Growth Mindset and Mathematics

One of my favourite Hindi couplets(doha) that I learned in school and comes to me often as I continue to teach.

करत करत अभ्यास के, जड़मति होत सुजान
रसरी आवत जात ते, सिल पर परत निसान


Practice makes everyone wise, just like even a soft rope, when rubbed continuously on stone, leaves a mark on it.

I would like to modify this slightly here -a growth mindset can make everyone wise since it is the adaptable nature of stone along with the determination of the rope that the rope ends up leaving an indelible mark on the stone.

I was introduced to the term “Growth Mindset” after reading the book written by Carol Dweck but as a teacher of Mathematics, it is something that I have always believed in. We are all aware of the anxiety that surrounds the word “Mathematics” and having started my teaching career in a school where children were not placed in groups based by the ability I learned early about the significance of “Growth Mindset” while teaching and learning. With the right combination of effort and understanding, I have seen several students make great accomplishments in this subject. I have been disappointed to see that there are adults who do approach the teaching/learning of Mathematics with a “Fixed Mindset”. Growth Mindset is useful for all students -for those already achieving success this mindset can help them focus on fine details of problem-solving skills and for those who find maths challenging “Growth Mindset” can help them achieve and celebrate “small successes”


How can teachers help students achieve this mindset? This has to be done through the language used in the classroom while teaching and giving feedback-oral and written. Showing clear paths to building understanding. Teachers should not convey to students that a topic is beyond them or that they are either born with or without the ability to learn a subject. Feedback should be more in terms of what knowledge they are lacking or misunderstandings that can be rectified to improve the ability to solve problems.

Students come with several maths anxiety-related issues-one that I have come across a lot in my career is going blank in an assessment/test. I often feel that this especially happens to students who have, even before making an attempt, labelled themselves as a failure. A fixed mindset leads to a lack of interest in the subject and a lack of faith in the required effort.


Is it possible to change the mindset of students? I certainly think that a supportive and non-judgemental environment in the classroom can change the mindset. Also, going back to feedback, it is significant that discussion of mathematical successes should be based around two key aspects of learning -understanding and study skills(which would include practice). This change can lead to a change in academic achievement. Of course, not all are destined to major in Mathematics but the changed mindset can surely help more individuals to achieve success in school Mathematics and grow up without the anxiety around the subject.


Does differentiation and setting by ability lead to a fixed mindset? According to me on the contrary, if dealt with carefully both can be used to enhance the Growth Mindset. For instance-if students in a set are having difficulty solving challenging, multi-concepts problems then the approach of the teacher should not be to abandon the idea of doing the problems with the class rather the teacher should take simpler problems leading up to the challenging problems. In this scenario, both differentiation and ability based setting is a strength -since variation in the approach and the pace can help all students achieve success.



2 thoughts on “Growth Mindset and Mathematics

  1. Impressed by Dweck’s idea about “Growth Mindset”. Sometimes we would like to create and remain in our comfort zone to avoid failure and disappointment. Believing in “Growth Mindset” will definitely provide confidence and faith in ourselves when facing difficulties.

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