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.



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