Mathematical Mindsets Book Study – Week 2

July 17, 2016

Hey everyone! I’m a little late to the book study party this week, but I wanted to share some thoughts on chapter 2. I’m loving this book more and more, and I hope that you will get something out of what I share here!

I got busy reading chapter two while I was on a plane coming home from Orlando and it was the perfect way to end my 2 inspirational days at the TpT Conference. It solidified many of the things I had been thinking about and learning while I was there! LOVE it when so many things come together.

Chapter 2: The Power of Mistakes and Struggle

Chapter two focused on how vitally important mistakes are to the learning and growing process – and how our brains don’t grow if we get everything right all the time. It also discussed the importance of helping students (and ourselves) to view mistakes differently, and how we can help students get there.

My Big Takeaway

When I was getting my masters, I remember discussing the power of struggle and the importance of letting kids struggle without jumping in to “rescue” them. This was a huge lightbulb for me at the time – I mean, I just wanted them all to be successful and I could totally help them do that! But letting students wrestle with problems and “get their hands dirty” really does help them grow, and this chapter reiterated that for me. Mistakes shouldn’t be viewed as bad, but as ways that our brains are creating connections and growing. This new view on mistakes is going to be the forefront of my classroom this year – in all subject areas! 
I think the first part of that quote is what got me – “If we believe that we can learn..” I want every student to feel that they can, and especially in math!

3 Ideas to Bring This Chapter To Life

1. Change our message. In math, I think it’s really easy for us as teachers to unintentionally focus more on correct answers vs. incorrect answer. In reality, we need to be giving kids the message that mistakes are important and they grow your brain! If students are consistently getting the message that they are failing, what incentive will they have to want to move forward? By changing this one message, students will know that their mistakes are helping them grow, not making them failures.
2. Keep it visible. So often, we start something in our classrooms and then things get crazy and we forget about it. But I don’t think I can afford to go through that cycle with this. I think keeping our messages about mistakes at the forefront of our teaching will help remind students (and US!) about the power of mistakes. There were some great ideas in the book that I think I will try – like having students draw and write about their favorite messages about brain growth or having students identify their feelings about when they make a mistake and reflecting on how that makes them feel.
3. Let them struggle. This chapter did a great job of talking about students being in a state of “disequilibrium.” This is the idea that when new information is presented and doesn’t quite fit, that students have to find a way to make it fit into their mental model. The only way to reach a new state of equilibrium is to fit the new information that doesn’t fit yet into the puzzle. Until they do, they are in a state of disequilibrium. I hadn’t really thought about Jean Piaget for awhile (ahem – since college? – ahem) but his theory was that disequilibrium “leads to true wisdom.” Even though students (and adults) are uncomfortable when they are in this state, it’s the brain’s opportunity to find new pathways and ways of putting pieces together that leads to new learning. If students are never in this state, they are not learning! We have to help students start to get comfortable with the struggle and let them know that if they aren’t feeling a little bit uncomfortable, they aren’t learning anything new.

Wrapping It Up

Chapter 2 really helped me get focused and challenged my thinking about how I approach mistakes in my classroom. Even though I believe that struggle is vital, I don’t think I’m doing a good enough job helping students see mistakes as learning opportunities. I need to do a better job of this! Putting these practices into action is going to be a priority for me when school starts in August. 

How do you feel about this chapter? What does it look like when students make mistakes in your classroom? What do you think you might do differently to let kids struggle? Let’s chat in the comments!

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  • Reply Shametria Routt July 18, 2016 at 7:23 am

    I enjoyed reading you insights! I think this chapter has so many important messages. I'll admit that I've never thought about celebrating mistakes the way this chapter encourages us to. This year, as I work with my teachers, I want part of our planning meeting to be about the mistakes that students are making and what that reveals about their learning and where they are in the learning process. This will hopefully lead to some new learning experiences as a result.

  • Reply Kathie @Tried and True Teaching Tools July 18, 2016 at 2:56 pm

    I definitely think that letting students struggle is key to long-term success & building perseverance! And I agree, I'm going to have to be very intentional about the language I use as feedback & the messages I give about math. Thanks for a great post!

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