Positive Math Growth Mindset Environment

Topics: Community Partnerships, Overcoming Challenges

According to an eighth grader at Shroder Paideia High School, Cincinnati, Ohio, “My math teacher doesn’t think you have a math talent; they work with you and try to get you to learn it.”

This is a fundamental tenet of a math growth mindset – that math skills are not innate, but can be learned within a nurturing, positive environment.

StrivePartnership has recently pursued a more expansive and deeper focus in helping move the needle on middle grade math outcomes. Similar to our efforts in early literacy, we have explored the influencing factors that surround our students and have tried to better understand which components are important to their math literacy and success so that we can recommend which investments in our students will have the greatest impact. We pursued the concept of a “positive math mindset environment” and how such an environment can help our students thrive and succeed.

To field-test the concept and corresponding indicators we’ve developed, we conducted research at Shroder High School. This consisted of a series of interviews and focus group discussions with students, parents, tutors and school teacher and staff. In these conversations, we helped refine the elements that best constitute a positive math growth mindset environment.

How does a positive math growth mindset environment look like?

  • It is an environment wherein individuals value a positive math growth mindset.
  • It is an environment wherein individuals provide a growth environment for math literacy.

How can individuals in this environment support students to thrive and succeed in math?

  • They should affirm their belief in everybody’s ability to grow and strive to give all students opportunities to achieve at high levels.
  • They should encourage the presence of “math advocates” in students’ lives who enable development in math literacy, be it themselves and/or others who positively influence students daily.
  • They should place importance on learning rather than grades and test scores.
  • They should praise efforts and strategies, instead of presumed innate abilities.
  • They should make formative comments that emphasize effort and application.
  • They should help build robust self-confidence and self-efficacy in students.
  • They should give students a strong voice in the learning process and a sense of purpose.

At StrivePartnership, we have had several initiatives that focus on improving success in middle grade math, including this positive math growth mindset environment effort. This work has provided valuable insights on the persistent barriers that our students face along their life path. The importance of supportive individuals that surround students on a daily basis, who believe in them and provide them with a nurturing environment where they can thrive, is resonantly evoked when that same eighth grade student states they are encouraged by their teacher who says, “You can do it. Start doing the homework more and you’ll get it.”

Work on positive math growth mindset has been pursued in close collaboration with Allia Howard, former StrivePartnership education ecosystem research intern; Barbara Cook, math lab coordinator for Shroder High School; Pamela Wilder, resource coordinator for Shroder High School; and Larry Williams, the principal at Shroder High School.