Saturday, October 8, 2016

GAT Parenting Skill # 2 - Learning or Telling

Learning or Telling is one of the more challenging skills needed by a GAT Parent.  As I mentioned 2 articles ago, I'm going to start describing these skills, because a GAT child usually just doesn't happen by magic.  Learning or Telling is the most confusing of the skills because it's hard to decide when to learn or when to tell.

First, a definition of this skill.   If you tell your child something, they know it.  If you don't tell your child something, and just wait until they figure it out themselves, then they learned it.

The general rule is that you want a child who picks up learning skills (aka cognitive skills).  You don't care if you child knows something or not (except in cases of safety and cleanliness, and even then your kid will come back from two weeks of camp with perfectly folded clean clothes in their backpack that they never took out because they're wearing the same outfit you dropped him off in.) You want your child to learn, to learn to learn, to pass the GAT test and do their homework on their own with no help from you outside of paying tuition.  Learning will get you there.  Telling won't.

In my Test Prep math series, I provided detailed instructions to the parent how to survive the book.   The questions are fairly easy for a child that has a strong set of cognitive skills an a strong working memory who will have no problem getting a 99% of the COGAT, but I wrote the book for children who don't have these skills, and therefore out of guilt I included a parent's manual for surviving the crying and the "I can't do this".  Learning or Telling is barely mentioned other than a dire warning to the parent not to help, ever, until the bonus questions, which are sometimes open ended and nonsensical.

When you are doing math or test prep, every time you tell your child something before they figure it out themselves, you just short circuited learning.  They know it, but they are no more capable of thinking on their own than before you told them.  Plus, you just wasted a question, and test prep books are expensive.  I should know.  Every month I get a statement of publishing costs with a measly check for my Test Prep books (google Test Prep COGAT on amazon) and this is not going to fund the books I need to buy to solve the African American violence problem in Chicago.

As I near completion of the Gifted Phonics book, this skill plays a unique role.  There's some telling, and some learning in different circumstances.

The problem with the general rule is that the academic goal for children 3 to 9 is to pack their brains with as many facts as possible, which is a lot of facts.  You have to tell your kids stuff day and night, whether they get it or not.  If you kid comes home from school with a rock, you research rocks, and post the names of 20 rocks on the word board and go out to find as many as possible.   When you come across the word "mammal" for the first time, you talk for 20 minutes on mammals, google it, wiki it, post more words on the word board, describe the difference between a spider and an insect, and generally spend your time at this age telling, telling, and more telling.

That's how kids pick up vocabulary, language use, sentence structure, concepts to think about, and high scores on all tests, including the GAT tests, because 75% of it is all vocabulary anyway.

Grit is somewhat similar for different reasons.  When your kid builds a lego set, you take out the 20,000 legos you got at the second hand store and make it 3 times as big.  When your kid builds a fort out of cushions, you turn it into a rocket ship after googling images, and then create a mission control on the other side of the room.  Your child doesn't know how far to go with their ideas until you show them.

Usually, when we are reading, I ask my kid a question, he's baffled, and then I tell him the answer. It's 8:55 pm and his bedtime is at 8:00 pm.  I almost always telling at reading.  When kids are older, and they are capable of "learning" by difficult questions, I'm usually only marginally involved in the reading process and I'll leave the question open until tomorrow or later.  My favorite learning question for older kids for reading is "What is going to happen in the rest of the book?"  That one has no answer, but I made my point to the child and they will learn the rest the hard way.

The theory of the classical education is that during the 3 to 9 year old stage, the more concepts you cram into that brain by telling, the more stuff the brain has to work with, and the smarter the child will be.  A brain that knows hot versus cold can do some thinking, but the brain that also knows frost, slush, ice, melt, burn, etc has a lot more work to do and will get a lot bigger.  They get this by telling.

Tests are 75% knowing stuff, especially vocabulary.  Even GAT tests.  But they are also 95% thinking and learning on the spot.  Time for the summary.

Learning or Telling is the skill by which the parent tells child kid something or let's the child learn it on their own.  Telling is appropriate when the parent is cramming the child's brain full of definitions and information.  Learning is appropriate when the child has to figure out some relationship or result from the available information that they already know.  In my experience (yours may differ), children usually can't figure some things out, and it's usually during reading.

During the "learning" process, a parent might have to sit their patiently through tears while the child tries over and over again.  Once "learned", aka a correct answer, the parent is not allowed to display any reaction or emotions of any type, nor are they allowed to react in any way during incorrect answers.  This is a different skill, essential to the "learning" part of Learning or Telling, which I haven't named yet.  That can wait for my next article.


  1. Thanks for the great insight! That was the one thing I was struggling with.

    1. There's more. I've already laid out the articles for the next 3 weeks. As I mentioned recently, I'm presenting the book on GAT. It's all come together in a nice neat package at once. Unfortunately, if I release more than 2 articles a week, only one will be read.

  2. Telling, I've got. The sitting by while "learning" supposedly happens (but whining often occurs instead) is hard.

    I'm still also not sure what to do when my kid races through a problem, gets the wrong answer, and walks off. How do I show him I don't care about whether he gets the right answer but also make sure he actually learns?

    1. I've written extensively on these topics because I've encountered these problems and many more with my own kids, who are worse than yours.

      For the second problem, I changed the rules of homework. The instructions now are that you are going to explain each problem to me so that I understand it, and I'm the world's dumbest parent. When I understand it, you can answer it. After a few months of that, I had new rules. You have to prove each problem to me until I'm convinced. You used to think this was just about doing problems, but it's not.

      Chores also work wonders for these two problems. No one is really sure why, but it's the ultimate solution.

    2. Thanks for this answer. Your blog gives me so much to think about. My kids seem to think I'm torturing them and being completely unreasonable. It is very tempting to blame the "sprint" environment of school, especially in relation to math. I am still working on trying to make learning seem fun, and it feels like a race against the clock, as schooling is sue to make learning boring and chore-like by the time everyone is in 4th grade.

  3. Just out of curiosity, what happens at age 9? It seems like "telling" is a great way to fill them with facts, but at age 9 they are harder to fill? My own research lead me to believe that this window was much narrower (age 6). I would be happy to hear that I have a few more good years of cramming in them lol :)

    1. At age 9, children are expected to begin answering questions instead of asking them. Some children never get the opportunity to learn how to do this.