Fear of imperfection; deep practice; just make a mark

Do you know any learner’s that are stuck?  Are they convinced that they can’t?

“Fear of imperfection keeps us perched on the edge, afraid to dive in and start writing. If we sit and wait for the perfect words, they don’t come. Inertia sets in. Our mind halts. The clock slows. Much like hesitating at the edge of the ocean, afraid of the shock of cold, we wait. And in waiting, our anxiety spins.” (Anderson, 9 pag.)

Hesitating at the edge, afraid, we wait. How might we develop brave, bold learners who wonder – on paper – what they are thinking so that they might see it? What do we do to overcome the fear of the blank page? This fear, as real as it seems, is just a doodle away from getting your feet wet, right? The editor in my head – no, not the editor; the critic in my head convinces me to wait: wait until I know, wait for someone else, wait. What force is needed to overcome inertia? Is it just as simple as a doodle?

Are math and writing this closely related? Wow! Far too many students will not write the first step in math because they are not sure if they are going to be right? If they are going to be right, are they learning anything?

In Daniel Coyle’s “The Talent Code,” he writes about deep practice, working at the edge of your ability so that you make mistakes, learn, and repeat.

Deep practice is built on a paradox: struggling in certain targeted ways — operating at the edges of your ability, where you make mistakes — makes you smarter.  (Coyle, 18 pag.)

The second reason deep practice is a strange concept is that it takes events that we normally strive to avoid —namely, mistakes— and turns them into skills. (Coyle, 20 pag.)

In SMP-1, “I can make sense of tasks and persevere in solving them,” the first level asks for a visible attempt to think and reason into the task.

Are our young mathematicians and writers stuck due to inertia? Is it blank page fright? Is there space in class to draft and redraft, making revisions as you go? Are missteps celebrated and seen as opportunities to learn?

How can we help students dive – or tiptoe – in to get their feet wet? What if encourage learners to just make a mark and see where it takes them?

It doesn’t have to be perfect the first time… or does it?


Anderson, Jeff. 10 Things Every Writer Needs to Know. Stenhouse Publishers, 2011.

Coyle, Daniel. The Talent Code: Greatness Isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How. Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Reynolds, Peter H. The Dot. Library Ideas, LLC, 2019.

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