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.


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.