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Mindset…

October 16, 2011

I’ve heard a fair amount of these kinds of statements throughout the year in my inquiry course

“I’m not good at science.”

“I don’t think scientifically.”

“I can’t think the way scientists do”

“I don’t like science”

“I’ve never liked science”

So last week, I asked my students to write a blogpost about why a child in their class might say something like, “I hate math. I’m not good at math, and I never will be”. Specifically, I asked them to discuss the experiences this child might have had or be having that would lead them to feel this way about math and themselves. After having wrote their blog posts, they are now reading about Carol Dweck, and the effects of praise and mindset, and I’ve asked them to go back and reread what they and others wrote.

There was a large variety of responses in the blog posts, but the most compelling one’s were from students who identified themselves as that student. Here are some of things they wrote about. Bolded areas not in original, but were added for emphasis:

“I went through early elementary doing well in math. It wasn’t until those darn multiplication tables in 3rd grade that I made my first ever C on my report card. Ever since that experience, I’ve had a bad feeling toward math.”

“I was too intimidated to ask for help because I thought my teachers and peers would think I was an idiot for asking something that maybe everyone else understood.”

“In my experience I had several other students in my classes in 3rd and 4th grade that I remember as being pretty advanced and fairly fast when it came to learning math and science but especially math. I would find myself frustrated at not being as fast as some others and that frustration only added difficulty to my ability to understand math. Plus I just had hard time comprehending some of the more difficult concepts and I didn’t want to embarrass myself in front of others.”

“For my brother, he hated math because he made B’s and C’s whereas I would make A’s and B’s and he felt like he didn’t understand it as easily as I did so he wouldn’t want to try.”

Saying I hated math covered up for answers I may have gotten wrong. “Well, I hate math so it was expected that I missed those.” This may be the way students hide that they do not understand. They may feel embarrassed or not as smart as their peers for getting the wrong answers.

I can definitely relate to this student because I was this student at one time, and sometimes still think of myself in this way now…. A students begins getting lower grades in math than desired, and might even start to compare his or herself to the rest of his or her classmates

I hated math too… maybe the student is comparing their ability to someone else’s and they are upset because they do not think they are as good as their friend.

My 6th grade algebra teacher told my mom “Jane Doe is a good girl and I never have any trouble out of her but she is just not good in math and I don’t have time to work extra with her”.  I remember her saying this to my mom with me standing right beside her.  I knew I didn’t catch on to math at the same speed or in the same way as some of my peers but up to that point I had not thought that I was really bad at math.  From that day on I thought I stunk at math…my teacher said so…..this was just my lot.

What are you noticing? Here are some of the things I notice

  • I see the impact that our current grading systems have on students’ feelings of self-worth
  • I see how children use shifts in (math) identity as a mechanisms for maintaining self-worth.
  • I see how school reinforces a view in which your worth as human being can be mapped to your place in a linear hierarchy
  • I see how school reinforces the view that intelligence and smarts are fixed attributes
  • I see how one of the primary activities of school children is to avoid looking stupid and to maintain one’s standing in the hiearchy
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