Growth mindset in Algebra is key. As I have written about before, I spent 1.5 years teaching remediation Algebra. Many of these students had failed Algebra the prior year and were not happy to be there. A few thought they knew everything about Algebra (they didn’t) but most had succumbed to the belief they would never be good at math. When I was hired (in the middle of the school year, no less) I wasn’t quite prepared to fight the uphill battle of changing students’ mindsets from fixed to growth.
Cultivating a Growth Mindset in Algebra 1
1. Change Your Teacher Mindset
Growth mindset as an educational buzzword peaked right around the time I started teaching algebra. I am so glad it did because it changed my own mindset as a teacher! (see this article to read more about growth mindset.) Without understanding that effort was more important than ability in math, I could have inadvertently communicated to students that they had limited potential due to their previous failing.
As the leaders of our classroom, it is important that we reflect on our words and actions. We should be asking ourselves, “Do I believe that every student can be successful in math and do I model that belief to my students?” If we want our students to believe they can solve math problems, we have to model that belief for them, which leads me to these next two points.
2. Emphasize the Importance of Mistakes
Ms. Gertson, a fellow algebra teacher, had a poster that said, “YAY MISTAKES!” on her wall. This was a statement that she said everyday. She sang it when she made a mistake and when students made mistakes. She celebrated mistakes! Why? Mistakes give everyone an opportunity to learn — not only the one who makes the mistake, but anyone observing as well!
A study published in Psychological Science says, “Making mistakes allows us the opportunity to pay more attention and incorporate new information that will likely improve our learning and performance.”
Have you ever had a student freeze on an assignment or turn in a blank assignment because they feared making mistakes? Communicate to your students that mistakes are not the enemy of math but rather the vehicle for learning math.
3. Value the Process over the Answer
I had to (and still have to) rewire my brain to desire critical process thinking over just the final answer. Here are some ways to do this:
- Error analysis – “Error analysis leads students to enact two Standards of Mathematical Practice, namely, (a) make sense of problems and persevere in solving them and (b) attend to precision,” according to the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers.
- Ask the problem before teaching the method to solve. Even if students arrive at an incorrect answer, you have provided an opportunity to be creative and think for themselves.
- Teach Using Think Alouds – When you do move to modeling a process, narrate your thinking process using several methods for solving. Draw a picture, show patterns, and ask for other ways of solving.
- Ask probing questions that require students to explain, clarify, or elaborate on their thinking.
One year, our campus read a book called Quality Questioning. We spent the entire year focusing on the level and frequency of the questions that we asked in class. We observed other teachers asking questions and then made it a goal to teach our students to be quality questioners. It really impacted the way that I taught in a few ways:
- I focused on my wait time. When I asked a question, I didn’t immediately acknowledge if the answer was correct or not. I aimed to hear from 3-4 students before we actually discussed whether the response was a solution to the question.
- I taught students to ask questions. Typically, we can get in the rut of teaching something new and then asking students what questions they have. The book suggests flipping the script and having students explore and ask questions up front. It requires students to think more deeply about the content and make connections independently.
If you want to read more about growth mindset, I wrote a post about how I cultivate a growth mindset in middle school math here. What are some ways you cultivate a growth mindset in Algebra 1?