10 Myths That Hold Bright Math Students Back

These widely-held beliefs lead to decisions that prevent bright students from reaching
their full mathematical potential. Each holds a grain of truth but hides a deeper truth.

Myth 1: Math is mainly about performing procedures accurately and quickly.

A grain of truth: Procedural fluency is one of many components of math proficiency.
The deeper truth:
Math is mainly about understanding, creating, and reasoning about patterns and relationships.

 Myth 2: Mathematically talented people have special abilities that ordinary people lack.

A grain of truth: People have different capacities for understanding and doing math.
The deeper truth: Math ability is changeable, and most people, bright ones included, greatly underestimate their mathematical potential. 

Myth 3: Acceleration is highly effective in meeting the needs of bright math students.

A grain of truth: Acceleration meets some needs of some bright math students.
The deeper truth: Acceleration as typically practiced inhibits many students’ learning and growth in math.

Myth 4: Skill-based math tests can effectively measure bright students’ abilities and learning.

A grain of truth: Skill-based math tests provide some insight into bright students’ abilities and learning.
The deeper truth: Skill-based math tests alone are insufficient and are often misinterpreted.

Myth 5: Elementary teachers do not need to understand math deeply.

A grain of truth: Elementary teachers do not need extensive knowledge of secondary mathematics.
The deeper truth: All math teachers need and can gain deep knowledge around the content that they teach.

Myth 6: Bright math students’ needs can be met entirely within mixed-ability classrooms.

A grain of truth: All students can benefit when bright students take part in mixed-ability math classrooms.
The deeper truth: Bright math students also need frequent, focused opportunities to talk and work with others who are thinking at similar levels.

Myth 7: Identifying needs of bright math students is necessarily harmful and elitist.

A grain of truth: Elitism exists in gifted education and has negative consequences.
The deeper truth: Identifying bright math students and meeting their needs can support all students’ learning.

Myth 8: Bright math students learn best from tasks just beyond their comfort level.

A grain of truth: Students should work only on math tasks that they can make sense of.
The deeper truth: Highly challenging tasks also play an important role in meeting the needs of bright math students.

 Myth 9: Bright students can learn math on their own.

A grain of truth: Many bright students are good at learning certain aspects of math independently.
The deeper truth: Nearly all math students need significant guidance in order to fully develop their potential.

Myth 10: Bright math students deserve special opportunities and experiences.

A grain of truth: Bright math students, like all others, benefit from having a range of choices and opportunities.
The deeper truth: Experiences that target a student’s needs should be treated as neither optional nor special.


Questions to consider

What does the myth sound and look like?
What are the consequences?
What can I do?

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