Imagine a friend asks you to give them a lift, and you hop in your car to pick them up. When they..
A confident learner is a happy and productive one, and every teacher wants a class full of them. Building student confidence begins in any space where meaningful learning is encouraged and supported.
It doesn't take any fancy psychology or tricks; all it takes is a teacher who cares, just like you.
There are many reasons why building student confidence matters. Linda Ray explains in an article for Livestrong, "self-confidence is a tool that can help you manage your fears, tackle life's challenges with more certainty and maintain a positive mental attitude." She goes on to mention that self-confidence is largely based on our past experiences and is gradually reinforced by successes of all natures—social, emotional, intellectual, and more.
What this means for the learner in your classroom is simple: the more proactive their school experiences are, the easier and more naturally building student confidence occurs. So work on those goals together in a safe atmosphere, and give them the feedback they can improve with. Let them connect and collaborate on projects and assessments. Above all, make sure they know that everyone is sharing a space where all achievements are relevant, no matter how big or small.
6 Ways of Building Student Confidence
- Set goals together
- Encourage self and peer assessment
- Give useful feedback
- Empty their heads
- Show that effort is normal
- Celebrate everyone's success
1. Set goals together
One of the most effective ways of building student confidence is making sure everyone is on the same page about learning goals. Too often in teaching our learners are kept in the dark about expectations, guidelines, and desired learning goals. In fact, much of the time we treat learning goals as ours, not theirs, as if they're some great mystery students can't comprehend. This does nothing but make learners confused, dependent, and ultimately untrusting of their educators.
... self-confidence is largely based on our past experiences, and is gradually reinforced by successes of all natures—social, emotional, intellectual, and more.
In our book Future-Focused Learning we talk about making learning intentions clear, the 7th shift of practice in learning that is future-oriented. Recently at GEMS Dubai American Academy, we began working with the high school math department to shift to self-directed learning. Learners were put in groups of three and were given a standard directly from the curriculum to learn. After that, they had to develop a way to demonstrate their understanding, and then teach it to another group.
The results were astounding, and you can learn more about them in a case study we did on one of the classes. The point, however, is that the positive results of this exercise in building student confidence were clear.
2. Encourage self and peer assessment
There's no doubt the idea of giving the responsibility of performing assessments to students themselves is a topic that polarizes many teachers. Nevertheless, giving them that responsibility for helping both themselves and others improve learning by encouraging ownership of it is a huge step toward building student confidence.
As much as possible learners must be a part of the development, application and reporting of their assessments. This leaves the most important role in the process for the teacher, which is as the moderator of the assessment. It's a proven way to increase student understanding, ownership, enthusiasm for learning and, of course, confidence.
So what does this look like in your classroom? You'll find some great activities in this article which talks about the benefits of self and peer assessment.
3. Give useful feedback
Learning without getting actionable feedback for improvement isn't meaningful learning—it's learning by compliance, which is ultimately pointless. At all times throughout any learner's journey, we must provide consistent and appropriate feedback for them to apply to their efforts.
This serves a dual purpose. First, it provides learners with an opportunity to learn from mistakes and, once again, experience a sense of learning ownership. Second, it succeeds well in building student confidence.
Learning without getting actionable feedback for improvement isn't meaningful learning—it's learning by compliance.
In one of our most popular articles on the subject, we discuss the idea that feedback is about more than making hard concepts understandable. Additionally, it's about helping a learner feel a sense of accomplishment no matter how much they struggle. Feedback should make someone feel good about where they are, and get them excited about where they can go. This is the exact mindset that develops as we continue building our learners' confidence in the classroom.
4. Empty their heads
Just because learning is happening doesn't always mean students are aware of it. Often they tend to lose confidence in themselves because they feel they're struggling more than they are. Usually, it's a case of them knowing more than they think they do—what is referred to in martial arts practise as the act of "learning and then forgetting" a technique. So every once in a while, you've got to get learners to unpack everything in their heads through review and open discussion to show them just how much they've accomplished.
This is what Matt Levinson from Edutopia calls a "brain dump,' an essential component of what ultimately becomes useful learning. "This serves the purpose of helping the student realize that learning and knowledge acquisition has been happening," Matt explains. "It helps to raise student confidence and is also a useful approach for the teacher to receive feedback and see where gaps exist."
5. Show that effort is normal
What does that learner who struggles more than others in the class see when they look at their peers? Effortless understanding, and a sense of everyone else just "getting it" while they don't and maybe never will. Nothing is more of a confidence killer for a student than thinking they're the only one in class that doesn't understand something.
Certainly, this attitude is humiliating, demoralizing, and utterly destructive in their learning journey. However, the key thing that a struggling student has to have an awareness of is that even the so-called "smarter" kids have to work hard much of the time.
Feedback should make someone feel good about where they are, and get them excited about where they can go.
Initially, they don't always see how much effort others put in as they are consumed by their own failure. Besides, it isn't about one learner necessarily being smarter than another, as sometimes concepts come easier to some than they do to others. For instance, there are likely some things that would come easier to that struggling learner than they would to others that they perceive as being "smarter."
A good way of building student confidence in such a case is by having that struggling student pair up with one of the others who has aced the topic and get them to explain it. Connecting two such students fosters an understanding between them. Not only does the learner who understands the topic get a chance to demonstrate that understanding, but the struggling learner realizes just how much work was actually involved.
After that, the struggle doesn't seem so pointless to them—it becomes just another step in the journey of them "getting" the concept.
6. Celebrate everyone's success
Any kind of success in learning, no matter how big or small, deserves to be acknowledged and celebrated. This might mean more to some students than to others, but it's still a great way of building student confidence. After all, everyone is there in the classroom to learn together and to support each other on that path.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
Originally published Jul 8, 2019, updated October 12, 2021