Math and Mindset

This is the second lesson in Jo Boaler’s “How to Learn Math (for Students)”.

Carol Dweck’s mindset model says there is a “Growth” mindset, where students believe they can improve with hard work, and a “Fixed” mindset that believes that people are either smart or not and that can’t be changed. It’s not uncommon to have a growth mindset in some areas (like sports) and a fixed mindset in others (like math).

When it comes to math, those students who have a growth mindset consistently outperform those with a fixed mindset. This is because mindset influences behavior. People with a growth mindset persist until they succeed, and see mistakes as feedback.

Ironically, praise for being “smart” can lead to developing a fixed mindset! It leads students to shy away from difficult work so that their self-image of being smart isn’t challenged. However, student that are praised for being hard workers had a growth mindset. They wanted to reinforce their self-image as “hard workers” and so picked more complicated problems to do. It is important that students choose demanding tasks, because their brains grow the most when they struggle.

The key to a growth mindset is to keep positive self-talk even in the face of negative messages. This could be “I can I can learn anything I choose to” or “I can achieve at the highest math levels if I want to.”

One study had teachers gave half their students a note with their feedback that read, “I am giving you this feedback because I believe in you.” Those students achieved at significantly higher levels than the students who didn’t get the note with their feedback. As teachers, it important to give our students the message that we believe in them and expect high things from them.

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