Deficit thinking refers to the notion that students (particularly low income, minority students) fail in school because such students and their families experience deficiencies that obstruct the learning process (e.g. limited intelligence, lack of motivation and inadequate home socialization). Deficit Thinking does not Support Productive Struggle in Learning Mathematics.

A deficit mindset often results in Educators rescuing students from difficult tasks, and removing the opportunity for productive struggle.

“Teachers sometimes perceive student frustration or lack of immediate success as indicators that they have somehow failed their students. As a result, they jump in to “rescue” students by breaking down the task and guiding students step by step through the difficulties. Although well intentioned, such “rescuing” undermines the efforts of students, lowers the cognitive demand of the task, and deprives students of opportunities to engage fully in making sense of the mathematics” Principles to Action, pg. 48

Mindsets must shift about what it means to be “successful” in mathematics. Productive struggle should be considered as a valuable part of the learning process.

“Mathematics classrooms that embrace productive struggle necessitate rethinking on the part of both students and teachers. Students must rethink what it means to be a successful learner of mathematics, and teachers must rethink what it means to be an effective teacher of mathematics. “Principles to Action, pg. 49

“Teachers greatly influence how students perceive and approach struggle in the mathematics classroom. Even young students can learn to value struggle as an expected and natural part of learning, as demonstrated by the class motto of one first-grade math class: “If you are not struggling, you are not learning” Principles to Action, pg. 50