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.

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