Effective Pedagogy in Mathematics, page 13
The core of mathematics is problem solving. By definition, a “problem” is something that involves struggle to solve. A student with a positive mathematical identity is unfazed by challenging problems, even if they can’t immediately see a way forward. They know that, with effort, time, and support, they are likely to find a solution. For these students, failed attempts are a normal and vital part of learning.
Vulnerable learners often believe that if they need to work hard to learn something, it means that they are not smart. Challenging problems can evoke negative emotions because students have to battle with their fear of failure or sense of inadequacy to even get started.
If students have a fragile self-esteem, they are likely to choose tasks that are easily achievable and will avoid more challenging tasks that require struggle and perseverance. By doing so, they are limiting their opportunities for genuine growth. Some well-intentioned teachers make this choice on their students’ behalf.