Today's word is Challenge.
Just as a follow up to my last post, I did have the surgery to remove the skin cancer today, and so far, I feel pretty good. I suspect there will be some pain tomorrow, but the doctor assures me that this will probably be the end of the skin cancer. Now I just have to be hyper-vigilant in making sure I don't get any more. There's a challenge, no?
So on to today's challenge....T2 is a bright second grader whose teacher talks about her glowingly at our conferences. "She's always working hard and trying to learn as much as she can." She loves school and is completely challenged by every single opportunity, however mundane it may seem. She finds a challenge in every boring homework worksheet and creates curriculum for fantasy classes that she teaches to her stuffed animals, always simultaneously reinforcing her own learning.
Today, she came home crestfallen with a timed math paper on which she received a 2 out of 15. Apparently, she "got stuck" on a problem, she says, and did not finish the test. T1, of course, was announcing this all over the house, soliciting glances of ire from T2's eyes. If she could have "Superman-heat-vision-ed" him, she would have. The problem she got stuck on was this word problem:
"Mrs. Tan has 23 stickers. She will give 5 children an equal numbers of stickers. How many stickers will each child get? 5? 4? 3? or 6?"
T2 took the problem to mean that there was an even number of stickers overall, not just an even number to each child. On her paper, she grouped the stickers into 5s and couldn't for the life of her figure out what to do with the other 3 stickers. She never moved on. In her note, the teacher said, "remember--don't spend all of your time on one problem--move on!"
Here is the challenge. Clearly T2 is a perfectionist. In this age of high achieving children in a "Race to Nowhere," T2 is starting from a very young age to see herself as exceptional. She is perpetually the highest scorer in the class. When frustrations like this trip her up, she is working with what psychologist Carol Dweck calls in her book "Mindset," a "fixed mindset" that if she can't figure out what frustrates her, she is no longer smart. How can I let my highly self-critical daughter know that mistakes are part of the learning process? And that messing up this timed math test is exactly what she needed to do in this moment to learn how to be a test taker? And how can I assure her that tests are not a measure of her intelligence or ability to solve the problems?
What DG and I did do was reflect back her feelings of disappointment in her paper. Not a judgment of her work, but rather a comforting, "Yeah, that probably felt extremely frustrating when you couldn't get that answer" kind of way. Then DG asked her the rest of the questions on the test, to show her that she did know the material. He explained "remainder," so that she would have a logical explanation for why there were extra in the problem. Her self deprecation was assuaged for the time being.
But what about the next time? I praised her effort, not her intelligence, like Dweck says, and crossed my fingers that this will be what she takes with her to the next test.