Thursday, July 21, 2016

Rewriting Mathematical Mindsets

This idea has been swimming around my mind for a while and I wanted to get it out there into the world and see if anyone might be able to shoot some holes in it or make it better. I had no plans on doing this with my students unless I see a dire need for it (especially in the very unpolished state it currently exists), but it's the kind of conversation I feel like we don't have with our kids enough. 

This all started when I read this article, The Myth of 'I'm Bad at Math'. My experience with students who have developed a negative mathematical mindset is often that there is some advantage they find in thinking the way they do. If they "just aren't a math person" or "can't do math," it can grant them permission to accept defeat instead of confronting their struggle directly. Often, with time and patience, these kids discover they can do math and (shhhh, don't tell anyone) they might even like some aspects of it.  This is the "self-help"-y conversation I've had with a friend or parent or therapist as I've gotten older....when a mindset I've taken on provides some advantage to me that might be hurting me overall. It's not intentional; it's survival. And ain't no way I ever would have been able to come up with that on my own at age 15. 

I've chosen a few of the phrases that make me saddest as a math teacher and want to take a more critical view of them:

In my ideal little hypothetical classroom, I would assign these out to different groups (and maybe have the kids generate some of their own, since my words aren't always theirs). I would have each group answer these questions:

What advantage does this mindset provide to someone?

What problems do you see with this mindset?

How can we "re-write" this mindset?

It can be something as simple as adding the word "yet" to totally change a perspective. It would also give us the opportunity to talk about the fluidity of learning and bridge perfectly into a growth mindset discussion. If kids would buy into the convo, I feel like it could be beneficial for them. 

I feel like this extends to honors and AP classes too, where the mindsets might be different but the survival instincts are still the same. Those mindsets might look more like this:
So all you amazing educators, feel free to shoot holes or make suggestions or give feedback. I feel like if we truly want kids to buy into growth mindset, we should be helping them examine their current mindsets and why they might not be the most beneficial for them. Too often kids in math only own their failures. If they learn to own their mindsets, maybe they can learn to own their progress and their successes too. 

And of course, it immediately made me think of good old Eleanor. 

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