Building Confidence In Students. Student confidence affects


Student confidence affects students’ ability to learn and teachers can have a powerful affect on students’ beliefs in themselves. A teacher, through positive expectation and an understanding of self- convincers, can help create the belief that a student has the ability to succeed. Once convinced, students tend to live up to that belief and become better learners.

Teachers impact student confidence in manageable ways. One of the most manageable is the students’ impression of the teachers’ positive expectation of the student. Studies show that people (in this case, learners) receive messages on both the conscious and unconscious levels. Messages are interpreted in three ways at the same time: non-verbally (55%), by tonality, volume, and tempo (38%) and verbally (7%). What that means is that teachers need to be congruent in words and body language because students are influenced by messages that the teacher may not be aware of sending. If, for example, the teacher says something like “I’m looking forward to working together and I know all of you are going to learn quickly” but her head is shaking from side to side as if to say, “I don’t think you can do this,” the second message (the non-verbal one) is the one that is believed. Mixed messages undermine the content of what a teacher is teaching and reduce the teacher’s credibility. Practice with non-verbals (via videotape and mirror work) can help improve a teacher’s congruency and make her message of positive expectation more believable.

A teacher’s emotions also affect the confidence and learning of the students. Teachers with humor, smiles, and a joyful manner create a more positive classroom. In a positive classroom climate, students’ are not just having fun, they are physically/biologically impacted. Their peptide molecules, which are responsible for releasing endorphins, are elevated. Research shows that a positive learning climate promotes better learning because when we feel good about ourselves, we learn better.

Teachers would do well to spend some time each day making sure they are at their best before teaching. When teachers are happier and more pleasant to be around, they bring out the best in their learners.

In addition to having positive expectations to improve student confidence, teachers must also understand that different people need different things to be convinced of their self-worth or ability to learn. The criteria that need to be filled in order for a person to “know that he knows” varies from person to person but will fall into three categories that teachers can keep in mind. First, the learning must be reinforced in one’s primary modality, which will be visual, auditory, or kinesthetic. A person needs to see it, hear it, or feel it. In a confidence-building situation, examples include a written test score, a compliment, or a smile on another’s face. The second criterion is frequency. A person must get reinforcement a certain number of times. For example, he or she must re-look at a test score or listen to another tell him again and again. The third consideration is duration. The validation process has to last for a certain length of time. For example, the student might hold the highly scored written test in his hands for several minutes.

Once a student has reinforcement in his or her preferred modality the right number of times and for the right period of time, he will believe it is true. If teachers know this, they can style their teaching methods to include visual, auditory, and kinesthetic materials, activities, and learning. That way, students can access the self-convincer state and increase their self-confidence. Sometimes learners do not know what they know and will say “nothing” to the question, “what did you learn today'” although they may have learned a lot. Teachers who want to build confidence in their students need to help students elicit this knowing state by offering different learning opportunities that validate their learning. Classroom activities should use all three modalities, last for several minutes, and involve several persons and/or several times. Peer teaching, role-plays, and group work done at the end of learning can help students see what they know and if what they know is right.

In summary, there are several things teachers can do to build student confidence—things that are good habits to get into regardless of the teaching particulars: 1) develop a positive attitude based on the belief that learning can be fun and everyone can learn, 2) build a repertoire of activities and language that addresses visual, auditory, and kinesthetic modalities to help learners become convinced and confident that they can do well in the classroom.

1.Gelb, Michael. (1988). Present Yourself. Rolling Hills, CA: Jalmar Press.

2. Rosenthal, R. & Jacobsen, L. (1968) Pygmalion in the Classroom. New York, NY: Rinehart & Winston.

3. Sylwester, Robert. (1994, October). How Emotions Affect Learning. Educational Leadership Volume 52, 2 60-65.

4. Bandler, R. (1985). Using Your Brain—for a Change. Real People Press.