A Confident Learner Is a Successful Learner: 8 Big Ideas for Building Confidence

By Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., author of Self-Regulation in the Classroom: Helping Students Learn How to Learn
Part of our Cash in on Learning series by Richard M. Cash, Ed.D. Click to read other Cash in on Learning posts.

A Confident Learner Is a Successful Learner: 8 Big Ideas for Building ConfidenceWelcome back to another exciting year of school. When I was in the classroom, I loved this time of year: getting to meet my new class, learning their personalities, and starting on the learning journey. As I continue to study self-regulation for learning, I’ve come to understand the importance of building student confidence early in the school year.

Roy F. Baumeister, professor of psychology at Florida State University, warns educators not to confuse self-esteem (how favorably people feel about themselves) with confidence. Along with his colleagues, Baumeister states, “High self-esteem can mean confident and secure—but it can also mean conceited, arrogant, narcissistic, and egotistical.” His numerous studies have found that self-esteem has less of an impact on learning than does confidence: “The effects of self-esteem are small, limited, and not all good.”

Confidence is the healthy belief in one’s self and ability to succeed (self-efficacy). There is a gentle balance between being too confident—risking being perceived as cocky or brash—and having too little confidence—fearing taking intellectual risks or challenges. For our students, it’s helping them find the “Goldilocks Principle” of confidence—the “just right” amount—that is key.

Here are eight big ideas for ways we can help students build a healthy level of confidence for learning:

  1. Ensure school and classroom environments are safe, secure, and welcoming of all different types of learners and thinkers: Intellectual risk-taking is praised and supported. The space is clear of clutter and organized. There is a joyfulness that resounds in the building and room.
  2. Break up the rows of desks in the classroom. Rows do not encourage collaboration between students or give them a sense of ownership of the classroom. Arrange your desks or tables in a way that invites community building and group conversation.
  3. Provide alternative seating options (when possible) such as exercise balls, stand-up desks, stools, or large floor pillows. We all enjoy different seating types—allow your students to choose their seating type and where they would like to sit.
  4. A Confident Learner Is a Successful Learner: 8 Big Ideas for Building ConfidencePraise students for their effort and desire to take on challenging work. Positive-reinforcing descriptive feedback is an important part in the learning process. Give kids specifics about what they are doing well, where they need to adjust, and where to find the resources they need.
  5. Create a space that represents all your learners. You can do simple things like posting images of successful people who look like your students or having artifacts from various cultures around the room. Play music from different countries, styles, or periods of time. Have books, magazines, newspapers, and other written materials from authors of varied backgrounds available for students to read.
  6. Design and deliver tasks that are respectful to all learners and challenge each child to stretch in his or her learning. Respectful tasks are equally engaging, require effort from all students, and take about the same amount of time to complete. These tasks require students to work within their zones of proximal development, no matter if they are the student who needs the most support or achieves above grade level.
  7. Give all students the chance to develop independence in their learning. Provide spaces in the room (or virtually) where students can, on their own, investigate topics of interest, work through brainteasers, put together a puzzle, or spend some time working with a study buddy. Also, use the C3B4Me method when kids have questions: See three others in the room before you come to me (the teacher) for an answer or for assistance.
  8. Never use sarcasm with your students. Sarcasm is a put-down cloaked as humor. Many kids understand the hurtfulness and punitive nature of sarcasm. For less confident students, sarcasm may touch on insecurities and make them less likely to try harder.

The evidence shows that confident students achieve more, are generally happier, and are more successful. As teachers, we have a critical role to play in creating an environment where all students feel confident to take intellectual risks for greater learning success.

Richard M. Cash, Ed.D., writes the monthly Cash in on Learning blog posts for Free Spirit Publishing. He has given hundreds of workshops, presentations, and staff development sessions throughout the United States and internationally.

Free Spirit books by Richard Cash:

Self-regulation Advancing Differentiation Revised and Updated Edition

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Roy F. Baumeister, Jennifer D. Campbell, Joachim I. Krueger, and Kathleen D. Vohs. “Does High Self-Esteem Cause Better Performance, Interpersonal Success, Happiness, or Healthier Lifestyles?Psychological Science in the Public Interest 4, no. 1 (2003): 1–44.

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About Richard M. Cash, Ed.D.

Writes the "Cash in on Learning" post series for Free Spirit Publishing.
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1 Response to A Confident Learner Is a Successful Learner: 8 Big Ideas for Building Confidence

  1. P. Willems says:

    I now realize that I should declutter my room so kids can think. All the posters are distracting from the subject I am teaching. Clearing things out may help the students focus better, thus enabling confidence to grow. These suggestions are helpful and clearly stated.

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