Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Tiger Cub Parent

I am going to prove that being a softy parent will product much better results than being a strict, demanding parent.

I will admit that in the early days, I was a bit impatient and frustrated trying to get my useless under-qualified children to do productive academic work. It's hard to be a parent. You give your 5 year old a simple problem like 5x3 and they sob because they don't know why the plus sign is turned diagonally.

Why I'm a Softy

Every academic experiment that I have subjected to my children to has succeeded beyond my wildest expectations. Every experiment. I've done dozens of these in all academic areas. I'm going to use the classic Every Day Math Grade 2 experiment as an example, but every single one of these challenges proceeds in exactly the same way:

  • Child spends 3 weeks getting through the first page.
  • Child spends the next 3 months getting most problems wrong and only doing a fraction of the problems that a child at the appropriate age would do.
  • Child starts to get things right and tends to work with less help for next few months.
  • By 8 or 9 months, child is starting to get most problems correct, albeit slowly, so we quit.

We've repeated this process in all academic areas over 8 years now and it always starts the same and ends the same.

It doesn't matter whether I'm demanding or not on the outcome. The child always gets from the first step to success just by doing a little each day. If I make comments like 'You're not trying and I'm disappointed' then an argument or more tears will ensue and we'll lose the whole day. Being demanding (or showing any emotion) tends to make it more painful, but doesn't change the outcome. I don't show negative or positive emotion. Positive emotion is equally counterproductive because when the child is getting everything wrong, you don't show positive emotion, and the child interprets that as the same thing as yelling and gets upset.

To repeat - the outcome is independent of whether the parent is demanding or not demanding. Being demanding wastes time.

Soft Limits

I have 3 soft limits. The first one is that our daily material is probably going to be ridiculously hard. The second is that each child has to do a little every day, like 15 minutes or an hour (for older kids). The third limit is when you ask me 'Can I use the computer because my friends are doing such and such right now' my response is 'Did you do your math today?'

These limits are soft because I've been doing this consistently for years. Of course a normal kid doesn't want to do ridiculously hard math. Of course a normal kid would rather just play. I am not personally offended by the inevitable complaining and begging. Do your math. I'll just say it softly, for the 13,567th time. No math, no computer.

The computer saved me. Before age 7, there was no computer option. I had to say things like 'you can go outside and play with your friends after you get your math done', or 'we'll leave for your T-Ball game after you do 3 problems'. Mostly, I had to sit there the whole time while we did it as a team. Before age 5, I had to keep a bag of skittles at all times.

Being a Softy Parent has long term benefits. I won't prove them here, but in short, the kids do lots of chores without being asked twice (they're like a Marines special forces unit in charge of household chores), they do their academic work on their own without my involvement, and they don't hate me. Plus, we exercise together, because of those skittles.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Nice Thing About Test Prep

The nice thing about test prep between the ages of 4 and 6 is that the same skills are used every few years until your child is finished with graduate school.

I'm gearing up for another round of tests with another group of 3 and 4 year olds. Chicago changed the start date for the programs that started in 1st grade (ours) to K; therefore test prep is officially defined as 'the sooner the better'. At least one of the kids I'm helping this year is in the suburbs. The suburbs tend to start later, like 2nd or 4th grade, and keep seats open for a child to join at his or her own pace. Chicago is more brutal.

For those of you who define test prep as 'do a lot of practice questions on a website' let me tell you what you are up against.

Vocabulary

I would love to do an experiment to see just how important vocabulary is to the test. I need one group of volunteers to study vocabulary; this group will not be allowed to do any practice questions or see a practice test. I need another group to do practice tests and not study vocabulary. I'm not sure any of my readers would sign up for this study, but fortunately I know a lot of people who don't prepare properly and show me their results and answer my questionnaire about practice methods. There are a lot of people in these 2 groups and the vocabulary group fairs much better.

Before we dive into reading, I want the child exposed to all math related vocabulary through 2nd grade. I'll take some 3rd grade words as long as they apply to generic topics like order or physical attributes. This not only addresses two-thirds of the test but is a good way to learn math.

During the reading process (age 4), there are only 2 constraints on vocabulary: I prefer short words that can be spelled using phonics rules and I exclude words that are only used at scrabble competition. I am tempted to publish a list of words entitled '100 words you need to know for the test', but the word list I put in the Pre-K Phonics book is better for brain development, is more ethical, and makes the other list irrelevant.

The normal rules of academic coaching apply to vocabulary. If the child actually memorizes the word 'trapezoid' and can spot the difference between trapezoid and quadrilateral, he will probably forget it 2 weeks later. Words like tall and wider will stick even at a young age. If a child forgets a word, it goes back on the Word Board. If a word is on the Word Board for 2 months, so be it.

During Kindergarten, we plow through Vocabulary Workshop. During first grade, it's Wordly Wise and Vocabulary Workshop since most school programs use Wordly Wise. By 1st or 2nd grade, the child is 2 years ahead and vocabulary work becomes efficient and effortless (depending on the day). By the end of 2nd grade, the brain is developed in this area and ready for different challenges. There's no point in going ahead 3 years before 4th grade, so we don't.

Skills Just Keep on Giving

Most school districts test in either in pre-K or K. Obviously, the program I outlined above cannot be completed in pre-K. We just keep up the 'test prep' until MAP or ITBS scores are where they need to be by 2nd or 3rd grade, and then we're finished with vocabulary. Where they need to be is 99%. Test prep means more than just getting into the right program. It means staying there, thriving, and maintain the same competitive advantage in skills until your child says 'you were right about the GRE' and you can retire.

By 2nd or 3rd grade the child memorizes new words on sight. It's cool to watch. It helps with all academic subjects, as you can imagine.

Starting in middle school, our super powers in vocabulary are needed each year.

One year we faced a difficult high school Chemistry course (in 7th grade, of course). I bought an AP Chemistry book from a used book site and we spent 6 weeks memorizing vocabulary. Quality parent-child time. It paid off.

Then we took the SAT 9 months later. I'll provide details in my other blog over the next few years because a) we're doing it again with the 2nd child and b) we're going to crush it this time because I know what I'm doing now.

The last hurdle to high school entrance is on December 1. This exam isn't the hardest of the two required exams, but why take changes. Vocabulary is a topic. I think we can adequately prepare in about 4 hours. I'm about to search for 'vocabulary word list freshman year of high school' or 'top vocabulary for the PSAT'.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

What is Giftedness and How to Get It

My favorite reader, Anonymous, left a great comment on last week's article. I encourage you all to read it. In this article, I'm going to describe how I define 'giftedness' and how I go about imparting it on other parents.

Here's the long term equation for giftedness:

Intelligence + Will + Interest = Your Child's Academic Performance

This equation was reported by David Lohman in a few of his papers. David Lohman is my hero for not his role as current author of the COGAT, but making all of his work publicly available so I could put the pieces together and defeat his test.

Next, take the classical education, which worked well for about 2,500 years until people started mucking with education. Here is an even briefer summary of Jessie Wise's brief summary in The Well Trained Mind. The classical education, as far as I can tell, mainly involves lots of reading and Jessie's daughter Susan ended up teaching literature at a university. I had to modify it a bit for math but I used the same formula.

  • Memorize everything from age 6 until about 4th grade.
  • Learn to think until high school.
  • In high school, learn to critically analyze literature and begin forming opinions.
  • In college use your emerging expertise in opinionationizing to choose a major that offends your parents.

In order to inject 'giftedness' into the classical education, I added a new step ahead of the traditional definition that begins at age 4.0 and overlaps step one above until about 6 or 7 years old depending on when you start. It is a combination of Jim Trelease's reading advice and Lohman's COGAT, going overboard on phonics and vocabulary, again taking Lohman's advice about how to pass the COGAT very literally.

  • Do phonics and get 1,000 books from the library. I took all phonics from pre K to 2nd grade, math vocabulary through 2nd grade, and packed it into Pre-K Phonics and Conceptual Vocabulary.
  • Master the COGAT. This was really hard at first (like before age 4), so I created Shape Size Color Count as sort of a pre-test-prep book. Still paying dividends.
  • Give your child a piano or keyboard, Piano Adventures, and ask him to teach himself piano.
  • Using Vocabulary Workshop + Pre-K Phonics, we kept the Word Board going until vocabulary was memorized on sight.
  • Test Prep ended right on schedule during Christmas break of Kindergarten. We used about a half dozen books from my curriculum page for the core curriculum with others as supplements. We started math with some counting (up to 5) and then jumped into Every Day Math Student Journal 1 for Grade 2.
Tiger Mom 2.0

Everything reading related was quality parent child time. There were some challenging moments with phonics (the word CAT for example was hell and took 3 weeks), but anything vocabulary related turned out to the the fun part of the week. This is where most of our time was spent, sitting with books deciding how many words my child would read (3) and how many I would read (the rest) on the next book, or standing at the Word Board acting out what the word 'mute' means while I keep asking a silent kid until we both break out laughing.

Math had its share of tears - not because I expect achievement. There were tears because I was content with my children spending 30 minutes figuring out a problem and explaining it to me than spending 2 minutes just telling them how to do it. When I say the word 'math', it means actual math or it means anything in the test prep curriculum that I list on this website on the curriculum page on the right. It's not about learning anything. It's about learning.

Working on cognitively challenging material taxes the brain. In fact, I expect during the new classical education step, a child's got about 15 minutes of quality thinking each day, maybe 4 or 5 days a week. I don't ask for a correct answer - or any answer for that matter - but we aren't going to stop until the brain is out of gas.

In the comment, Anonymous mentions the 10,000 hour rule. If I add up all of the cognitive skills training, including math, we're at about 250 hours over a two year period plus a lot of reading. The quality of these 250 hours varied from getting all 5 problems wrong to getting 2 or 3 out of 5 right.

If you visited my house during our cognitive skills training, you would think that I had very low standards and we were not learning anything at all. You would be 100% correct.

This website is about the 'intelligence' part of the equation above. Will and Interest are covered in the other blog. Your child's hard work in teaching himself goes part way toward 'will', but by 4th grade you still have most of the work to do. All of that reading lays the ground work for 'interest', but again by 4th grade you have to work really hard as a parent to stay out of 'interest' or you'll ruin it.

The new version of the Tiger Mom expects work every day toward our goals, but doesn't really care what the result is. The result takes care of itself. The result is way beyond expectations, so why push it?

The definition of gifted

Almost every state has a similar definition of gifted. A gifted child, per definition meets two criteria. The first criterion is that they learn quickly, independently, and would be bored in a classroom teaching material the gifted child already knows. The second criterion is that the gifted child scores at 98% or higher on a test that measures the academic and thinking skills that produce a child capable of learning quickly and independently.

Therefore, the path to giftedness is pretty straight forward. Teach the skills that the test is measuring.

When I started this research, every single book, paper, article, and pamphlet on giftedness said that it is genetic, at least in part. I have proven that it is ZERO percent gifted and can easily show that only bad logic and ignorance can ascribe cognitive skills to genetics. Even for those at the 99.9999% level with parents who never graduated high school.

So we're down to about 250 hours of investment to set your child on the right path to giftedness. If it's just the test you're worried about, you might be able to get to 95% in about 6 to 8 weeks and 100 hours, but only if the cutoff is lower, and you still have the rest of the work to do or they'll have a really hard time in their new program.