Confident students are more likely to speak in class and ask for help when needed.
Last year during the first week of school, I called on one of my second graders, Brian, to read a section of our book aloud. He struggled through it and at the end said, “you know, I just can’t read.”
I was instantly reminded how important it is to build students’ confidence. Confident students are more likely to speak in class and ask for help when needed. They often pick up material faster and are more excited to learn.
Focus on the ‘yet.’
When Brian was discouraged and said he couldn’t read, I said not yet. Remind students that just because they can’t do something now doesn’t mean they won’t be able to in the future. It may not be tomorrow.
It may not be in two weeks. It may not be this year, but someday, you will get it.
Sharing personal experiences puts this in context. I let them know that I don’t always get things right the first time, or even the second time, but I persisted and came to a solution.
When you interrupt a student to correct every small mistake, you harm their confidence. Always let the student finish his or her thought, then gently explain why there is a better answer. Then, rather than telling students to get the right answer, encourage them to be better than before. This way, they won’t feel nervous to give another wrong answer.
Make extra time for the students who need it.
If a student is clearly showing a lack of self-confidence, I make sure to prioritize one-on- one time. This can be pulling the child aside during group activities, during lunch, after or before school- you name it.
Brian came to my classroom during lunch several times a week to practice his reading.
Making extra time can also mean involving the parents more to keep the confidence building up at home. Rather than only calling parents to flag an issue, take a more positive approach. Call parents periodically just to say that their child is doing a great job and you wanted them to know. This will increase praise at home and demonstrate the value of confidence outside of the classroom.
Give students an active role.
Kids bring a lot to the table. It would be a waste to simply stand in front of the classroom and deliver—and it doesn’t do much for students’ confidence, either. Let them take turns leading the discussions or activities. Bring out each student’s knowledge and encourage them to not only share with others, but to get everybody to participate.
Giving students a sense of leadership and importance will be a boost for their confidence and self-worth. If you genuinely care, they will know.
Brian would sometimes ask me why I cared so much if he could read. I told him it was because I knew he was so close—I knew he could do it.
One year later, Brian still comes to visit me during lunch sometimes. He reads for me—and picks more and more challenging books every day. Sometimes I remind him that one year ago, he thought he couldn’t read. And every time, without fail, he says: “I know, but I can now.”