Saturday, October 13, 2018

Helping and Not Helping

Shortly, I'm publishing a 2 part how-to for parents who just found out about GAT.  It's not bad.  The bullet points from the first video would make up the table of contents if I ever write a book on how to cheat your way into a GAT program.  We have to reshoot the 2nd video because my 10 year old editor screwed up the audio. I'd help him fix it, but I don't know how to use Premier Pro.

The weird thing about cheating into a GAT program is that if you do it right, your child actually acquires GAT skills. The other way your child can acquire GAT skills is to put them in a GAT program.  In other words, GAT is a self fulfilling prophecy.  If you act like GAT, and walk like GAT, and talk like GAT, you'll end up GAT.    See Amy Cuddy on 'Fake it until you make it' for inspiration.

In my video, I cover coaching skills, including not helping.  This skill needs some elaboration.  For those of you who are thinking 'my child does their grade level or next year's math worksheet on their own with no problems', I'm talking about something insanely hard, age inappropriate, that requires concepts and skills that your child does not have.  Something they actually need help with.

But you're not going to help.

Easier said than done

From a very young age, my kids had daily math.  Someone once told me that Indian and Chinese schools are 2 years ahead in math, so their first math was a 2nd grade workbook in Kindergarten.  It seemed reasonable that if they took long enough on a single question, maybe 25 minutes, they would eventually get it on their own. 

When test prep season rolled around (in one case 2 months before we started doing math), we had to start all over again with figure analogies and classification.  Again, you spend enough time on a single problem, you'll eventually get it.

Why would you spend 25 minutes on a hard problem, when you could spend 25 minutes on 20 easier problems? Wouldn't your child learn 20 times as much doing 20 times the number of problems?    Good questions.  We're not trying to teach the child whatever the subject of the problem is, we're trying to teach them learning skills at the highest level.  Then 6 months later, they can teach themselves.  Or, in the case at hand, they can teach themselves how to do a problem they've never seen before in order to pass a GAT test and get into the desired program.  As I point out in the video, you won't be in the room to help.

What to do instead

So you're sitting there for 25 minutes not helping, your child is struggling (which is good), maybe crying (which is bad), what do you do to pass the time?  You the parent learn problem solving skills, and in the process, convey these to your child.

The first problem solving skill is to understand the question.  That seems obvious until you are faced with a question you don't understand, in which case most people give up and jump to the solving part.  Have the child explain it to you, one shape, one word at a time.

If your child is lacking some skill to put the pieces together - inching toward the solution step - then you need to backtrack on that step.  In math, this is double digit addition for the first time, which is actually multiple steps in one; maybe you need to work on adding numbers that are multiples of ten.  In figure classification, this is brainstorming the names of attributes and seeing which shape or picture has what attribute.  Sometimes it means cutting out shapes and comparing them, or drawing each shape and their 6 potential transforms, then coming back to the problem.

The child will have no idea what you are doing other than prolonging the question until the light bulb goes off.

Then the child gets the problem wrong and you don't care.  You carefully chose material beyond their abilities for this exercise.  Of course they got it wrong.  Start over.  There's no penalty.

What you accomplished

You child just mastered zero math.   They 'learned' nothing and if you show them the exact same problem tomorrow they'll be stuck again and get it wrong.

In fact, they just unlearned.  They unlearned that quantity is quality, that getting an incorrect answer is bad, that mommy loves you because you know something.  They unlearned going fast, memorizing, caring about the material.

Instead, the child just spent 25 minutes learning how to go slow, to look at details, to decompose a problem, to investigate a problem thoroughly, maybe taking a sidebar on sub-skills.  These are very advanced graduate level foundational problem solving skills.  In other words, we're teaching the child how to be gifted and talented.  The gift is going slow, and the talent is not giving up.

Are there shortcuts?

Suppose your child has to take a cognitive skills test in 2 weeks.  You've done nothing up to this point to prepare.  Will the approach above prepare your child for the GAT test, or do you want to teach them how to transform shapes and worry about learning after the test?

These tests are not designed to measure how much your child knows.  They are designed to measure how they go about learning and problem solving.  These tests are really well designed to meet this objective.  On the hardest questions, the ones that lift the score above the cutoff, prior knowledge and practice is not going to help.  The only thing that will help your child is the learning skills. 

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