Confidence plays a huge part in learning. Decades of research support the idea that believing in your ability to do something enhances your ability to do it. However, this is not the same as “believing in yourself” or cultivating a sense of self-worth.
Roy F. Baumeister, professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, OH, has been studying self-esteem for decades, and has published more research on the topic than any other specialist in the U.S. In his essay, “Should Schools Try to Boost Self-Esteem?” he warns us not to equate self-esteem with confidence.
“Self-esteem is, literally, how favorably a person regards him or herself,” Baumeister writes. “High self-esteem can mean confident and secure–but it can also mean conceited, arrogant, narcissistic, and egotistical.”
There’s little to no correlation between self-esteem and academic performance. In fact, it could be argued that encouraging lower-performing students to see their performance as favourably as higher-performing students is a mistake.
“The effects of self-esteem are small, limited, and not all good,” Baumeister says.
And that’s to say nothing about the idea of boosting self-esteem in order to improve student performance.
Boosting confidence, on the other hand, can make all the difference. Student confidence is vital to his or her success. The amount of student self-confidence a child possess will affect every aspect of his or her educational goals. If a child loses confidence in school, his or her grades will ultimately be affected. When student self-confidence suffers, a child may give up on his or her hopes, dreams, and plans. They may feel they are unworthy of obtaining their goals or think it is impossible to achieve them. Shoemaker, C (2011) found that boosting confidence of students had a direct impact on learning outcomes.
The enemies of confidence are discouragement and fear. It is our job as educators to make sure that these enemies are defeated.
How to improve confidence in children?
1. Encourage practice to build competence
Encourage a child to practice whatever it is they’re interested in — but do so without putting too much pressure on them. “Practice invests effort in the confident expectation that improvement will follow,” Pickhardt, C – a child psychologist has explained.
The old adage is correct: Practice makes perfect.
Practice is where they can try new things, fail or win. Students are used to practicing on their X-box when they may fail a level many many times before they win – it is normal. Use this in everyday life. It will help them understand what it is to fail and what it is to work hard at something.
2. Let them figure out problems by themselves
If you do the hard work for a child then they’ll never develop the abilities or the confidence to figure out problems on their own. They need to be allowed to discover solutions and be able to fail in their experiments when they are learning something new. This means that they will remember better because they have discovered it for themselves.
3. Encourage curiosity
Sometimes a child’s endless stream of questions can be tiresome, but it should be encouraged. Paul Harris of Harvard University told The Guardian that asking questions is a helpful exercise for a child’s development because it means they realize that “there are things they don’t know … that there are invisible worlds of knowledge they have never visited.” When children start school, those from households that encouraged curious questions have an edge over the rest of their classmates because they’ve had practice taking in information from their parents, The Guardian reported, and that translates to taking in information from their teacher. In other words, they know how to learn better and faster.
4. Give them new challenges
When a student has learned nouns or verbs then that shouldn’t be a box ticked and left as a job well done. Once the basic information has been learned, then use a Mastery approach and see if they can apply that knowledge in a new circumstance, or challenge students to find categories of nouns. It doesn’t matter what the task is as long as it continues to expand and challenge their existing knowledge.
5. Avoid creating short cuts or making exceptions
Special treatment or giving a short-cut can communicate a lack of confidence. Giving a student a “special sheet” can communicate a lack of confidence in them. Give them the challenge of doing the same task as everyone else and support them in a different way. Singling them out, giving them easier tasks than the rest of the students communicates to them that they can’t do it and therefore shouldn’t try.
6. Never criticize their performance
Nothing will discourage a child more than criticizing his or her efforts. Giving useful feedback and making suggestions is fine — but never tell them they’re doing a bad job. If a student is scared to fail because they worry you’ll be angry or disappointed, they’ll never try new things.
7. Treat mistakes as building blocks for learning
Learning from mistakes builds confidence, but this only happens when mistakes are treated as an opportunity to learn and grow. This also relies on the classroom environment being safe enough for a student to be wrong without ridicule.
8. Praise them when they deal with adversity or new things.
Life is not fair. It’s hard, and every child will have to learn that at some point. Exposing children to new things teaches them that no matter how scary and different something seems, they can conquer it. They should also be praised for trying new things or dealing with adversity.
It’s important to remind a child that every road to success is filled with setbacks. Show them examples from sport and literature, so that they understand that failing is ok as long as you try it again.
9. Offer your help and support, but not too much of it
Giving too much assistance too soon can reduce the child’s ability for self-help. We see this over-reliance on adults in the classroom all of the time. It can be very addictive for a student because it is much easier than trying yourself. Therefore, like most addicts, a degree of cold-turkey is to be expected, so you may decide to wean them off support slowly and carefully, but the support should be withdrawn.
10. Celebrate the excitement of learning
When a child is growing up, the journey is more important than the destination. Consistently trying hard, and having a growth mindset builds more confidence than doing well every now and then. They should be praised for trying even if the outcome is incorrect.
Model your own learning in the classroom. Show your students that everyone can learn something new and how much fun it is.