Growth Mindset and Math Intervention

Reorienting Students’ Negative Self-Talk

“I’m bad at math.” Students say it all the time and it’s simply not true. Every student can become “a math person” with work and the right frame of mind. It’s time to do some myth-busting, particularly with math intervention students.

Based in large part on the work of researchers like Carol S. Dweck and Jo Boaler, it’s been found that growth mindset can have a direct impact on achievement in mathematics. Dweck wrote, “Students who believe that intelligence or math and science ability is simply a fixed trait (a fixed mindset) are at a significant disadvantage compared to students who believe that their abilities can be developed (a growth mindset)” (Dweck, 2008). Research has shown that intervention to change mindset is a way to enhance achievement, and that teachers and other educators play an important role in shaping students’ mindsets.

Here are some ideas to reorient mindset:

  • Take advantage of the Mindset Kit. Stanford University’s Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS) offers free mindset resources and courses with videos, exercises, and lesson plans to benefit both teachers and students.
  • Make growth mindset an integral part of your math teaching practice. The power of believing that you can improve is one of the most important things you can model and teach for your students. A crucial concept in mindset-shifting is that if something feels tough, that’s where the real learning takes place, and persevering through what’s most difficult yields the greatest gains.
  • Teaching math in terms of conceptual understanding. An essential companion to deterring the fixed mindset is to step away from rote memorization and present problems in a way that fosters conceptual understanding.
  • Encourage students’ investment in their own learning. “I’m never going to use this in real life” is often a barrier to motivating students. Connecting to real-world situations, providing some degree of autonomy and choice in selecting or carrying out an activity, and game-like formats (embedded within software or in activities) can be highly motivating.

Motivate Mindset with the Right Words

Crafting growth mindset statements with your students can give them a boost of optimism and motivation. Growth mindset statements typically:

  • Set up a specific course of action for moving forward.
  • Acknowledge hurdles and frame them as learning opportunities.
  • Communicate optimism that the student can and will move toward success with sufficient effort, by following recommended process, and by making use of resources.

Here are some examples:

  • Praise: “Your math skills are improving! The extra time you’re putting in is making a real difference.”
  • Work-Prompt: “Keep going with your assignment—there’s still time. If you get stuck on a problem, ask me or a classmate for help. You can do this.”
  • Encouragement: “Who had a fabulous struggle today?”

Check Out More Intervention Resources

DreamBox has a wealth of intervention and mindset information you can look to for ideas, tools, and best practices to help your students deepen their math understanding and achievement.

Thera Pearce

teacher | mother | learner | friend | Raleigh, NC