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The Growth Mindset and Mathematics


"I'm not a math person!" how many times have you said that? This is an example that Dr. Carol Dweck of Stanford University uses when she speaks of the Growth Mindset. How do you know you're not a math person? Because you didn't do so well in one subject area? As educators, how can we use the Growth Mindset to eradicate this math misconception? I'll share one approach.

When we think of mathematics with a Growth Mindset it's important to know that there are multiple ways of achieving success and growth. Perhaps we can assume that most of our mathematics classrooms operate under the fixed mindset where questions are either right or wrong or that a specific strategy is either right or wrong and that there is only one successful way of answering a given question.

Dr. Carol Dweck along with Dr. Jo Boaler also from Stanford, implore educators to think differently. When educators use the Growth Mindset in mathematics EVERY student can become successful.

Let's think of a simple multiplication problem, 3×4 = 12. The answer is simple and this is where the fixed mindset can easily creep up. The answer is 12 and most educators are simply looking for 12. Now if we shift to the Growth Mindset then the question, instead of "What is 3x4?", can transform into something like, "How did you go about answering 3x4?" This way the student does not have to face the fears of getting the question right or wrong but rather has a glorious opportunity of thinking about and understanding how they went about answering the question. This avenue allows for our mathematicians 
- by the way, all math students are mathematicians - inside the classroom to grow and think critically about what they are doing/thinking, rather than be fixed on the getting things right. There is automatic growth when one hears "How did you do that?" instead of "That's incorrect. Good try."

The weight of the Growth Mindset doesn't fall so much on the student. In fact, it arguably falls all on the educators. How is the teacher responding to students in the classroom? Can educators provide multiple opportunities for students to become successful? Is the educator making statements to the students that allows them to see growth in their learning? It can be as simple as saying, "What's another way of doing this?" or "Why did you choose this strategy?" or even, "I think you might be able to solve this another way." Comments like these provide students another opening to their learning. In other words another chance to become successful.

Do you feel that you have used the Growth Mindset inside the classroom? We'd love to hear them, comment below, start a conversation.
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