Monday, May 23, 2016

The Making of a GAT Parent

In the last 6 weeks, I've heard from an unsual number of parents who are late to test prep.   You will find a home in this blog, which was motivated by my first experience with GAT test preparation under the heading "too little too late".  5 years and lots of determination later, I feel more confident.

Down the street from us lives a family called the Readers, consisting of over educated parents with exteremly bright children.   There is no way we could match their efforts.  I lack the personality.  Nor are we a match for the Nemeses, one parent teaches AP math and the other has turned their house into a library.

The Readers have a 2 year old daughter with 2 older brothers.   When I see her, she hands me a stack of books and simply says "Read them to me."  It's hard to resist.  She's too powerful for me.  Lately, I've comed armed with math to stump her, and within minutes she comprehended the concepts and was ready for Kindergarden math.  Curse you, overly educated parents with an irresistable daughter!

While I can't match my nemeses, I can compensate for what I lack.  My kids will learn advanced vocabulary one way or another, but they will learn it, even if I'm more of a thinker than a talker.

My rule is that I need a year to take a kid from behind to 99%, and then may be a year or 2 after that to reinforce the skills.   The first 6 weeks is just to learn to sit still and concentrate.   The next 12 weeks is to remember the question that we are working on.  The First Year is special, not just because it's the most work, dedication, and one-on-one time, but also because neither child nor parent could keep up this pace for more than a year outside of home schooling.  If the test goes well, you won't have to, and if the test doesn't go well, you'll find that the child can work independently at this point, and the parent can just manage the wall chart and the word boards.

You could condense the whole program into a six week nightmare, but you have to act like a GAT parent from day 1, with unlimited patience and a love of the process of learning and an expecation of 100% incorrect answers and mistakes.   It took me much longer to get there.

Here is my program, independent of age (somewhat).

#1.   Reading Is King
The child will pick up 100% of the skills needed to pass any test and do well in all subjects (including math) simply by reading a lot.  The problem with this approach is that it takes too long, and school districts put a time limit on your efforts, mainly the dates of the tests.

For 3 year olds, this is 100% read-to and by 5th grade is typically 0% read-to.

There's no way a kid will sit through a test prep workbook if he doesn't learn to sit by being read to.  Older children may vary.

#2.  Vocabulary Is King
75% of the test is founded on vocabulary.  You would be surprised to find the link between figure matrices and vocabulary, but it is there.  The vocabulary process also builds memory, and memory is a very powerful weapon to bring to the test and to any academic setting.  At all times unitil about 4th grade, we have a word board with sticky notes on it (usually the refridgerator as a convenience to me) and I drag the kids in front of it, 3 times a week, to see if they can eliminate a word.   When they are reading, the words come from Vocabulary Workshop or math books, and before that the words come from phonics or read-to material.   I'm currently working on publishing the phonics program I used, which is a combination of phonics, vocabulary, and test prep.  In short, ever word they come across, like "talk", represents dozens of other words (speak, silent, yell, etc) and we got sidetracked by the other words.

#3  We work ahead 2 years in math.
You will be surprised to learn why I do this.  The reason is that I want them to spend a long, long time on a problem, and spend lots of time filling in gaps in order to solve the problem.  Once speed and memory play a role in math, learning dies.  I prefer 10 to 45 minutes per problem.  At this pace, I am confident mistakes are being made, memory is being used, and learning is happening.  When I watch a child do school math, I see that they know what they are doing, and I witness almost no learning at all.  I never drill math facts anymore.  It's the opposite of learning.   Without math facts, kids will make more mistakes, and this - believe it or not - is good for learning.

#4  We work at least 2 years ahead on Test Prep
...for exactly the same reasons.   Speed is the enemy.  The concept of correct or incorrect only hurts.  If the answer isn't wrong, I am assigning the wrong material. Unfortunately, if half the answers aren't right, this can be too frustrating for my child, so there is a balance.  Sometimes I just switch to an easy workbook for half the problems and then switch back to the harder one.

#5.  I use a wall chart.
The wall chart helped me organize the schedule, the goals, and the material.  At first, it just reminded me to set aside some time each day and helped me remember where we were in which of the 5 books and which pages we skipped for later because they were too hard.  Later, it kept me from worrying about our pace, which started with "we'll never get through this in time" and coninued to "I'm running out of material because we're going too fast".

#6.  Distractions are important.
Any time you have an opportunity for a tanget, take it.   If you come across the word "ice", freeze a glass of water, thaw it, freeze it again, and repeat as many times as our six year old wants.  When you come across the earth's core, see if you can find the places where the earth's core breaks the surface.  If you come across the word hold, explore grasp, clutch, and tote.  Any of these activities or discussions can ruin a test prep session that consists of getting through a page in a workbook.  To compensate, it will pay back many times in learning and higher order cognitive skills like thinking deeply about a topic.

With any family new to test prep and setting out to catch up, I will make 2 predictions.  First, the child will pick up important cognitive and academic skills that are not taught in school.  Secondly, the parent's attitude toward learning will change dramatically, from an impatient preference for correct answers as the outcome, to an appreciation for the messy, winding path of deep exploration.   As the child becomes a GAT student, the parent will learn to become a GAT academic coach, and then you have a shot at bigger things.

No comments:

Post a Comment