Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Tiger Cub Parent

I am going to prove that being a softy parent will product much better results than being a strict, demanding parent.

I will admit that in the early days, I was a bit impatient and frustrated trying to get my useless under-qualified children to do productive academic work. It's hard to be a parent. You give your 5 year old a simple problem like 5x3 and they sob because they don't know why the plus sign is turned diagonally.

Why I'm a Softy

Every academic experiment that I have subjected to my children to has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. Every experiment. I've done dozens of these in all academic areas. I'm going to use the classic Every Day Math Grade 2 experiment as an example, but every single one of these challenges proceeds in exactly the same way:

  • Child spends 3 weeks getting through the first page.
  • Child spends the next 3 months getting most problems wrong and only doing a fraction of the problems that a child at the appropriate age would do.
  • Child starts to get things right and tends to work with less help for next few months.
  • By 8 or 9 months, child is starting to get most problems correct, albeit slowly, so we quit.

We've repeated this process in all academic areas over 8 years now and it always starts the same and ends the same.

It doesn't matter whether I'm demanding or not on the outcome. The child always gets from the first step to success just by doing a little each day. If I make comments like 'You're not trying and I'm disappointed' then an argument or more tears will ensue and we'll lose the whole day. Being demanding (or showing any emotion) tends to make it more painful, but doesn't change the outcome. I don't show negative or positive emotion. Positive emotion is equally counterproductive because when the child is getting everything wrong, you don't show positive emotion, and the child interprets that as the same thing as yelling and gets upset.

To repeat - the outcome is independent of whether the parent is demanding or not demanding. Being demanding wastes time.

Soft Limits

I have 3 soft limits. The first one is that our daily material is probably going to be ridiculously hard. The second is that each child has to do a little every day, like 15 minutes or an hour (for older kids). The third limit is when you ask me 'Can I use the computer because my friends are doing such and such right now' my response is 'Did you do your math today?'

These limits are soft because I've been doing this consistently for years. Of course a normal kid doesn't want to do ridiculously hard math. Of course a normal kid would rather just play. I am not personally offended by the inevitable complaining and begging. Do your math. I'll just say it softly, for the 13,567th time. No math, no computer.

The computer saved me. Before age 7, there was no computer option. I had to say things like 'you can go outside and play with your friends after you get your math done', or 'we'll leave for your T-Ball game after you do 3 problems'. Mostly, I had to sit there the whole time while we did it as a team. Before age 5, I had to keep a bag of skittles at all times.

Being a Softy Parent has long term benefits. I won't prove them here, but in short, the kids do lots of chores without being asked twice (they're like a Marines special forces unit in charge of household chores), they do their academic work on their own without my involvement, and they don't hate me. Plus, we exercise together, because of those skittles.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Nice Thing About Test Prep

The nice thing about test prep between the ages of 4 and 6 is that the same skills are used every few years until your child is finished with graduate school.

I'm gearing up for another round of tests with another group of 3 and 4 year olds. Chicago changed the start date for the programs that started in 1st grade (ours) to K; therefore test prep is officially defined as 'the sooner the better'. At least one of the kids I'm helping this year is in the suburbs. The suburbs tend to start later, like 2nd or 4th grade, and keep seats open for a child to join at his or her own pace. Chicago is more brutal.

For those of you who define test prep as 'do a lot of practice questions on a website' let me tell you what you are up against.

Vocabulary

I would love to do an experiment to see just how important vocabulary is to the test. I need one group of volunteers to study vocabulary; this group will not be allowed to do any practice questions or see a practice test. I need another group to do practice tests and not study vocabulary. I'm not sure any of my readers would sign up for this study, but fortunately I know a lot of people who don't prepare properly and show me their results and answer my questionnaire about practice methods. There are a lot of people in these 2 groups and the vocabulary group fairs much better.

Before we dive into reading, I want the child exposed to all math related vocabulary through 2nd grade. I'll take some 3rd grade words as long as they apply to generic topics like order or physical attributes. This not only addresses two-thirds of the test but is a good way to learn math.

During the reading process (age 4), there are only 2 constraints on vocabulary: I prefer short words that can be spelled using phonics rules and I exclude words that are only used at scrabble competition. I am tempted to publish a list of words entitled '100 words you need to know for the test', but the word list I put in the Pre-K Phonics book is better for brain development, is more ethical, and makes the other list irrelevant.

The normal rules of academic coaching apply to vocabulary. If the child actually memorizes the word 'trapezoid' and can spot the difference between trapezoid and quadrilateral, he will probably forget it 2 weeks later. Words like tall and wider will stick even at a young age. If a child forgets a word, it goes back on the Word Board. If a word is on the Word Board for 2 months, so be it.

During Kindergarten, we plow through Vocabulary Workshop. During first grade, it's Wordly Wise and Vocabulary Workshop since most school programs use Wordly Wise. By 1st or 2nd grade, the child is 2 years ahead and vocabulary work becomes efficient and effortless (depending on the day). By the end of 2nd grade, the brain is developed in this area and ready for different challenges. There's no point in going ahead 3 years before 4th grade, so we don't.

Skills Just Keep on Giving

Most school districts test in either in pre-K or K. Obviously, the program I outlined above cannot be completed in pre-K. We just keep up the 'test prep' until MAP or ITBS scores are where they need to be by 2nd or 3rd grade, and then we're finished with vocabulary. Where they need to be is 99%. Test prep means more than just getting into the right program. It means staying there, thriving, and maintain the same competitive advantage in skills until your child says 'you were right about the GRE' and you can retire.

By 2nd or 3rd grade the child memorizes new words on sight. It's cool to watch. It helps with all academic subjects, as you can imagine.

Starting in middle school, our super powers in vocabulary are needed each year.

One year we faced a difficult high school Chemistry course (in 7th grade, of course). I bought an AP Chemistry book from a used book site and we spent 6 weeks memorizing vocabulary. Quality parent-child time. It paid off.

Then we took the SAT 9 months later. I'll provide details in my other blog over the next few years because a) we're doing it again with the 2nd child and b) we're going to crush it this time because I know what I'm doing now.

The last hurdle to high school entrance is on December 1. This exam isn't the hardest of the two required exams, but why take changes. Vocabulary is a topic. I think we can adequately prepare in about 4 hours. I'm about to search for 'vocabulary word list freshman year of high school' or 'top vocabulary for the PSAT'.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

What is Giftedness and How to Get It

My favorite reader, Anonymous, left a great comment on last week's article. I encourage you all to read it. In this article, I'm going to describe how I define 'giftedness' and how I go about imparting it on other parents.

Here's the long term equation for giftedness:

Intelligence + Will + Interest = Your Child's Academic Performance

This equation was reported by David Lohman in a few of his papers. David Lohman is my hero for not his role as current author of the COGAT, but making all of his work publicly available so I could put the pieces together and defeat his test.

Next, take the classical education, which worked well for about 2,500 years until people started mucking with education. Here is an even briefer summary of Jessie Wise's brief summary in The Well Trained Mind. The classical education, as far as I can tell, mainly involves lots of reading and Jessie's daughter Susan ended up teaching literature at a university. I had to modify it a bit for math but I used the same formula.

  • Memorize everything from age 6 until about 4th grade.
  • Learn to think until high school.
  • In high school, learn to critically analyze literature and begin forming opinions.
  • In college use your emerging expertise in opinionationizing to choose a major that offends your parents.

In order to inject 'giftedness' into the classical education, I added a new step ahead of the traditional definition that begins at age 4.0 and overlaps step one above until about 6 or 7 years old depending on when you start. It is a combination of Jim Trelease's reading advice and Lohman's COGAT, going overboard on phonics and vocabulary, again taking Lohman's advice about how to pass the COGAT very literally.

  • Do phonics and get 1,000 books from the library. I took all phonics from pre K to 2nd grade, math vocabulary through 2nd grade, and packed it into Pre-K Phonics and Conceptual Vocabulary.
  • Master the COGAT. This was really hard at first (like before age 4), so I created Shape Size Color Count as sort of a pre-test-prep book. Still paying dividends.
  • Give your child a piano or keyboard, Piano Adventures, and ask him to teach himself piano.
  • Using Vocabulary Workshop + Pre-K Phonics, we kept the Word Board going until vocabulary was memorized on sight.
  • Test Prep ended right on schedule during Christmas break of Kindergarten. We used about a half dozen books from my curriculum page for the core curriculum with others as supplements. We started math with some counting (up to 5) and then jumped into Every Day Math Student Journal 1 for Grade 2.
Tiger Mom 2.0

Everything reading related was quality parent child time. There were some challenging moments with phonics (the word CAT for example was hell and took 3 weeks), but anything vocabulary related turned out to the the fun part of the week. This is where most of our time was spent, sitting with books deciding how many words my child would read (3) and how many I would read (the rest) on the next book, or standing at the Word Board acting out what the word 'mute' means while I keep asking a silent kid until we both break out laughing.

Math had its share of tears - not because I expect achievement. There were tears because I was content with my children spending 30 minutes figuring out a problem and explaining it to me than spending 2 minutes just telling them how to do it. When I say the word 'math', it means actual math or it means anything in the test prep curriculum that I list on this website on the curriculum page on the right. It's not about learning anything. It's about learning.

Working on cognitively challenging material taxes the brain. In fact, I expect during the new classical education step, a child's got about 15 minutes of quality thinking each day, maybe 4 or 5 days a week. I don't ask for a correct answer - or any answer for that matter - but we aren't going to stop until the brain is out of gas.

In the comment, Anonymous mentions the 10,000 hour rule. If I add up all of the cognitive skills training, including math, we're at about 250 hours over a two year period plus a lot of reading. The quality of these 250 hours varied from getting all 5 problems wrong to getting 2 or 3 out of 5 right.

If you visited my house during our cognitive skills training, you would think that I had very low standards and we were not learning anything at all. You would be 100% correct.

This website is about the 'intelligence' part of the equation above. Will and Interest are covered in the other blog. Your child's hard work in teaching himself goes part way toward 'will', but by 4th grade you still have most of the work to do. All of that reading lays the ground work for 'interest', but again by 4th grade you have to work really hard as a parent to stay out of 'interest' or you'll ruin it.

The new version of the Tiger Mom expects work every day toward our goals, but doesn't really care what the result is. The result takes care of itself. The result is way beyond expectations, so why push it?

The definition of gifted

Almost every state has a similar definition of gifted. A gifted child, per definition meets two criteria. The first criterion is that they learn quickly, independently, and would be bored in a classroom teaching material the gifted child already knows. The second criterion is that the gifted child scores at 98% or higher on a test that measures the academic and thinking skills that produce a child capable of learning quickly and independently.

Therefore, the path to giftedness is pretty straight forward. Teach the skills that the test is measuring.

When I started this research, every single book, paper, article, and pamphlet on giftedness said that it is genetic, at least in part. I have proven that it is ZERO percent gifted and can easily show that only bad logic and ignorance can ascribe cognitive skills to genetics. Even for those at the 99.9999% level with parents who never graduated high school.

So we're down to about 250 hours of investment to set your child on the right path to giftedness. If it's just the test you're worried about, you might be able to get to 95% in about 6 to 8 weeks and 100 hours, but only if the cutoff is lower, and you still have the rest of the work to do or they'll have a really hard time in their new program.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The State of Test Prep

Thanks to Google's diabolical news algorithm, my personal news feed includes every article on education, testing, GAT programs, SAT test prep, and any content that includes the words gifted or talented. I accidentally clicked on an article about Nebraska football and was immediately inundated with articles from cornhusker.com, gonabraska.com, redandkernally.com and other sites. So I read about education and the Big Red.

All of the news is bad, and about 80% of articles are inaccurate, misleading, or full of incomplete or faulty logic, even from authors who bill themselves as experienced educators in GT programs. Being a parent who values education makes you Public Enemy Number One. If you want a good education for your child, you are the problem.

The reason you want your child in a gifted program is that the non-gifted program is 2 years behind the rest of the world and teaches your child to not think by subjecting him to spoon feeding and mind numbing worksheets. We can do mind numbing worksheets at home, thank you, if we want to. I know how to read to my child from a math book while he stares into space.

In high density urban environments, education has additional challenges. I'm surrounded by great schools that are 1/3 ELL, 1/3 zero reading at home, and 1/3 really bright kids. Mixed classrooms have been proven superior for gifted children, but only if the teach has the training, support, curriculum, and time to teach 3 levels of material. None of them do, except in well crafted studies. A gifted program is not an option - it is a minimum requirement for pre-college education. In a rural environment where I came from, I'd say the situation is more dire.

Basic parenting

Before I discovered 'optional' programs, I decided that my kids should read a lot and be exposed to a wide variety of what our world has to offer. On a daily basis, they should be subjected to material that is challenging and just above their cognitive grasp, aka something to make them think, aka math. According to current thinking on gifted education, this makes me wealthy and privileged. Our public librarian should have been confused why I visited weekly instead of sending my butler.

After I discovered gifted education, we changed gears a bit. Reading is good education, but 2 years of advanced vocabulary in one gulp is gifted. We stopped doing 'math', and started doing 'math you will not see for 2 more years.'

More advanced parenting

Somewhere along the way, I stopped trying get my child to learn math. I shifted to getting my child to teach themselves math. This dramatic shift in pedagogy came about because of the step I outline below, but it had a dramatic shift on the pace and the nature of the work.

If you want your child to shine on double digit addition, for example, you teach the mechanics of double digit addition, the child practices double digit addition a lot, probably starting with single digit addition and working their way up step by step until their speed and accuracy is there. People are amazed at how someone so young is so fast and accurate at double digit addition and you are very proud.

But if you take a step up to teaching your child to teach themselves math, you have to walk into what I call the Education Disaster Zone. When your child gets the hang of 4 + 5, probably counting on their fingers, you hit them with 23 + 57. They ask 'What is 23? Where is the arithmetic operator that is supposed to be between the 2 and the 3?' They can say 'arithmetic operator' because you have been pummeling them with vocabulary for the last 3 or 4 months. Instead of 20 problem at 30 seconds per problem, they are getting half way through one problem (23 + 57) in 20 minutes, barely getting any of it. As soon as they get 23 + 57, it's on to the next topic.

The child may still be counting on their fingers. 23 fingers is a problem, but whatever. In the meantime, the child just spent 6 months trying to develop the skills needed to handle what I call 'thinking work'. Not memorization (which comes anyway thanks to vocabulary), not speed, not accuracy, but advanced thinking and problem solving skills. 6 to 12 months later, they will emerge with a formidable tool set.

More effective parenting

Thanks to the COGAT, we had to take a 4 month hiatus from math and focus on non-verbal content. It turns out that this material is raw cognitive thinking training. The test prep approach, in retrospect, is muchg more effective and efficient thinking training when combined with supplementary material.

After each test, we came back to math, and it was a lot easier, even with my insane program. No math for 4 months and the child jumps back in, ahead of where they were, working more quickly and with less help. Thanks COGAT. Why don't schools take this approach? Probably because they are stuck with Common Core.

Step up to coaching

The biggest challenge in this approach is getting your child to stay in the game when he's getting trounced by the material. If your child is 'naturally gifted', because you did all of the things you were supposed to do before the age of 3, none of which I did, you may be wondering what problem I'm trying to solve.

The problem is giving your child the education that he deserves, the education that all children deserve but very few will get because, according to my news feed, the whole country is turning against gifted education. Fine - this will make it easier to get into college for DIY's like me who put a bit of effort into At Home Schooling after school each day.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

GAT Games

Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could turn your child into a genius by playing games and doing projects all day? Technically, you can, but none of us are willing to risk it except for home schoolers in Montana.

Here are some of our favorite games. On the way to 99% these games become very competitive high stakes cage matches. These games are fairly age independent and work through different levels of certain cognitive skills. All best practices from previous article apply here.

Find the dinosaur

When my child was between the ages of 2 and 5, we would play this game in lieu of getting to bed on time. Any dollar store or drug store has a pack of animals, dinosaurs, and fish. Get all of them.

Find a messy room. Uncleaned bedrooms are ideal. Ask your child to leave the room and close the door. Hide the animals in plane sight. Invite your child to come back into the room, sit down, and from their vantage point - without moving - identify each animal in their hiding place.

The rules vary at age 2. There's no way you can ask a 2 year old to sit in one place; instead she'll run around the room collecting animals.

GAT Extensions
  • As your child develops visual acuity, hide the animals more carefully so that only a small portion is visible.
  • Close your eyes, and ask your child to describe where and how the animal is hidden, including orientation. Vary the orientation.
  • Invite your child to take a turn hiding the animals for you. When the child is 2, he will hide the animals in the exact same places that you
  • did and jump up and down and dance next to each animal gesturing wildly and laughing while you pretend you don't see the turtle in the exact place you hid the turtle on your turn.
  • Don't forget to wiki each of the animals and use the proper name. Vocabulary is king in cognitive skills.

Over time, you should see the direct result of their growing skill set, e.g.in the nonverbal section of practice tests.

Find the word

Say a word backwards and ask your child what the word is. For example, is erutinruf is furniture.

One nice thing about this game is that it can be played anywhere, including the car. Another nice thing about this game is that it covers the gamut of cognitive skills from starter skills to very advanced IQ test taking skills. If your child has to sit for the WISC, this is your game. Finally, there are unlimited variants of this game, like anagrams and word scrambles.

If your child is learning phonics, stick with 3 letter words.

If your child is preparing for an IQ test, use a lot of simple 2 syllable words, like schoolbus or subway. There is an important reason for this approach. The path from an IQ of 100 to an IQ of 172 is algorithms, and IQ tests like words, so your child needs to become adept at word algorithms. In this case, the algorithm to solve subloohcs in 1/10th the time is to solve 'sub' and 'loohcs'.

In the absence of algorithms, your child will build working memory. This game is the working memory builder while your child struggles with sbuloohcs slowly and carefully with repeated do overs. It is both enjoyable and painful for me to watch a child plod along with the standard approach.

To make the game more fun, play the game in a public setting where there are posters and signs and billboards and choose a word that your child can find. Your child will be exercising a few important sub-skills while comparing each visible word to the backwards word. Repetition is an opportunity for your child to invent shortcuts.

The only way to get from linear thinking to algorithmic thinking is for you not to tell your child the rule that problem decomposition is 10 times as fast, but make them struggle the hard way (building working memory) until they figure it out for themselves. If your child is 10, and they don't show dramatic improvement in 4 weeks, explain the easier way.

I'm thinking of a color

The rules of this game are simple. You say, 'I'm thinking of something in this room and it's color is green'. Then your child looks around and guesses which green object you are thinking about.

How do you turn this game into a cognitive skills builder? The green object could be a the small plant in a painting on the wall, or the red object could be their lips. Not a bad start. Do these things as well. But no, this will not do.

'I'm thinking of an object that slightly smaller than the previous object but is used by the same profession'. You just nailed both figure matrices and word analogies. If your child has to sit for the COGAT and not the WISC 5, this is your game.

Conclusion

Games are a fun way to pass the time on the march to 99%, but you're not going to get there by playing the average version of games at the average level.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Helping and Not Helping

Shortly, I'm publishing a 2 part how-to for parents who just found out about GAT.  It's not bad.  The bullet points from the first video would make up the table of contents if I ever write a book on how to cheat your way into a GAT program.  We have to reshoot the 2nd video because my 10 year old editor screwed up the audio. I'd help him fix it, but I don't know how to use Premier Pro.

The weird thing about cheating into a GAT program is that if you do it right, your child actually acquires GAT skills. The other way your child can acquire GAT skills is to put them in a GAT program.  In other words, GAT is a self fulfilling prophecy.  If you act like GAT, and walk like GAT, and talk like GAT, you'll end up GAT.    See Amy Cuddy on 'Fake it until you make it' for inspiration.

In my video, I cover coaching skills, including not helping.  This skill needs some elaboration.  For those of you who are thinking 'my child does their grade level or next year's math worksheet on their own with no problems', I'm talking about something insanely hard, age inappropriate, that requires concepts and skills that your child does not have.  Something they actually need help with.

But you're not going to help.

Easier said than done

From a very young age, my kids had daily math.  Someone once told me that Indian and Chinese schools are 2 years ahead in math, so their first math was a 2nd grade workbook in Kindergarten.  It seemed reasonable that if they took long enough on a single question, maybe 25 minutes, they would eventually get it on their own. 

When test prep season rolled around (in one case 2 months before we started doing math), we had to start all over again with figure analogies and classification.  Again, you spend enough time on a single problem, you'll eventually get it.

Why would you spend 25 minutes on a hard problem, when you could spend 25 minutes on 20 easier problems? Wouldn't your child learn 20 times as much doing 20 times the number of problems?    Good questions.  We're not trying to teach the child whatever the subject of the problem is, we're trying to teach them learning skills at the highest level.  Then 6 months later, they can teach themselves.  Or, in the case at hand, they can teach themselves how to do a problem they've never seen before in order to pass a GAT test and get into the desired program.  As I point out in the video, you won't be in the room to help.

What to do instead

So you're sitting there for 25 minutes not helping, your child is struggling (which is good), maybe crying (which is bad), what do you do to pass the time?  You the parent learn problem solving skills, and in the process, convey these to your child.

The first problem solving skill is to understand the question.  That seems obvious until you are faced with a question you don't understand, in which case most people give up and jump to the solving part.  Have the child explain it to you, one shape, one word at a time.

If your child is lacking some skill to put the pieces together - inching toward the solution step - then you need to backtrack on that step.  In math, this is double digit addition for the first time, which is actually multiple steps in one; maybe you need to work on adding numbers that are multiples of ten.  In figure classification, this is brainstorming the names of attributes and seeing which shape or picture has what attribute.  Sometimes it means cutting out shapes and comparing them, or drawing each shape and their 6 potential transforms, then coming back to the problem.

The child will have no idea what you are doing other than prolonging the question until the light bulb goes off.

Then the child gets the problem wrong and you don't care.  You carefully chose material beyond their abilities for this exercise.  Of course they got it wrong.  Start over.  There's no penalty.

What you accomplished

You child just mastered zero math.   They 'learned' nothing and if you show them the exact same problem tomorrow they'll be stuck again and get it wrong.

In fact, they just unlearned.  They unlearned that quantity is quality, that getting an incorrect answer is bad, that mommy loves you because you know something.  They unlearned going fast, memorizing, caring about the material.

Instead, the child just spent 25 minutes learning how to go slow, to look at details, to decompose a problem, to investigate a problem thoroughly, maybe taking a sidebar on sub-skills.  These are very advanced graduate level foundational problem solving skills.  In other words, we're teaching the child how to be gifted and talented.  The gift is going slow, and the talent is not giving up.

Are there shortcuts?

Suppose your child has to take a cognitive skills test in 2 weeks.  You've done nothing up to this point to prepare.  Will the approach above prepare your child for the GAT test, or do you want to teach them how to transform shapes and worry about learning after the test?

These tests are not designed to measure how much your child knows.  They are designed to measure how they go about learning and problem solving.  These tests are really well designed to meet this objective.  On the hardest questions, the ones that lift the score above the cutoff, prior knowledge and practice is not going to help.  The only thing that will help your child is the learning skills. 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Test Prep Season Has Begun!

Registration in Chicago will open next month for their gifted and talented programs which have the code name 'options programs'.  About this time, many parents find out about the gifted and talented programs in their school districts.  Some will not find out until right before the registration deadline in December.

This year, I'm thinking of reserving a room in the library at the end of my block and presenting a free seminar.  Unfortunately, I don't think I have any readers in my neighborhood and I don't have time to advertise.  Also, 'free' makes many parents uncomfortable, including my free consulting, like the work I'm doing with a couple of kids in the 3-4 ranges on my block.

My 10 year old has agreed to film me and he has Adobe Pro, so I think we'll do videos instead.

My target is going to be K-1st grade for a couple of reasons.  First, there is plenty of material on the market for this age group and none of it is mine so I don't have to sell my books, as awesome as they are.  Secondly, this is the most competitive of all age groups and there's nothing more enjoyable than a daunting competitive challenge.

Chicago has reorganized their GAT programs recently so most of the slots are for Kindergarten.  Personally, I think 2nd grade is a better grade for waking up early to catch a 7 am bus, but a program is a program.

I need a catchy title for my series, like '100% Guaranteed Pass Rate For Less Than $100 of Books Except You May Not Get Your Act Together On The First Try Or Your Child May Have A Bad Day', only shorter.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Tiny Clients

A few years ago, babies began moving into our neighborhood. They brought their parents. Occasionally, maybe at a block party, I'll run into one of their parents and ask how things are going?

'How are things going?', I'll ask.

Things are fine, the parent replies.

'What is your plan for your child's academic future?', I'll ask next.

Who are you?, the parent asks.

Test prep season is now beginning and these babies are in the 3 to 4 year old range. Between now and February, kids in Chicago are preparing for a GAT test, and I know the secret - so do you if you've read any of this website. My track record is 100%. I just got all of my books back last month, and now they are going out the door again.

The pitch

Chicago has some of the top elementary schools in the country. Kids need to pass a test to get in, and by 'pass' I mean score somewhere in the 99% range on a test that evaluates cognitive skills. These skills are great predictors of academic success. If you take your child's academic future seriously, at some point you'll want to cultivate this skill set. If you are overly concerned about elementary school, you'll want to do this as soon as possible, ideally before kindergarten.

Our GAT program is at a school that has some slots available in what they call 'the neighborhood program'. Personally, I'm impressed with the neighborhood program. The little sister of my child's classmates is going to the neighborhood program. I'm on the case. There's no reason why any child can't get into the gifted program.

What's happening in New York?

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza recently lamented the fact that certain ethnic groups that represent 70% of the city only represent 10% percent of the seats at the best programs in New York. We have the same problem in Chicago. This is a big problem in a democracy where people vote. Why would 70% of the voters be interested in spending money on 1 or 2% that already seem to have a lot going for them?* It's a problem that needs to be fixed.

Carranza is taking some steps that Chicago did, like a proposal to set aside 20% of the seats for underrepresented minorities. He's also increasing test coverage.

I'm still waiting for both Chicago and New York to ask a more obvious question. Why are the underrepresented groups not taking education as seriously as the parents of kids in GAT programs, and what can we do about it? The leaders in Chicago have a view that things are unfair. Those in GAT programs tend to have money, and those who are left out tend to have a lot less of it. That must be the problem.

Money is not the problem. Money is highly correlated with education, and educated parents are highly correlated with educated children. A child can get into a GAT program with a spend of less than $100, but with a time spend of about 10 to 15 hours per week per child, mainly reading to the child or yelling at the child because they just missed a problem for the 5th time and is now laying under the table crying. There are large under-represented groups who either don't have 10 to 15 hours a week, don't think it's important, don't know about it, or can't do it without some help. I help parents with less than 1 hour per month, but these tend to be highly educated parents. When I help the parents in underprivileged groups, it takes more like 5 to 10 hours a week. I volunteer to help any underprivileged minority family with whatever it takes.

I'm simply waiting for a leader in Chicago or New York to ask 'what can we do to step up?'. This is a different question than 'what is unfair about the system?' or 'how can we provide a top notch education to a child who isn't ready for it?'. Increasing GAT screening coverage and setting aside seats are two great ideas, but the problem is not going to be solved until we ask how we can pass on our education values and know how to the parents who are not at the table.

*To answer my question above - why spend money on the best and the brightest? The answer is that the best and the brightest are going to lead this country in the next generation and we need to get them ready. Cutting their funding is not going to solve our problems. I'm counting on this group to solve our problems.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

The Cognitively Charged Classical Education

In this article, I'm going to explain how I supercharged the classical method by interjecting cognitive skills training. In short, I introduced a few new stages, created a new R, and changed the approach to the other R's.

The timing and approach varies for each child. There are only so many parents per child in each family, it takes parents a while to get up to speed, and most of us didn't start early enough. None of this matters. The child will catch up.

A short summary of the classical education

Stage 1 Pack as much information as you can into your child's brain. Doing this will of course expand the brain as fast as you pack it in, so it's a losing battle. This is usually ages 4 to 9.

Stage 2 Teach your child how to think so that they can disagree and dispute everything during dinner conversation. This stage takes up the rest of grade school.

Stage 3 The child becomes a teenager and formulates their own opinions. But you would never know this unless you stay up late because they do not talk before 10 p.m. This age is when real writing begins.

The classical education traditionally includes subjects like Grammar, Logic, and Rhetoric.

The Cognitively Charged Classical Education

To start, we can throw out logic and grammar as subjects because these concepts will permeate all instruction. Similarly, test prep is logic overkill. The CCCE subjects are now Reading & Vocabulary, Math & COGAT Test Prep, and Everything Else like Science and Video Game History. Music and craft projects are ancillary activities that your child does to get out of doing math or COGAT test prep.

Stage 0 Starting Early

My neighbor just returned a stack of books I let him borrow so he could put is 2nd child into our GAT program. At the top of the stack was Pre-K Phonics and Conceptual Vocabulary. What a great book. It's patterned after the early phonics courses from the 1970's. But it contains 400% of the phonics and 10 times the vocabulary. I noticed that one of the Amazon reviewers hated the book. Maybe they didn't read the introduction. We started this book on the 4th birthday (turned out to be a less than fun birthday activity - this is a no-nonsense book and you have to provide your own fun) and 6 months later my child was plowing through books and asking questions like 'what does disconcerting mean?'

Starting at age 3, you get a stack of books and read nonstop. By the end of age 4, there's still a stack of books but you do less and less of the reading.

During reading you don't have to worry about challenging your child to think. I'm not recommending that you crush the wonder out of books by explaining everything; maybe you ask a few questions and count to 20 before crushing the wonder out of books by explaining everything. But you use lots of vocabulary; talk like an adult. You've never met a sentence that couldn't be improved by the addition of a few subjective clauses. Pack the brain.

Get a vocabulary workbook. Post words on the word board. And when you see a word on the word board, add 10 more that are related. (Think like an GAT test analogy question.)

I remember my child staring at the word board when there were 100 words on it. He might get one or two each day, but 5 more would go up. One day it was empty. Two and 1/2 years later words never went up there because they were memorized on sight. The word board discussion and the discussion during reading is more than enough grammar.

Stage 1 COGAT Test Prep & Math

This stage ideally begins at age 5, and begins with a math book your child won't see for 2 more years in school.

During reading time, I was not reluctant to share any thoughts, ideas, topics, and information that came to mind. I explained everything. When we got to Math and COGAT, I explained zero. Zero. Cognitive skills are not about what your child knows, but what they can figure out on their own ('their' is the grammatically accepted way of representing 'his' or 'her'). If it takes them a week to figure out the 1st problem on page 1, then that's where they are. Their learning process will accelerate, but only if it's 'their' learning process. There are plenty of ways to help the learning process which I explain the the Test Prep Math series, but none of these ways involve you telling your child something, like how to do addition.

Some days (I call these bad days) I had to jump in their and share the work, or even do the whole workbook page just to stop the tears. But most days, I just asked questions and helped him backtrack. If there was a 5 step problem with 20 mini-sub-steps, and he only got 1/3 of one of the mini-steps, that was what he got. We would plod on another day.

I also lump music into this bucket. I'm a fan of 'here's an instrument and some books, teach yourself.' I should write more about 'teach yourself' because we're a bit over the top there as well. It's amazing what a child can accomplish on their own if a parent is patient enough to let them.

Until the end of 1st grade, we would alternate cognitive skills training (4 or 5 months) with math.

By the end of this stage, you're out of the explaining and teaching business in all subjects until you teach trig in 4th grade.

Stage 2 Science, History, and Everything Else

Between 2nd and 4th grade, we have a mini-stage while topics drop off. By 2nd grade, reading and vocab are already overcharaged. Math goes on autopilot until the end of 4th or 5th grade when we get serious again. There's no reason why your child has to know how to do long division with decimal fractions at this age - or ever - because it's boring and a useless skill. Stage 2 is what we do waiting for Stage 3.

Science has always been present in reading and projects. Science is wonderful at age 6 and 7 because it's all baking soda, wiki, and molecular white boarding. Magic School Bus is great. Looking up the earth's core to prove your textbook wrong is fun. Taking a few minutes to find out the who and when for each science topic is fun, at least for me, and if it's fun for me, we keep doing it. Try to teach your child molecular biology in one sitting, then do some historical research to determine that this 30 minute topic which is incomprehensible took many brilliant minds 3,500 years to figure out. This is true of algebra and calculus.

History is also great at this age. Thanks to Star Wars and Disney, movies are no longer plot and characters, they are part of an historical stream of directors, writers, cannon, and a 9 part series. Take advantage of it. This is true of video games as well which have been building off each other since Pong. I like to see 2 hours of research, discussion, arguing and more wiki'ing about screen topics for every hour of screen time.

If you are all 'telling' during reading, and no telling at all with math, Science and History and Art are somewhere in the middle. You can have fun delving in, exploring, doing your own thing, but - and this is a really important but - DO NOT ENCOURAGE your child in any way. As soon as you try to 'help' by signing your child up for a science camp or getting a stack of books or having your child talk to the neighbor who does physics at Fermilab, you will permanently destroy your child's interest in that subject.

For this reason, I leave At Home formal writing and science for 8th grade. I'll have to explain this in my other blog. For now, I'll just end with a Stage 4 story. That also leaves Stage 3 out of this article. The Cognitive Skills addition to the classical education ended around 3rd grade which is why I only cover stages 0 through 2 above.

Epilogue

My 6 year old showed a strong understanding of how advertising manipulates people. I publicly declared him the writing guy and told him to admit defeat in math and science. It turns out that he's really good in math. Who knew? But advertising is exciting and he can be very successful making people buy things that they don't need.

Last night at dinner the 13 year old version of himself announced this about his intended profession. 'I still say that I'm interested in advertising, because it's goes over well in conversation, but what I plan to do is to study astrophysics so I can write a computer program to find the galaxy that looks like Yoda.' Yes, there is a galaxy that looks like Yoda. He saw it on a trip to the Planetarium.

One day, he'll be studying math in college and find out that there is a Yoda in advertising as well, and it will take a math program to find it. I'm not going to say this but it will happen.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

The Appeal

I've spent all week pondering a question for a Power Mom who just entered the GAT Hall of Fame. I've gotten the same question at least 20 times in the last five years.

What do you do when your child is a few points shy of the cutoff and your school district has an appeal process?

Let's spend a little bit of time - like most of it- studying the question before answering it.

The appeal process will consist of you convincing the teacher and possibly a gifted administrator that your child belongs in that gifted class despite the deficient scores.  You are either a) a laid back parent or b) a pushy high stress competitive parent or c) somewhere in between.

Meanwhile, the teacher has had 100 of these meetings with a variety of parents across the spectrum.  Most of the kids, 95 to be exact, are not in the top 5%.  The average parent has no idea what a gifted kid looks like, no metric or way to compare, is totally enamored with his perfect son, and demands a seat in the gifted program because he is a lawyer. 

Then you walk in and the teacher is already in a bad mode.  If you watch America's Got Talent, or even better, the music themed precursors where Simon Cowell was a cynical jerk with little patience for untalented contestants, you know the mood of the teacher.

I've seen 6 year olds explain advanced physics or talk with a high school vocabulary.  Let's hope one of these kids wasn't in the room for the last appeal.

Step 1: Prepare

Across all subjects, what makes your child top 5%?  Prepare concrete examples of maturity, interest, effort, going deeper, exploring, asking questions, teaching herself things across school subjects, art and projects.

Reading and vocabulary are essential.  However, if your child reads 6 hours a day, only admit 3 hours a day, and make the last hour something with talking, drawing or acting.  GAT teachers hate kids who read 6 hours a day, because it disrupts class participation and group activities when a child is willing to sit silently because she's smarter than everyone else by about 5 years. Most GAT kids are gregarious, making the reader look less intelligent, when in fact a strong reader should probably just skip grade school.

Does your child show an interest in science or history?  If not, make it happen ASAP and then write it down.  In other words, cover your bases.  Get 20 Magic School Bus books, make your child read them all in 1 day, and then say 'She read 20 Magic School Bus books in one day!'

Step 2: Be Nice

You are walking into the presence of an expert.  He may be short and green and have big ears and a funny way of talking, but he's 926 years old and can lift space ships using the force.  Plus he's in a bad mood and is skeptical that this parent will be different.

Step 3:  Don't Give Up

Some of you are far too nice about the whole thing, which is good, but niceness should never cross the line to 'OK, I guess my kid doesn't belong in this program' if in fact your kid spends 2 or more hours a day working on academically related topics and is only a few points shy of the cutoff.

The Hall of Fame

The family I mentioned earlier put 3 kids in a GAT program in one year.  I got an email about the youngest who missed the cutoff by a hair.  You should be giving me advice.

I'm also inducting another family who put twins into a GAT program.  It was a reasonable academic effort, but the kids were already over the top smart when I met them.  The mom went through the most frustrating complicated bureaucracy imaginable, and no analogy will suffice to demonstrate how bad it was.  But she didn't give up, appeal after appeal.

Congratulations inductees.May your children grow up to fix our world.

Sunday, July 29, 2018

Goal Effort Outcome

When I set out to be a better parent edjumacation-wize, I chose 3 goals:

  1. My children would get 98.6 or higher on the COGAT
  2. So they could succeed at the really hard program they qualified for with that score even if we cheated to get in 
  3. They would learn how to teach themselves math and thus do well in all subjects and life because I'll be darned if I'm going to teach them math.

The 3 goals are the exact same thing; not close, not related, but identical. 

Unfortunately, teaching your child how to learn is counter-intuitive and very frustrating.  89% of parents will not let their child learn how to learn enough for the child to get into the 90's on the COGAT.  94% of parents don't go far enough so that their child gets to 95.  You get the picture.

Most parents are happy when their child does slightly challenging material like math facts or fractions, practices until mastery, followed by a baby step in complexity and practices a lot until ready for the next baby step.  I get really frustrated when working with these kids.  I ask them to show me how they did the problem, and they provide polished mechanical algorithms that were invented by an adult.  Some kids understand these mechanics, some kids don't care.

When children invent their own mechanical algorithms, their innovations have breathtaking complexity and apply widely to a variety of fields.  It takes very little brain power to learn an algorithm.  It takes a lot of brain power and a long time to invent one.  Each time the child invests an algorithm, their brain increases by 15% in size. 

The worst part of letting your child learn to learn is that it doesn't appear that anything is happening.  Most of the time, it looks like they are just getting dumber.  It's horrible.  It's very hard for a parent not to yell at their child while they are learning to learn.  With the math fact step-by-step approach mentioned above, it looks like the child is getting brighter because their brain is filling with the mastery of learned math concepts.  At least they have a high ITBS score to show for it.

Yesterday, a Power Mom complained about question 15 in Test Prep Math Level 2. The author and Test Prep Kid spent three days on the question and have yet to reach an agreement.  I consider it one of those questions where learning to learn takes place.

In response, I got on Skype with the kid to discuss 3 x 31.  It took us an hour.  She's barely mastered single digit addition.

I would love to get one of these kids an mom or dad in a video to show you how this works, but it would be embarrassing for all involved.  Therefore, I'll offer a rough transcript.  I'm going to demonstrate the crutches I use to distract me from yelling at my own kids.  There are 3 categories of crutches:

  • I stay focused on learning.  Learning is a priceless skill.  Multiplying 3 x 31 is a useless skill.  If knowing 3 x 31 was important, I would just tell them it's 93.  While they struggle to make sense of what 31 is, I can see learning.  
  • I can see what is happening as we go through the process, and I have already seen the result in 1 or 2 years with kids who do this.  The pay off is huge.
  • I've replaced scaffolding with advanced problem solving techniques.  The kids never adopt these until high school.  Until then, the parent has to suggest them.  On the bright side, it gives me an alternative to frustration and yelling.  That's why I'm so chipper when I coach.

I want to start with an easier problem and then we'll work our way up from there.  Here's how it went:

First, we started with 1 x 30, 2 x 30 , 3 x 30.  This didn't go well.

Next we went to this list.

  • 2 x 3 = ?, 2 x 30 = ?
  • 3 x 3 = ?, 3 x 30 = ?
  • 3 x 4 = ?, 3 x 40 = ?
  • 3 x 5 = ?, 3 x 50 = ?

I was pleased to find that every time I asked 3 x 4 = ? the child had to think for about a minute to answer the question.  I asked 8 times.  I got 8 blank looks.   A child who does not learn their math facts is slowly building number sense.  Eventually, probably in 3rd grade, she'll know that 3 x 4 = 12, but she will really know it intuitively, and this will pay off during pre-algebra.

We were so close to taking the leap to 3 x 31 or 3 x 35, but we ran out of time.  With my kids, we repeated this exercise once a week for 3 weeks, and then 82 x 5 was totally doable.  116 x 56 in school a few years later required no mental effort or parental involvement.

What's really cool is when a child sees 48 x 4 and their eyes get wide, and they totally understand it.  I don't exactly know what they are thinking, but they can tear apart more complicated arithmetic problems with whatever they discovered, except when they get 4 x 4 = 18, which they get a lot, because I won't let them memorize math facts.

Could you as a parent sit with your child for 60 minutes working through problems in the vicinity of 3 x 31?  What happens when the child can't remember what 3 x 4 is even though you've asked the same question 8 times?  Of course you can't, no sane parent can.

We did just that, week after week, year after year.  We're still doing it.  I'm in charge of finding unsuitable problems that take at least 25 minutes of struggling each, and each child is in charge of doing something at school that may involve math but I've never seen it.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

The Pace of GAT

For the last few weeks, I've been mentioning the single, most important skill that gives a child a permanent, unstoppable competitive advantage. The last 4 articles presented leading concepts which distracted me defining this skill. To prepare the last article, for example, I spent 6 hours calibrating the GAT calculator to actual GAT children. It's got the most common activities that produce GAT kids and is a fairly accurate but not perfect weighing to produce the #1 skill.

In the first few years of writing and researching, I was befuddled by the simple fact that GAT tests are devoid of knowledge and learned skills. GAT tests measure the ability of a child to solve a new problem. In the last few decades, GAT tests have migrated toward a set of questions that can be figured out by a child who is good at figuring out things and hasn't been exposed to the material. This change opened GAT tests to a much broader market. When you see practice tests on Amazon, you haven't seen the actual test. On the real test, any child could unwrap the golden ticket if she has the right skill.

Here's the skill

The skill is figuring out something totally new with no help. This is the definition of a GAT test.

This is a pretty simple concept, but in working with many, many parents, I've come to the conclusion that 98% of the world is not going to get to the 99% level. It's not only counter intuitive, but downright painful to watch a child struggle with a problem that he doesn't know and can't do.

Before a child can master the #1 skill, a parent has to master not interfering with the learning process. School are almost devoid of learning, so it has to happen at home.

A child becomes good at what he spends time on. If you mitigate the 'can't do' and scaffold the 'doesn't know' you're not training your child to solve problems that he doesn't know and can't do.

A few weeks ago, I sat down with a competent little mathematician and her parents. I presented complicated, advanced math and was preparing to explain how to muddle through the mess, but she already knew from memory what to do. Her Chinese mom sent her to 'Chinese School'. Apparently, the parents got together and spoon fed formulas to their children. I was crushed. The Tiger ambush ambushed their children's learning. Look up 'group of tigers'. I was really disappointed.

Here's how to teach the skill

The best time to teach this skill is before the children hit 2nd grade. Any time is a good time, but after age 8 the family becomes busy with other activities. Like playing the piano, it's hard to master a skill without consistency from week to week.

The best material is something the child doesn't know and can't figure out without a dozen mistakes and lots of frustration. Both advanced math and GAT test prep fit this definition. I prefer obscure math topics like Roman numerals or competitive math to advance math for children under the age of 10. If I have to teach multiplication, for example, the backtracking takes weeks.

A year into this approach, you will experience something like a Buddhist transformation where time, mistakes and frustration solving a single problem are not the least disconcerting. They are normal.

The pace of GAT

I've worked with many children on Test Prep Math problems. We rarely do more than one problem in a 30 minute session. Even with a child who has memorized formulas and can get the problem correct within a few minutes, I'll ask a few simple questions about a word or concept in the problem and the discussion evolves from there.

I'm not interested in a child mastering a math concept. I'm interested in a child who looks a bit deeper, who gets stuck on a word or operation that might have 3 meanings. So is the COGAT. To become good a figuring things out means becoming good at spending 15 minutes on a 1 minute question, good at trying 5 times to get the correct answer, good at mistrusting this answer and checking it a few times. At the mastery level, children decompose the problem, create their own simplified version, spend a week exploring the topic, and come back ready to solve the original problem. At the mastery level, the parent doesn't help.

The short cut

I know quite a few parents who can't get past 'learning something' and steer clear of 'learning to learn'. Learning something involves practice and help. Learning something shows quick results. Learning to learn involves frustration and floundering. The only result I see from learning to learn in the first six weeks is that the average 6 year old stops crying when I ask him to solve a problem and explain his answer, and by the way, prove it. Of course I don't expect an answer, let alone a correct answer. I expect him to exercise the skill set underlying learning.

Most of the top 10% get there by lots of practice. There are a few great options for practice and training. Get in your car and drive your child to a center and you'll see results. Your child's score will be on par with the best. Everyone feels good right away. Then high school comes along and it gets hard.

The pay off

I probably went a bit overboard on the 'learning to learn'. We jumped into Every Day Math level 2 workbooks before we looked at 1st grade math. I wasn't trying to produce a 5 year old who would be good at 2nd grade math. I was trying to produce a future 10 year old who would be good at struggling with SAT problems while I vacuum. The kids accidentally became good at 2nd grade math. They intentional became good at learning.

We started with the COGAT books on the market, and ended up with the problems in Test Prep Math that are twice as complicated as the COGAT. These are quite doable with a child who is not afraid to spend as much time as a problem takes, and a child learns to take his time when faced with a few complicated problems each day. That's the pace of GAT. If a child can do a few really hard problems each day, solving 110 problems in once sitting is easy. A child who does 20 easier problems each day is not prepared for those 5 or 6 problems that spell GAT entry.

My other blog (age 10 to high school) will take this Pedagogy to it's logical conclusion. My ancillary goal is a 1400 on the SAT by 7th grade. My primary goals are much bigger.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

The GAT Calculator

In the last article, I produced a list of common approaches parents take when the parent owns the education. This article formalizes the different approaches into a simple* survey that will show you where you sit on the GAT spectrum. The end result is your child's GAT percentile which you can consider the parent GAT percentile as well since these are nearly synomomous. That's why I alwasy refer to 'we' when we're taking a test or doing At Home Schooling. Standardized tests and the NNAT and WISC require a different survey. (* This isn't simple. The calculation for some activities varies by age.)

If you review the last article, you'll see that there are different ways to get there. Some ways take longer than others.

Fill out the table and see how much work you have to do with each child. Scores appear at the bottom.

If your score is very high and your test scores are low, the raw material is there but it's time to start focusing on test prep.

We had a great year that is somewhere above 3000, but lately it's been all camp and resting. Our current activities are bordering average, with the exception of theater. Today one of my sons was given two options - math or vacuuming, and the house is now very clean. I think he's taking off the summer after his make or break testing year.

Topic Max Enter Value Age Impact Score
Total Score
GAT Percentile

A Child's Education

Parents have a variety of approaches to education and these approaches will produce a variety of different children. Almost all of my readers fit into one of these categories or are trying to. Survey these approaches and rank yourself on each from 1 to 10. In the next article, I'm going to deliver the approach we all need to get to.

Outsourcers

Most parents think that education is the responsibility of the school and get upset when asked to push the wagon. When I say 'get upset', I mean 'express dismay during a parent teacher conference' when the teacher asks for help at home. Over 77% of parents fall into this category. The best outcome is average.

Sports

The next group of parents is the sports parents. One of my first articles logically stepped through an analysis of sports activities for young children. I observed this group extensively, the whole time wondering if my no sports policy between 3 and 7 was a bad idea. You become better at what you spend time on. I'm now seeing this group moving on to high school and college. I was right. 12 hours a week of T ball at age 5 doesn't produce college ready kids at 18. I love these kids and admire their parents. I would vote for them for political office. They make the world a better place. I wouldn't trust them with my health or finances.

After School Math Programs

The next level up the pyramid is the Kumon crowd. Many of my readers fall into this category. As the inventor of Anit-Kumon, I consider this group my primary competition in the Pedagogy Space. Like the sports group, it's a group of involved parents and really great kids. Unlike the sports group, these kids are college ready. At age 8. This group is split evenly between parents who do after school math programs because they work and are exhausted, and parents who after school math programs because they don't know any better. The tiger parents in this group will push their kids toward medicine, finance or law; end goal is Princeton. Somewhere between 6th and 12th grade the differences between Kumon and anti-Kumon are going to be obvious.

Activities

As we climb up the pyramid, next is the activities group. You can think of this group as Tools of the Mind, Executive Skills, and grit. Their kids take theater, art, and music. I've followed families that do this naturally, like art-theater-music-projects oozing out of their house on a daily basis with no effort. Observing these families is like walking into a musical. You never know when a song is going to break out. Their kids seem to do nothing and then just end up at the top. Recently I cornered a mom and high school sophomore in this category at a party and grilled them. The poor girl got as far as recounting the first few months of sophomore year and she already trounced the Stanford application process. When you go to a garage sale and see toys or games in the 7-9 range, it means the kids are 10-12. There are rarely Halloween costumes there, but they probably made them from scratch. Announce that you are not leaving the lawn until the parent goes back inside and produces some used costumes for sale. They will probably produce baby violins or guitars if you just ask. Once parent told me to walk by their dumpster that evening and I'll find a guitar on it.

Readers

Readers comprise the next group. These kids read 6 hours a day. The parents all say 'She just taught herself how to read'. They are lying. When you walk into the reader house, there are nothing but books and the parents read the same stack of board books over and over and over and over again on demand. Some parents have 4,000 books in their house. One parent has 4,000 books at 300,000 legos in the living room. Plus a couch and a chair crammed in. How do you compete with that? You don't. You get Exploding Kittens or Dungeons and Dragons, not to mention the Halloween costume box, and their kids invade your house like a Zombie Reader apocalypse. I used to open my front door and yell 'Norwood Play Date' and they would stumble out of their reading caves with arms outstretched because they are totally uncoordinated. They bruise easily, but the extra vocabulary exposure is worth the cost of an extra first aid kit for play dates.

I consider this group my personal Nemeses. I think I put the most time into closing this gap.

The downside of being in this group is that your kids generally stink at math and have a hard time passing the COGAT. These kids tend to get their revenge in high school and show no weaknesses in advanced math. But the benefits show up someday, not now.

The PhD Crowd

I don't know what to say about the joint PhD parents and their kids. I'm proud of our extra work in science and I think I can produce a grade school child with rudimentary high school science skills. Then I talk to a kid from the PhD family and its obvious that he's already thinking at the graduate physics level. If there is such a thing as a skill that consists of being friends with kids from PhD families, we're cultivating it. Someone has to take their ideas to market.

Putting it Altogether

To be on the safe side, a child needs everything. A little sports - very little, a bit of Kumon worked into Anit-Kumon, hopefully the Kumon part is outsourced to school, as much music-theater-art-projects as we can cram into our schedule, and a social engineering program that puts my kids squarely into the nerd groups. I have a stack of used instruments that we bought at garage sales and a piano, an enormous box of Halloween costumes that I've accumulated by the dozens each October, 4 box cutters, 7 types of glue, a dozen roles of painting and duct tape, and every appliance or furniture box, and an entire closet full of feathers, googly eyes, and anything else I can find at Michaels.

Back at age 3, when I was contemplating walking or driving to a soccer camp that a dad put together for 3 year olds, I was also contemplating what type of an education I wanted my child to receive. Age 3 is a good time to prepare for age 4. I tried lots of education at age 3, and none of it worked. We also tried the soccer camp. I spent my time interviewing parents with older kids until my socially awkward skills became annoying. Then I just stood their in the corner finalizing my education goals. I want a child who discovers an advanced book on some arcane math or science topic, reads it on his own, and then explains it to me.

In my next article, I'm going to provide the WHAM.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Teaching Styles and Learning Styles

On my other website, I'm working on a piece on grit. There is no formula for grit yet, except for the one I use, so that's what the article is about. The other site is published only once a month, which gives me a few weeks to get every book and research paper on the topic to determine whether or not I'm right.

Almost all of the research investigates grit for high end private schools for over-privileged children of high strung parents, kids in the bottom quartile, and rats. However, there is some really cool work out there.

Alfie Kohn demonstrates in The Myth of the Spoiled Child that everything that's ever been written about children is completely invalid. For example, 70% of survey respondents report that other parents are overprotective helicopter parents, but 95% of survey respondents report that they are personally not overprotective. In other words, the myth of helicopter parents is a myth. There is a wealth of literature going back 2700 years complaining that today's generation is worse than the previous one, education standards have slipped, and schools are failing. In other words, the good old days of education involved carbon drawings on a cave.

Paul Touch does a very thorough job of cataloging contemporary grit research for older kids in How Children Succeed. He mentions Tools of the Mind for little kids in the context of the bottom quartiles. What happens when you apply Tools of the Mind training to kids who are probably going to end up in a GAT program? I think I'm the only one who tried this. The answer is you get a 9 year old who learns Algebra I from final exams.

I recommend everyone read The Rug Rat Race by Ramey & Ramey and start freaking out about college now. I don't think the conclusions of this paper are solid for the broader population, but it's likely that they apply to the authors' cohort, which includes me and my readers.

On to the topic for today

Lately, readers have been asking about how I teach. What is the approach? What is my teaching style? Fortunately, no one asked about children's learning styles. A child's learning style is an adaptation to whatever teaching style I happen to be experimenting with. They can apply their own preferred learning style when they follow their own pursuits. They're not going to learn how to learn by sticking with their own preferred learning style. That's called not learning.

My preferred teaching style is a range between nothing and spoon feeding.

On the not helping end of the spectrum, I will wait hours while the child flounders over and over again, and over and over again I ask to the child to read the question to me again and explain it. I spend most of my time focusing on this exercise early on because it builds a rare set of skills. With kids who are just starting down the GAT path, kids who are currently at about 50%, we might spend 6 to 12 weeks doing math word problems in this way. It's painful for both coach and child, but it's the fastest way to produce results. It might appear that the child is learning nothing.

The next step is to help the child by presenting other problems, easier problems, one-step problems, but problems that capture the topic being learned. For example, suppose we're struggling with 1/2 * 20 with a child who doesn't know either multiplication or fractions. We'll start with 'half of one' and 'half of two' and just work our way up to the problem. In this category of teaching, I also like to approach problems by asking 'You do anything you can think of and then we'll find out what the question is asking', especially with all things geometry.

I may present the problem in 19 different ways. You never know which one will stick. I had to do that a lot with counting, with addition, with anything in Shape Size Color Count. I may take a break, and then that night try yet another approach with beans on the dinner plate, or with the stuffed animals.

When we did Every Day Math Grade 2, at the wholly inappropriate age of 5, without bothering to do 1st grade math, we would get to a topic and put progress on hold for a week while we did some 1st grade math worksheets to cover a topic more thoroughly until we come back to the 2nd grade presentation.

On the reading and vocabulary front, I like to throw a whole bunch of content at once to the hapless student, and then spend the next 3 weeks sorting it out. Usually with reading and with vocab, I'm more than happy to provide answers, but the content is about 1000% of what is needed to answer the question, and the child is now on the hook for anything I just mentioned. What does 'tube' mean? The Word Board might get whacked with a dozen plumbing terms and we might spend two days on wiki.

If I know that the child is going to see the material again (and again and again) later in the book, and if the child is having a bad day, I'll not only tell the child how to do it, I'll do it myself. On numerous occasions, I do have done entire worksheets. Sometimes, I explain the whole topic, as in here's how a fraction works. Sometimes, I don't. I'm not going to run out of challenging topics for the child to figure out solo.

What I never do
Unless we are backtracking, or tackling a new vocab unit, I never do more than a handful of problems. Never more than 5 in math or test prep. My favorite number is one. If the child is working on one big problem, you've got problem solving, cognitive skills, executive skills, grit, and learning all taking place at once. Unfortunately, it's hard to keep a child at that level, but I've managed to find hard but not undoable material with 4 or 5 problems that will exhaust the child' brain in 15 to 25 minutes.

The two tests we need to tackle are the COGAT and MAP. Neither of these have a time limit. The worst thing you can do is teach the child how to do 20 problems in one sitting; an exercise like this is strengthening the wrong skill set - the go fast and ignore minor details and subtleties. This is no way to teach a thinker how to learn. If a child routinely tackles 3 or 5 problems at a time, they'll have no problem getting the more mundane parts of school work done, but on any decent test or school assignment, there's that one piece that differentiates thinkers. A child speeding along will miss it.

Putting it all together

Once we get past the first 6 weeks of crying, and there is usually crying when the child figures out that parenty is not going to do the work for them, then you can put it all together. Start with today's 5 problems. Let the kid do them. Then do them again together. On problems with a correct answer, ask the child to prove it, and with problems that have an incorrect answer, pick one, or more, or all of the above approaches.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Math Grit

Yesterday, I stopped by my neighbor's house. The neighbors have 4 boys. The day I showed up to unlock the building and begin moving many years ago, a neighbor showed up to introduce herself and the rest of the block. She pointed to each house and named them. When she pointed to the house with 4 boys, she said 'They have 4 boys', so I walked into that house and offered the 12 year old $100 if he would help me move. Twelve hours later he limped home to die.

The boys are all out of college. The 2nd oldest returned to his parents home to get ready for graduate school. We chatted. He announced that he intends to teach high school math.

After a brief moment of silence, I explained what's wrong with education and how I had to create my own pedagogy to fix it.

All of the top performers have one skill set that sets them above their peers. I'll call it Math Grit.

  • They are not put off by complicated unsolvable problems.
  • They spend more time reading the question than trying to solve it.
  • They chug along event after 5 wrong answers in a row.
  • Since they get the answer wrong so often they always check.

There is very little in school curriculum before high school that requires these skills. By then it's too late for most kids.

The only way to teach this skill set is to work on hard material that takes a long time and has a high error rate. I'm a fan of 1 problem a day that requires going to wiki or Khan to find out what a rational number is or how to do square roots, or if your kids are older, what a coefficient of correlation is. In the mistakes and confusion, a host of really powerful cognitive skills are born. I have a running list of these subskills and they are quiet amazing to see in practice. With test prep math we have fun arguing about what the sentence mean and whose answer is correct based on each person's twisted version of the question.

If you train your child to do math one baby step at a time, like Kumon or another after school program, I don't see how your child will get this skill set.
Lately I've been laying out a program for fourth through 7th grade. The early years provide the foundation.

  • Pre-K - all phonics and shapes, or as I think of it, pre-cognitive skills test prep
  • K & 1 - cognitive skills
  • Throw in 6 months of a math book that's current + 2
  • 2nd and 3rd grade - Test Prep Math
  • 4th grade - snippets of algebra, geometry and trig
  • After 4th grade we're going to thoroughly do Algebra 1. I needed to start another blog to do this.

Both of these books have a figure matrices section that goes a little overboard. I was frustrated that COGAT test prep books for older kids present material at about the K or 1st grade level. I've never seen rigorous quantitative training at the 99% level, so I created it. There's too much at stake to shoot for 95%. Cognitive skills are the foundation of learning. The COGAT measures these skills, and school districts choose children for GAT programs based on the COGAT. Therefore, it logically follows that children who are prepared for the COGAT, aka have the skills that the test measures, will do well in all subjects, including math.

Next Steps

My 4th grade curriculum starts with basic alegbraic manipulation, e.g. solving 5(x + 2) = -7(36 - x). According to my 2 foot high stack of algebra books, this is only part of the deal, but it got us beyond the MAP test and opened doors in geometry and trig. By the way, algebra books stink. They all teach the steps to solve each problem instead of teaching problem solving.

You can't just hand your child one of the new York Regency exams and expect a solution for 'Find the correlation coefficient for the best linear fit...' if your child doesn't know what 'correlation coefficient' or 'linear fit' mean. Unless your child spent 2nd and 3rd grade preparing for this. Yesterday, my Test Prep Math graduate explained how he got 80% of the questions right even though he didn't know what most of it meant.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Vocabulary Rich, Math Rich

As I mentioned in the last article, vocabulary has a big impact on test scores and math. It appears to be the single biggest factor. Vocabulary is a thread that runs through all the sections of the COGAT including figure and quantitative programs. In the over the top GAT preparation program, vocabulary is front and center.

I know quite a few little GAT machines who a) have parents who don't speak English and b) are vocabulary powerhouses. How did they get there? The answer is simple. They read a lot. Plus both of their parents have multiple graduate degrees from the Ukraine or Indian Institute of Technology Bombay. They also do a lot of test prep. But they read a lot.

Vocabulary occupies most of our time starting at age 3.9. It is one of our core courses at home, the other two being math and cognitive skills building. Once we passed the GAT hurdle, cognitive skills building became cognitively taxing math, we stopped doing normal math, and vocabulary continued until about 2nd grade, at which time the little brains are capable of vacuuming words like the vacuum at the NASA Glenn Research Center..

The process of mastering the conceptual use of vocabulary happens simply as a derivative of learning a lot of words. Tests measure conceptual mastery. Kids pick up the individual words. Something happens in between and I am aware of only two exercises that can help.

I have always put a lot of words out there. I invented the Word Board originally as a reminder for me to use the words that we were learning; the Word Board went on the refrigerator because it's a high traffic area. The fact that it turned out to be such a powerful skills development tool wasn't as important as my attempt to be a more responsible GAT parent. Once my kids got a hang of 10 or 20 weekly vocab words, I started adding synonyms to maintain the correct level of challenge (which happens to be a 50% error rate). At the same time, we started math in Pre-K by plowing through math vocabulary through 2nd grade, with the exception of any concept we would cover later, like multiplication.

The first exercise is 'prove' it. If at the Word Board, my child said that 'shaded' means a 'a darker color', but he said this because it's the exact same thing I said the day before, then I'm not convinced he knows what it means, and I want examples, synonyms, opposites and why anyone would shade anything. I would randomly demand 'prove it' like a Word Board despot if a GAT test were approaching.

The other exercise is to buy an analogies book or do the analogies sections from Building Thinking Skills or similar test prep material. If your child is 6 or 7 or older and struggling with a verbal score, an analogies book is a good place to start. There are no challenging versions of this material on the market. It's at the 50% level. But one or two analogies books are a good start and describe the basic elements of the word matrix and which one doesn't belong questions you'll find on the GAT test. It is up to you as a parent to provide the other 1,000 words your child might need.

A Note on Math

Both kids promised to try this year on the MAP test, and both math scores don't appear on the 2015 RIT charts. It's a good start, but I think we can do better. We maintained about 45 minutes of week of math practice going into the test, about 15 minutes a day 3 days a week. We take specific subjects or unusual problems and have a quick discussion, followed by problem solving or possibly arguing. Since Every Day Math grade 2 in Kindergarten, we haven't really studied math. It was more of an exercise in dealing with something new. Once we covered logs because I happened to see it on the web one day. I love logs. It's backwards thinking and extra work, like square roots and Roman numerals. The level of discourse is on par with a graduate level lecture, and I don't hold back on the terminology, syntax, or sentence length.

When we did Pre-K phonics and Shape Size Color Count, it was all about how hard the kids had to think to get the latest in a stream of age-inappropriate concepts. That's what we practiced, and that's the skill they picked up. I had no idea that there would be a huge payoff down the road.