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Mindsets and math/science achievement (2008)

12 Dec 2019

Students tend to have more of a fixed view of maths skills than of other intellectual skills.

Students who believe that intelligence or maths and science ability is simply a fixed trait (a fixed mindset) are at a significant disadvantage compared to students who believe that their abilities can be developed (a growth mindset). This paper explores the research into the relationships between mindset and maths and science achievement.

Dweck, Carol. 2008. “Mindsets and Math/Science Achievement. Teaching & Leadership: Managing for Effective Teachers and Leaders.

This paper presents research showing that: 

  • Mindsets can predict math/science achievement over time
  • Mindsets can contribute to math/science achievement discrepancies for women and minorities 
  • Interventions that change mindsets can boost achievement and reduce achievement discrepancies  
  • Educators play a key role in shaping students’ mindsets. 

As well as looking at the research the paper provides recommendations around: 

  • Ways in which educators can convey a growth mindset to students 
  • Ways that educators can be taught a growth mindset and how to communicate it to their students 
  • Ways to convey to female and minority students that past underachievement has its roots in environmental rather than genetic factors and can be overcome by enhanced support from their educational environment and by personal commitment to learning 
  • Ways to incorporate the growth-mindset message into high stakes tests and into the teaching lessons that surround them 

A fixed mindset can be a disadvantage and that students tend to have more of a fixed view of maths skills than other intellectual skills. Interestingly, the one thing that appears to set ‘maths geniuses’ apart from their other talented peers is the deliberate practice they devote to their field. 

However, giving students praise for their process (such as effort or strategy), as opposed to praise for intelligence, can have a positive impact, leading students to seek and thrive on challenges. 

The work of Carol Dweck has significant impact on National Numeracy’s outlook and approach. Through all of our work we hope to encourage a growth mindset in learners, and promote the idea that mathematical ability is not innate but learned, and anyone can learn it. 

Download the full report