Saturday, March 28, 2015

Priority #1 - Cognitive Skills

3 years ago, I aligned all of my priorities toward preparing my youngest child for school.  The oldest one had already begun first grade, and I wanted to give the younger brother a fair chance.  The oldest was exposed to a little of this approach formerly (with test prep) and a lot informally.  But as you can see from this blog, I over did it with my second son.  Now it's time to switch.

Yesterday before dinner, my kids asked to use the computers.   It was Friday, technically the weekend, and they are no longer permitted to see a computer during the week.   So I assigned a page of math.  The 4th grader did his work quickly - in about 5 minutes, but he has seen this material before.  The 1st grader struggled.

"What do these 2 words mean?  I can't pronounce them."

The words were perpendicularity and intersection.  I explained each word with a little diagram.  It's odd that my First Grader can't pronounce words or asks me for help in math.  Must be tired or getting sick.

"Can you explain this question to me?"  Sure.   Must be having a bad day.  The question wants to know which faces on this rectangular prism are perpendicular to face AECB.  

"OK, I did the problem.  Do I have to finish this?"

Of course you do.  When have I let anybody ever not do a whole page of math?

"But it's 6th grade math."


They each have a Kumon book and the books both look the same.   I gave him the wrong one, and he jumped right in the middle where his older brother left off and proceeded to answer questions correctly, albeit with a little help.

I have many friends in a similar situation.   Younger sibling wants to be like older sibling.  Older sibling gets parents attention learning how to read, learning how to count, early homework and projects.  Younger sibling wants it so bad they try everything they can think of and learn ways of learning.  In technical terms, the younger sibling picks up the most important cognitive skills, the ones that are on the GAT tests:

  • keep trying
  • try different things
  • do a little bit at a time 
  • teach yourself
  • if the older sibling can do it, I must be able to do it
The younger child goes through this in a way the older child doesn't.  The parents spoon feed the older child with every type of knowledge and not permitting him to exercise learning skills, whereas the younger child has to fight for himself.  

The textbook case of this situation would be that the older child get's 99% on a standardized test, but barely a 105 on a cognitive abilities test, whereas the younger child might get 75 or 80 on the standardized test but a 160 on the COGAT.

There is nothing magic or genetic about these skills.  If a child doesn't have them, he should get them.  If a child forgets them by 4th grade, and then again in 8th grade, and as a Freshman in college, which is typical to the point where it's almost expected, then he has to learn them again.

What is important about 4th, 8th, and 13th grades is that the education curriculum shifts dramatically at each point so that a 3rd or 4th grader who gets really good grades because they learned the material that the teacher taught may do poorly in 5th or 6th grade because they have to relearn what is expected and how to approach it, whereas a "learner" will hate 4th grade because it's boring and get bad grades but excel in 5th or 6th grade.  A senior in highschool with AP honors and all A's may end up with all B's as a Freshman because they know how to memorize crap and do homework but don't know how to think and be organized.

My 6th year old knows how to learn, which is the list above.  My summer project will be to help my 4th grader relearn these skills in the context of the new standard of learning for 5th grade.  When I say "relearn" what I mean is that whatever his level is, what is it going to take to get to 99% in terms of learning skills? This is not a matter of me being competitive.  These skills are the most important of all academic survival skills, and make the difference between getting 1 page of math complete per hour or 15 pages of math in an hour.

We do a little bit every week for both kids called "learn to think" or "learn to learn".   They both have really great teachers that do this as well (I hope), but the teachers are limited by the curriculum and I am not.

What I would like to figure out before the summer is what to do for an effective, concentrated effort for the older child.

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