This is a professional development blog. We'll be discussing books we read as a group. Our discussions will be focused on gifted children.
When our students first come to our classroom, we talk about the "Perfection Infection." We talk about the characteristics of perfectionism, and through discussions, and lots of sharing from the students, we help students to see how perfectionism can be useful in their work, and their attention to detail. We also give examples of when it becomes a hindering force and how that is manifested in individuals. Throughout the year, we keep revisting perfectionism, and helping students to embrace their individuality and as importantly, coping skills to deal with the negative impacts of perfectionism. In my experience, once children recognize it, and see how different children can have varying degrees of perfectionism and how we can deal with it as a community of learners, it really helps them to understand themselves better.
I think that the comment about revisiting this behavior is important. Even though they are very smart, they still need to be reminded that it is OK to not be perfect all the time. The better they understand themselves the better they can cope in the real world.
. I have only had one GT student that was a real perfectionist. They were constantly redoing papers or assignments to get it just right. I tried changing the assignments so that there wasn’t one right answer, but there were a range of possibilities that could be considered right. This helped some. They still had a drive to get it exactly right. I guess this is OK in some areas, if they are a doctor I would like them to be exactly right and in physics where the was usually a right answer to a problem seemed to work for them , but they had difficulty relating to a gray real world where sometimes there just isn’t that one right answer. Another idea that seemed to work were problems like the Fermi questions in physics, where students had to use estimates to get a reasonable answer, not an answer exactly right.
In Kindergarten they are often not identified yet--I look for the different characteristics to key me into whether or not they may be G/T. In my classrom, however, I often model making mistakes sometimes on purpose,(p. 57)as well as handling it gracefully. I have fewer students get upset if they don't get it exactly right as long as they have done their best.
I thought the difference between healthy perfectionism and unhealthy perfectionism on p. 53 was very true. When it is unhealthy, I have seen it totally shut a kid down for fear of making a mistake. They seem to be unable to do anything if they feel there is a chance it won't be perfect. I have seen them cry because they are so worried they will not make a perfect score. On p. 57, it talks about the teacher making and talking about her own mistakes. It makes the teacher seem more real and easy to relate to. This is something I practice. On p. 59, it talks about "celebrating mistakes". I find a good sense of humor helps a lot. The ability to laugh at yourself is a good tool to overcome perfectionism. On that page, it also says that "imperfection is often unavoidable". Imperfection actually makes us more real because it is the nature of human beings.
As a KG/first grade teacher - I agree the modeling piece of making mistakes is very important. What they see us do has a large impact on these young students. I love the idea of the Mistakes Fair (p.58 - but I think my students are too young for this.) P.61 We can't remove the desire for perfection or attention to detail, but we can be consistent in facial expression, tone of voice etc. and set the tone that the world will not end if we make a mistake or miss a detail.
I haven't ever had a true perfectionist--that could be stressful! I feel it's my job to help the kids know that there are times when their work doesn't have to be perfect: that there's the bigger picture to consider. I encourage them to keep the focus on the bigger picture. (p. 54) I agree with Mr. Oliver--some jobs REQUIRE perfection. History does not require perfection--just a willingness to consider all sides for analysis.
This year, I have two perfectionist students in the same class. At times it is hard to keep them from feeding off each other. The explanation on page 53 about healthy and unhealthy perfectionism is an issue for these two young people. Luckily Hurricane Ike helped set the stage for us to reflect on things that we can worry about needing to be perfect and things that we can't. We've been able to step back a bit and debate about several assignments as too how much emphasis on being perfect is needed. It also helps when I can model how I need to take a project/task and break it into smaller parts then chunk the parts to meet a deadline. (This is really helpful with sixth graders- who are sometimes procrastinators.) With this group I try to make sure we have time to brainstorm how to have quality as well as meet expectations AND have a life. Sprinkle this with a few personal stories and we're making some progress.
I have a student who would erase and rewrite a single letter all day long if I'd let him. He gets obsessed with the handwriting aspect of his work, rather than the content. In order to help him I'll purposefully make mistakes, and give him the opportunities to correct them. He loves catching my errors. I also tell him he needs to choose his battles, in a way. I try to help him realize that in the grand scheme of things a funky looking B isn't the end of the world nor will it lower his grade.
I agree with J. Canon about having a good sense of humor and being able to laugh at one's mistakes. Kids love to point out when a teacher makes a mistake, and it's wonderful for them to see their teachers make mistakes. It's very helpful to them.
It's very hard for some students to believe when we tell them that it's "good enough", but it's up to us to help them learn that sometimes, after spending a lot of time on something...and doing our best, that it may be time to just call it quits.Students need to learn that not everything in life will come easy to them, that sometimes they will struggle, and that it's O.K. If students don't learn this important lesson, I don't think they'll become very happy, productive people.
I agree with Sutterr, modeling making mistakes is a great way to show the kids it is okay to be human. They are so hard on themselves, and don't allow any room for error. I think it has to be taught, nothing will ever be perfect. To strive for that is to end up with a life full of disappointment. We want to help these kids be the best they can be. They must be able to find their way, making errors is a part of life's lessons.
It is funny, with gifted children I tend to see either a complete perfectionist or the other end of the spectrum where the child is an underachiever- doing the bare minimum to get by. I have children that I will have to take a piece of work away, b/c it will never be 'good enough'. They are always trying to make it better. I agree with the author in the fact that some perfectionism is healthy, but so often it is not 'some'..... it is all or nothing at times. This is where we do our best as educators to try to teach them and help them find a 'healthy'level.
I liked what p kassir said about talking to the kids about the positives/negatives of perfectionism throughout the year. The example in the book of Harriet Tubman's detailed drawings and preparation is a good example of healthy perfectionism to share with kids. I like the idea of addressing the problem of perfectionism as a community of learners, reiterating that we all make mistakes and that's the nature of being human. Kids can share when they've done something similar with the community and hopefully ease the stress of the perfectionists in the group.
I appreciate all the comments about modeling making mistakes. I think we have to go beyond just making the mistake in front of the kids, but modeling your own thinking about the mistake. Kids need to know what you're thinking and feeling about it - as that's what they will connect with the most.This is an issue I've had to help students with, but it's also something I have to work on personally.
“Done is better than perfect”. I cannot find the page for this quote, but I know I read it in reference to perfectionism somewhere. When dealing with someone who seems to be hindered in completing something because of being bogged down in the “details”, I reference this quote. Many times the student who gets bogged down in the “details” of an assignment or the decision making process of an assignment, end up not completing the assignment at all or turning it in extremely late (and, ironically, very imperfect because it was done at the last minute). It seems that these students “fear taking positive risks” and “fear failing” because they fear being viewed as less that perfect by others or not smart (page 53). If I notice these qualities in a student, I immediately swoop down on them and encourage them as much as possible. I also think it is important to work with type of student as much as possible in the decision making process of projects and/or research papers because this has proven to be a huge road block on the road to completion for these students as well. It seems like they feel as though making no decision is better than making an imperfect decision.
I like C Fisher’s approach: “to choose his battles; the grand scheme of things”. This is so true. It seems that constantly reminding these students to focus on the big picture would serve them well now as well as in the future. They will definitely need this strategy when they are adults and there is no one there to cheer them on or help them to overcome the obstacle of unhealthy perfectionism.
I really liked the idea having them look for mistakes. I know th eGT kids I have dealt with especially in secondary love to see others mistakes. But then pulling it in to tell about a mistake you have made and the Mistakes fair is really great. I can see kids really having fun with that plus seeing that mistakes can be learning experiences and even amount to great inventions, I think that could help many of these kids see that mistakes are not the end of the world. It is important in many things to pay attnetion to detail, but you don't have to go ocverboard. Or at least know how to deal with imperfection when it hapoens without losing it completely Like Maria and her underwear problem.
I had a student who was moved to a differnet class when we have to split my very large kinder this fall who was(and still is)very much a perfectionist. He gets so upset if he doesn't think it is just right. The problem is (this is kindergarten)that he just won't try things like sounding out words, writing letters... because he is afraid it will not be correct. He is having a hard time moving forward becaue of his perfectionism. And is is stressing him out!He seems OK with others around him making mistakes but he just can not accept it in himself. What do you do? I think he is absorbing more information in the classroom so he will be correct when he tries again but it is so hard to watch the frustration on his face!
I agree with atxteacher when the comment was made: I think we have to go beyond just making the mistake in front of the kids, but modeling your own thinking about the mistake. Kids need to know what you're thinking and feeling about it - as that's what they will connect with the most.This, I have found is the best way to get perfectionists a way to make mistakes. They realize that adults can and do make mistakes and if we model it being okay then they will be more able to face thier own fears of being imperfect at times as well.
Wow! Talk about an interesting quote from this read…”Life often gives the test first and the lesson later” located on page 58. How fortunate that we as educators are given the opportunity to guide students in understanding about focusing on doing one’s best and the details involved vs. perfectionism. The first sentence in the first paragraph on page 59 is another quote that left me thinking about the truth found within those words. Not only do I believe that some students strive for perfection due to their internal belief of what others expect of them, but also how their self-esteem can be affected. As role models it becomes our responsibility to model acceptable behaviors...like making mistakes...and how to handle the situation.
l.oliver I like what you said about the more understanding one has of themself the better he/she will cope with the real world. I also find this concept one of power.
One way would be demonstrating through stories and anecdotes. The young ones, especially, are drawn to creative characters in stories. With older students, there can be an ongoing conversation about the difference. Scenarios can be presented and the students can reflect on the outcome of each. This would provide an outside frame of reference. Perfectionism must be dealt with respectfully and gently and will be best received when a trusting relationship has been established.
I really like P.Kassir’s phrase: “deal with it (perfectionism) as a community of learners.” I believe that building community within the classroom is absolutely essential. Building community implies an ongoing process which not only helps to meet social and emotional needs, but also continues to build a safe place to reflect on what is working and what is not helpful. In a safe environment the students can process their own working styles and learn about, appreciate, and give constructive suggestions about the working styles of fellow students.
Because the cognitive life of these gifted students is so rich, “getting lost” in the details, and becoming dissatisfied with their finished products is part of their creative process. I believe this is why it is difficult to help them back away from perfectionism and also the opposite – the unfinished multiple projects. I.Oliver stated that his students had trouble dealing with the gray area in the real world where the specific correct answer does not exist. Dealing with ambiguity is a higher order skill which provides a challenge for many of us as well as our students.
I think it is important to pay close attention to a students frustration level, especially in project based learning. By maintaining a personal realationship with your studnets and noticing their "tells" when approaching a level of stress, we can adjust and counsel students through this challenge.
I also appreciate the realization in many comments about the challenges students may have in dealing with gray areas. We should counsel students through those moments in order to ensure they develope the life skills to allow them to do this in versatile situations.
Being somewhat of a perfectionist myself. I can relate with those students who feel a sense of panic when something may be wrong. I think that it is a gift and a flaw. I have found that learning to prioritize is key. Deciding what is important to perfect and what can be overlooked is a skill that some have naturally, but others truly need to see it in action and be taught how to do it. In my classroom, I model everything we do in class. When I read aloud, I share my thinking on what details are important to remember. When I choose texts, I talk about what books I can just read, relax with, and enjoy and which ones I should stop and deeply analyze. When writing I talk about the steps of writing and overtly organize my process by thinking of time constraints, genre necessities and audience awareness. This governs my decision about what I focus on when writing. I explain that sometimes writing should happen quickly and without careful attention to detail while other times it is all about the details.Giving students checklist and rubrics that still allow for individuality are crucial for detail oriented kids. Again, it helps them to prioritize and organize the taks at hand.As jenbl says, kids' frustration with possibly being wrong or incomplete must be handled with care. Change doesn't happen overnight, but many time by the end of a year, students can begin to take more risks and be more descriminating as to what needs attention.