## Saturday, May 27, 2017

### The Wonder of Working Memory

I was first introduced to the concept of working memory by the author of the COGAT.  I was reading his papers in the hopes that he would give hints on the design of test questions so I could reverse engineer the test.  He mentions repeatedly that working memory is important.

OK, whatever this working memory is, I set out to create a training program for it.  My goal was simple - take average or below average kids and put them through my training program so that they measure at the genius level on both the COGAT and academic work.  (Both of these measures are equivalent because the COGAT measures academic skills.)  I really wanted to work with kids with 'the math gene' but apparently 'the math gene' doesn't exist in this house.

My success was 300% of my original goals.

My starting point was the COGAT.  Almost all of the COGAT questions appear to have 2 things going on, so I would have 3 (it turns out that 4 don't work so I used 3) and on top add complexity so that the student has to keep these 3 subjects in the brain for as long as possible while she sorts out the complexity.

Before 2nd grade, it's easy to find age appropriate training material.  Just grab 2nd grade math.  After 5th grade, easy.   There's pre-algebra, 8th grade math, and the SAT.  The problem is the 2nd to 4th grade age range where the brain should be on the verge of a skill explosion but the material in school is so dumbed down as to be useless.  This, in a nutshell, was the motivation behind Test Prep Math.

I created word problems heading toward 3 equations to be solved.  These 3 equations are buried in a complicated word problem.  Not only does it take a while to sort out the equations and solve them, but I like to put 'something extra' in the problem, whether it's grammar that's a bit twisted or a missing element.  It's hard, but it's just 1 problem a day to begin with, and the math itself isn't that hard.  That's the first section in Test Prep Math.  Then I followed that up with a problem design that is just equations and is meant to make the COGAT quantitative section look like a walk in the the park. That's the second section.  Easy math, really hard thinking.  The section section didn't exist at first, but after doing the first problem, it's almost doable.

Here's what I found.

First, I witnessed the brain creating 3 brain buckets where before there was only 1 brain bucket.  On top of that, I ended up with kids who could spend a lot of time reading questions and don't get upset by mistakes, because they made mistakes repeatedly on the way to the correct answer.  If you have a kid who learns to concentrate on the material at hand and is not emotionally crushed by mistakes then you have a kid who will succeed.  Being able to take in 3 times more material at once while they sort it all out is a huge advantage.  That was 100% of my goals and pretty awesome.

What surprised me was that Working Memory is not just a shorter term version of Short Term memory.  There's a reason why it has Working in the name.   It's not just that kids learn to take in 3 problems at once and solve them.  It's too hard.  Instead, as they take in the material they are filing, organizing, classifying, regrouping, simplifying and who knows what else in order to take short cuts.

I didn't realize how powerful Working Memory is, especially at its new level, until we graduated from Test Prep Math and started to crush what followed, including pre-algebra, competitive math, 8th grade math, algebra and trig.

"Today we'll look at the sign and cosine functions and calculate adjacent angles".   Unless the child is a sophomore in high school, I just used a sentence with 3 new terms, and we're about to make things harder.  Even worse, "what's the 5th digit of a 9 digit number that starts and ends with 6 and every 3 consecutive digits sums to 14".  What?  When I watched a third grader actually solve this problem, I realized the working memory exercises took us to 200% of my goals.

When we were decomposing SAT reading comprehension questions, I admired the level of complexity in these questions, including the use of words, the logic underlying the structure of phrases.  It dawned on me that I had never seen anything so convoluted since I wrote Test Prep Math. I ran to my shelves of curriculum and started comparing elementary school curriculum to Test Prep Math and realized that none of it was remotely comparable.

While the rest of the country is doing 2nd to 4th grade math, which is spoon feeding, or even accelerated math, which is spoon feeding next year's material, my kids where trying to sort out insane word problems some of which don't have a satisfying answer, and some don't really have an answer.

Is this really what we should be doing at this age?  Shouldn't we just practice decimals and long division?  But long division and decimals are useless and boring.  Why not teach your child to think and let math take care of itself?

I'm waiting for end of year MAP math test results.   This year is not a high stakes year.  I'm not sure how things went and don't really care.  Would my children be in the zone and execute, or would they get bored half way through the test and just go through the motions?  The older one told me by the end all he was doing was solving triangles using trig.  He stinks at trig.  His approach is trial and error with lots of errors. but I have reason to think that his test score is going to be good this year because he's only in 6th grade.  Who's dumb idea for a test format is giving trig to 12 year olds?  The 8 year old came out of his MAP test asking what x is in pi*x = 24.62.  He asked what is the decimal value of pi.  Oops, I never told him (because I hate decimals) before the MAP test even though we're beyond simple algebra.

Reading is a different matter.  There will be hell to pay if either child doesn't do well on the reading comprehension part of the MAP, now that I know that the 2 years I invested in writing Test Prep Math pays off on reading comprehension in a big way.  It wasn't possible to jump from Test Prep Math in 3rd or 4th grade to SAT reading comprehension practice.  I didn't even realize that this was an option until after 5th grade.  But now that I've discovered the link I expect results.

## Tuesday, May 23, 2017

### 5 Ways to Beat the COGAT and Advanced Math at the Same Time

Last night I was complaining to my son how boring my blog has become.  The theory and practice of turning a 50% child into a 99% academic power house is pretty tedious and dry.

My older son told me I need to use "click bait" and showed me examples of his classmates you tube channels on video games.  "See, this title is My Amazing Clutch Save, but in the video game he just loses 10 times.  His ratings improved".

This article is dedicated to every parent who have complained that they just can't get their child to do anything at home (basically anyone who has ever contacted me who isn't a teacher) because their child is hopelessly normal.

5 Ways To Beat The COGAT, Improve MATH scores by 100%, and go to Stanford!
#1  Get some really painful advanced incomprehensible math and do it next to your child while she does math.  If you're a caring mom, you're thinking 'Then I'll have sympathy for what she's going through' but I'm a competitive dad and I'm thinking 'Because then I'll have absolutely no sympathy for your complaining.'

#2  Only do a single problem.  I can tell you with 100% certainty that anything your child does every day (or a few times a week) for 15 minutes, he will become the world's foremost expect in a few months compared to his peers.  So I hand my kid a brand new book and ask him, "Find the easiest problem in this book and do it".  Tomorrow it will be a few, then the next few sequentially in order, and before you know it, we're doing another book to make up for missing knowledge because we've done everything except for integrals with imaginary numbers.

#3   Only do new stuff.  Neither math nor the COGAT is about what you know. It's all about what can you figure out on your own that you've never seen before. Why not just do new things at home?  You're thinking, 'Dude, every time my kid sees something he doesn't know he has a temper tantrum', and I'm thinking, 'Dude, who's fault is that?' which is why #3 is on this list.

#4  Stop looking at the freakin' solutions.  You stink as an academic coach.   See if you can go two weeks without grading the child's work.  If your child writes down "4 + 2 = 7" I can guarantee that your child will figure out that the answer is "6" on her own with no help and no solutions whenever she's ready.  No wonder she hates math.  It's just a constant stream of Wrong, Incorrect, Try Again even though she's been learning this whole time.*

#5  Start now.

*There's a lot more steps to this point when you're ready but they're boring. There's also a lot more behind #2 and #3.  The only thing I want to add to #1 is that I clean the toilet and when a child walks in to the bathroom with his math book to ask a question and my face is in a poopy toilet, the question better not be 'Why do I have to do this hard math that I've never seen before?'

## Monday, May 15, 2017

### How To Teach Cognitive Skills 3 of N

Let's tackle learning at home at the level of 99% COGAT or the MAP test or SAT.  The starting skill is Bafflement.

There are about 20 reasons why this skill is so important.  The #1 reason is that if you or your child is uncomfortable working with advanced, new, or confusing material, progress will be hampered or stop.

To give you an idea of how important this skill is, let me point out that the COGAT is specifically designed to present the child with 9 sections of advanced, new, and confusing material on purpose. Reading comprehension questions on standardized tests have elements of new, advanced, and confusing.  Standardized tests now incorporate confusion into the math section.  At some point after 5th grade, school will be a steady stream of advanced, new, and confusing or you need to do more At Home Schooling.

For everyone below the 95% level, this is usually the first hurdle to overcome.  If you hand your child some challenging task, and your child responds with tears and frustration, you on the wrong side of the hurdle.  With older children, I get a range of responses in lieu of tears.  This is where my kids began and almost all of the kids I work with begin..

So I invented this skill called Being Comfortable with Baffling problems or material.  I tell the kid I'm Baffled, you're Baffled, we're Baffled together, but we're OK with that because it's the New Normal.  (One of the California schools officially discovered this skill while investigating students who fail freshman calculus and drop out.)

Then we work on a new advanced confusing problem together, usually a single problem for about 25 minutes.  The child starts out completely in the dark the whole time with no skills.   It's during this time that I work on the Seeing Skill, which I'll talk about later, and the Explaining Skill.  These are subskills under How To Read A Question.  There's a long road ahead of us and if the child is pained by not knowing, we'll never get to the next set of skills.

I've been working with a variety of children while I wait to restart the Chicago Project. (Showing up at schools in bad neighborhoods announcing that I am was going to take their best students to a GAT school didn't really go over really well so I need a plan B.  I was actually planning to take their worst students, but it didn't come across that way.)   I usually meet the child because a reader complains that their child isn't getting with the program.

Here's how it goes.  First, the parent describes their child's behavior and shows me test scores.  I think 'your child is way better than my child.'  Then I meet the child and am awed with how smart the child is.   Then I sit with the child doing problems of my choosing (ridiculously hard ones, usually from Test Prep Math).  I follow my approach exactly as I have outlined it in this blog over the years.  It works.

There is a battle that goes on at home between the child and the parent that doesn't happen between the child and a coach.  This has been well documented with fancy theories in research papers written by researchers who don't have children.   It's actually just a battle with the parent.  The parent has a variety of expectations which just put pressure on the child.  What makes me The World's Most Awesome Academic Coach is simply that I've been through it before and have a clear picture of what is going to happen:

1. Child working with material way beyond them with no skills to actually do it.
2. I am prepared to spend about an hour on the first question.
3. I am totally clueless and the child is going to have to explain every single thing on the page, each word, each number, each symbol, and tell me how it works.  This is where Seeing develops.
4. Here's my body language:  I'm sitting there like it's going to take 72 hours and am in no hurry for the child to tell me what the first word means.  I've already ripped out and thrown away the solutions because we're no where near solutions.  I'm interested in the question, not the answer.  I'll come back to this in the next article because it's the next skill.
5. When the child comes across something totally foreign, like 23 - 19 or square root or a rotating shape, we need to take a long break to investigate simpler versions of this problem, a definition or something, and work our way back to 23 - 19.
6. Then the child has to explain to me, The World's Biggest Dummy, exactly what the question is asking and how to answer it.  This is where Explaining develops.
7. The child isn't going to get the right answer on the first try, usually, or the second, or the third.
Test Prep Math directly targets this process with the 101 convoluted word problems.  The math concepts aren't that complicated and I stay away from advanced math mostly, but I couldn't resist throwing in a few new topics.  While I had to start out with some easy warm up problem, the goal with each work problem is that the child reads it and thinks 'what the heck did that just say' and has to read it again slowly.  There's a lot more, of course, but this is the foundation of the word problem section.

And here's what I have experienced in every single case in every subject, including test prep for the COGAT.   Eventually, the child can get through a problem, maybe get it right without crying or dropping the pencil 6 times per question (at 3-6 weeks usually).  Then some days the child actually sits there and does a few problems in a row without constantly asking questions that I'm not going to answer (6-12 weeks, depending on the child).  Eventually, advanced math or whatever we're working on is no longer baffling.

Once the child is immune to bafflement, they pick up actual skills, and the sky is the limit.  Most of my readers have children in the K-1 space, since most tests are in that space.  There is a wealth of material on the market for this age group.   I added Shape Size Color Count for age 4 and Test Prep Math for grades 2 to 4 to fill the gaps.   SSCC substitutes a long list of math words for actual confusion because, well, the kid is 4.  Grades 2 to 4 is a magical time for gifted because the curriculum at school is so bad, especially math, that it actually teaches negative skills, and the child's brain is on the verge of an explosion.

If you can get past bafflement, here's an example of what you can do.   Last weekend I presented my 3rd grader with the official SAT test prep book from the College Board and asked him to do the first 5 problems in the first math test.  He got the first 2 correct, and the next 2 correct after a discussion of how parenthesis work and you can't regroup 3x + 9x as 12 + 2x which I thought we already covered when we studied algebra.   He's on the young side.  He's still 8.

From experience, I know that by the end of 4th grade he'll be zooming through these tests with about 75% accuracy.  The #1 reason we're going to get there is that he is immune to totally baffling, confusing, age inappropriate material.  More importantly, as a parent, I'm immune to the his bafflement, and the bafflement of how the heck he screwed up the algebraic regrouping after our single 60 minute algebra problem from a month ago.  He'll be getting a remedial algebra course this weekend.

For those of you on the 1st step of the path, here's some more pertinent advice.  My revolutionary crash course in 6 week COGAT test prep is mainly about showing the child baffling material.  It has nothing to do with actually solving anything or learning anything.  A child going into the test prepared to be Baffled has about a 60 point advantage on children who have been prepped by practice test questions and go into the test expecting to know something.

## Friday, May 12, 2017

### How To Teach Cognitive Skills 2 of N

The Stages of Cognitive Skills Development

I've come to the conclusion that cognitive skills are age independent.

This is good news for any parent who stumbles across my blog when investigating GAT programs for their 3rd grade child and reads my articles about reading at age 3 or 4.  Yes, you may have totally missed the boat on early childhood development, but there is another boat at the dock ready to leave at any time.

I have met two year old who have no problem picking up an adult vocabulary.  These kids don't need a teacher because they have the skill set to teach themselves.

At the other end of the spectrum, I've worked with 10 year old children who are totally helpless with the easiest of problems because in lieu of learning any skills, they spent the last 10 years just learning stuff and how to do stuff. Show them something new and they are totally stuck.

In the middle there are the first graders who have no problem working their way through building thinking skills primary, grade 2&3, and on to grade 4&6.  I think age 6 is the sweet spot for test prep material (aka cognitive skills training material) for this reason.  In cognitive skills literature, "Grade 2" usually means "This is the book for a second grader if you've never seen one before" combined with a level of reading that is expected of an average 2nd grader.  I've been quietly working on a solution to this problem and am nearing completion.

Stage 1 - No Skills
The first stage of cognitive skills development is what to do when a child has none and bursts into tears when given a problem that they don't understand.  This could also be a 4 or 5 year old who reads a question or looks at a figure matrix and I can see they have about 30% of it swimming in their little brain with the other 70% left on the page for want of working memory space.

The goals for this stage are:

• To get the child to spend as much time as they need studying the problem and potential answers.   This is easier said than done in the US culture of speed, memorization and impatience.
• To celebrate mistakes.  I generally view answers as irrelevant to the learning process.  When the answer is announced, all learning stops.  When a child produces the incorrect answer, on the other hand, a brilliant neon sign starts flashing "Opportunity to Learn" whereas a correct answer means we just wasted time on something already mastered.
• To build an environment where confusion and bafflement are part of the normal expectations instead of something that requires tears.  In other words, we're working on something because you don't know it and can't do it.
Almost always during this stage the child needs to build their working memory.  If the child is comfortable reading a 5 word sentence with familiar vocabulary, we need to get the child to a 20 or 30 word sentence with 3 new vocabulary words.  Their working memory should hold all known and unknown concepts until the new words can be resolved, fit back into the hole, and full understanding achieved.

The same thing applies in math.   If the child can add 3 + 7 = ?, then we need to move on to 3 + 7 - 4 = ? and 3 + 7 - ? = 6, 33 + 71 - ? = 101, and then on to the 2 equation variety.

Confusion + a lot of time reading the question + mistakes go hand in hand with building working memory.

I suppose science, which puts reading and math together, would be a good place to teach cognitive skills, but it's so much easier to do so with reading and math and just let science be a Stage 2 beneficiary.

In order to build Stage 1 skills, the material must require the skills.   I prefer to work with a single problem that requires 15 minutes for a four year old up to 25 or 30 minutes for a 10 year old.  This is the exact opposite of doing a few pages from a workbook with the expectation of learning some domain content.  Spending 25 minutes on a single problem is probably not going to teach 3 new concepts.  I also like 5 or 6 problems because it's easier to handle for children at the starter end of the spectrum, and by the 4th or 5th problem I can see that their brain is exhausted.

As these skills are developed, the same level of problem might only take 15 minutes after 6 weeks, then 10, then less than 5.  I prefer to move to much harder problems to get back to the 25 minute mark, but to do so I make the problems 3 problems in one and add a lot of logic to the question to make it harder, or ambiguity.   So my 1 problem is really 5 or 6.

My favorite way to add logic is simply to rearrange the words and insert things like double negatives.
Those 3 problems in one could be 3 harder problems next time.  Three is a magic number.  After 3, working memory is usually exhausted and a pencil is required.  Also, I've noticed that cognitive skills tests usually require about 2 problems in 1 in all sections, but GAT cutoff is 95% or worse in most school districts so we are back to 3.

Most importantly, I answer questions with questions, leaving the work of thinking as the responsibility of the child, and waiting as long as it takes.  My record in a single sitting with a 10 year old is 3 hours on a single question, and 60 minutes for the 1st question is common.  With younger children I am willing to declare victory after 25 minutes of thinking and picking up some of a question.  There's always tomorrow.   In fact, if it's not Christmas Eve, there is always tomorrow with 100% certainty if that's what it takes.

Stage 2 - The Real Skills
Once the child has adequate working memory and the correct approach to the work (as outlined in Stage 1), the magic happens.  The child begins to devise ways to evaluate, organize and solve brand new problem.  The child sees patterns and relationships, details, and shortcuts.

These skills are the basis of IQ tests.   A cognitive skills tests measures the child's ability to evaluate a new problem and solve it, but an IQ test measures the child's ongoing performance and learned cognitive behavior in solving classes of problems that can only come from practice.  I hope this distinction is clear.  Unless you are desperate for a 99.8% of the COGAT (as are parents of Kindergartners in Chicago) test prep can usually stop after Stage 1.

In my experience, kids who have mastered Stage 1 have no problem teaching themselves the next level of skills.  I enjoy watching them come up with their own skill set.  It seems counterproductive to provide a list of higher order algorithms to solve a specific class of problems.  It's like 'unlearning'. It puts the answer ahead of the process and is detrimental in both the short term and the long term.

Nonetheless, I have encountered children who will never figure out on their own that a square can be transformed and due to symmetries (vertical, horizontal, diagonal, and rotational in increments of 90 degrees) the square will look like nothing happened to it.  This type of knowledge and related strategies are usually part of Stage 1 to make Stage 1 more interesting, and hopefully something else will come along in Stage 2 to be the basis of continued learning.

Stage 3 - Acceleration
Stage 2 skills continue to grow and multiply without limit.

I generally put advanced, repeatable algorithms in Stage 3 in my professional life, but when working with kids, I'm usually all Stage 1.

Conclusion
The 4 core skills from Stage 1 have never failed.  (Bafflement, a long time spent reading the question, shrugging off mistakes with little regard for the actual answer, and working memory).  This is the path to Stage 2 skills.

Unfortunately, I see no Stage 1 training in schools in any subject.  It's typically the opposite approach which results in not just a lack of learning skills, but the opposite skills, which I consider unskills or negative skills.  Think of impatience, having every question answered, having things explained, and generally sticking with easy one step problems to practice a concept that was explained at length with 3 examples.

Stage 1 Training is the #1 duty of every parent as far as the education of their child is concerned.  No one else is going to do it.

## Sunday, May 7, 2017

### How To Teach Cognitive Skills 1 of N

One of my readers asked me how to teach cognitive skills.  I promised to organize my thoughts and demonstrate.  This is going to be an N series of articles, probably 4 or 5.  This will set up the summer for us.  For those with September GAT tests, this will be our kick off to test prep season.

The Theory of Everything explains the motivation behind teaching cognitive skills: Teach a child to learn and everything else is taken care of.  Academic work is an opportunity to learn how to learn.  If you skip the learning part and just teach your child something, you are making your child dumber. I'll come back to this statement in a few weeks after we've gone through cognitive skills in more detail because I have an exact technical definition of 'dumber' and a technical proof to go with it.

In this article, I'm going to talk about vocabulary.  Vocabulary is the Kyber crystal of cognitive skills. It's easy to forget about vocabulary after 4th grade because there's so much more to worry about but it just gets more and more important.

Between the ages of 2 and 4, all learning is pretty much learning vocabulary.  The more the better. The distance between any two words is a thinking skill.  I'm willing to bet that a child's test score can be predicted by the number of words he knows.

I strongly recommend Vocabulary Workshop as soon as a child gets beyond phonics.  It's fun.  It's exercises provide partial coverage of the verbal section on tests.

The earlier you start memorizing words the easier it is to learn how to memorize words.  You will be shocked to hear this coming from me.  The Theory of Everything puts words in its own category. While I think that learning should be fun, learning words is like practicing a music instrument. Frankly, it's not fun all of the time but it is so incredibly important if you want to play on stage, you do it anyway.  You can make it less painful by removing pressure and just letting the process take as long as it needs.  But it still has to be done.

Why is it that some kids study 6 hours a night and other kids only study 30 minutes and do better? When you pack an extra 1,000 words into a brain, you make it twice as big.

I've found that if we get all of the words to a science unit onto the board we're 50% or more finished with the unit.  This applies to all ages but it saved us in first grade.

I like a word on its own as a thing to be admired. I like words as a puzzle piece to a sentence. I like the history of a word which I normally make up.  Here is the world champion of poetry explaining how he ended up being fascinated with words.  After I finished memorizing 3,600 words for the GRE, I started studying German to help take up some of the unused memorizing space and fell in love with words like he did, but ironically ended up studying math.

This brings me to my problems with vocabulary.   In one of my more insane experiments, I bought the College Board study guide to the SAT 2 years ago.  It is now out of print because the math is so easy; it's perfect for 4th - 6th grade usage for cognitive skills training.  I went back to the this book and started writing down words from the verbal section.  My new conspiracy theory is that they had to remove this book from print because it contains 100% of the words used on the SAT.

There are about 20 more words per SAT page that are Word Board worthy for age 11/12.  I think we're going to end up with 2,000 words. We'll be memorizing some for the tests coming up and some for the SAT.   I was really reluctant to share how we're getting ready for the 7th and 8th grade tests for high school because it's so competitive, then I realized that no one is insane enough to do this anyway.  Of all my books, I think the Pre-K Phonics book is the most valuable because it takes advantage of the phonics experience to pile on the 4 or 5 letter vocab words.  This book has an obvious marketing problem that I'll have to deal with after my next 2 projects.

Anyway, here is my problem.  How is my 6th grader going to respond when I drag him in front of 60 SAT vocabulary words that I jammed onto a single sheet and taped to the refrigerator?  If he looks at me and say's 'No way', he will have won the argument.

It turns out that it has been a lot of fun.  It's going slow, and I'm a bit disappointed that 'pristine' has stayed up there since the beginning.  Some days, we have fun and are silly and take 10 words down because they are known.  Some days are bad days and no words come down.  There is no grade.  Just progress where progress can be made.   This is the 2nd lesson of teaching cognitive skills.  No grade, just progress where progress can be made.

The first lesson of cognitive skills training is that vocabulary is vital.

## Thursday, May 4, 2017

### The Big Payoff To Stinking At Music

I've been sitting on an article called 'Grit 3 - Total Awesomeness' describing how I've been applying Grit Theory to academic skills and cognitive skills.   My thesis is that I know how to teach grit in this space, and the method is exactly the same method I have been using all along even before I heard about the work of Angela Duckworth.

I'm not going to hit the publish button until I can prove to myself that this article is credible.   It seems logical and credible enough to me, and it works, and it makes sense, but I'm really uncomfortable with the proposition that I was a totally awesome genius who stumbled across the elixir of awesomeness.  I think I could follow the trail left by researchers who guided my research, but it would take too long.

In the meantime, it is well know that one of the great facilitators of academic success is music.  When I read Tiger Mom, I thought two things.  First, we need music in this house.   Second, there's no way we're going to do lessons and 3 hours of practicing a day.  We're simply too American, and my two BOYS won't tolerate that [stuff] from me.

Here is my approach incorporating the ground rules:
1. We start piano as early as possible with Piano Adventures and youtube as the teacher.
2. I'll wiki and practice a little and figure out how it works until my child surpasses me by about age 6 because I stink.
3. At least 15 minutes of practice a day, and if we miss practice and have a hard time making it up on the weekends, then I start eliminating privileges of all kinds.  I've let my kids know that anything they possibly want qualifies as a privilege where music is concerned.
4. At about age 10, the child can pick another instrument if they want to.  In our case, this is band.
5. Quitting is not an option ever.
Daily practice bring the usually challenges.  My little genius has announced in the past that he will sit in his bedroom in the dark all day and forgo computers, eating, friends, and become a vampire.  I counter with my own practicing while I shout out all of the fun things I'm going to do when I finish.

I've found that 15 minutes a day produces enough adequacy (not excellence) to make practice more fun.   I've also been amazed at how we routinely go from total incompetence with each piece to memorization in about 2 weeks.   The 15 minutes becomes 20 or 30 at times on its own.

The stakes get much higher in 4th grade when we switch to band.  Band is our particular preference, as is wind instruments.  Your choice may vary.

If music is so darn important for your child, why the heck aren't you playing an instrument?  I find the response 'I did play for 10 years' to be inadequate.  So I found used instruments online and bought a really beaten up trombone that we played until it fell apart.   I switched to an old clarinet that I got refurbished and played along for a few years with my trumpet player until he banned me from practice because I'm annoyingly excited about practice and always want to do extra scales and such.

The younger one switched to the clarinet, so I switched to a saxophone.  He's trying to play the notes without squeaking and I'm stopping every third note to consult a fingering chart.   When I played the clarinet, I was pretty good, but in order to teach it, I turn to the internet.  As of right now, the best teaching for an instrument is now on youtube with a bit of searching.  The revolution in education already occurred here.

Since he's got another 6 months before he can join the band, and we've got time, I let him play around with the saxophone.  He said, "It's bigger than I am and crushing me!" so we are now trying the flute. He has yet to play the G on the flute but anytime he wants to put down the clarinet and try the flute, I let him.

This whole experience consists of the same thing we find in math, technical reading or reading comprehension, and science.  Here it is:

We're totally baffled, confused, unprepared.  Have to take breaks to look things up.   We try over and over and over again, piling up mistakes in our stinktitude.  It seems like lots of trying and no success for long periods of time, and then just as we get something, the next song comes along and we're back to total incompetence.

Over time, I can see a new note here, a proper measure or phrase there, or some other improvement. My kids think they stink because they currently do, on this song, which we're working on today, by I see they can zip through the song from last month by memory.

The older one will one day become the oldest member of the band because he won the war of attrition.  #4 above was the starting point, but our basic approach facilitates continuing in anything. He's not happy because his friends have been quitting every year.  I've explained to him that his role has changed.  It's called being a leader.  You think CEO's get to hang out with their peers all day?  No, the CEO's peers are CEO's of their own companies.  They only meet at Ted talks these days.

The one big difference between academic work and music is that in academic work we spend a lot of time looking at problems, backtracking and filling in gaps, and wondering what is going on in the problem at hand beyond just solving it.   In music, we just play through our lack of knowledge and make a note to figure out what that strange mark means before we leave the piece.  In other words, we use 3 of the core skills in music but all 4 in academics.  I suppose if music were elevated to the status of academic subjects I would use all 4 skills and we would investigate how John Williams designs a phrase.

Is it possible to teach grit by beating your child into submission, mastering each concept through hours of drudgery?  Maybe in music, with the right kid, but not with my kids, and certainly not in math.  They need lots of room for creativity and interest and imagination, and drudgery is not going to get them there.   In math, we've stunk our way into algebra, at age 8, not to mention quite a bit of other material on the way.