Teacher Mindsets and Student Learning

by Dr. Sue Chapman, Author, Math Solutions
March 16th, 2017

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On the first day of my Mathematics Methods course for preservice teachers, I ask my students to solve the Dealing in Horses Problem from Marilyn Burns’ book About Teaching Mathematics, Fourth Edition:

I ask my students to consider the problem individually for a few minutes and then discuss and solve the problem in table groups. I then open the discussion up to the whole class, encouraging the students to justify their thinking and respond to each other’s explanations.

After we consider multiple ways of solving the problem and come to consensus on the solution, I ask the teaching candidates to reflect on their feelings and internal thought processes as they worked on the problem. I want to help these future teachers examine their mathematical mindsets, their identities as math learners and their fundamental beliefs about the nature of mathematics learning, because I believe that these internal beliefs shape the learning opportunities they will provide to their future students.

Teachers need to be conscious of their own mindsets. They also need to be skilled at choosing to operate from a growth mindset in challenging situations. This self-awareness and ability to move from a fixed mindset to a learning-oriented mindset is important to teachers so that they, in turn, can help students learn how to adopt a growth mindset when learning becomes difficult.

Teachers can use questions such as the following to switch from a fixed to a growth mindset. They can also teach students how to ask themselves questions like these when they are stuck in solving a math problem or faced with a challenging situation:

  • How might I look at this differently?
  • What assumptions am I making? What are the facts?
  • What are my choices? What might I try?
  • How is this experience/problem similar to other situations where I have been successful?
  • What do I know that might be helpful in this situation?
  • What have I tried so far? What have I learned from these efforts?
  • What else might I try?
  • What have I learned from this experience/problem that might help me in the future?

What are some ways you are helping your students learn how to adopt a growth mindset when learning is challenging? Please share your thoughts and your stories in the comments.


Sue Chapman, Professional Learning Specialist Math Solutions

Sue Chapman is a professional educator, presenter, and author who has devoted over 30 years to instructional improvement and mathematics education. Throughout her career, Sue has served and taught in several different areas of professional education, including instructional and leadership positions.

Sue has a B.S. in Early Childhood Education, a M.S. in Elementary Education, and an Ed. D. in Educational Leadership. Sue started her career as an Elementary Math Teacher in 1976, later serving as a Mathematics Coach, Mathematics Curriculum Coordinator, and School Administrator. She currently serves the educational community as a Math Solutions Professional Learning Specialist, Learning Forward Texas Board Member, and adjunct faculty member at the University of Houston – Clear Lake.

Sue’s passion for professional learning and her ability to inspire teachers to come together around a shared vision of success have been instrumental in helping schools and districts develop systems and internal capacity to achieve continuous improvement of mathematics instruction.


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