By Winnie Tam, Centre for University and School Partnership, The Chinese University of Hong Kong
Gender stereotypes in math, which refers to the belief that men have superior math ability than women, can harm female students’ math competence beliefs. Similarly, students’ beliefs that math ability is inborn and does not change much with effort (fixed mindset) can weaken their competence beliefs. Lee and colleagues investigated the impact of two interventions on parents’ and students’ math beliefs.
A sample of 467 grade three and grade four students in 20 classes and their parents (over 88% mothers) at three elementary schools in Korea were randomly assigned in class units to intervention and control conditions The intervention was divided into two parts, one for parents (Intervention-P) and the other for students (Intervention-S).
In Intervention-P, parents of the intervention group received two letters each week for three consecutive weeks from August to September, while parents in the control group did not receive any letters. Those six letters discussed the importance of having a growth mindset, the harm of gender-stereotypic beliefs, and highlighted the positive impact of high parental expectations on children’s success in math. Immediately after Intervention-P, Intervention-S was implemented. It was composed of five 40-min math activities for students in both groups over two months. Only the intervention group used those activities to communicate growth mindset messages and emphasized gender similarities in math achievement.
While Intervention-S had no direct effects on students’ self-reported outcomes, it was found to enhance students’ math self-efficacy for students perceived math as more important. Intervention-P found no significant effects on parents’ fixed mindset nor did it have any direct effects on students’ fixed mindset, gender stereotype in math, math self-efficacy, and math test anxiety. It did show indirect effects on reducing students’ fixed mindset (ES = -0.14) via promoting parents’ expectations towards the child’s success in math (ES = +0.16), as well as weakening students’ gender stereotype through the decrease of parents’ gender stereotypes (ES =-0.16).
Although the effects were small, they emerged after sending only six letters to the parents over a short period. The study provides evidence for further exploring the impact on their children of changing parental beliefs.
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