9¾ ways to helping children overcome perfectionism
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9¾ ways to helping children overcome perfectionism | by Amanda and the team at Scribeasy
I am myself a bit of a perfectionist. This blog has had umpteen different titles. “I wish I was a bird” and “The gift of perfectionism: a blessing, a curse, and the cure” was the one that I liked but then decided against. ( If this year’s taught us anything, it’s that a cure is hard to find.)
So it’s the beginning of the new school academic term after a year that demanded the creativity of CENMAC schools and parents to find practical and effective solutions for home learning. And one of the biggest challenges has been how to engage students in writing. Writing anything is rewriting: crafting, honing each sentence until it’s, well, perfect. Chiselling away until everything sits just right, adding, moving, or removing anything that would bring the house of words tumbling down. Perfectionism comes from a good place: pride in one’s performance.
‘What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentence.’ – James Joyce
“The best words in the best order”
The poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge famously said, “Prose = words in their best order; poetry = the best words in the best order.” Literature is seen as the very best that is possible in writing. It is, by its nature, painstaking.
Writers enjoy telling the story of James Joyce’s frustration when writing the novel Ulysses, which is for many the closest literature has come close to perfection (or certainly considered a master-piece)’. His friend Frank Budgen asked him, “You have been seeking the mot juste?”
“No,” said Joyce. “I have the words already. What I am seeking is the perfect order of words in the sentence.”
“How many words did you get today?”
“Seven? But, James, that’s good, at least for you.”
“Yes. I suppose it is, but I don’t know what order they go in!”
The perils of perfectionism
Perfectionism has its dangers. It is a curse for many. Children can get upset feeling their writing is messy – misspellings, crossings out on their page. Seeing oneself impossibly high standards
means that nothing is ever good enough, so nothing ever gets finished or, indeed, published. Fear of reading out one’s writing into the class paralyses many.
Writer Anne Lamott says in her Ted Talk on “Writing and Why Perfectionism Kills Creativity”: “Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life.”
Scribeasy was designed to handle children’s self-esteem with care
“Toxic perfectionism”, psychologists report, is a cause for concern and on the rise. They link it to a range of mental health issues, from depression and social anxiety to eating disorders and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
Katie Rasmussen, who researches child development and perfectionism at West Virginia University, says: “As many as two in five kids and adolescents are perfectionists. We’re starting to talk about how it’s heading toward an epidemic and public health issue.”
Scribeasy is a creative writing platform designed to play to the child’s strengths
We’re all for high standards at Scribeasy, hence the tools for spelling, a thesaurus to improve word choices and teacher comments feature. But, it’s essential to strike a balance between creativity, ambition and writing ideals. Unfortunately, working to a curriculum, SPAG tests and punitive assessment system don’t exactly support the learner’s enthusiasm or relieve the teacher’s pressure to ensure the writer’s yearly achievement. Research shows that children who enjoy writing very much are seven times more likely to write above expected levels than those who don’t enjoy it at all. And the teacher’s attitudes can influence children’s perceptions of their attainment enormously.
Hello, playful writing
Scribeasy is a picture-design and story-making method that adds fun, discovery and adventure to a package of assistive writing tools (users type, narrate, create, save, review and hone stories). The platform’s method evolved out of creative techniques used to entice my dyslexic son back to writing when he was at primary school. My now teenage son calls it writing trickery: “Mum, I make a picture, and suddenly I’m describing and don’t want to leave until I’ve checked my work to make it better.”
Call it what you will, but finding ways for teachers to engage children with writing and celebrate their success is also a way to help prevent a prison of perfectionism from setting in. Harnessing cloud-based technologies, Scribeasy offers children a bridge between the imagination and self-expression, avoiding perfectionism. A subtle shift of approach allows a child’s focus to move onto the things they can do, to quieten their inner worst critic. Once engaged, something magical happens: the child begins to take control of their story, using the platform’s flow and breadth of tools to work through ideas, resolve spellings, and build vocabulary and receptive to building sophisticated sentences.
As a team, we’ve worked hard over the years to take on user feedback to evolve a storytelling experience that is meaningful, inclusive and accessible for a breadth of users and unites creativity with writing – whatever the topic. Children who write little are likely to read little too. Our platform design connects children with the world around them and in partnerships with local libraries and museums enables cultural and environmental objects and characters to find their way into a child’s story. Better writing happens where there is a hook; a play to the child’s strengths.
Salvador Dali wrote: “Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.”
Here are our 9¾ ways to overcome perfectionism
1. Set deadlines and have rewards
Perfectonism and procrastination are close companions. The hardest part of writing is starting and finishing. Modern tech makes it so easy to lose yourself to the bit in the middle: the endless tweaking and tinkering.
Scribeasy allows you to set a short writing ‘sprint’.
Example: Use the picture gallery to find the evil witch character and place her in the setting with the crooked house. What simillarities does the witch have with the building? Take a break in five minutes and see how your pictures and sentences look in your e-book.
2. Address the writer’s fears
In Out of Our Minds: Learning to be Creative, author Ken Robinson wrote: “Being creative is not only about thinking: it is about feeling.” And part of that is feeling confident about a sense that writing is worthwhile. Giving children some free rein to extend their emotions, interests and imaginations in writing helps them grow comfortable, and see it as a golden opportunity to make something – raw and out of nothing. Perfectionism can stifle that. It can be counterproductive.
Example: How are you feeling today? Choose a weather setting from the picture gallery and place yourself in it and describe your body sensations and mood.
3. Outsource objectivity
Perfectionists judge themselves unfairly. Children can lose all sense of objectivity. The solution? Encourage children to delegate judgement. Creating small support groups in the class and asking other children to act as test readers to give some feedback encourages young people to work through the uncertainties of writing and problem-solve together.
4. Collect encouraging reviews
Children will learn a lot from teams of editors who are their peers. Writing and people skills will improve all around. Children start to get a better sense of their strengths and weaknesses and will begin to amass a collection of encouraging words. Print out the stories and make a class book of authors and publish these successes.
5. Aversion therapy: What’s the worst that can happen?
Use creative writing to expose children to what they fear most such as sharing ideas and reading out in class, and, slowly, over time, these fears will lessen. Studies suggest that showing your
work gets easier with time. Make use of tools to narrate and story playback to support children if they are shy about reading out publicly to help them grow bolder with each experience.
6. Keep it simple
Scribeasy is a method for the reluctant and the ambitious, advocating that like for any professional writer, just gettng something down – a draft version – in concrete words (but ignoring order and mechanics and cohesion) is a fantastic start to then turn their story potential into a reality. A raw draft of narrated description, even a little, goes a long way and motivates the
child to keep going.
7. Complete a Scribeasy book: Picture the results
Writers put off finishing drafts and all the judgement that comes with that. Result – nothing gets published! Writers need readers. Scribeasy helps children put their stuff out there. Press ‘Publish’and turn the pages of a professional-looking e-book to galvanise story sharing with the school’s class or the broader community. Getting things done and out there is what life is all about!
8. Has everything you’ve read been perfect?
As children gather story content (or add their photos) into Scribeasy’s picture gallery let them take courage from the fact that nothing in the world is perfect. Like learning to walk, the bumps and falling over add to the experience and wri1ng mastery is a process. The plaform encourages children to complete something and examine their patterns of wri1ng in the story analy1cs –
they are able to make comparatives and think like a teacher.
9 ¾. Acceptance
Scribeasy encourages children to assess how good something is before they consider it done. ‘Listen back and share with your teacher whenever you are ready’. Sometimes good enough is good enough. 9¾, not 10, works for me. I’m not perfect. And I’m good with that – because I am about to start a new story, (plus, fans of a certain boy wizard will enjoy the reference.) Leonardo da Vinci wrote: “Art is never finished, only abandoned.” In a similar vein, Salvador Dali wrote: “Have no fear of perfection; you’ll never reach it.” So, children, don’t beat yourself up that you didn’t achieve the perfect story – that’s unachievable. But did you enjoy creating it and making it the best you could for others to enjoy?
To discover how strangely powerful and effective it is, I’d urge teachers to have a go at writing with Scribeasy. Simple as that. We all go through phases of wondering if our work is good enough but if such thoughts persist, they may point to more deep-seated issues that would benefit from talking to others about. However, a happier writing experience can contribute
positively to alleviating perfectionism and writer’s block. So why not give Scribeasy a go for the new term? And let the writing trickery take hold…
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