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I Can't Do Math

"I can't do math" is a statement made countless times by parents to me as their child's teacher. They either go on to state or imply that since they have never been good at math, their child will most likely follow suit. The problem here? It's that message being sent to the student. Your parent is still not good at this, therefore, you most likely will never get it either. Why bother to give it much effort or any at all? Every year for more years than I care to count, I have had a number of students tell me that they do not like math and that they "just don't get it". I always smile and tell them that my challenge will be to get them to love math....and I love a challenge! (I usually get an eye roll at that.) I have discovered that most of the time, my challenge is not in teaching math to a student "who can't do it", but in changing the attitude or mindset of that student. If I am able to teach strategies that help this student persevere through problems and then point out good thinking even when they fail to come up with the correct solution, often times these students begin to work rather than give up on a solution. There is nothing better than witnessing the excitement of a student who perceives themselves as no good at math solving a difficult problem accurately!

I read the book, Mindset, by Carol S. Dweck about five years ago. Very simply, she identifies people as having one of two mindsets; fixed or growth. We either believe we have a set amount of abilities that will not change or that we can "cultivate our basic qualities through our efforts." The fixed mindset versus the growth mindset. The greatest news Dweck discovered through her research is that those of fixed mindset are able to shift to a growth mindset. WOW! I could go on and on about this book, but the main idea for this post is, the messages we send our kids/students can lead them toward a mindset. Don't we want them to have a growth mindset? Encourage your child's efforts in all they do, rather than rewarding grades, reward effort. A slight shift in our thinking can make all the difference for our children.

Dweck, C. S. (2008). Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

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