One of the ways in which a positive disposition is fostered is by building a strong and positive learning alliance with my students. In a therapeutic situation, the establishment of a therapeutic alliance is a critical step. The client must believe that the therapist believes in them and in their commitment to change. The great Jungian analyst, teacher, and storyteller Clarissa Pinkola Estés says that nobody can truly accomplish great things completely on their own steam. The same is true for students in the math classroom. When they know in their bones that I am rooting for them, they begin to feel that success in mathematics is possible. That doesn't mean I don't "display attention to equity/diversity" or "use stimulating curricula" and "effective teaching strategies," as NCTM standard number 7 demands. It means that every day, in every way, I try to demonstrate my own commitment to being in their corner and cheering for them.
Another way in which I can help foster positive disposition toward mathematics is through sharing my own enjoyment of the processes we investigate. To me, positive disposition is about cultivating curiosity and patience. I find that when I model my own process of enjoyment, I give them a window into what their own relationships to mathematics can look like.
And so I consider it a wise investment of time and energy to cultivate positive dispositions wherever I can, regardless of a student's success or lack of sucess so far in Algebra, and I see it paying off in little and big ways throughout the year.
One experiment in building positive disposition I've been trying lately is something I
If students wear their Algebra Warrior! button during tests, I give them an extra credit point on the test. I gave these out during our last test and made everybody "take the pledge" to wear their button during tests, including the state standardized tests this year.
Still, I recognize that they are middle school students who can (a) lose anything and (b) easily be distracted even from things that are important to them.
So I was pleased when at least 80% of each class showed up eager to show me that they were wearing their Algebra Warrior! buttons for the test on Friday.
It's a tiny thing, but it's a tangible way of getting them to practice demonstrating their commitment to being impeccable warriors in mathematics. Like warriors putting on armor to do battle, my little Algebra Warriors put on their buttons and remember to form an alliance with themselves — to advocate for themselves and remember that they are connecting with something much bigger than their fear or confidence whenever they do mathematics.