When I taught my first class in the 1960’s, my methods instructor and assigned classroom teacher gave me few directions, so I taught as I remember being taught when I was in high school. I lectured, I thought telling/showing was teaching, and I assigned lots of homework problems.

Times have changed, thank goodness.  Brain and learning science have shown us that teaching/learning practices related to developing and supporting a growth mindset can develop intellectual ability in all students, including those thought to be ‘low achievers’.

A summary of recent contributions of neuroscience and psychology to teaching/learning can be found in the article, “The Sciences of Teaching” in the recent issue of Educational Leadership.


Aleks, my co-author for this blog, introduced things you can do to introduce mindsets into your teaching; incorporate the website youcubed® into your set of teaching resources (I mention this below) and take the Mindsets Survey. Go to Mathematical mindsets.

In 2006 Carol Dweck of Stanford University published Mindset: The New Psychology of Success in which she ‘showed’ how every area of human endeavor can be dramatically influenced by how we think about our talents and abilities. She and many others have applied this concept to the teaching of mathematics.  As a math teacher educator, hardly a week goes by without a student of mine inserting ‘growth mindset’ into their discussion.  In addition, I go to many math education conferences each year, and ‘mindset’ is among the most popular of sessions.

Dweck claimed the view you have of yourself affects the way you live your life.  If you believe your qualities are immutable, then you spend your life defending you have ‘enough’ of these or using it an excuse for failure.  If you believe your qualities can be changed, then you may be willing to change ‘things’ for the better. Dweck says, “Why waste time proving over and over how great you are, when you could be getting better?”

I suggest you read Jo Boaler’s Mathematical Mindsets.  Published in 2015 it provides instructional strategies which can convince all students to enjoy and succeed in mathematics. Boaler outlines her steps for schools (and parents) to accomplish this change: how the brain processes math learning, how to turn mistakes into valuable opportunities for learning, examples of rich mathematical activities to be used in place of rote learning, how to give students a positive mindset, how assessment must change to fit this new paradigm.

Now, of course, there are many books, articles, and blogs which ‘build’ on Dweck’s and Boaler’s foundational ideas.  Among them is the website https://www.youcubed.org/.  Youcubed is the product of Stanford University and Joe Boaler its ‘founder’ and faculty director. The youcubed website consists of math tasks, apps, games, research articles, and much more.

Of course, this growth mindset is as important for teachers of math as it is for their students.  I visited one of my graduate math education students’ classrooms.  She said and did many of the ‘right’ things; supporting growth mindset among her students.  However, in my classroom and in my office, she exhibits a fixed mindset.  She ‘brags’ she’s not a math person and wishes she had the math gene like many of her classmates.

In almost all my courses I ask my graduate math ed students to write a Math Autobiography.  I’m no longer surprised by the number of students who express fear, anxiety, and reluctance to address their own mathematical struggles.

In 2016 Education Week conducted a national survey of K-12 teachers and found that only 20 percent of teachers strongly believe they are good at fostering a growth mindset in their own students. They have even less confidence in their fellow teachers and school administrators. And just one in five say they have deeply integrated growth mindset into their teaching practice.

Together, learning and studying growth mindset can inspire you and your students.

How do you incorporate mindset in your teaching? Share in the comments below! 

Subscribe to the blog and never miss a post! If you like a blog tell your friends and colleagues. 

What would you like to hear about next? Email us at  congruentthoughts@nl.edu or tweet us @ProfessorAleksV and @GeorgeLitman1

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