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Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Not Peas in a Pod

It struck me yesterday that the twins couldn't be any more different.

We were at one of the enrichment classes (gym and flash cards) which they have been going to for slightly over a year. Having moved up one level to the 2-3yr class a couple of weeks ago, there are some variations to the elements of the class. Musical time is no longer having a xylophone brought to a child and having the child play it (with a parent holding hand). Instead, the child is asked to bow facing the class then play some notes on a small piano.

So, when the teachers asked who would like to go first, E2 said her name loudly and clearly. The teachers called her to come up and she bowed happily before playing on the piano. When it was E1's turn, she refused to stand up and walk over to the piano. When lifted over, she buckled her knees and refused to stand. When brought to the piano, she started to cry. My helper had no luck persuading her and even my threat of using the clip to clip her hand did not work. When the teachers called her the second time (after calling the other kids first), she still refused but at least she didn't cry. I dragged her roughly to the piano and dumped her down. And then persuaded her to press the notes. The teachers who were pretty much young girls look worried and terrified. I suppose I must have had a ferocious look on my face. E1 cooperated and then deigned to sit on my lap for the rest of the class instead of the helper's.

I don't know whether it is right or wrong, and I couldn't care less if I was wrong, but molly coddle a child I will not. I don't believe in letting a child get away with what has to be done because he/she throws a temper or refuses to do what has to be done (maybe because I was brought up that way). However, I wonder at my very different reactions to both E1 and E2 when they do not cooperate.

I'm not saying I am not rough with E2. E2 tests my patience sorely too - I am so very tempted to beat her on many occasions, like her stubborn refusal to swallow when I feed her, or when she refuses to swallow the very last mouthful of each meal and lets it sit in her meal for up to an hour (before spitting it out when we bathe them at the end of the day). But yet when my little girl stares at my angry face and into my eyes, my rage melts away and I can't find it in me to beat her or handle her roughly. I am filled with the most infinite love when I look at my child. Not always, not when she cries and kicks up a fuss before doing the Kumon homework. Not when she refuses to swallow her food. But for the most part, she is an affectionate, giving and happy child. I couldn't ask for more.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

The Smartest Kids in the World

Maths skills tended to better predict future earnings. Math had a way of predicting kids' futures. Teenagers who mastered higher level math classes were far more likely to graduate from college, even when putting aside other factors like race and income. They also earned more money after college.

Why did math matter so much? Some reasons were practical: More and more jobs required familiarity with probability, statistics, and geometry. The other reason was that math was not just math. Math is a language of logic. It is a disciplined, organized way of thinking. There is a right answer, there are rules that must be followed. More than any other subject,  math is rigor distilled. Mastering the language of logic helps to embed higher order habits in kids' minds: the ability to reason, for example, to detect patterns and make informed guesses. These kinds of skills had rising value in a world in which information was cheap and messy.

In Polish math class, they had learned tricks that had become automatic, so their brains were freed up to do the harder work. It was the difference between being fluent in language and not.

He didn't know that math could be cosmically beautiful and something he could master with hard work, time and persistence, just the way he'd mastered Chekhov.

A student's race and family income mattered but how much such things mattered varied wildly from country to country. Students from private school, did not, statistically speaking, add much value

In essence, PISA revealed what should have been obvious but was not: that spending on education did not make kids smarter. Everything - everything - depended on what teachers, parents, and students did with those investments. As in all other large organizations, from GE to the Marines, excellence depended on execution, the hardest things to get wrong.

Money did not lead to more learning either. In the education superpowers, parents were not necessarily more involved in their children's education, just differently involved. And most encouragingly, the smart kids had not always been so smart. Change, it turned out, could come within a single generation.

PISA demanded fluency in problem solving and the ability to communicate; in other words the basic skills I needed to do my job and take care of my family in a world choked with information and subject to sudden economic change.

Rigor mattered. Koreans understood that mastering difficult academic content was important. They didn't take shortcuts, especially in math. They assumed that performance was mostly a product of hard work - not God given talent. This attitude meant that all kids tried harder and it was more valuable to a country than gold or oil.

Korean schools existed for one and only one purpose: so that children could master complex academic material. US schools by contrast,were about many things, only one of which was learning This lack of focus made it easy to lose sight of what mattered most.

Other parental efforts yielded big returns, the surveys suggested. When children were young, parents who read to them every day or almost every day had kids who performed much better in reading, all around the world. What did reading to your kids mean? Done well, it meant teaching them about the world - sharing stories about faraway places, about smoking volcanoes and little boys who were sent to bed without dinner. It meant asking them questions about the book, questions that encouraged them to think for themselves. It meant sending a signal to kids about the importance of not just reading but of learning about all kinds of new things.

As kids got older, the parental involvement that seemed to matter most was different but related. All over the world, parents who discussed movies, books and current affairs with their kids had teenagers who performed better in reading. Here again, parents who engaged their kids in conversation about things larger than themselves were essentially teaching their kids to become thinking adults. Unlike volunteering in schools, those kinds of parental efforts delivered clear and convincing results, even across different countries and different income levels.

In fact, fifteen year olds whose parents talked about complicated social issues with them not only scored better on PISA but reported enjoying reading more overall. What parents did with children at home mattered more than what parents did to hep out at school.

Korean parenting, by contrast, were coaches. Coach parents cared deeply about their children too. Yet they spent less time attending school events and more time training their children at home: reading to them, quizzing them on their multiplication tables while they were cooking dinner, and pushing them to try harder. They saw education as one of their jobs.

Asian parents taught their children to add before they could read. They did it systematically and directly with a work book, not organically.

Parents who read to their children tended to raise kids who scored higher points on PISA. By Contrast, parents who regularly played with alphabet toys with their young children saw no such benefit. And at least one high impact form of parental involvement did not actually involve kids or schools at all: If parents simply read for pleasure at home on their own, their children were more likely to enjoy reading too. Kids could see what parents valued and it mattered more than what parents said.

A coddled, moon bounce of a childhood could lead to young adults who had never experienced failure or developed self control or endurance - experiences that mattered as much or more than academic schools.

Actual research on praise suggested the opposite was true. Praise that was vague, insincere or excessive tended to discourage kids from working hard and trying new things. IT had a toxic effect. To work, praise had to be specific, authentic and rare.

Adults didn't have to be stern or aloof to help kids learn. In fact, just asking children about their school days and showing genuine interest in what they were learning could have the same effect on PISA scores as hours of private tutoring. Asking serious questions about a child's book had more value than congratulating the child for finishing it, in other words.

Authoritative is a mash up of authoritarian and permissive. These parents inhabit the sweet spot between the two: they were warm, responsive and close ot their kids but as their children got older, they gave them freedom to explore and to fail and to make their own choices. Throughout their kids' upbringing, authoritative parents also had clear bright limits rules they did not negotiate.

Parents and teachers who manage to be both warm and strict seem to strike a resonance with children, gaining their trust along with their respect. Authoritative parents trained their kids to be resilient and it seemed to work.

In Korea and Finland, despite all their differences, everyone - kids, parents and teachers - saw getting an education as a serious quest, more important than sports or self esteem. Everything was more demanding through and through. Kids had more freedom too. This freedom was important and it wasn't a gift. By definition, rigorous work required failure; you simply could not do it without failing. That meant that teenagers had the freedom to fail when they were still young enough to learn how to recover. When they didn't work hard, they got worse grades. The consequences were clear and reliable.

The fundamental difference was a psychological one. The education superpowers believed in rigor. People in these countries agreed on the purpose of school: School existed to help students master complex academic material. Other things mattered too, but nothing mattered as much. The most important difference Id seen so far was the drive of students and their families. IT was viral and it mattered. Kids feed off each other. This feedback loop started in kindergarden and just grew more powerful each year, for better and for worse.

In the education superpowers, each child knew the importance of an education,

The teachers, everything is based on the teachers. We need goof teachers - well prepared and well chosen.

In an automated global economy, kids needed to be driven;; they need to know how to adapt, since they would be doing it all their lives. They needed a culture of rigor.

To give our kids the kinds of education they deserved, we had to first agree that rigor mattered most of all; that school existed to help kids learn to think, to work hard, and yes to fail. All children must learn rigorous higher order thinking to thrive in the modern world. The only way to do that is by creating a serious intellectual culture in schools.


Friday, July 10, 2015

David & Goliath by Malcolm Gladwell

Courage is not something that you already have that makes you brave when the tough times start. Courage is what you earn when you've been through the tough times and you discover they aren't so tough at all. 

The lesson of the trickster tales is the third desirable difficulty: the unexpected freedom that comes from having nothing to lose. 

Find the means to create a crisis to make...tip his hand. Play Brer Rabbit and try to get xxx to throw them in the briar patch.

We need to remember that our definition of what is right is, as often as not, simply the way that people in positions of privilege close the door on those on the outside. David has nothing to lose, and because he has nothing to lose, he has the freedom to thumb his nose at the rules set by others.

When people in authority wants the rest of us to behave, it matters how they behave. This is called the principle of legitimacy and legitimacy is based on three things. First of all, the people who are asked to obey authority have to feel like they have a voice - that if they speak up, they will be heard. Second, the law has to be predictable. There has to be a reasonable expectation that the rules tomorrow are going to be roughly the same as the rules today. And third, the authority has to be fair. It can't treat one group differently from another.


Tuesday, July 07, 2015

>25 months

I read on the net that 3 is the sweet spot to start but having run out of teaching ideas for mathematics, I had the twins tested at one of the local kum0n centers and they were accepted into the program @ 25mths. This is the first enrichment class that they actually have homework for every day and I have to wake up earlier to catch them to practice the worksheets for ten-fifteen minutes each before they go off for their daily 2 hour montessori lessons. I have no idea what they learn at the montessori classes at all but they come back happy and wanting to go to school so I guess it can't be all too bad. 

Still, off they go to childcare next year since I have already registered a year in advance and waitlisted since I obtained their birth certs 2 years ago. While it is very important that there is lots of play during their childhood (which there will be since I am sending them to a play based nursery program), children learn the most when they are young and it is the least of my duties to give them all the opportunities that they should have. Hence, kum0n for Maths and then B@rries for Chinese next year. I probably will add in swimming lessons to the mix and maybe even H@guru but I had no idea that Kum0n is so time consuming with 2 lessons a week as well as homework every day so we will see.

My CEB and I discussed having a third child but the likelihood is very low because the twins require so much time, effort and financial resources already. I do have "baby fever" when I look at a new born baby but then the thought of those gynae checkups during the pregnancy, then the c section and the months of breastfeeding as well as all the activities I have to take the third one turn me right off. As for that happening later on down the road, it seems like a worse idea as I need to focus on my career once the twins start childcare next year so I guess we are pretty much done.