Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Challenge--or the Perfectionist's Math Test

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. 


Making It Work Mom said...

Oh that is a hard one. I love the quotes and theories you were using.

My oldest is a perfectionist and always refuses help!!!

My son is not a perfectionist, but takes every not so good grade so hard that it breaks my heart. He starts standardized testing tomorrow and I am so worried for him. Not that he will do badly on the testing, but that he will feel badly about it.

I think you guys did a great job with her.

MomAgain@40 said...

You are handling it perfectly/exceptionally! It is a great lesson to her... Maybe just tell her to go on in test, and while her (very intelligent) mind is busy working at that problem, she can finish the rest and come back to it! So, always give her mind some time to "process" and then come back...

notmytree said...

Oh man. I was exactly like that, all throughout high school too. I beat myself up over B grades. But now that I'm in college, that's definitely changed.

You can't freak out anymore when you get anything less than a 3.9 or 4.0, because it happens a lot. I still do well, never below a 3.3 in a class (and that's only happened twice), but it's just not worth feeling bad about if I honestly did the best I could with the time and resources available.

I'd love to talk to T2 about school when you guys come up to visit. It sounds like she and I have a lot in common.

clueless but hopeful mama said...

OY. I can see pieces of this in my four year old and I wonder how to handle it. We talk ALL THE TIME about how making mistakes IS learning. That it's actually hard to learn if you don't make mistakes. So when I make a 'mistake' (a term we apply loosely) I talk out loud all about it ("Oh look! I spilled a little water because I was trying to hold too many cups at once! I guess next time I'll chose to hold only one cup at a time!")

I'm pretty sure, though, that this technique won't fly with an older, wiser kid! :-)

Cafe Pasadena said...

How are you doing Twin Mom? Haven't been blogging regularly. Pray things are looking up for you since the cancer scare.

Yasmin @ alittlelessfluff said...

Its tough. My daughter is rather a perfectionist and very independant. Her brother on the other hand (twins) is the total opposite. They are two years old, but I can see now already how schooling could work out. *sigh*

Just came across your blog and love it. :)