The Myth of Ability – Nurturing Mathematical Talent in Every Child

John Mighton
Review by: Caitlin Reynolds

John Mighton did not have a “natural ability” in math growing up. At one point in his life, he took on a tutoring job to make ends meets and then later went on to earn a PhD in Math from the University of Toronto. Mighton is the founder of “Junior Undiscovered Math Prodigies” (JUMP), a volunteer tutoring organization in Toronto. JUMP promotes a mastery learning method of math instruction, aimed at helping struggling students catch up quickly. Mighton explains that math can and should be broken down into simple operations that students learn one step at a time.

I strongly recommend that educators read this book because Mighton does a good job of explaining the JUMP method, its history, and purpose. He acknowledges that JUMP may not be the best or only way to teach math well, but describes the success of the program. The second half of the book lays out six JUMP units of instruction, with comments and tips from Mighton about how to teach them. I like that Mighton also discusses the importance of quality math education for society.

I would have liked to see this book explore why JUMP works well for students with learning disabilities and students who have fallen behind, making reference to psychology or brain research. Chapter 4 describes Mighton’s experience applying the JUMP method to the regular classroom; however this was not done in the context of a research study. Mighton discusses motivation quite a bit and I believe this book would be stronger if Mighton were more familiar with Carol Dweck’s work on motivation and growth mindsets. Overall, as educators, this book can help challenge our understanding of best practices in pedagogy and help us better understand if, how, when, and why we would use JUMP in our own classrooms.