Saturday, April 21, 2018

Tiger Mom Revisited

Some of my readers complained that when they google Test Prep Math they get GMAT results.  This is totally offensive to me.  If a result came up with the GRE math, chemistry or physics subject, that would be OK.  After all, 99% on the MAP tests year after year in grade school is going to be a waste of time if Stanford turns down my children's graduate applications.  At the risk of looking like every other test prep website:


On To Tiger Mom
In the famous seen in her book, Amy Chua recounts a 4 hour ordeal of screaming and crying while she forces her daughter to rehearse an impossible piece for an upcoming piano recital.   Chua is presented as an overbearing evil mom with unrealistic expectations for her child and no concern for her child's long term mental health.

This scene replays itself over and over in Math House, usually on simmer instead of full boil.   There are two important difference between the Evil Overlord of Math House and Tiger Mom.  These differences are why I am not a Tiger Dad, and beyond criticism, and Chua took a lot of flack for her book, even though Chua and I think and act in nearly same way.

The first difference is that I have assumptions, not expectations.  My expectations for my kids are abysmally low.  I strive for zero expectations.  I expect that a 7 or 8 year old would rather play video games and watch TV instead of worry about his future.  I expect that a young child will cry when presented with a problem that exercises grit and cognitive skills.  Maybe he'll just complain at first, but as soon as it's clear I'm not doing his work for him (because then he won't get the benefits), he might try crying.  I expect him to not know what he's doing, to make lots of mistakes, to do far less than I've assigned, and to end up with wrong answers.  That's where the skill set is born, and that's why he's doing this work.  If I gave him something he could do, like 30 easy math fact problems, he'd look good but fall far short of the goals I have for him.

On the other hand, I have assumptions.  I assume my kids will get the work done one way or another because I'm withholding all fun activities until it is done.  I assume that I can't withhold food because his performance will suffer (tried that, it doesn't work).  I assume that he'll learn key skills that other kids don't learn and that a year from now, he'll be scoring in the top 1% on everything for the rest of his life and be 6 years ahead of other kids in key subjects, even subjects we don't do at home, all because I stayed focused on grit and cognitive skills during 2nd and 3rd grade.

I like to say 'Of course you don't want to do this.  You're 8 years old.  I'm an expert at being an 8 year old.  I was an 8 year old for an entire year'.  Seems like a good thing for a dad to say.

I expect the first 6 weeks are going to be really tough because school just spoon feeds easy work and the parent is used to helping and answering questions when the child falls short.  Scaffolding is great when you want your child to memorize and master a bunch of new concepts in a short period of time, but the child never learns the thinking and learning skills tackle learn pre-algebra on his own.

4th grade was a blur of algebra.  You can't do algebra without pre-algebra, and that means you either have to learn it on the spot or get assigned backtracking material by The Overlord before you can move on.  I threw in some functions,  a little geometry (prove everything starting with a line is an angle of 180 degrees), a little trig (everything you need to know in 30 minutes or less), and it's on to SAT test prep books.

Test Prep Math Level 4
SAT test prep is surprisingly easy compared to the real thing.  I generally assign 5 problems at a time, from the math section, with no time limit.  A few years later, we've not only completed all the math problems but learned high school math on the way, with the exception of advanced trig topics and calculus.  Again, my expectations are really low for this exercise.  I expect almost nothing.  I assume we'll get through it and come out on top.

In a few weeks, my 7th grader is sitting for the real deal, all 3 1/2 hours of it.  I gave him a few timed versions of certain sections, but our real goal is the 6 hour MAP test ( 3 hours of math on one day, and 3 hours of reading comp on another day).  I figure 3 1/2 hours of SAT brutality should be good practice for the 7th grade MAP.

After we licked math, we had a book full of reading comp questions.  The reading comp was really hard.  It didn't go well.

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.

So I applied the learning framework outlined in Test Prep Math.  After all, the math word problems in TPM target reading comp.  This isn't obvious how a math problem prepares a child for reading comp until you see the SAT.   Here's why reading comp = math and math = reading comp.

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

Step 1 - look at lines 55-60 and 70-75 for the answer.   This is more of a geometry thing that I'll cover later.

Step 2 - Notice each answer has 3 concepts.   You simply take each concept (like convey), and if the author complains, states, recounts, but does not convey, cross out the answer.  Test Prep Math hammers away at the 3 bucket limit of working memory, and here it is in action on every single question in the SAT reading section.  The iterative permutations of solving these questions are identical to Section 3 of TPM, which is why figure matrices are such good predictors of academic success.

That's it.  There are no other question types.  It is really helpful if the child can tell you about the author and the type of passage (propaganda, argument, description, memoir, what ever) because the first 2 questions are going to require this knowledge.  But all questions require the same mathematical approach.  If a question looks like its a different type, it's just disguise.

Once we got this, I went from assuming that reading comp questions are impossible to assuming that I'm going to be disappointed if my kids miss any.  'Convey' went on the Word Board.

I think somewhere in the intro to Test Prep Math I might fess up to targeting reading comp.  I should have said targeting 99% on reading comp.







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