Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Stump The Coach

I think last weekend was the most fun I've ever had as an academic coach.  I had bunch of sessions.  It was me, the parent, and the child.

There's a lot going on in these sessions. 

First, I'm watching and learning from the child.  What peculiar mix of cognitive skills does the child have?  The broader skills are easy to identify, but various levels of various subskills are unique to each child and it's fun to watch how these skills interact with a problem.  I especially like to observer one group of subskills making up for a gap in another group so I can steer the child toward the area of growth.

I have to watch the clock because a child only has 20 minutes concentration and thinking if this child is working through one of my problems.  Varies by age and how the child is feeling that day. 

I plod along methodically through the problems making sure the child sees major and minor details or oddities and evaluates the problem thoroughly under the heading of '15 minutes evaluating the question and 1 minutes getting it right' instead of '1 minute evaluating the question and 15 minutes getting it wrong.'  During this process, the skills emerge that underpin a solid academic performance, not to mention success on an entrance exams.  I have yet to meet a parent who can spend as much time as I can on a question.

I am determined to not help the child.  This is really hard.  If I help in some cheaty way, the parent is going to see it, and then the parent is going to turn around and help the child from that point on and the child is never going to learn anything.   So I'm staring at a child who is staring at one of my problems and not getting any of it, and the clock is ticking.  It's circumstances like these where chain smoking would be appropriate, but I can't start smoking because the long term negative effects on health.  Not to mention it would look bad.

The first kid had some issues with double digit addition.  No problem.  Start with 10 + 10 and go from there.  Thanks to Poyla (1945).  The next kid had to work with the Blind Academic Coach, and every time he told me what to do, I would draw it (little kids never ask how a blind academic coach can draw so well) and then he would see that I drew was wrong because what he told me but it is wrong, and so is his logic.  4 or 5 attempts later, he totally gets it.

That was easy. 

Next I asked an older child to prove to me that a line has 180 degrees.  In this case, I tell him all sorts of useful things (like a right angle has 90 degrees) until he can actually put the pieces together himself.  Next time he'll get less help.  He actually made a valid argument why a line has 180 degrees.  I'll have to write this down because it's better than the one I came up with.

Then I think I met my match.  A little braniac said that my problems were easy (in the beginning of the book).  Nobody tells me my problems are easy.  Bring it on.  OK, let's do problem #46 (approximately).  Both of us were totally stuck.  The question made my brain hurt.  But the 20 minute time ran out so I was save by the bell.  I'm not sure the child was out of thinking time, but I sure was.

Getting to the point where your child can't solve a problem and has to repeat it the next day or next week is fine if you don't have a test deadline looming.  It's a huge learning opportunity.  Giving up and just telling the child how to do it is no help at all, unless you happen to have a few hundred more problems standing by, problems that just get harder and harder and harder.  I will recommend, however, if you have to help, set the problem aside for a few hours or a day, make the child try again, and then help.  Better yet, write your own problem that's sort of like the hard one, only much easier. 

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