Very few books have changed my life, but Mindset is one of them.
If you worry that you’re not good enough at math to teach it, or feel anxious that your kids just aren’t “mathy” enough to understand math thoroughly, it might just change your life, too.
In this book review, you’ll learn the difference between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset. You’ll learn why a growth mindset will help you empower your kids to work hard, face new challenges, and learn from their mistakes so they can reach their full potential—not only in math, but also throughout their lives.
Fixed Mindsets vs. Growth Mindsets
Mindset is by Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford. She began her career exploring how people cope with failure, and she discovered that how resilient we are depends a lot on our mindset—our fundamental belief about who we are. She describes two mindsets: the fixed mindset and the growth mindset.
People with fixed mindsets believe that their basic abilities are pretty much set at birth. They believe that some improvement is possible, but overall intelligence and ability can’t change. As a result, they often feel anxious to show that their abilities and talents measure up.
Fixed-mindset people also don’t like to take on difficult challenges. They fear that if they fail, it means that they just don’t have what it takes to be successful. They’re also more likely to give up when they face an obstacle. For people with a fixed mindset, struggle and having to work hard means that you’re not talented enough, so it must be avoided at all costs.
On the other hand, people with growth mindsets believe that everyone starts life with certain traits, but that those traits can change—a lot! They believe that they can improve their skills if they’re willing to work hard, look for help, and persist through difficulty. Instead of trying to prove themselves, they seek to improve themselves and grow.
As a result, growth-mindset people are eager to take on new challenges, because they know that new challenges help them learn. When they hit an obstacle, they’re less likely to give up, because they see struggle as part of the learning process. They’re more willing to risk failure, too, because they see failures as a temporary setback, not as a verdict on their innate ability.
My Experience with a Fixed-Mindset
When I first read Mindset several years ago, I immediately realized that I had a fixed mindset in many areas of my life—and especially in math.
I excelled at math in middle school and high school. When I began college, I was confident in my math ability, and I did well in my first few courses. But then I had to take a math class that stopped me in my tracks, and my fixed mindset kicked into gear.
I couldn’t make heads or tails of the material, but I was so scared of looking “dumb” that I didn’t ask for help. Instead of working harder at the class, I worked less so that I wouldn’t have to think about how much I was struggling. I barely passed the class, and it trashed my math confidence so much that I took the easiest classes possible to finish my math degree.
Looking back, I realize now that it was my mindset, not my math skills, that caused me to nearly fail the class. If I’d had a growth mindset, I would have:
- Asked for help from the professor and teaching assistants
- Worked harder and spent more time on the problem sets
- Closely examined my mistakes on the exams and homework to see what I could learn from them
- Bought an easier and more user-friendly textbook to help me understand the very difficult text used in class
- Appreciated how much I was learning, even if my test scores weren’t great
Thankfully, this difficult class didn’t hold me back from graduating and pursuing my passion for math education. In fact, the experience was valuable because it helped me better empathize with my students’ math struggles. But I still wish I’d handled it differently!
What’s Your Math Mindset?
What about you? Does this idea of a fixed mindset resonate for you? Even if you have a growth mindset in many areas of your life, you may have a fixed mindset when it comes to math.
Have you ever found yourself saying (or thinking) something like this?
- “My kids just aren’t mathy.”
- “My kids are never going to be that good at math. They just need to get by and learn the basics.”
If so, you probably have a fixed mindset about math. And, unfortunately, if you have a fixed mindset towards math, your kids probably do, too.
- Do they freeze when they have to try a difficult problem?
- Do they get upset when they make mistakes in math?
- Do they ever say that they’re “just not a math person”?
If you answer yes to these questions, your kids may also have a fixed mindset towards math, and it’s likely holding them back from reaching their full potential in math.
It’s true that people are all born with different gifts. We’re all unique, and some kids seem to be born with brains that grasp numbers more easily than others. But all kids are capable of developing their math abilities further, no matter where they begin.
As homeschool parents, if we start with the belief that our kids’ math abilities are fixed and that they’re not going to be able to do well at math, we’ll probably make that prediction come true.
But here’s the good news: the opposite is also true. If we start with the belief that our kids are capable of growing and becoming better at math, we’ll likely make that prediction come true instead.
Changing your family’s math mindset isn’t easy. If you’re intrigued and want to learn how to develop a growth mindset in yourself and in your kids, I strongly encourage you to read Mindset for yourself.
In the long run, our kids’ math grades probably won’t matter a whole lot. But their mindsets will have a huge impact on their lives. Math provides an excellent opportunity to help our kids develop a growth mindset that will help them tackle challenges with enthusiasm, persevere in the face of difficulty, and grow to their full potential throughout their lives.
More Mindset Resources
If you’d like to learn more about growth mindsets, here are some more resources to help you in the journey.
Mindset Official Website: The author’s official website, with further explanation of the mindsets, a quiz to assess your mindset, and tips on how to change your mindset.
“This class will give learners of math the information they need to become powerful math learners, it will correct any misconceptions they have about what math is, and it will teach them about their own potential to succeed and the strategies needed to approach math effectively. If you have had past negative experiences with math this will help change your relationship to one that is positive and powerful.”
Growth Mindset Maths: This British site is geared towards classroom teachers but has some interesting information. My favorite is this one-page graphic that sums up the differences between a fixed mindset and a growth mindset.