Short, closed math tasks focus students on performing over learning


  • Short, closed math tasks with one right answer make it hard for students to develop the idea that math is about growth and learning.
  • These tasks lead many students to believe that math is more about performing than learning.
  • To see similar videos about growth mindset in math, sign up for Professor Jo Boaler’s course, How to Learn Math, and check out

The tasks we give students through classwork and homework can shape their mindset. Short, closed tasks can lead students to believe that school is more about performing than learning. For example, students given twenty short-answer math questions typically think their role is to get them right, to perform rather than to learn. Let's hear more about how closed takes can affect students' mindsets from Stanford professor, Jo Boaler.

Professor Jo Boaler, Mathematics Education Expert, Stanford University: The tasks chosen for math lessons are hugely important for the development of mindset. If they're short and closed with one right answer like most math questions that are in math classrooms, and students are constantly either just getting them right or wrong, then it's really hard to develop the idea that math is about growth and learning. And if you're constantly getting them wrong, it's really hard to believe that you can really do math. So, instead many students, just from the tasks they get, come to believe that math is more about performance and performing than it is about learning and growth.

So my colleague Rachel Lambert told me recently that her son, who is six, came home from school one day and said he hadn't enjoyed his math class.

When she asked him why, he said, “Math is too much answer time and not enough learning time,” and I think that was really interesting that even a six year old had got the sense that math classes were not about a space for learning. Instead they're often about performing. And the more math classes I visit, the more I can see that math classrooms offer math more as a performance subject than a learning subject.

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