Friday, November 11, 2016

Subskills #1 - Reading

I'm taking a break from parenting skills to address child skills.   I think in the next few years I'm going to have to rewrite both of these topics twice.  There's no way I'll articulate this properly the first time, even though 90% of my research is focused on identifying the skill set a child needs to succeed at the right level (which is pretty high for all children), and the parenting skills are just those skills I've identified to make this happen.

When I first started doing this, I had about half of the child skills down and no parenting skills. When you read the description of these skills, and how to get them, you might think that you've fallen short as a parent.  If you would have done this right starting at about age 3, your child would be in the 99.9% and test prep would be a waste of time.  

The good news is that it's never too late to catch up.  Never.   In the future, when I talk about cognitive skills in other contexts like math, what I'm going to be talking about is my efforts to catch up.


I'm starting with reading because I do almost nothing in terms of reading skills, since reading a lot and vocab workshop have been mandatory in our house since age 4.  Plus, a month ago I banned all video games for the 10th time, and it's been 30 days of reading out of boredom.

Age 4

As I mentioned previously, when a child learns to read all 1,529 subskills are used.  Obviously, these skills don't develop to their full, more advanced level, but they are all there.

Let's read the word bright for the first time:
1.  I see all the letters and problem decomposition begins.
2.  There's a rule that needs to be applied from an example.
3.  I need to take 3 or 4 of these letters and group them.
4.  Then there is the ight to deal with.
5.  And I probably got it wrong, this is taking a long time
6.  So I said b-r-igh-t, and that doesn't really sound like a word because of the pauses.
7.  OK, what does this mean?  It rhymes with light, but also night, which are opposites, so that doesn't help.  But it sounds cheery and happy, not a sad word like pout or dour.  Br words are like breakfast or bring, but also broken.  I give up.
8.  If this is in a book with a picture, then context helps.
9.  There are more skills here, I'm not an expert.  I don't spend much time with this activity.

The first time I saw #7 in action, I was doing test prep with a 5 year old who is the daughter of my Reading Nemeses who live 3 blocks north of me.  They have 4,000 books in what's left of their family room.  If I overhear something like "I missed 2 questions on that test" or "I forgot to turn in my homework", I think "Good, it serves you right for evolving into some super intelligent being."

Anyway, I was using a 3rd or 4th grade reading comprehension book and she kept getting answers right even though she didn't know what any of the words meant and couldn't follow the passage, so I finally asked how she figured out what the words meant.  She explained #7 above, very articulately. Curse you Reading Nemeses.

For the rest of us normal humans, my advice is to start your child reading as soon as possible, because I'm afraid if they start reading later, they won't have to do all of this thinking and miss out on building that cognitive skill set and then you have to buy Test Prep Math in 2nd grade to fill in the gaps.  If you want to know why my math questions are so convoluted, now you know why.  Trying to catch up.

Age 4-6

After learning to read, the next big step is to learn vocabulary.  My favorite skill during this phase is to see things that others don't see because the child has a word for it and can acknowledge it's existence.  The best example is to see the word wide as opposed to just see big.  The COGAT practice tests usually have this example in the figure matrices.   The list of interesting words "to see" is about 2,000 words long.  I'll say more about this list in the next month.  Something big is coming. Something really big.  But you have to wait.

Seeing is almost a core skill, the kind I focus on, like taking a long time to do something or trying again.  I should officially add this to my list.

If you see things, then this opens the door to more thinking.  Take the word lobby.   An interesting word.   What's the difference between a lobby, a foyer, and a vestibule?  When we came across this word during phonics, we took a field trip through our neighborhood walking up to each building to see if it was a lobby, a vestibule, or a foyer.  I don't have room to write out all of the differences and similarities, but again, it exercises many cognitive sub skills.

During this stage, working memory develops naturally during reading.  The more reading the better.

Age 6-9

This is the age where memory develops.  Like working memory, it's not exactly a core skill, and it's not a subskill.   A basketball player has core skills like motivation and determination, and subskills like accuracy and fancy moves.   But he or she also has physical strength and endurance, and a big set of lungs.

Anyway, during this phase, with reading, the goal is to pack the brain with as much information as possible, and then pack it with some more.  This is a fun time to be a parent.  You get to tell your kids stuff nonstop.

I have another theme in Academic Coaching, which is to start working on skills for the next level.   Many parents do the opposite, which is to keep doing what they've been doing all along without realizing that the level changed.  The result is an academic train wreck.  In this case, to avoid the train wreck, at about age 9 start asking questions.  My favorite questions are not answerable, like "What is this character doing?  Why are they doing it?  How is this book going to end?"

I've experimented with comparisons, like "How is a wizard in Harry Potter like a wizard in Lord of the Rings" but this doesn't seem to be panning out yet.   Maybe this is a level 5 skill.

Age 10
The skill bar is raised.  Telling is over.  Of course, telling was over in math at age 4, and ironically, I find telling making a surprise reappearance in math at this age.

The first skill that I've identified at this age is for the child to see clues in a story.  The author introduces something or mentions something, usually in a clunky, contrived way.  Even the best authors use clunkiness.  Many kids don't even realize that they are looking for clues.

The related skill is to solve the mystery.  Where is this book going?  There are a lot of mystery stories on the market for little kids, but most don't seem to realize that every book is a mystery, even Captain Underpants.  This book is going somewhere, and if it's written properly, it is going to be a surprise.   The best way to enjoy the book (assuming memory is developed), is to count the markers on the way and build expectations while trying to put all of the facts together.

If you think about this, success in life and science and other fields is dependent on this skill.

The "solve a mystery" takes the basic subskills I already listed and applies these widely to people, places, activities, but at this stage, usually not emotions.

Age 11

Well, this is where I am now.   I can see things in 6-8th grade reading evaluating emotion, motivation, and everything else.  Not sure where the bar is.  My goal at this age is to start bowing out as an academic coach anyway, just going back to the cores skills and grit and letting my child take over the detail work.  I guess that is where the bar is raised on a parent.

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