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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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