Sunday, April 29, 2018

The Calm Before the Storm

Next Saturday is our big day.  The rest of Chicago has been getting scores in the mail with test results for K to 4 entry, and it totally stresses me out.  Next week I will be a wreck as usual.  It's hard enough when one of the kids or parents I coach takes the test.  Vicarious test taking is just as challenging to prepare for as actual test taking.

A while back, a Power Mom asked for a retrospective  what I did wrong.  I'm elevating this PM to PMYL, which stands for Power Mom Yoda Level.  He questions was some sort of Plato or eastern mind trick to make me reflect.  My articles are long enough when I barely have 20 minutes before work to type frantically and check for typos.  Brace yourself.

The approach I took didn't result in any mistakes of lasting impact.  Some of was intentional and most of it was not.   The approach can be split into a few categories.
  • I read the papers and presentations of cognitive skills experts and test authors and did exactly what they recommended.
  • I read the articles of intelligence researchers, education researchers, and psychologists and did exactly the opposite of what they recommended.  From this effort, I can explain exactly what's wrong with education in the US, but I didn't gain any actionable strategies for my own children.
  • I bought all books in print and tried them out.  Only a handful were useful as busy work.
  • I wrote my own test questions, attempting every permutation possible in a desperate attempt to pass the test by brute force.   Somewhere at about the 60% mark, the light bulb went off and I realized it wasn't about shapes.  It was about thinking.
Except vocabulary.  Vocabulary is about vocabulary.  My favorite researcher of all time pointed out that when a child is learning to read, all cognitive skills - math, whatever, all of them - are actively deployed by the child's brain.  He also stated that each vocabulary word doesn't just increase a child's knowledge by a single word, it spurs cognitive growth.  Red is not just the name of a color, it is a member of various classifications, has a hue and brightness and other qualities, is used to represent concepts like stop and danger, works in some situations and not in others, looks good on some people but not others and comes out of your finger when you cut yourself.  The magic happens with the cognition left over after the word red is worked, cognition that is then applied to other things, like math.

So I discarded phonics books from the last decade that look more marketing and fun than learning and thinking, and listed out every word 5 letters or less that would appear in a scrabble championship.  After a few years, the result was a Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Vocabulary and Thinking which I sometimes right as Pre-K Phonics Conceptual Thinking because that's how most people google it.
  • What's inside

    • Phonics through 2nd grade
    • Instructions for a solid reading program at the 99% level
    • Math vocabulary through 2nd grade, just in case
    • The reason my 13 year old is sitting for the SAT on Saturday
    • The reason why I use terms like incredulous, inculcate, and fallacious with my kids and they don't roll their eyes
Click here for fabulous phonics

While Math House is called Math House because I have many wasted years studying graduate math and trying to solve the Riemann hypothesis, the phonics book is the gem of the collection.  Guaranteed high math scores on advanced material is not enough to crush the reading section.  I think my kids spend 2 or 3 hours a day reading - on a good day, and we don't have nearly enough good days.  Last week was mainly band concerts, baseball games, the school play, and me working way too much.

Speaking of last week, here is a question from the SAT from last week's article.

The author uses an extended quote in lines 61-69 as part of a larger attempt to
a) convey the impact of an unexpected discovery
b) illustrate the suddenness of a decision
c) simulate a child's misconceptions
d) criticize the artificiality of the "young adult" classification
e) describe a young reader's sense of history

As I mentioned in the prior article, after a few years of research, we reduced all reading comp exercises to a simple mathematical proof.   It's almost long division now.  But there is a prerequisite that I didn't mention.  These questions are packed with vocabulary.  I should have chosen one of the harder questions but even in the question above you can see convey, misconception, artificial, sense, and not the 2nd grade definition of sense.

Somewhere in the Pre-K Phonics introduction, I might mention that opposites are not very useful, but synonyms are extremely valuable for the COGAT.  This applies to the SAT as well.

One Power Mom did Pre-K Phonics with her 4 year old and asked me do you really expect kids to know 'due' and 'dew'?  Ha. No I don't.  I expect them to figure out that there are things like dew and due lurking out their, which is a cognitive gold mind, but mainly I expect parents to read these two words in a phonics book, freak out, and raise the bar in their house.  Some words strike the imagination of one child, some strike the imagination of the other child.  You never know.  Some times we would just burst out laughing and move on.  Sometimes the word went on the Word Board for the 112 days it took to get it because I thought it was important for the COGAT.

From then on, it was 3 years of the Word Board and vocab workshop.  By 2nd grade, words just became the fabric of Math House.

By the way, I owe this Power Mom an article on how to get a four year old to internalize halving and doubling, tripling and cutting into thirds and make it part of their visual-spatial cognition.  Maybe next week.

In the mean time, for the last week, we've done zero to prepare for the SAT on May 5.  I first came up with this idea 8 years ago, when a Mentor Mom told me that her 7th grade daughter got a 700 on the SAT and Stanford sent her a letter asking her to apply in 4 years.  Since then, I've been asking the question, what if we could crush the verbal section?  Our incremental preparation could fill about 30 pages if I included all of the setbacks, 3 pages with just recounting the how to.

Well, we probably can't crush the SAT because we go so very slow on our work, both math and verbal. It's tempting to change gears and shoot for speed, but the MAP test is in June and we need 99% to get into high school.  The MAP and the SAT are not the same thing, and I don't want to negatively impact the MAP.  So the SAT has been relegated to MAP practice.  Still, it's the SAT.

Last night I was out with Power Dads on a biking brewery research tour and we were discussing how preparation is going for the MAP.  All of their kids are genuinely smarter than my kids. Officially, it was just a biking brewery tour, but I don't drink much, I ask a lot of questions, and dads talk a lot when they drink. So putting that altogether it was prime research.  One dad said his daughter was in a prep course and she recently had a grueling 4 hour MAP test prep session.   The SAT is our prep, but it's only 3 1/2 hours so I kept my mouth shut.  We might have the edge, however, in the grueling department.

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