Monday, March 13, 2017

The Roseta Skill

I had a  busy weekend of coaching.

This weekend I uncovered a coaching skill that I don't have yet.

When I coach, I bring a few hard problems for the child.  Learning happens with really challenging problems, and I don't have any challenging problems that only take 60 seconds to do.  I will begrudgingly admit that routine school math homework done daily has it's place, but our 45 minutes of At Home weekend work needs to be a) not boring, b) not routine, c) not easy and d) full of learning.  In this way, it should make you feel like you just went to a Tony Robbins seminar on motivation.

With a child who is on the verge of tears with the first problem, I can spend 45 minutes diagnosing where the parent and child are in terms of my skill list.   In this case, the Tony Robbin's moment isn't going to come for about 6 weeks.  When the child has all of the core skills, I can just sit there and respond to questions with "You tell me" and it's mostly the child working and me sitting there thinking about coaching.

This weekend I more silence than expected and spent my time thinking about how some parents sit there anxiously waiting for their child to announce the correct answer to a problem that they should know the correct answer to.  We've all been there.  What's 9 x 3?  When you're child says "28", you're frustrated.  The kid already knows it's 27.  That's what it was yesterday.

I realized that I sit there impatiently waiting for a child to see a key word or a missing term, using their skill of rereading the questions carefully.  I know this child can reread a question.  They could reread the question yesterday.  Did they forget that all of my questions require rereading?

Is it possible that I just shifted my impatience to a higher skill set?  If my kid says 9 x 3 = 28, I don't care and they usually correct themselves after seeing my facial expression, the classic raised eyebrow look which I've mastered.  But when they are working with a problem, surely they can see the anxiousness that I have while they navigate some ridiculously hard logic using the skills that count.

I was pleasantly surprised to find that diagnosing reading comprehension problems is identical to doing Test Prep Math.   By the way, the solutions are now correct on Amazon and the errata page is complete.   I was somewhat surprised to find as many mistakes in Level 3 as I did, but I was somewhat not surprised because we never use the solutions.  I'll have to explain this in the next few months but I won't do so now because it seems like a lame excuse on my part.   My one Amazon reviewer was 100% correct that this book should not have mistakes, at least by the 3rd edition, which is what is on Amazon now..

Anyway, while I'm working with Test Prep Math, which I did this weekend, I'm also working with the COGAT and I'm also working with the SAT and I'm also working with Algebra proofs and competitive math.  I'm was thrilled to find that diagnosing SAT reading comprehension questions is identical to doing a Test Prep Math problem word problem.  I totally nailed this even though it was accidental because Test Prep Math is supposed to be about math.

But here's the new challenge.  Can you get a 4th grader to answer this question:  "Is it possible to find a 3 digit number where the product of the digits equals the number?"  How about having a 6th grader prove that the sum of every odd number is even or the product of 2 odd numbers is odd?

Or to translate this challenge into what I'm thinking, is it enough to give a child all of the skills that they need to pass the COGAT, and in doing so you can guarantee a passing score on the COGAT?   What if you could just give the child a super advanced skill set, the kind that empowers the child to see y = mx + b as a system and not a single equation.  Would this be even better?  I think so.   Why send a child into any test prepared to get a 97% with a little effort when you can send them in prepared to get 99.9999%?  Conversely, if the COGAT is such a great predictor of academic performance, what skill is the COGAT looking for that endows the ability to do math proofs, and how is this skill taught to a child?  Is it really just the core skills we've used before, or is the last question on the COGAT, the one needed to get to a 160, secretly measuring the 'proof' skill?  I think there's something much more important here.  Maybe 2 kids do the same thing, and parents behave the same way, and one kid accidentally gets a skill and one kid accidentally doesn't get the same skill.

Right now I feel like I'm looking for the Roseta Stone of skills.   The 3 paragraphs above are a bit foreboding and cryptic.  I'm on the verge of discovering this skill.  Over the next few months I'm going to be working with Test Prep Math graduates on brand new curriculum that I can only describe as diabolical (because I only describe my new curriculum's as diabolical).   During March and April, there will be a large group of kids who should have passed the GAT test but didn't, because they had a bad day, didn't pay attention on one single question, or whatever.   If you have an experience like this, check in with my blog before the summer.  There's this post-pre-algebra-but-before-algebra curriculum for 8th graders that looks to me like the Super-Mega-Test-Crushing Roseta Stone for much younger kids.   There's already a version for 4 year olds called Shape Size Color Count, but it wasn't until the last 3 months that I started to realize that there's a version for 8 to 10 year olds waiting to happen.  I'm not yet sure that it will magically lead to doing proofs at another age, but I think this is in the mix somewhere.


  1. We have a problem and could use some advice. We have a child who will be taking the COGAT soon. We have been preparing using the Mercer materials. She is struggling, however, with maintaining accuracy when filling in the bubble sheet. I do not know if she is on autopilot when this happens (I have noticed a lot of errors in the middle sections on the practice tests) because the errors she makes are usually on easy questions. She still usually manages to fill in the right bubbles on more difficult questions, and when we review the missed questions she gets very frustrated because she thought she marked the right answer but didn't (so it doesn't seem she missed the problems because she didn't know the answer).
    Do you have any suggestions for helping her with this?

    One thought we had was to get her into the habit of circling the right answer in the booklet and then using that to remind her to fill in the right bubble.... As you can imagine, we hate to see her missing points because of this.
    Thanks for your help.

    1. Kids aren't allowed to write on the test. Having your child write on the test could lead to an unfortunately series of events like the proctor saying 'stop writing on the test' and the child bursting into tears. To deal with this problem, I do two things. First, we always go really slowly when practicing in general. Secondly, I come up with rules for the kids to follow, such as 'do every problem twice' and repeat this rule after every question. Then I send them into the test with this motto.

    2. Thanks, that is good advice. It is good to know that they cannot write on the booklet. Does doing every problem twice usually result in a time crunch? Do you prepare them by timing them, too? We have been giving her time limits.... Thanks for your help.