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.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

The Big Deal

I need some catching eye candy for today's article.  Something like 'What every lazy GAT parent who want their child to excel at a top school avoiding the work it takes to get there needs to know'.

As mentioned previously, I'm trolling for useful research articles on this topic.  When I say 'avoiding the work' I really mean 'working a lot and changing how you do things', but for the child it's mainly chores and a few well spent minutes each day.  Like 15.  Or 25.

I was shocked and surprised to see an article entitled Want to Help our child succeed in school?  Add language to the math, reading mix last week.  The first time I read this article, I dismissed it because this information has been known since 1911 and I based 2 of my books on it, Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Vocabulary and Thinking or Pre-K Phonics Vocabulary and Conceptual Thinking - don't remember which, and Shape Size Color Count.  Both books have vocab up to 2nd grade. Vocab is the key.  I've said it about 372 times.  Vocab Workshop starts in K.   How many times have I recommended this as part of the curriculum?

I encourage all of you to read this article.   Let me summarize the findings for you.  Language predicts success in reading and math and social skills.  Language going into K predicts academic progress for the next 6 years.  Not much else does.

Problem solving skills were not part of this study, nor an emphasis on kids at the 90-95 level, but you can't have everything in one study unless you are desperate to get your child into a GAT program. The article also mentioned that children who entered K ahead showed less gains than children who entered behind.  Shame on those parents for dropping the ball.

I'm going to extend these results from my own findings.

  • If you overdo language from age 4 to 6, your child will be really, really far ahead in everything.  If you didn't do this, put up the Word Board for the next 2 years and catch up.
  • If you add problem solving skills to the mix, and you should, you're can get the child to the point where high performance is effortless.  This is my new goal.
I'd like to thank David Lohman for pointing out that vocabulary is 75% of the COGAT, and for making the COGAT a hurdles for GAT programs.  I once wrote put didn't publish an article entitled 'Is David Lohman Evil?'  When I compare my child's recent scores to the MAP test score chart, the scores are not on the chart.  That's what I'm talking about.   Conclusion - David Lohman is not evil, he just is not in charge of making COGAT skills part of education curriculum.

Lately, the other one has been precalculating the minimum needed to get to his selective enrollment high school and quitting once he gets there.  Arrrgggghhh.  It looks like he's there with some room to spare, and he was kind enough to blow away the math portion; we had some gaps in this area and he made an effort at my request.  Then he turned around and sluffed off on the reading which is his strong subject.  More about that in my new blog, competitiveparentmagazine.com.  I bought the url next week and will be launching soon.  These articles are hard to read on a phone.  

I'm really excited about the dynamic between reading and math at age 4 as it grows until about age 10.   I've got about 20 articles on this topic to write.  On the other hand, high school is looming and I have a goal of breezing through a rigorous AP program with a few minutes of homework a night.  That's the official goal, but it belongs in another website.