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Research shows that there is a strong correlation between students’ confidence and their academic performance. If you’re a teacher looking to help students improve their grades and maximize their learning, it’s important to think about what you’re doing to help them build confidence.
Not sure where to start? Read on to learn more about the importance of confidence for improved learning outcomes, as well as some steps teachers can implement to increase students’ confidence.
Before we dive into the importance of confidence for better learning outcomes, it’s important to point out the differences between confidence and self-esteem. A lot of people conflate these two terms, but they’re not synonymous.
Self-esteem refers to how favourably someone regards themselves. Confidence, on the other hand, refers to a measure of a person’s faith in their own abilities.
Many people with high self-esteem are confident. However, they can also be arrogant, conceited, and have narcissistic tendencies.
It’s worth noting, too, that while confidence and academic performance are positively correlated, the same correlation does not exist between self-esteem and academic performance. In fact, those with very high and very low self-esteem tend to perform worse academically than those who have a more moderate level of self-esteem.
In addition to contributing to improved academic performance, there are many other ways that confidence can affect learning and a student’s experience in school. The following are some of the most noteworthy:
Often, when students are confident in their academic abilities, they experience less anxiety and stress around school, homework assignments, etc. If you notice that certain students in your classroom are struggling with anxiety, are regularly overthinking situations, or are scared to try new things, it may be that they need to work on their confidence.
Confidence-building, by itself, may not be sufficient to address all of a child’s anxiety issues, of course. However, it can be a positive step in a more comprehensive plan.
Confident students are often more motivated while at school. They’re eager to tackle assignments, and they might not procrastinate as much as other, less confident students since they trust themselves and their ability to do the assignment correctly the first time around.
Motivated and confident students are often more engaged and enthusiastic, too. They may be less likely to let their attention wander during the school day, and they often have an easier time focusing on the task at hand.
Confident students are more resilient when things don’t go their way.
If confident students don’t perform well on an assignment, or if it’s not as easy as they anticipated it being, they don’t let that hold them back from trying again. They have an easier time bouncing back and can learn from their mistakes.
For children who lack confidence, on the other hand, one bad grade or critical comment can cause them to want to give up and never try again.
Confident students tend to have better relationships with their peers compared to students who lack confidence. They may feel less worried about approaching someone to ask if they want to play or if they can help them with an assignment, for example.
Confident students may have an easier time collaborating with their peers on group assignments, too. They may find that they’re able to speak up to ensure the project gets done correctly, and they can also, in many cases, offer assistance to other students who might be less confident or more inclined to hang back and let others make the decisions.
It’s not always easy to tell when students are struggling with a lack of confidence. If you’re not sure if a student could benefit from more confidence, consider whether they’re exhibiting any of the following signs:
For students who don’t have a lot of confidence, the idea of trying something new might be terrifying.
Whether it’s moving on to a new lesson in math or reading a new type of book in their English class, these students may be hesitant to jump into a new subject or assignment. They may also procrastinate or not do assignments at all because they’re so worried about messing up.
Students who lack confidence may also be hesitant to set goals for themselves or make plans for the future. They might assume that they’re going to fail before they even start and feel that it’s not worth trying if they make a mistake or don’t achieve the goal completely by a certain deadline.
Sometimes, students who struggle with their confidence may also get defensive more easily than others.
These kinds of students might perceive any type of feedback or constructive criticism to be an attack. This, in turn, can make it hard for teachers and others to get through to them about what they can do to improve.
Students who aren’t confident might be more secretive, too. For example, they might hide their grades or withhold homework, even though they’ve completed it, because they’re not confident that they did it correctly or performed as well as their peers.
Students who aren’t confident may seek validation and approval from their teachers or their peers more often than those who are confident. Because they’re not confident in their own abilities, they might try to seek assurance from others that they are good at certain things or are doing them the right way.
These kinds of students might need a lot of reassurance that they’re smart, that they’re good students, or that they’re doing a particular task or assignment correctly. They might ask a lot of leading questions to try and bolster their confidence.
It’s clear that confidence matters for students of all ages. How can you help your students to start building confidence, though? What should you do if you’ve noticed any of the warning signs mentioned above?
Here are a few suggestions to get you started:
To boost students’ confidence, teachers need to celebrate small achievements, not just big victories and major milestones.
These celebrations should be individualized as much as possible, too. For example, if a child gets 4 problems wrong on a math test when last week they missed 5, that’s something worth celebrating, even if there’s still room for improvement.
Teachers should show students how to set manageable, realistic goals. They can walk them through the SMART goal-setting framework, for example, to show them how they can set goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.
This can help students to set manageable goals, which also increases the likelihood that they’ll achieve them (which is great for their confidence).
As a teacher, it is your job to provide corrections and constructive criticism to your students. At the same time, though, there’s a difference between providing corrections and being nit-picky or overly particular.
Sometimes, it’s best to lower your expectations a bit and avoid over-correcting. This is especially true if your approach seems to be harming a child’s confidence.
One way to help students build confidence is to encourage regular reflection and journaling.
Giving students space to write in a journal, for example, can help them to get clear on their achievements over the last week, month, quarter, etc. This, in turn, can boost their confidence and help them see the progress they’ve made, which they might not have been able to do if they weren’t given a chance to reflect and list their accomplishments.
Some students need extra help and support compared to others. If you notice that some of your students are making as much progress as their peers, or if they seem to be having a hard time grasping certain concepts, do your best to make time for them.
Invite them to come to your classroom before school or stay after to get extra help. You can provide them with extra resources, too, so they can get more practice with a particular task or subject at home.
Finally, look for ways to allow students to make decisions. For example, you can task students with rearranging the seating in the classroom or coming up with a classroom motto. These kinds of tasks might seem small to you, but they empower students and help them build confidence.
Now that you know more about the importance of confidence to help students achieve better learning outcomes and get more out of their time in the classroom, it’s time to reevaluate the steps you take to build confidence.
Follow the steps outlined above so you can create a plan that empowers your students and gives them the tools they need to develop a stronger sense of confidence in themselves and their abilities.