Helping motivate every student to run for the bus

May 01, 2013
“If you think you can catch the bus, you will run for it.” –Lee Peng Yee. This quote is a favorite of mine. It’s also become one of the guiding principles behind the development of our new MATH 180 program. It says something very fundamental about the way we learn and what motivates us as humans to work hard at something. If we sense something is out of our reach, why reach for it? If we expect to fail at math or at any task, why even try? You might be aware Carol Dweck’s research on mindsets (growth mindset vs. fixed mindset) that shows how our individual understandings of intelligence and abilities can have a dramatic effect on how we learn and how motivated we are to tackle difficult work. Brain scientists have clearly shown how malleable and changeable our brains are — that even as adults we have the ability to grow our intelligence and learn new things. But for many of us (and many students), rather than having a “growth mindset,” we believe our intelligence and abilities are “fixed.” Carol Dweck has shown that most of us have a fixed mindset about some things, and growth mindsets about others. Turns out that students very often get stuck in MATH because they have a “fixed mindset” about it — and this is true about math more-so than any other subject. Have you ever said this to someone? “I’m not a math person.” So, if you’re a student struggling with fractions and you think you’re just not a math person, why bother trying? Why bother working hard? Recognizing this, the team that built MATH 180, an intervention program for students who struggle with math, has focused not just on creating a system that helps students rebuild math skills and understanding, but also shift students from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. There’s a lot we can do to help convince students to RUN FOR THE BUS. One thing is to demonstrate evidence of success to them right from the beginning. Shaky confidence + early failure = total shutdown for students, says our David Dockterman. Then provide a gradual slope toward greater difficulty. All students, he says, should be working in the space between “I’m bored” and “I can’t.”