Math educators not only need to embrace their content, but the research available about the power of mindset. Our society’s acceptance of the attitude “I’m just not good at math,” needs to be changed! Our students’ ability to think and reason mathematically is key to their success.
The work of Carol Dweck on Growth Mindset impacts our view of students and teachers and how they learn mathematics. Dweck describes a Fixed Mindset as a belief that a person’s qualities, such as intelligence, talent and abilities, are carved in stone from birth. She describes a Growth Mindset as a belief that a person’s qualities can be grown and changed with time and effort. If, as educators, we can approach our students and content with the Growth Mindset in the forefront, we help our students harness the power that lies within their brain. Educators need to look at things like failure, mistakes, high level tasks, and struggle not as a hindrance to learning but rather as an opportunity for improvement.
Jo Boaler’s work expands our thoughts on Growth Mindset to include the power of mistakes and struggle, the need for flexible thinking within mathematics, the importance of rich mathematical tasks, the teacher’s use of praise and the power of our words, and the need for students to speak about their mathematical ideas. As math educators, we need to embrace the power of cultivating a growth mindset in our students as well as ourselves. We can no longer accept the thought that “I will just never be a math person.” Research has proven to us that all students can learn mathematics at a high level. We, as teachers, hold much power and responsibility in helping our students embrace their growth potential!
Growth Mindset Research
- Lower failure rates: Low-achieving students at 13 California high schools failed 7% fewer courses and improved their GPAs by .18 grade points after a one-period class designed to boost growth mindset.
- Improved scores: After a group of struggling 7th graders in New York City learned to 1) think of their brains as muscles that grow with exercise, and 2) visualize new connections developing within their brains, their motivation and math scores improved at a time when math achievement typically declines.
- Increased effort: Seventh-grade students receiving growth-mindset feedback (“I’m giving you these comments because I have high standards and know that you can meet them”) were twice as likely to revise and resubmit an assignment.
- Blackwell, L. S., Trzesniewski, K. H., & Dweck, C. S. (2007). Implicit theories of intelligence predict achievement across an adolescent transition: A longitudinal study and an intervention. Child development, 78(1), 246-263;
- Dweck, C. (2008). Mindsets and math/science achievement. Prepared for the Carnegie Corporation of New York-Institute for Advanced Study Commission on Mathematics and Science Education ;
- Yeager, D. S., Walton, G., & Cohen, G. L. (2013). Addressing achievement gaps with psychological interventions. Phi Delta Kappan, 94, 62-65.