(I was going to make this a comment on another post but it got so lengthy and unwieldy that here I am making it a full-on independent post. Pardons.)
Speaking of perfection/distraction/panic/etc, we've finally made a bit of headway with a problem we've been having at our house for some time: my daughter is a pretty bright girl, enough that, well, I really haven't had to teach her anything yet. (My son, I teach; my daughter, I expose and she just does it.)
The dark side to this behavior is that if she comes across something she doesn't just "get" immediately, she shuts down and panics.
[[Small digression for background:
We cruised through Singapore 1 with no hiccups, and I put the brakes on Singapore 2 when it was clear (starting multi-digit addition/subtraction) that she didn't have her single digit facts down cold enough yet. That didn't seem to bother her because while she didn't have immediate recall of the facts, she certainly "got" simple addition, it wasn't a conceptual issue for her. We spent a couple of months working through just Math-U-See Alpha which is nothing but hammering well-grouped math facts until she made significant progress. We're starting back to Singapore 2 tomorrow morning, in fact.
OK, enough digression.]]
A. happens to greatly enjoy computer games, so while we were hitting the math facts hard, I spent some time looking at various math practice sites for her. I ended up giving Math Whizz (based in the UK) a try and we had a bit of a break-through with it.
It started with an evaluation, in which I told her that it was (by definition!) going to ask her questions that she could not answer, because it had to know at what point she could no longer answer questions. She freaked out a little when it got to multiplication and asked me for help, I told her I couldn't help her because that would goof things up -- if it thought she knew multiplication well, then it would be giving her even harder multiplication that she definitely couldn't do. We talked about the fact that she was required to fail in order for it to work. She eventually got used to this idea.
Then, later when the assessment was all over, she was doing one of the lessons which was something she was "sure" she couldn't do and she panicked, asking me how she could get out of it. I came over and said:
"Well, let's take a look at this. You know if you get the wrong answer, it'll just give you slightly easier stuff next time, so no big deal."
"OK, let's just put in all zeroes!"
"Well, sure, we could do that, but let's see if we can get as far as we can with this, and then maybe it can see *how* we got it wrong and use that information to figure out what you need practice with."
So, I left her alone to Fail With Style ... and wouldn't you know she got most of the questions right. When freed to "get them all wrong" because the system needs her to fail if she doesn't understand it, the stress and panic went away, and she went on to figure 8 of 10 of them out. And she was excited by that, instead of freaking out that it wasn't 10 out of 10. (It was 3 digit subtraction with regrouping, which we sure haven't covered officially yet. And, now that I think about it, I'm a little mind boggled that she placed high enough for them to try that in the first place. Hmm.)
I've been worried about what was going to happen once we started hitting things that she just didn't "get" immediately because it was bound to happen at any point and, before, it would have been a disaster for her. I am currently ... cautiously optimistic.