What I Like
Growth mindset is useful as a descriptor of students — I can better understand the challenges or successes of students by considering their mindset towards learning mathematics, or perhaps mindset toward learning a certain area of mathematics.
Students should be praised for effort and progress rather than intelligence.
Comments contribute more to learning than grades, or grades combined with comments, because they show students a clear path forward without judging their ability.
A growth mindset reinforces the idea that mathematics is more about process than product.
Talking about a growth mindset can send the message to students that if they are unsuccessful, they must just not be trying hard enough.
I used some of Jo Boaler’s resources to do a growth mindset intervention last year, and it was pretty unsuccessful — it seemed to affirm students who had growth mindset beliefs, but did not change the beliefs of more fixed mindset students.
There are many accompanying tasks that are low-floor and high-ceiling, and students seem to enjoy and persevere on, but I’m skeptical these transfer to build content specific skills, and these same students still turn off when confronted with more challenging mathematical content that I am required to teach.
I’m unsure how growth mindsets in different areas interact. Do students have a general “learning mindset”? What about a mindset for math learning in general? Do students reform their mindsets each year, with each teacher and classroom? Are their mindsets specific to different content areas within math?
Principles to Actions names productive struggle as one of the eight essential teaching practices:
Support productive struggle in learning mathematics. Effective teaching of mathematics consistently provides students, individually and collectively, with opportunities and supports to engage in productive struggle as they grapple with mathematical ideas and relationships.
I’m skeptical that talking about a growth mindset or putting a poster on the wall makes much of a difference for fixed mindset students. I think actions are much more powerful than words. Students need productive struggle — if they are either continually successful without struggling, or are struggling without experiencing success, students are unlikely to build a growth mindset in my classroom. I need to choose questions and tasks that make this possible for all students, and in particular make sure that it is not the same students experiencing success each time.
When students experience productive struggle, in particular students who have a fixed mindset, that is the moment for growth mindset language. There’s no big realization or overnight change here. Just a little bit of progress every day, a powerful idea to reinforce the growth that students experience and a name for the type of perseverance we want to instill in students.
I keep coming back to the words of Dylan Wiliam, which I think capture this idea perfectly:
If a student struggles and is successful it’s probably a good thing; if a student struggles and is unsuccessful it’s probably a bad thing.