Chapter 1 - Skills, The New IQ

Copyright 2012, 2016, 2017 - me
The Myth of Intelligence

Suppose I told you that the weather gods caused thunder.   When they are angry, they make it thunder, and when they are calm, no thunder.  Does this sound primitive and superstitious?  What if I had reams of data correlating rain with thunder.   We know the thunder gods cause rain, so they must cause thunder as well.  Still silly?

The theory of intelligence is based on the same fallacious logic.  Intelligence is neither observable nor measurable, and yet it just has to be there because some people are better at taking tests than others, and they tend to be better at other things as well.  The only way a researcher could possibly hold such a superstitious position is if he has never observed an actual child.

Here is a brief history of intelligence theory.  Cognitive psychologists identified skills that some children have and others don't and correlated those skills with performance in school.   27 minutes after Binet outlined his vision to identify kids who lack these skills, psychologists realized they could make millions of dollars testing kids to identify those who are smart.  Others earned their professorships by totally making up crap about how the brain works, which every 20 years turns out to be wrong, but THIS TIME we totally got it right.

There was a valiant attempt to accuse tests of being culturally biased.  The proponents didn't think they could debunk the myth that intelligence was inherited, but they used the wrong language and couldn't overcome the fact that the 'culture' of the intelligence test is the same 'culture' of education, and if you restate intelligence you just end up with dumb people with a high score.

After Charles Murray published The Bell Curve, a few mathematicians at Harvard and MIT had enough, and they mathematically proved that all of the 'proof' behind the genetic relationship of intelligence was incorrect all along.   I had a whole chapter on this but after I realized that intelligence is a myth to begin with, I unpublished it.

The current author of the COGAT is a researcher at Iowa named David Lohman.  I'm a big fan of Lohman because all of his work is freely available and it got me started on my quest to reverse engineer the COGAT.  It always troubled me that someone so bright and down to earth could be so evil.  I have no other way to describe the culture of testing kids for skills instead of teaching the skills.   Then I tried to show my research to parents and sign them up.  You'd think that parents who manage to coordinate 3 baseball travelling schedules for their 6 year old would be prime candidates to turn this child into a solid academic performer, but in fact academics is a distraction for most people best left to a run down school system.  I have concluded that Lohman is doing exactly what he should be doing because the parent problem is currently unsolvable.  Lohman has quietly settled in the field of cognitive skills.   Like many researchers who want to keep their jobs, he pays lip service to intelligence but I'm not really sure he believes it.

Education books, including those taught in college to aspiring teachers, are evil.  All education books and cognitive psychology books printed in the US state that intelligence is at least in part genetics. Are you kidding me?  Based on what?

Starting about 10 years ago, I saw a budding shift in research, primarily the result of women entering the field of cognitive psychology.  It's over due.

Educated parents who value education produce educated children.  Don't you think that the 99,280 waking hours the child spends under those parents' leadership before they turn 18 years old has something to do with intelligence?  15,000 of those hours happen before the age of 4, by the way. That's a lot of time to account for intelligence.  The myth of intelligence precluded researching these 15,000 hours with the exception of a few recent papers.  Common sense and a bit of empirical research tells me that educated parents are going to use those hours differently.

Theoretical physics has done an excellent job of predicting particles that couldn't be observed, but this group is smart enough to dump a bad theory.   Remember the pudding model of the atom?   Intelligence is pudding.  It's time to move on.

Skills - The New Intelligence

I observe directly how well a child reads a math question.  Does he read it twice?  Does he skip over odd words?  Does he take enough time to understand the question, or does he just assume the question and solve the assumed problem?  I also see that students who spend time reading questions also take enough time on a project or paper rubric to actual do what the rubric requests.  Others do not.

Some students mistrust their own answer and check the answer, some going so far as to run the calculations twice.  Others are just happy to see a number in the box and are ready to celebrate being finished.

I estimate that 50% of a grade on a test is due to the skill of taking time to read the question.   15% of the score on a math test of even top students is due to checking the answer.

These are measurable skills.  You can sit there and watch.   I can also see that some children are inherently impatient, and read questions quickly with visible anxiety, and other children live in fear of wrong answers.  All of the important skills are painfully obvious to observe when the skill is absent.

What makes these two skills so important is that the process of exploring a question thoroughly and correcting mistakes leads to an enormous amount of learning.   A question might have some new logic, a new effect, an interesting correlation right in the question.  Correcting mistakes allows the student to see their own deficiencies and correct them, discovering a more efficient or more reliable way of doing work.  In other words, these skills are learning skills, as in the child knowing how to learn on their own, and the process of picking up these skills is learning how to learn.  Every time a child asks the parent a question, the parent should wonder if answering the question is going to undermine the learning process and make the child dumber.

What skills come next?  The student needs a working memory big enough to hold the parts of the question in their brain while each is solved and put together.  Next, the student must understand the vocabulary and concepts within the question.  Finally, the student might need a calculation method from a similar past problem in order calculate the answer.

Working memory is a required skill.  Solving a 3 part problem with brain room for 1 part takes a long, long time and many attempts.  In some cases I've observed that it's impossible for a child to answer a multi-part question for lack of working memory with no time limits.  By the time some children get to the second part of a two part question, they have forgotten the first part.

A strong vocabulary helps, but words can be looked up except in test situations.  Concepts tend to be a combination of question parts and vocabulary words.  Strong vocabulary and conceptual knowledge make the solution go much more quickly.  The value of vocabulary isn't a child who knows what words like 'desultory' mean, but a child who is exposed to a new concept, looking at a concept in a different way, or a subtle meaning within a concept.  Each vocabulary word is a tiny building block for a great mind.

My definition of skills is constantly shifting.  When working with children, I focus entirely on learning skills, which I call the core skills.  If I can teach a child to learn, the sub-skills that make up problem solving algorithms take care of themselves.  Cognitive skills literature is full of the sub-skills.  But why train a child on a sub-skill?  In fact why train a child on anything?  Teach the child to learn, and the child can train themselves.   This approach has the added benefit of being workable, since most parents are not skilled in cognitive sub-skills, but all parents can ask their child to re-read a question more slowly.

There's another set of skills called Facilitators.  These skills show up at a young age, and seem to disappear each time academic work takes a leap to a new level.  For example, the most important facilitator in math at age 4 is the ability to 'see' a problem.   Some kids look at a group of shapes and see 5 shapes, maybe one bigger than the rest.  A child who can 'see' will note details like differing widths and a relationship between the number of sides.  Years later this same child won't see that an algebraic formula is really two formulas together. 

The Core Skills
The Core Skills make up my coaching style, and form my pedagogy.

This pedagogy was born in the following context.   I live in a highly educated area of the country and observed that there are really smart advanced children and my child is not one of them. Furthermore, there are super advanced readers at very young ages and my other child couldn't get past CAT. Finally, I know how to cheat at the COGAT so these super brilliant advanced kids are going to be classmates.  (By cheat, I mean impart thinking skills in a matter of weeks at Navy Seal Team Six Special Forces COGAT Boot Camp which I don't recommend if you don't like whining.)

This was the problem I set out to solve.   I spent a solid year of trying to solve this problem with school curriculum and the normal expectations and approach of a normal parent. It was a disaster.  I tried the laissez faire approach of the parents of the brightest children, but my kids are way too average to read for 6 hours a day, and this didn't work either.  Instead of having 9 graduate degrees, I have 2 kids who prefer video games and joke books to more profitable academic pursuits.

My first breakthrough came during the year of failure.  I performed hard core extensive research on intelligence theory, which culminated in the insight that there is no such thing as intelligence.   With that out of the way, I reverse engineered the COGAT and other tests, but especially the COGAT, and found that academic performance, defined broadly beyond school, is based on learned skills. Furthermore, if you just teach the skills, you can take shortcuts and end up with the same result, albeit with a few asterisks called 'will' and 'interest' that need to be taken care of in the long term.

My success is founded on one simple principle.   If the parent and child teach adopts the core strategies of learning, all the myriad of skills academic skills that are measured by both cognitive and standardized tests (not to mention the report card) will take care of themselves.  I use the term "core skills" for these learning strategies because they take effort and practice to use and apply.

Here are the skills that every child needs.  Note that the normal school curriculum in the US teaches the opposite of these skills.

Core Skill #1:  Be Baffled
The most important skill is a parent and a child who are both comfortable looking at some new material that is totally confusing.   Our entire education system, combining curriculum, teacher, parent and child, is designed to remove any confusion.  The child is spoon-fed baby steps and the parent feels like this is progress.  Spoon feeding removes thinking and learning to learn.  Baby-steps make catch up nearly impossible.  There is no progress in education if the parent and child look at something incomprehensible with anxiety and impatience.

The way to learn this skill is to start with something advanced and hard, and accept the fact that the child doesn't understand it and the parent doesn't know how to teach it.  I think this skill was there from the beginning with walking, counting, colors and phonics, but certainly by 4th grade, very few parent-child teams have this skill.

Core Skill #2:  Read The Question
Within the proper setting that starts with being baffled, the goal of any learning is to spend lots of time with the question and very little time deriving the answer.  In math, this skill is called 'Spend 15 minutes reading the question and 1 minute solving it instead of 1 minute reading the question and 15 minutes getting the wrong answer.'

I've got 3 or 4 alternate names for this skill and lots of different ways to teach it.   My initial approach is really long, convoluted questions that take a long time to understand.  This was the motivation behind the design for Test Prep Math.  This skill showed up again in 6th grade writing and reading comprehension and science.  I already know this skill is paramount in graduate school.

For the tiniest of kids, I call this skill Seeing, since much of the material pre-K kids work with is visual.  The kids who have exercised this skill consistently see things in a figure matrix or a story that other children don't see.  Seeing takes time and exploration, plenty of both, before drawing conclusions.  An alternate name for this skill is Patience.

The way to teach this skill is for a parent to stop answering questions.   It starts with a hard problem and the child stating 'I don't understand it'.   You have two options as a parent when you get questions.  You can explain it to the child, and thus end any pretense of learning for the rest of the child's life, or you can randomly choose from a better response: "Then read it again" or "Explain what you do know" or "Draw it" or "Explain it to me" or all of the above.  With this approach, a 2 minute problem becomes a 20 minute problem, and instead of learning how to add 3 + 7, your child is learning a long list of more important skills.  Plus, when your child gets to 4.23 + 5.97 for the first time, you won't need to explain anything.

When we have 30 minutes for academic work, I'll assign one or two problems and witness a learning explosion.  This is preferable to assigning a whole worksheet of easy problems and teaching my child how not to think.  Eventually, the child's pace magically increases on it's own, and then it's time to raise the bar.

Core Skill #3:  Make Mistakes
This skill is has many parts.  On the surface, it's just the acknowledgement that if the end goal of a learning exercise is to get the correct answer as fast as possible, the child measures his worth in right or wrong, simple memorized calculations become the end goal, and learning is completely undermined.

If a parent is afraid of mistakes, the parent will convey this anxiety to the child.  If the child is afraid of mistakes, it's going to be really frustrating to move your child to academic work that the child 'could do', which is way beyond academic work that your child 'can do'.   In other words, it's hard to learn if a parent or child feels any emotion at all when looking at an answer.

If a child does a worksheet page of any type, and gets 5 out of 6 problems correct on the first try, very little learning just took place.   If this work sheet is gauging the child on the ability to memorize answers (eg 3 + 4) or apply a learned formula, no learning is taking place.  Memory is an important facilitator, but not in this context.

There is another part of this skill that is quite useful.  A child who checks his answers on an important test is going to add 15% to their test score, especially children at the top end of the skills spectrum who are really bright.

The most important part of this skill is that a child should not trust their answers, ever, because in not trusting their answer they are forced to go back through the question.  Every time a child goes back through the question, the child has an opportunity to see something that is missed.  There are books hidden in '3 + 4' - I'm not exaggerating - and there is certainly more that can be uncovered in more advanced problems.

Not trusting the answer reinforces rereading the question.  Not caring about mistakes opens the door to more advanced material which is going to involve a lot more mistakes.  If I take 2 equally competent and promising 5 year olds, and spend 6 months doing 1st grade work with one and 6 months of doing 2nd grade work with the other, at the end of the 6 months I'm going to have one child who has mastered 1st grade work and one child who is competent in 2nd grade work.  But the second child is going to be competent in many things besides that she had to learn going through the ordeal.  A child who fears mistakes is unlikely to get past K level material.  A parent who fears mistakes is unlikely to get their child past K material.

With many children I have to spend the first 6 weeks getting them to stop caring about the solutions before we can make any progress at all. In a worst case scenario, the child is determined to pick the correct answer as fast as possible and we'll spend hours with no learning at all taking place.

I'll have more to say on the core skills under the heading of teaching them, but for now think of them as the home environment where all attitudes line up to support learning.

Facilitators come in two big groups.   Once group includes vocabulary and working memory.  I have dedicated curriculum for each of these skills and at times.  For younger children, the entire curriculum is dedicated to working memory and vocabulary for at least 4 months, especially in math. When my children were focusing on these facilitators I listed them in my blog as core skills.  The other group includes abstract thinking, the ability to see, and any domain knowledge like fractions that we have to backtrack on because they just showed up in a book were working on but my child has never seen the concept before.  The second group shows up when we take a leap in an subject and make zero progress on the very first question for 4 weeks.  Try teaching algebra proofs to an 8 year old and you'll know what I'm talking about.

Long term memory, which I refer to simply as 'memory', is in the first group with working memory and vocabulary.  It tends to magically fall out of activities designed to teach all of the other skills.

I used to think number sense and visual recognition were skills.  Now I just think it's the ability to read a question.  Children with strong number sense and visual spacial abilities have 'read the question' so many times before that they see the whole question in one shot.   In that way, it's like working memory.   To build these two skills, the child just has to take more time to read the question. It goes slowly at first and then gets faster, which I'll explain some day. Number sense and visual spacial memory are derivatives of the learning process, and the learning process is founded on reading the question and checking the answer.   I'm calling these Level 3 skills.

Level 4 skills are solution strategies.  Algebra and writing have level 4 skills.  In writing, forming a long sentence with proper grammatical structure is a Level 3 skill, but organizing thoughts into a cohesive whole before the pen hits the paper is more of a Level 4 skill.  In algebra, reorganizing a formula so that y is alone on the left side of the equals sign is a Level 3 skill.  Organizing a strategy for a proof is a Level 4 skill.  I don't have much to say about these skills at this point because we just started encountering them.

Group 1 facilitators are Working Memory and Vocabulary.  These require an enormous investment by the parent.  Group 3 and 4 skills require a qualified teacher or coach.

If you haven't figured it out yet, Group 1 Facilitators are Level 2 skills, and Group 2 Facilitators are Level 3 and 4 skills.  This means that the core skills are Level 1.   This confusion results from the fact that I've got many different ways of viewing skills and I haven't yet got past core versus non-core or 4 levels.  I'll clarify these at some point, but I see 4 levels in academic work corresponding to the classic education.

Vocabulary Is More
At young ages, a single vocabulary word is like a complicated question.  Think of the word 'beck'. It's a small mountain stream.   A four year old is unlikely to picture a mountain stream from a Coors beer commercial.  The word is problem to be solved.  The definition includes the 'three' that defines the usual limit for working memory.   Do you know why there is a word for a small mountain stream?

Children learn a process for dissecting, analyzing, classifying and storing vocabulary words.   There's a lot more to a photographic memory than simple recall.  I was amazed to watch a 4.5 year old take a 5th grade vocabulary test and get correct answers.  I asked this little girl how she knew the right answer despite not knowing what any of the words meant.  "This looks like a happy word so I looked for a sad word in the answers because it was supposed to be the opposite."  Identifying happy versus sad words is a Level 4 that appears in IQ tests, otherwise known as an algorithm combined with a lot of verbal domain knowledge.

After learning to new word, the word becomes a problem facilitator.   A child with the complete math vocabulary and a child lacking a math vocabulary are going to see different things when looking at a diagram.  One child might see big, while another child will see wide.  Sometimes I refer to this skill as seeing the problem, but as I will explain in the next chapter, it's simply reading the question with facilitators.

By the way, beck is important to hunters, trappers and miners.  It's drinkable water with no other effort involved.  Think about how many times a day a trapper has to fill his canteen while walking under a thick coat.  "Do you know where the beck is?"  Beck is included in Test Prep Phonics for the reasons mentioned above and as a memory builder.  What a great word for a child.  A cynical view of this book is that I was just delving into classification to out-smart the test, but in reality I was trying to teach one child to read while the other was getting crushed in a 1st grade gifted and talented program that surprised us with 3rd grade curriculum.

[The rest of this material is from earlier in this blog's life when I was just beginning my research.   It took me about 2 years to come to terms with the myth of intelligence using the logic presented above. I came to the same conclusion below by reading papers and books on this topic.  Unless you're really bored, move on to the next chapter.]

Why Intelligence Matters

When I first heard about the super secret Chicago selective enrollment exam for elementary school placement, two words came to mind:  "Reverse Engineering".  I would simply find out who writes the most popular exams, read their research papers and their doctoral students' papers on the subject of designing a test question, and then go from there.   Whatever intelligence or cognitive skill they were trying to measure, I would teach, and whatever question type might appear on the exam, I would create 1000 permutations and drill these into my child's brain with flash cards.

This line of research wasn't as fruitful as I hoped, since there are few research papers on question design that I could find.   I did stumble across stacks of literature on early childhood development and learning, and this led to research on education techniques and theory.   Almost every paper quoted one or more sources on Intelligence Theory, and they quoted intelligence theory like it was law.   One day, out of curiosity  I started to study intelligence theory.

I was surprised to find that I wasn't cheating at all.  I was growing my child's IQ.   Instead of gaming the system and getting my average kid into a gifted program, I was unleashing an academic performer.

American culture is notorious for holding beliefs on the topic of intelligence, and most of those in the field do too, although this number is shrinking.   Before a parent begins putting time and effort into their child's education, I think it's important to know what an IQ is and how you can impact it.   I explained my findings to a math teacher at a high school in a Northern Suburb of Chicago, and was disappointed to find tat the faculty at this school already held my beliefs.  "Why would we bother teaching if we thought IQ was fixed?" she asked.  For the rest, here is why you can grow an IQ.

The Bell Curve

In 1994, Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray wrote a controversial book called The Bell Curve.   This book will go down in history as the most wrong book of all time.   This book was the culmination of a line of research in the field of "Psychometrics" which correlates cognitive ability test scores with other variables, like other tests, race, crime, socio-economic status, etc.   As it turns out, those in the field of "Phsychometrics" are on the whole a bunch of nut jobs, but the aftermath of this book unleashed a flurry of academic works by more reliable researchers that corrected long standing misinterpretation of intelligence theory and the relationship of cognitive skill to other things.

For my purposes, the most important contribution of Physchometrics was the correlation of IQ tests to other types of test taking skills.  These relationships form an important basis of my test prep curriculum, and will be discussed in chapter 2.  But this is not the only accidental contribution of Phychometrics.  In the disproving the major conclusions of Phychometrics, as represented in the Bell Curve, a clear picture of intelligence has emerged.   To be more accurate, the muddled picture of intelligence has been uncovered.

Most of the published works and editorials submitted in response to the Bell Curve are philosophical in nature, which is appropriate to the philosophical content of the Bell Curve (disguised as statistics).   These responses are not useful to me.  There are a few works that tackle the issue of intelligence from a logical and mathematical perspective, and of these my two favorites are "The Making of Intelligence", written by Ken Richardson in 2000, and "Intelligence and How to Get It" by Richard E Nisbett in 2009.  If you have a few years of statistics in grad school, these two authors present really clear and simple arguments that upend the Bell Curve.  For those of you who don't have a statistics background, I'm just going to summarize their findings in this chapter
What is Intelligence?

Most of us have learning in our one psychology course that there is this thing called intelligence, which theorists have wide agreement on, which is the result of genetics and heredity, has a lot to do with how well you will do in life, and is fixed throughout most of your life.

And all of that is incorrect.

What is correct is that there is a lot of bad science out there which is presented in a misleading way.

Here is a brief history of the Myth of Intelligence.  If you want a more thorough version, you can read "The g Factor" by Aurthur Jensen, which is a handbook on bad science by someone who appears to believe it, or the Richardson and Nisbett's book, which debunks it.   Unfortunately, Jensen is a really great encyclopedia on the filed of intelligence and its studies, and I usually quote from "The g Factor" first while arguing against its conclusions.

In the beginning, theorists came up with the idea of intelligence.  It is unobservabe, philosophical, and unprovable.  No two theorists agree on the definition of intelligence anyway.  Every 60 years or so, leading psychologists in this subfield get together and prove that no 2 of them agree on a definition.

Along come test makers.  Test makers create a test, give it to people, and observe that people get different scores.  The test makers select questions that provide the results that they are looking for - a normal curve, equality among genders, a few people at the top, a stability from the teen years on, and results that predict academic performance for the next few years.  These tests were designed to not only to predict academic performance, but to identify children who need extra help.   Somewhere along the way, there arose the fallacy that these tests  measures intelligence, and can now give a score to intelligence.

By the way, did you ever wonder why you have the same IQ as a teenager?   This person, who is "as smart" as you can't manage a credit card, can't bake a decent loaf of bread, can't write a coherent 1 page essay on Shakespeare, and can't hang drywall.  But they have the same IQ as you do.  Well, it's because the test makers picked questions that are relevant to an SAT/ACT taking 16 year old.  The only reason you score as well as a teenager is through sheer stubbornness, or else your measured IQ would fall to 80.

Within a few decades of test creation, along come Phychometricians.  Physchometricians correlate the "IQ" test scores on a variety of variables - like how you do on achievement tests, how you do in school, how you do 10 years later and then make a bunch of bold faced lies by misrepresenting the data they gathered and ignoring the fact that they started with a faulty and unprovable theory to begin with.    The biggest lies - that your IQ is inherited and that it is fixed.

Intelligence Cannot Be Measured

No one really knows what intelligence is or how it works.   You can't see it.  You can't measure it.   Some people figure out problems better and faster than others, and these people are usually rich.  So the early test makers designed a test with questions that rich people generally do well on and poor people don't.  Others designed a test that produces scores in the ballpark of what a teacher would predict.  Then they concluded that the test measures intelligence, and the score became the Intelligence Quotient, or IQ.

Jesnon and the Phychometric crowd came along and determined that there is this underlying intelligence that they call "g" that the IQ tests measure, and which also manifests itself in performance on a variety of other cognitive ability and achievement tests.   In the 1930's, Cattell uncovered "fluid" versus "crystallized" intelligence  which some argue are manifestations of "g" and some argue not.   In 1983, Howard Gartner wrote Frames of Mind,  inventing in theory multiple intelligences, which started with 7 independent intelligences, including music, and was later expanded.   Gartner himself was surprised to find how quickly his theory was put in practice in the education industry.

Early IQ tests looked a lot like achievement tests.  The more honest people in the profession broke off "Achievement Tests" like the SAT and don't use the term "Intelligence".  David Lohman, author of the COGAT, uses the term "Cognitive Ability" in his work.   The OLSAT is a "School Ability Test".  The tests have migrated to evaluating cognitive skills that are the same ones needed to succeed in school subjects.  I'm not sure what skills IQ tests test, but these appear to be more of a related to familiarity with academic subjects than underlying cognitive processes.

Both Richardson and Nisbett do a really great job of describing how question design and selection for the tests predict the results of the test.   Think self-fulfilling prophecy.  The test makers assumed a Bell Curve - likely a faulty assumption - and then chose questions that produced the desired result across large numbers of test takers.   They assumed gender equality, which is probably a good assumption, and tailor the test year-over-year to balance the scores of the genders.   They are now assuming cultural independence of the intelligence outcome, probably a good assumption, and trying to find questions that work as well on an Iowa farm as on the South Side of Chicago.

I'm going to skip the math on this, but the bottom line is that the IQ scale represents the scale that is predetermined by the test makers, and an individual performance is determined by how well a person fits on this specific scale.  So these tests don't really measure intelligence.  But they measure something relevant to cognitive skills.

Intelligence is Not Inherited

If intelligence theorists are sloppy enough to skip scientific proof of their definition of intelligence, then it is no surprise that they are sloppy enough to jump to conclusions on the source of variations in test scores.
Instead of taking the time to observe and measure what makes a person more or less intelligent, like reading, studying, schooling, etc., they just jumped to the conclusion that intelligence is in inherited.

Why is it inherited?  Because smarter people have smarter kids.  But the biological smartness of the parent is not what is passed on, it's the values, activities, and environment that the  parent gives the child.  Of course, education researchers are quickly filling this gap to correlating cognitive ability to the number of books in the house, number and quality of conversations a 3 year old has with their parent, types of games a child plays, hours that a TV is on in the house, and other relevant factors.  See the book "Welcome to Your Child's Brain" for some of these studies.

Nesbitt does a very careful mathematical job of demonstrating why IQ scores are not correlated with genes and race, or at least why the studies that purport to show this are invalid.  Half of the mistake is attributing "heredity" to the correlation between a child's test score and a parent's test score, and the other half is not measuring the things that make up intelligence and leaving them to correlate with intermediate.

I think if we had moms in the field of phychometrics, the field wouldn't be so misguided.   For the last 100 years, researchers have been buried in their offices reading data points on SES, race, years of school, parent's IQ, and have no data points on how much time or effort a child spent learning.   A mom or dad, on the other hand, sitting there day after day with a three year old teaching him how to read will have a much different perspective on what creates cognitive ability.   I think if researchers were all mom's, we'd have much more useful literature.

I am not aware of a single valid study that shows any part of intelligence is genetic.  The correlations between high IQ parents and high IQ children are pretty obvious based on the main factors of cognitive ability:  reading, vocabulary, nutrition, valuing education, not worrying about getting shot on the way to school, etc.  In my opinion, all of the studies linking IQ with heredity are invalid simply because they use a parent's IQ as a proxy for the educational environment for the child and label this "heredity".  A child's IQ is determined by their educational activities, and this fact cannot be disproved by any study that does not measure the quality and quantity of these activities as a factor and/or control variable.  If these factors were included, the correlation with the parent's IQ would disappear.

I'm really disappointed that I had to say this.  For hundreds of years many researchers have looked into this issue and I have not seen one, even in response to the Bell Curve, state this obvious fact.

Nesbitt did a careful review of the key studies and a mathematical and scientific explanation that demonstrates their shortcomings.  For example, there are numerous studies that demonstrate the very high correlation of twins and cognitive ability test scores.   What you probably don't know, and what Nesbitt found, was that twins tend to be in the same environment, in the same classroom at higher rates, and treated fairly equally by teachers.   What about twins who are adopted and separated?  They tend to end up with relatives in the same socio-economic group, sometimes living down the street from each other and going to the same school.   Even with blind adoption of twins, adoptive parents tend to be on the higher end of the socio-economic scale.   In short, environment is never explored or factored into these studies, and therefore, they are all invalid.

What about the studies that put children in absolutely identical learning environments and witness different results?   See Jenson's "The G Factor" p 274.  "Learning theorists have seldom shown any interest in the wide range of differences in learning rates across individuals subjected to the very same experimental conditions."   I'll solve this problem for him.  If I take 2 kids with the same statistical profile and put them in a classroom side-by-side, are they going to have the same experience?   Ignore the family environment for a moment, which I believe dwarfs the impact at school, and concentrate just on the experimental conditions in the classroom when the teacher covers "3 + 4 = 7".   One child has a certain disposition, personality, temperament, and learning style; this child looks up and light bulbs go off.  Wow, I bet 4 + 4 = 8 as well, he thinks.  The statistically identical child next to him is sitting there thinking "I'd rather shove a fork in my eye right now than have to listen to this boring material".   This child has a completely different approach to learning than the first child, and thus these are dramatically different experimental conditions.   One condition is an optimal learning environment, and the other condition is torture.  The only math that the "fork in the eye" child is going to learn is determining how much time is left in class by watching the clock.  By the way, this is a real world example.

The child's home environment has an enormous impact on the child's cognitive ability, especially at very young ages.  Does Mom make talking fun and engaging to a toddler?  Is reading both a puzzle to be solved and a wonderland to explore?  Assume that the child admires his father and desperately want to please him.  What attitudes and actives will this entail?  What does he observe his father doing all day?  I'll call this motivation, a bucket of things that determine what a child's interests are and where he directs effort and time.  Does his father watch TV or play with Legos?

Until very recently, researchers weren't studying this.   These unobserved factors were just lumped into a bucket called "heredity" or "socio economic status".

How many words does a child hear a day from parents?  Research (summarized in Welcome to Your Child's Brain, but I returned it to the library so I can't tell you the page number) finds this to be over 2,000 in an upper middle class family and less than 1,000 in a welfare family.  Does this have a big impact on IQ?  You bet.  What about how many books are read to a child each week?  This is directly correlated to how many years of schooling a child will have, which is directly correlated to IQ.

Unfortunately, most studies have simply compared IQ test scores to parent scores and have drawn the wrong conclusion.

A few researchers are looking at biological indicators of congnitive activity, and correlating physical attributes like brain capillaries and hormonal activity between parent and child.   I'm not sure they are 1% of the way there yet in their research, but let's not make the same mistake from 100 years ago by hearing the abstract of the research and jumping to the conclusion that heredity in brain development plays a role in cognitive skill.  Just because researchers see brain activity in certain spots when a child solves a word analogy doesn't mean the researchers have a clue as to how the brain works and what this means for intelligence.

Unfortunately, well educated people have a distinct advantage over others in providing stimulating environments for their children, as do higher earners.   But this is because - brace yourself for the obvious - children of smart, high earning people spend more time in learning activities    I think every other factor is secondary.  And the next section will take this proposition to the next step.

Intelligence is Not Fixed

There have been numerous intervention studies funded as part of the No Child Left Behind Act, to the tune of about 100 to 200 million dollars per year.   The typical study provides an intensive education to 4 to 7 year olds in a neighborhood below the poverty level.  The typical outcome is that kids go from the 15th percentile to off the charts brilliant, and then a few years after they've been thrown back into their original environments  they are back to where they started in terms of cognitive ability.  Studies of twins and adoption provide similar results - the environment plays the dominant role in the level of cognitive ability and achievement.  There are other studies that show the rise of cognitive ability while school is in session and its subsequent fall over the summer.

These studies have drawbacks.  Most of these studies include no detailed observations on  the day-to-day level of cognitive exercise, like conversations with parents and reading at home.   Many of these studies involve disadvantaged children starting with below average cognitive skill and are not readily applicable to children on the other side of the scale.  But the results of positive intervention are overwhelming.
This is worth repeating since it's the main point of this chapter:   positive intervention raises cognitive ability, and reverting to the normal routine diminishes cognitive ability.  Almost every single study strongly demonstrates this causal relationship.  Therefore, I have come away with the obvious conclusion that cognitive ability is highly malleable for those ages covered in the studies.   I'm also concluding, based on research, that cognitive ability is  highly effort driven.

The Phychometrics crowd read the same studies and determined that it means intelligence is inherited and fixed.  I'm baffled as to how people can be so stupid.  Here is a brief list of some of the more popular studies.  Many of these studies are refrenced in Jensen.
1.   Head Start programs have a positive impact depending on the parent's SES status and IQ.  In other words, Head Start paired with a stable home that values education raises test scores.
2.  Adoption in general raises tests scores, since adoptees tend to shift from less adept home education environments to better home education environments and more educated parents.
3.  The Milwaukee project threw unlimited resources at children and raised their IQ's over 30 points.  Sadly, the kids slowly migrated back to average test scores after the program was ended.
4.  The Abecedarian Early Intervention Project not only raised test scores, but had a more long term impact.
5.  TOOLS of the Mind.   This is play based learning.   The convincing results of this program are so over the top I've incorporated it into my home academic environment.  

There is a study of older children that is worth mentioning because it says more than just the fact that cognitive abilities can increase.  Jensen (p 316) is surprised by a study showing 15 point changes in Wechsler scores in 10% of kids between 7 and 13.  The majority of these changes were increases.   38 known risk factors could not account for this change.   Why did a large number of kids jump one standard deviation in cognitive ability scores?  Unfortunately, reading more and studying more were not investigated by the researchers, but even if these were the causes, what changed in these kids' lives that suddenly made them "turn it on" academically?   My gut feeling is that kids can wake up academically during this time.  The material changes from boring to challenging with seventh and eighth grade math and literature.   It also shows that it's never too late to pick up the pace on learning.

I am concluding that not only is intelligence primarily environmental, but it is highly changeable.

The Bad News

While intelligence is not fixed, people's behavior appears to be.

The bad news is that kids who struggle with reading in first grade are statistically unlikely to start reading 60 minutes a day in the 5th grade.  The average Chicago Bears fan isn't likely going to turn off the game and read the Hobbit to his 5 year old.   Kids who are sent to an intensive test prep course by a parent who favors TV over reading are more likely not going to value reading by age 10.   A parent who hated science as a child isn't going to pass on a love of the hypothesis testing to her daughter..

My personal experience is that you can raise intelligence 30 points at age 3 to 5 with about 10 to 20 minutes of concentrated effort per day, plus the right environment which I will describe later.  However, to go from a "D" on your trig test to winning a math competition takes about 2 to 3 hours a night for at least a year.  The bar becomes much higher down the road, and the effort becomes self motivated, as opposed to driven by the parents.  That's why IQ jumps get progressively harder at later ages.  There's just too much intellectual material to catch up on, and people are less likely to change their interests.

While cognitive ability may not be inherited or fixed throughout life, because behavior tends to be, whether through lack of confidence, laziness or inertia, cognitive abilitiy tends to be fairly stable.

This will not stop you, however, in your quest to outfox the COGAT, because you will read my yet unpublished chapter on how to become a gifted parent.

Publishers and Research Funding

In this chapter, I have demonstrated my low opinion of certain intelligence theorists in misleading the rest of us on the topic of intelligence.  Let me note, however, that publishers, share most of this blame.   There's nothing wrong with a theory of intelligence to guide research.   However, a new theory is hot off the press and it is immediately quoted in education text books as a given, in support of some teach method or another.

The light bulb went off when I was reading the 20th anniversary edition forward of Gardner's "Frames of Mind".  Gardner himself was amazed at how quickly the education establishment embraced his theory - far ahead of researchers' abilities to investigate and prove or disprove his theory.   "Within a year or so [of publishing] I had already met with the teachers from Indianapolis who would shortly begin the Key School, the first school in the world organized explicitly around Multiple Intelligences theory."

The only unproven theory that will form the basis of my child's education is that cognitive skills are gained through hard work.  I hope most parents think this as well.

The funding under No Child Left Behind is another culprit.   There are numerous studies on the impact of teaching methods and curriculum on children's current and future academic performance.   While it's not a bad idea to find a decent teaching method, 90% of the child's academic performance is derived from parent values and behavior.   No one studies this.   I was reading one ludicrous example of research on the federal government clearinghouse site that detailed a $1.4 million study to determine how a particular preschool curriculum would impact children's future choices to study science.  Of course, the study took place in a low socio-economic neighborhood, like most do.   Not that there's anything wrong with that.   But given the average home life in this neighborhood, these kids will be lucky to graduate from high school, so what are the chances one of the kids will get a PhD in science?  Instead, how about a single study on how to get parents to read more?

My Working Definition of Intelligence

I am going to use the term Cognitive Skills throughout the rest of this free online book.  If I slip and refer to "Cognitive Abilities" or "Intelligence", I really mean Cognitive Skills.  These skills are learned and practiced, developed and perfected through time and effort, in the same way that art or writing is perfected.  I like the term "Skills" better than "Ability" because it highlights the practice and effort needed to achieve intellectual distinction.

There is a growing body of research that pins down the level of Cognitive Skills to the time and effort a child and/or parent puts in.  This research goes beyond the typical correlation study.   Notable is Dr. K. Anders Ericsson's 10,000 Hours of Practice Theory.  Ericcson found that the number of hours that a person practices the piano is a better determiner of skill level than any measure of native or inherent ability.  Subsequent research found this dominant cause/effect relationship in a wide variety of other skills.

Many parents have found this to be the case with academic work.

I have created the 100 Hour Rule.  100 hours of concerted effort with a 3-5 year old will add 2 years of skill level to any given subject.  Think about that.   20 minutes a day 5 days a week for a year.

The 100 hour rule is based on a study with 2 subjects that is horribly unscientific.   I didn't want to risk leaving out a determinant of cognitive skill, or any cognitive exercise, especially those required to pass the elementary school entrance exam.  So I threw them all learning activities into the study, but it was still about 20 minutes a day.   I'll do my best to provide some experiential and philosophical insight, but the risk of trying one thing or the other as the guaranteed way to pass the exam is too high.


It's time to work on cognitive skills.  It's not fixed and it depends on time and effort.


  1. I love this blog!

  2. Hi, love the blog, each chapter makes me _laugh_! I have a K testing in a week. Never crossed my mind for my kids to be in GAT, so never thought to 'prep' and found you when looking to 'cheat' ...for the test in a week,=). *ThankYou*, we're totally ready and feel good about it! I'm a teacher by student loans but left after 10 yrs disgusted with all that's beyond the classroom. You really hit the nail on the head when you called out the failure of parents, then the whole educational field/policy unable to address it as the most influential factor. We have a massive societal problem only now beginning to impact public service program$. And it ties directly into the undeveloped 'grit' of 2 entire generations. NOT only can't they _think_, but can't push through difficulties to develop thinking skills over 10 years of public education, and thus can't figure out why others are getting ahead of them. But, since they can't think in the first place never realize the problem lies within themselves...Then they reproduce darling entitled snowflakes, beautiful wonderful unique special individuals that melt down into helpless sopping puddles at the slightest increase in heat or pressure. Ya bummer, they missed my class on Charles and Boyles day. I was always frustrated that no matter how much the public schools say it--and seriously--we send home a reading log with every student every week for 6 years straight--'read 20 mins a night w/ your kid to make them smarter/stronger/prepared for a better future/etc' And parents simply *don't*. I confess I'm guilty of skipping weeks, maybe that's why I'll have to do the 3 month 'cheat' for the other two kiddos now that they want to take the test know, keeping up with the Jones' one bedroom over and all. (The running joke in the house now is about octopus sweaters in their closet, =total buy-in on their part, btw!) But, seriously, in the mommy-gossip-circles here at least, there is such a wildly distorted judgement passed that prepping for the test is inorganic, morally shady, and downright underhanded cheating! And we don't even have the competitive 99% schools!, just a fancy label and extra time with a teacher a few times a month. Um, so for all parents out bout just 20 mins a day instead, for a year, heck, try it for just 6 months!? Plz? Ya know, like we've been begging out of them for the last three years. Cuz last time I checked, GAT cheat = hours and hours of study/reading between child and adult. And in the end, GAT entrance or not, isn't the goal met...smarter kid? And THAT will last a lifetime.
    So, Norwood, ya, thanks for the "cheat sheet" and the test prep book. My kinder nailed the apple problem, because she had counted them before when we had sliced one up. Who knew? Oh, and maybe let the kid laugh at the end and roll his eyes at you of the commercial (cuz we know he wants to!) but publish his results on the back page so it pops up on the amazon images.<3

    1. Thanks for your vote and your insight and ideas. I have about 2 months of 'marketing' to do in the form of covers and such, but my schedule is getting busier because neighbors have been presenting new challenges to use the force. I'm really reluctant to publish results, but here they are in a comment that no one will see unless they click comment to comment. We got to all A's and 99%'s (waiting for confirmation) across the board for the first time in 6 years. After we finished TPM, my kids were at a whole new level and the 6th grader does high school work at home. Not bad for a former C student stuck in a gifted program who isn't one of the smarter kids in class. Anyway, watch for two things. First, I'll have a follow up to TPM starting at about 5th grade that I'll publish here. It's not a book, because I found suitable material, but an over the top approach that is catch up right before high school, because, with a few exceptions, you can catch up at any time. Also, look for the Chicago Project because I'm taking on the parent issue.