When it comes to offering students math help, a common refrain from parents and teachers often includes complimenting students abilities and calling them “smart”. Unfortunately, recent research has revealed that such praise may be detrimental to students. Such praise may lead to students avoiding challenges and sticking to courses or fields of study or work where they can easily get “A’s”. Carol Dweck, a psychology researcher, has found that cultivating a “growth mindset” offers much greater promise when it comes to cultivating student achievement. Praising a student’s hard work or perseverance in the face of challenges is far more effective, and will lend to providing the most math help.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say “I’m not good at math.” In fact, I’ve certainly felt the same way during high school math and science courses. However, in college, I ended up developing and finding the confidence that I could be good at math and science and ended up receiving a bachelor’s of science. Towards the end of high school I worked with an SAT tutor and after months of study and one disappointing test I increased my scores by 210 points. This dramatic increase helped me secure scholarships for college that more than paid for the cost of tutoring.
Perhaps the more important than earning scholarships was gaining the confidence that persistence in the face of challenges could help me achieve things I wasn’t as talented in as I wished. I went from disliking math and science in high school to graduating with college honors in Aquatic and Fishery Sciences.
As Russell Wilson often reminds us, “the separation is in the preparation” and undoubtedly this applies to math help as much as it does to football. There will be a point in time in every students’ education–whether it be prealgebra or calculus–where one gets stuck and frustrated. Being convinced of that will help us succeed in our studies and in our careers.