Skip the Deficit Mindset in Your Math Class

Sunday, August 30, 2020

Remi comes into your math classroom as a 2nd grader. She is presented with the problem 3 + 5 and immediately freezes. She holds up 3 fingers... and pauses, putting them back down. She holds up 5 fingers and pauses again. 
She's stuck. 

You have 2 options at this point. 

You can classify Remi as a 2nd grader who doesn't know how to do addition and has no strategies for how to add. 


You can classify Remi as a 2nd grader who knows what 3 fingers look like, knows how to show 5 on her fingers and who needs to understand what a + sign means and does. 

Deficit Mindset Vs. Asset-Based Thinking 

This simple shift in thinking demonstrates the difference between the deficit mindset (where the focus is on the pieces a student doesn't yet know) and asset-based thinking (where the focus is on what a student does know and builds and works from there). 

This school year, focus on asset-based thinking with your students- it will get you far! Asset-based thinking helps you take inventory of what a student does know which will lead you more naturally to your next steps with a child. 

Deficit Vs. Asset-Based Examples 

In the scenario where we start with a deficit mindset, our student Remi can't add and has no strategies. This might cause us to jump straight into strategies such as counting on or using a number line or even focusing on +1 facts. We know she can't add so we start plugging in addition strategies. Are we sure the strategy we have chosen is right for Remi? No, not necessarily, but we're teaching addition strategies so it feels productive. 

In the example where we started with asset-based thinking, we noticed that Remi has some good subitizing skills when it comes to using her fingers. We know addition is nothing more than putting parts together so we are going to build off of the skills Remi already has to teach her how to put parts together using her fingers. In our long-term plan, we may move to counters and other concrete manipulatives before moving to level two strategies such as counting on! 

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