Developing a Growth Mindset in Math
Ashlee Harris

 

This blog post was originally published as an article in the summer 2020 edition of Accolade, our annual school magazine. 

Ashlee Harris teaches middle school math and supports students and faculty in the middle school division as a remote learning assistant. She is an advocate for standards-based math instruction.

 

What makes one student confident enough to tackle a challenging math problem and another intimidated and unwilling to try?

Dr. Carol Dweck, who has dedicated her career to understanding how a student’s “mindset” influences motivation and success, believes that those with a growth mindset are continually striving to learn more, motivated to take on new challenges and willing to take on extra work

In most math classrooms, the goal is to find the right answer as quickly as possible. A combination of drills, independent work
and teacher-directed, one-way communication characterize the learning environment. What would a math classroom be like, though, if the students led the process by asking and answering questions about their attempts and strategies, rather than focusing only on the correct answer? Incorporating a growth mindset can transform the way we teach and learn mathematics.

Student feedback, mathematical language routines and analyzing classmates’ work are three ways to promote a growth, rather than a fixed mindset in the classroom. In our class, we use a problem-based model for classwork. We often start with a math routine, like a “number talk’’ to build number sense and conceptual understanding or a “notice and wonder” to highlight the importance of hearing different questions and observations from classmates. This can be transformative in a way that the “drill and kill” or rote memorization classrooms are not, because students ask and answer questions between themselves instead of receive one-way communication.

Students at StG use a growth mindset when it comes to rigorous math tasks. Prioritizing effort and strategies highlights all learners’ abilities, regardless of level, and allows the voice that says, “I don’t get it... yet” to win over “I can’t do this.” In my fifth grade class, students have really taken on this mindset and the practices that bring it to life: modeling, number talks and notice and wonders. I love the excitement that comes when parents have the chance to see it in action!

This growth mindset could not have been more relevant than when we transitioned to our StG Community at Home learning plan during the pandemic. While some schools scrambled to cobble together meaningful academic work for students, we were prepared to hit the ground running and make sure students continued to make progress in their classes, but also focused on connecting with one another. After a daily homeroom or advisory meeting, students could work independently on their classwork, attend an offering of live classes and office hours, or schedule extra help sessions with individual teachers.

By laying the groundwork for students to develop a growth mindset, anxiety about completing work outside a traditional classroom setting was lessened. Students collaborated, asked questions and created dialogue around different concepts with fractions while we were learning from home – all work that would not have been possible without first developing positive, growth mindsets about math.

Personally, I am grateful to be part of a community that is so forward-thinking and supportive during this challenging time. Without the work of the Tech Department, Math Department, and administrators, we could not have transitioned into our new normal in math with so few hiccups. Resources like online whiteboards that allow multiple students and teachers to work through problems highlighted students’ strategies and perspectives while problem solving. Google Meet and Classroom provided ways for us to connect, because at the heart of this work is connection and collaboration.

Finally, I am grateful for my students who were on this journey with me. They took academic risks, tried new ways to demonstrate their learning and benefited from sharing perspectives with one another. I can’t wait to see what the new generation of learners can do.

 

  • Accolade
  • Faculty Voice
  • Growth Mindset
  • Math