing a question in about 20 or 30 seconds from SSCC.

The goal of SSCC is a long list of skills. I think I could get through this book in 4 to 6 weeks with a child who is 4 and 1/2.   This is good, because a child who is 4 1/2 only has about 4 to 6 weeks before they need to start working on practice tests with a looming test date.  A child who is 3 1/2 is going to need about 3 to 6 months. The actual age of the child is the age the parent decides to do something about test prep, so it varies.

We worked through 2 or 3 quantitative problems involving numbers of at least 5.  The child counted on her fingers while she did the work, which is normal.  I explained to the parent that one of the purposes of these problems is to get the child to see the number and not count the number.  This is visual number sense.  Then the next step is for the child to see both 5 and 6 at the same time.  Finally, the child will see 5 and 6 and a difference of 1 all at the same time.  A child of exactly 4 might need a few passes through the problems to get to this point.  (Never let your child mark the book if you are not convinced they know the answer.  Redo the questions in a week or two.)  Of course, this isn't enough to get to a high bar, so when SSCC gets the child to this level, the next problem is going to have 5 and 6 and a difference of 1, but the problem will have something more going on.  After all of this, bring on the practice test because we're ready to take on the test, or at least a practice test..

This discussion with the parent lasted about 10 minutes while the child sat with the book patiently waiting.

I turned back to the child for another problem. The little girl just stared at it before answering.  There were no fingers.  Apparently, she was listening to the parent conversation.  She didn't zoom through the problem because visual number sense needs a bit of time to burn into the brain, but she didn't use her fingers.  I'm willing to bet she counted in her brain.

How cool is that?  From fingers to counting mentally in 15 minutes.  I feel like the Albus Dumbledoor of academic coaches.  I'm going back next week to see how many other skills we can cover in one sitting.