This comment of Dan’s started my thinking (he’s good at that, isn’t he?).
One of the most surprising, reoccurring events this year was my constant battle with my students’ attitudes toward math. Not so much that they dislike math– the fact that they believe they can’t do it. Not that it is difficult. Not that they have to work at it. So many firmly believe they can’t do math.
I’m not sure from where they got those messages. I’m not sure how they internalized them. But they have.
I had many a conversation outside of class with individual students about this problem. It usually went something like this.
Me: What do you mean, I’ve seen you “do math”?
Student: Well, I’m fine when we’re doing the problems in class or if I’m at home. I just can’t take math tests.
Me: Huh. Well what do you say to yourself when a math test is put in front of you?
I usually got some variation on the following:
Student: I’m gonna fail… I’m no good at math… I can’t do this… I always screw up.
Me: Huh… what do you say to yourself before a game/performance/show/English test/whatever it is they’re good at?
Then we’d work on changing their thinking. We’d come up with some replacement messages and ways to integrate that into their belief systems.
Did it work? For those that took it seriously it did. Now that I think about it, it was mostly the seniors who had this entrenched negative belief system. I wish I had talked about it more in class with them. I mean, really, what’s the point of learning a new lesson if they are sitting there telling themselves they can’t do it?
Interestingly, I didn’t get this from too many of the freshmen. I need to take another look at the end of the year surveys now that school has been out for a whole week.
Do your students come to you with the same beliefs? If so, what do you do to try and change them?