Does a lack of confidence hold students back?

Confidence…does it really all come down to that?  I’ve been wondering this for a few weeks now, mainly because I have been working with students whose lack of confidence in math and even in everyday life is staggering.  In working with them one-on-one I am able to see quite a few things that I wouldn’t have seen so clearly otherwise.

What I see one on one:
1. Lack of confidence in what the first step of a problem is, so they won’t start a problem.
2. Lack of ability to self-check their work because they don’t believe they have it right to begin with.
3. Lack of the ability to question themselves through each step of a problem, such as “Is this reasonable?”, “Does this make sense?”, “What is the next step?”, “What do I already know?”
4. Lack of ability to communicate what they know and what they are struggling with, example: “I understand what to do in the first two steps, but I don’t understand what to do next because I still do not understand _______.” It is stated more like “I just don’t get it.”
5. With questioning coming from me, not leading questions, just helping them to verbalize the next step or their thought process, they are able to solve problems with almost 100% accuracy. And they are able to walk themselves through a problem and find errors they have made.

What I see in the classroom:
1. They wait and watch others in their group start problems and then follow what they do. It’s not entirely copying as they tend to just watch the first step, but they aren’t vocally asking for help from those students, which is what we’ve been working towards this year. They also don’t ask for help from me.
2. They make small computational mistakes over and over, even though when separated out they have mastered those basic skills.
3. They tend to just solve the problem and move on. There isn’t much interaction on their part in regards to if the answer actually answers the question appropriately.
4. They tend to be quiet in the classroom, not asking questions or for help. But I do also have students who will say “I don’t get this.” and group everything together rather than doing what they can and coming to one part that they can’t quite figure out.
5. Their accuracy in solving problems drops, I don’t quite have a percentage, but maybe around 80%.  They aren’t able to identify mistakes as easily either.

Looking at it this way, I do think that a student’s lack of confidence is holding them back in many ways. How do I increase student confidence overall? Most of these students have confidence issues that are not just specific to math.  I see the lack of confidence as holding them back from just diving in and trying something…maybe because they are afraid to start the problem and be incorrect, but why be afraid of being wrong?  I work hard to NOT foster that line of thinking in my classroom and we really push each other to try new things, and to try and solve a problem a different way. We celebrate work that may not lead to the right answer, but helps us determine what to do next. We do Estimation180 where we discuss too high & too low estimations and celebrate those who were close.  So what else can I do? Where does this lack of confidence and fear of being wrong come from? How can I change it? How can I help a student feel better about their abilities?  These students are not low students, they are bright and very capable students….why can’t they see that?

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One thought on “Does a lack of confidence hold students back?

  1. I totally hear you. I called in a student for an answer yesterday and he started with, “it’s probably wrong…” I said if you think it’s wrong did you go back and try to figure out what you did wrong? “No.” Back and forth a little bit. I think he didn’t think it was wrong, but was just hedging, just in case, due to low confidence. But he had moved on to the next problem just to get done with the work, like you said. His answer was correct. I’m frustrated too and just keep trying to help them get it, that working hard will help them trust themselves. Keep up the excellent blogs!

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