Monday, April 16, 2018

Step Two

I've lost count where I am on Steps.  This article is about the book end and reading comp.  That leaves a reading program, whole language math, miscellaneous topics. how to write a sentence, and then I can get back to math.  I'm much more excited about reading because this is Math House.  In reading, it's us against them.

Speaking of us against them, the Chicago Tribune took a swipe at Houston recently. Found in this article is perhaps the best crafted sentence I've ever seen.  As you know, Chicago is basically crime, corruption, and debt.  50% of our taxes go straight to debt service and corruption, not to mention filling pot holes and dealing with 100 year old infrastructure. That doesn't leave a lot for education.  Our gifted programs, at least 5 of them, are perhaps the best schools in the world across all measures, but we have quite a few neighborhood schools that are just trying to keep up with ELL with almost no budget.

The article, which you can read here, snipes Houston for stealing our bean idea and gradually supplanting Chicago as the 3rd largest city in the country. Here's the sentence I find so impressive:

If being surrounded by a cultureless abyss insufficiently communicates to confused tourists that they are in Houston, the bean’s verticality will therefore act as an additional reminder of their poor life choices.

I think I have more readers from Houston than Chicago.  At least I used to.

I get a lot of questions about writing.  Writing a single sentence like the one above is going to require all skills including the foundational math skills.  Therefore this will be the last topic I explore.  If you're wondering why math and sentence writing are identical, so am I.

For those of you who wish to continue reading my beanless discussion of Reading Comp, I am wrapping up 3 years of research and experimentation and I'm pretty excited.

I've mentioned Reading Comp in the past as a good way to prepare for a cognitive abilities test.  Everything is the same - concentration, looking back, resolving ambiguities, dead ends and mistakes, working with material that is new, advanced and confusing.  Everything except for the shapes.

In the last few months I've been approaching Reading Comp from a more direct angle - how to crush the heck out of it and then back over it a few times just to be on the safe side.

Our TTWBN score in reading is always 4 points shy of victory because my kids refuse to read the passage when answering questions.   The older one got an advanced passage in 1st grade on a Magic Tree House subject, got all the questions right from memory, was scored in the 4th grade, and decided from then on to deal exclusively with questions.   The other one liked that approach.  Eventually they tried reading the passages at my request, and the scores didn't budge.

3 years ago we started SAT test prep for math, one question per week.  I shoot for 5 questions, but it's all backtracking in the 4th grade.  (It just occurred to me that my definition of 'backtracking' usually means 'covering a topic you've never seen before'.)  There are 10 practice tests and 30 practice essay questions (short, normal, anything goes).  We made progress in math, but the reading comp did not go well despite doing Test Prep Math.  By go well, I mean a 10 year old making a decent showing on high school level work.  Vocab was a killer.  SAT test prep books aren't all that hard, especially the first edition of the College Board book, which I love, and we have no time limit.  I figure that this approach aligns perfectly with the TTWBN test.  (Note to google search engine - I am not talking about the MAP test.)

I traveled to the planet Dagoba to be trained by the Jedi Master Yoda of reading comp.  A high school English teacher, he coaches SAT on the side.  He told me things like "When the question asks 'which answer reflects the tone of the passage', count words in the passage, you will".  He also told us to figure out an answer wrong, why you got.   His advice got us past Baffled; it gave us things to do instead of crying and yelling at each other, but ultimately it's not for 99% and its not for an 11 year old.

Once again, I'm stuck with an area of cognitive research that is unexplored and undocumented, so as the Foremost Expert in the Field of Real Cognitive Skills, The Kind That Actual Children Have, Not The Useless Made Up Crap That Fill Education Journals, I took on the challenge.

I tried to refocus my children on the reading passage.  Let's get into the question and worry about the answers later.  This is the same approach used to teach EDM 2 to a five year old.  We backtracked a lot on vocab, we made mistakes (of course it's disparate regimented perspective, you can see it hinted at right in the passage).

Then the light bulb went off.  In the same way that Whole Language Math uses language to convey graduate level statistics to a 13 year old, Analytic Reading Comp applies math to reading comp.  It's a huge win.   You want to get from 50 to 99 on the verbal portion of the SAT?  This is the way to go. 

Let me show you an example.

The author uses an extended quote in lines 61-69 as part of a larger attempt to
a) convey the impact of an unexpected discovery
b) illustrate the suddenness of a decision
c) simulate a child's misconceptions
d) criticize the artificiality of the "young adult" classification
e) describe a young reader's sense of history

Here's our journey.  It took us 3 years to get here.
  • In order to determine what larger attempt means, you probably have to look at 55-60 or lines 70-75.  It would have saved us a lot of trouble if someone just told me that.  (Checking the intro, they did.)
  • After that, it's a matter of 3 words in each answer choice.  There's the magic number for working memory once again - thanks Test Prep Math.
  • So we take them one at a time, marking off no, maybe, no, no, maybe.  If the passage doesn't criticize, I don't care if it discusses the artificiality, young adults, or uses the term classification.  Cross out that one.  In other words, be extremely picky, hypercritical, rules oriented, logical.
  • Then we have to start all over again with the 2 maybe's.  This isn't 'cross off wrong answers and guess'.  This is 'methodically go through each and every detail like a Reading Comp Shredding Machine'.
  • Usually there are a half dozen words that need to go on the Word Board and discussed at length.
  • Maybe we get it wrong and say 'Darn it.'  Maybe we're tired or sick and can't concentrate.  It happens.  My fallback plan is just to give up and quit.  
  • There are a few other questions types, like what would the author of passage 2 say about lines 61-69 in passage 1, which take longer, but same approach and more discussion.
The best part is my fascinating conclusion.  There are no other question types.  That one question is it.   We do lots of these.  I can see tricks, techniques, subkills, etc. and none of it matters.   Week by week something is happening in that little brain that does what it needs and subskills bloom.  I don't care. I'm just in charge of being the other team member and enforcing the Big Five skills.

What about actually reading the passage?  The approach above is more about reading the question and then going back to analyze the passage. 
  • I want to know after the passage is read, who is the author and why is he writing this passage?  Do this before answering the questions.  There are so many questions that require this knowledge, you might as well do the work the first time.
  • When you read the passage, read it to find out who the author is, what type of mood she's in, and what type of writing this is (narrative, descriptive, argument, propoganda, etc.).  We don't need the Word Board for vocab at this point, but a framework of writing styles (types?) would be useful. 
The other best part of this is that it takes us 45 minutes to get through a single passage + 10 questions, a big improvement from 60 minutes.  There are 2 passages and a 20 minute time limit.  We do one passage in 30 to 45 minutes.  I am enforcing the most powerful skills of all - concentration and learning unencumbered by a time limit.  This skill alone guarantees learning and improvement.

The third best part is the conversation that follows.  He reads the passage and then answers.  I read the passage and we go through each question one by one while I grade.  Sometimes we each read the passage and answer the questions together.  Since I'm totally useless, this is more just for conversation and motivation.  Working together is more fun.  It's all adult level academic conversation.  We should do more of this, but we don't.  Thanks SAT for the help being a GAT parent.

How can I grade?  I don't have the solutions since I threw them away.  Having solutions reduces the outcome from 99% to 85%.   Not having the solutions requires brain work.  Having solutions ends brain work.  How do I know if my child got the correct answer?   It is hard work for me.   Asking your child to do work that you don't want to do sends a very clear message of how unimportant this work is for the child.  Working the solution puts me in a position to articulate things I see that he missed and he'll make a note of that.  I ask questions - real ones because I'm stuck and need help - and he joins in the adult level process of figuring things out.  We're never 100% sure on all questions, but we're 100% sure on the process to get there.

If you read the introduction to Test Prep Math or Shape Size Color Count, this is exactly the same foundational process starting at age 4.  The introduction to Pre-K Phonics and Conceptual Thinking is a bit more over the top and kind of the opposite advice, but it's consistent.  I think TPM is more directly applicable to reading comp, but of course Pre-K phonics is about reading and vocab, which is a prerequisite.  

With effort, we perfected the House Rules that underpin an effective learning environment, and now we're reaping the rewards.   Most of this effort involved me learning how not to help, not check solutions, not to have expectations, not to show emotion one way or the other when I announce the correct answer, not get impatient and frustrated with a subpar performance, and 5 other nots.  High performance learning is counter intuitive, which is why only 1% fits at the top.  The result was unencumbered learning.

There's the book end.

There is one more best part.  Both the SAT and the TTWBN test prep are a boot camp of analytic reading skills.  It's just like studying for the COGAT, which is a good way to pick up cognitive academic skills.  It's not about passing the test (it is - I just lied), it's about your child performing better in writing and chemistry.  Which it is.

A final note for the 2 readers who made it this far.  The TTWBN stands for the Test That Wont Be Named.  It's the test that my 7th grader takes every year, but this year it counts toward high school enrollment.   Competition is brutal.  This test has nothing whatsoever to do with the mappy thing, and I'm not the least bit interested in showing up on a google search.

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