This year marks the second year of teaching a dedicated class for performance students at an all girls public school. Last year I was their Math teacher and now I am their Science teacher.
The biggest challenge with a class of this type is stereotypes. Literature suggests that stereotypes are a self-fulfilling prophecy in schools as students resign themselves to convenient boxes of ability, gender and race. Telling students that they are a “this type” or “that type” of person gives them permission to reserve effort in other areas. Being told that they are not a maths person because of genetics, natural ability, gender or race means that when STEM gets hard (as we all know it can), there is no point persisting. Its just not in the stars/ their blood/ their brains.
However, research shows that mathematical “ability” is more dependent on effort and mindset than it is an innate gift bestowed upon a person at birth. In my experience, the most valuable thing that you can do for your students is to reinforce a growth mindset.
After a year of growth mindset reinforcement, my performance class out performed the class average of the academic class. So much so that many of them have taken the place of students in the top class. Therefore I implore all teachers and parents to focus on growth mindset messages and stop creating stereotype boxes for students to “fit in”. Being creative and being good at STEM are not incompatible.
If you are interested in growth mindset consider reading articles by Carol Dweck and Jo Boaler.