Mathematical Mindsets: Unleashing Students’ Potential Through Creative Math, Inspiring Messages and Innovative Teaching by Jo Boaler

8. Assessment for a Growth Mindset

  • Jo begins by pointing out the damage that standardized testing has had on math instruction. Tests focus on performance questions and encourage teachers to do the same with their own assessments. They also lead to grades by which students define themselves as they encourage fixed mindsets. They also tend to sap motivation. She cites a good deal of research that shows how students who focus on projects rather than computation outperform others, and on research that shows higher achievement for students who are given individual constructive feedback rather than grades. Jo suggests you watch Race to Nowhere and the follow-up film Beyond Measure which reinforce her points.
  • The rest of this chapter contains some specific ideas of how to assess students. The focus is on where each student is now, where they need to go, and how to get there. Self-assessment (metacognition) has a big role. There is a section on jigsaw group techniques and how teachers can give diagnostic comments. Jo also has good advice for teachers who still have to give grades.

9. Teaching Mathematics for a Growth Mindset

  • Here we have a final pitch to see math as an open, growth, learning subject and students as powerful agents in the learning process. Jo adds the notion of starting with setting the following classroom norms: 1. Tell students there is no such thing as a math brain and that they can all achieve at high levels. 2. Tell them you love mistakes and that mistakes allow their brains to grow. 3. Failure and struggle do not mean that you can’t do math. They are the most important parts of math learning. 4. Working in depth is much more valuable that working quickly. 5. Tell them you love questions and to expect some of them to end up on the walls. While these are important words, they must be supported by action on the teacher’s part.
  • The rest of the chapter offers many more examples that will help teachers internalize the key ideas that will help promote growth mindsets. Jo shows new ways to ask more traditional math questions and ways to respond to students who just want teachers to give them the right answer. Activities should feature opportunities for more creativity and visual representations. Technology and manipulatives also have an important role.
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