Special education methods like differentiated instruction may help students struggling in math to learn the necessary concepts, however, these supports do not address the beliefs students with LDs have about themselves and others, which can limit their achievement.
The beliefs that people hold about their own intellectual abilities and the abilities of others are called mindsets. Some believe that the ability to learn is limited, or fixed, and that there is not much that can be done to change it. In contrast to this fixed mindset is a growth mindset, which is the belief that with the right instruction and practice anyone can improve their ability (Dweck, 1999).
Research has shown that the growth mindset is linked to higher motivation and achievement (Dweck, 2015). Students who have a growth mindset tend to get higher grades, are more likely to recover from an initial bad grade, and report valuing learning more than the grades they receive. They are also more likely to use new strategies and change their approach when hitting a roadblock, which is vital for success in the math classroom (Dweck, 2008).
6 Tips for Creating “Math Mindsets”
- See the fixed mindset in yourself. When teachers believe intelligence and ability are fixed, only the students that they view as having high ability do well in their classes. With a growth mindset, a broader range of students succeed (Dweck, 2008). In order to bring the growth mindset into your math classroom, you must first model it!
- Change the dialogue in your class. Focus your praise on the process NOT the product or the person. Instead of telling students that they are smart for getting the right answer, compliment the logic in their thinking, their ability to switch approaches when one doesn’t work, their perseverance, or their improvement. By giving growth-oriented feedback that praises the process, you can lead students to thrive on challenges.
- Resist the urge to console students when they make mistakes or face setbacks. Rather than giving the student an empty consolation, focus your feedback on what the student can do differently in the future or even allow them to correct their mistakes for extra marks.
- Do not avoid mistakes! It is important to show students that mistakes are a normal part of the learning process in math to encourage students to persist and show value in the learning process. Another way to normalize mistakes in the math classroom is to share YOUR mistakes with students.
- Accept multiple ways of solving problems. Encourage students to find multiple ways to solve math problems. Allow them to visualize, draw, use manipulatives, and share their strategies with the class through number talks.
- Value depth over speed. Pressure to recall math facts quickly can lead to math anxiety (Boaler, 2016). Additionally, speeding through a math worksheet to meet time constraints or rushing to recall facts when put on the spot discourages students from engaging in deep thinking.
By shifting the focus during math instruction, from intelligence and natural ability to the student’s improvement, perseverance and thinking ability, you alter how students view themselves as learners, which plays a key role in their motivation and achievement.