Awaiting word, Dept.


In Jo Boaler’s “Mathematical Mindsets”, the following paragraph appears in Chapter 2:

“In workshops with Carol Dweck I often hear her tell parents to communicate to their children that it is not impressive to get work correct, as that shows they were not learning. Carol suggests that if children come home saying they got all their questions right in class or on a test, parents should say: “Oh, I’m sorry; that means you were not given opportunities to learn anything.” This is a radical message , but we need to give students strong messages to override an idea they often get in school — that it is most important to get everything correct, and that correctness is a sign of intelligence. Both Carol and I try to reorient teachers so they value correct work less and mistakes more.”

I wrote the following to Carol Dweck:

“Based on articles I’ve read by you in which you clarify misinterpretations of your growth mindset theory, the above quote doesn’t sound like advice you would give to parents. Could you tell me if the above quote is accurate?”

Stay tuned for a response. But don’t hold your breath.


4 thoughts on “Awaiting word, Dept.

  1. This is classic. Come out with a statement designed to cause a stir, but then claim misinterpretations later on. “Growth Mindset” is a process and not an end result, but education needs to be a scaffolded feedback loop that ensures a proper level of correct answers before moving on. That’s what happens in all high school AP/IB classes that align with the reality of colleges and the real world. Anything that dismisses or fuzzifies the connection of learning with mastery of skills and facts is fundamentally flawed. They need to be open and honest with parents about these ideas, and more importantly, offer students and parents the ability to opt out. Unfortunately, their turf vanity, arrogance, and need for control do not allow that to happen. They even fight against urban parents who are desperate to get their kids into alternate charter school choices. It’s truly astounding.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Boaler’s embrace of mistakes as being more important than correct responses when solving math problems is based on a fundamental misunderstanding and misrepresentation of the underlying research. On her site she has a page entitled “Mistakes Grow Your Brain”:

    She claims that:

    “The recent neurological research on the brain and mistakes is hugely important for math teachers and parents, as it tells us that making a mistake is a very good thing. Mistakes are not only opportunities for learning, as students consider the mistakes, but also times when our brains grow.” Further, she claims you do not even need to know you made the mistake. This is a crucial misinterpretation of the underlying study.

    The underlying study — Moser, Schroder, et al. (2011) — does not make that claim. The paper examined differences in neural activity of test subjects with a fixed versus growth mindset when completing a task that yielded lots of mistakes. The study was premised on subjects being aware of the mistakes they made. Moser and colleagues write, “one reason why a growth mind-set leads to an increased likelihood of learning from mistakes is enhanced on-line error awareness.” So the study is about what happens when people realize they’ve made a mistake, not that mistakes make our brain grow even if we aren’t aware of the mistake.

    Daniel Willingham, Daniel Ansari and other cognitive scientists have pointed out Boaler’s misreading of cognitive science research, but with no correction, explanation or response from Boaler. Willingham and Ansari address Boaler’s misreading of brain science research here:


  3. The fact that mistakes can lead to growth does not mean that all mistakes lead to growth — it depends on whether correcting the mistake leads to insight as to how the thought process went astray in the first place.

    Boaler’s claim also doesn’t take account of the fact that often, by the time the learner is finished with a problem, s/he has already made a mistake, seen it, and corrected it. A homework assignment or test that seems to be without mistake is actually a bunch of mistakes overcome. Teachers are right to encourage students to ask themselves, all along, “am I using the effective way to approach this problem?” And if memory, or common sense, or estimating, or getting stuck tells the student that they’re on the wrong track, then switching approaches is the right thing to do.

    I’m all for having students do problems or other types of activities that are challenging and result in mistakes, but let’s be real — mistakes as a generic category, taken by themselves, are not a sign of learning.


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