Welcome back! For the past seven weeks, I have been reading and participating in a collaborative book study focused on the book Mathematical Mindsets by Jo Boaler. Chapter 6 described the inequities inherent in many higher-level mathematics programs and ways to make mathematics accessible for all students. (Read Chapter 6’s post here.) Chapter 7 discusses equity and “growth mindset grouping” (p. 113).

**Chapter 7 Summary**

In this chapter, Jo Boaler describes several school systems who do not use “tracking,” filters that separate students into high-level mathematics classes and low-level mathematics classes. She continues with a discussion that reminds us of the harmful effects of “tracking” and the damage it does to students’ mindsets, both those students on the high-level and the low-level track. Ms. Boaler goes on to suggest that heterogeneous groups of students can effectively work together and individual students can develop a growth mindset. The remainder of the chapter focuses on teaching mixed ability groups effectively and includes an in-depth look at how the tasks students complete and the type of instruction they receive can promote growth mindsets.

**My Big Takeaway**

This chapter really resonated with me. As the product and teacher of a state where tracking students is used in order to better align their academic goals with their career goals, I am saddened when I think about the number of students whose mindset was negatively affected by their placement in either a high-level or low-level math class. As I type this post, I am reminded of a year where I had three seventh grade math classes, one high-level, accelerated math class that was taught during a single-period, one accelerated math class that was taught during two consecutive class periods, and one low-level math class for students who failed (or were close to failing) the state math test and students with disabilities that was taught during two consecutive class periods. The high-level, single-period, accelerated class was the class that was on the track to take algebra in eighth grade (one year earlier than the traditional math plan). However, while the district’s intent was to prepare the dual-period accelerated class for algebra in eighth grade, I wonder if they were negatively affected by the fact that they were not selected for the single-period class and therefore deemed themselves as “not as smart.” Even worse, I wonder what message students receive when they are placed in a class filled with students who have been previously unsuccessful in mathematics, have behavior problems, and a variety learning disabilities. And, I wonder what could have been accomplished had the classes been structured differently and all students had the opportunity to receive instruction that would put them on a track for algebra in eighth grade, no matter their test score.

**Ways to Use this New Knowledge to Support Our Students in the Classroom**

1. Use open-ended tasks with a low-entry point and opportunities for extension in order to challenge all students at their level. Open-ended tasks are those that teach important mathematics content and skills, excite students, and inspire creativity. Jo Boaler states, “the opportunities that teachers have to interact with students as they work on open tasks and to introduce them to mathematics, and hold important discussions with them, is one reason students do so well in such teaching environments” (p. 115).

2. Provide students with the opportunity to choose which activities to complete and encourage students to complete the high-level options. One instructional strategy that provides this flexibility is a menu. Menus are super versatile and can be used to teach a variety of content. Read more about using menus here.

3. Use heterogeneous groups where students work together and are accountable for the work of the group. Assigning group roles in an additional way students can be more vested in a group task. Read more about flexible grouping strategies here.

The goal of education is to produce students who are intellectually and emotionally prepared to be productive members of society. Helping students develop growth mindsets will set them on their way to developing the skills needed to complete the jobs and work of the future.

**Sound Off!**How can we help students effectively work together in heterogeneous groups?

**References:**

- Boaler, J. (2016).
*Mathematical Mindsets*. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

Bettie Marchiori says

I so agree that Boaler’s book and website are wonderful and groundbreaking. My practice will look very different this year. I too had questions about making heterogenous groups work effectively, so read the book recommended by Jo Boaler:”Designing Groupwork” by Elizabeth Cohen and Rachel Lotan. It is by far the best cooperative learning book I’ve ever read and it dealt with the issues I’ve faced trying to implement cooperative groups effectively. I thought the two books went really well together.

Love your blog!

shametriaroutt@gmail.com says

Thank you! I will have to check out the cooperative learning book. I’m always on the look-out for ways to use cooperative groups more effectively.

Kathie Yonemura says

I love your tips, especially the math menus & flexible grouping. We definitely need high-level content with low-entry. Using some of Dr. Boaler’s suggestions for math tasks has CHANGED the way my students are viewing math & themselves!!