Saturday, 25 July 2015 01:18

9 Ways to Build Kids' Confidence

At the beginning of this past school year, I was conferring with a student about her newly published Writing Workshop project. On the rubrics we used for self-evaluation purposes, she gave herself consistently low scores. When I asked her about this, she told me that she always got low scores in school and naturally thought her scores on this project would be low, too. At this moment, I realized that even though our conference was supposed to be about writing, discussing specific skills, strategies, and techniques wasn’t the right approach to take. Instead, we needed to have a conversation about something larger—namely, her overall outlook on school and how she viewed her own capabilities. Until her perspective changed, it was unlikely that she would make significant academic progress. I needed to help her build her confidence and expect more from herself. This article features a set of tips that we, as parents and teachers, can use anytime we face this situation.

See the big picture. Children need to know that just because they may be going through a difficult period now, it doesn’t mean things will always be this way. Progress may not happen right away, but it will happen if we focus our attention in the right places. We need to adopt a long-term view. This leads into the next two tips.

Focus on consistent effort. Children tend to view less than satisfactory school performance as a reflection of their intelligence and may think they’re simply not smart enough to do well academically. We must dispel this belief as strongly as possibly. Effort, not intelligence, is the key to success, and we must encourage kids to work hard and persevere on a daily basis.

Set higher personal standards. As human beings, we typically perform at the level we expect from ourselves. At the gym, for example, I am more likely to complete twenty pushups if I expect myself to do that many. I am unlikely to do twenty if I expect to do five. Children will perform better in school and be more confident when they begin to expect more from themselves.

Be patient. Part of adopting a long-term view involves understanding that improvement, at least at first, will likely be incremental. Children who usually score in the 70’s on math assessments probably aren’t going to start earning scores in the 90’s right away. Small steps will ultimately add up to large leaps.

Celebrate the positive. Call attention the first time your child or student makes noticeable progress on an assessment or piece of schoolwork. Recognizing children’s effort will boost their confidence and increase their motivation to keep working hard. One success will lead to another. Keep recognizing progress as the child’s performance continues to improve. As the old saying goes, nothing motivates like success.

Provide unconditional support and encouragement. In any improvement process there will likely be ups and downs. No matter how well children may do on any given piece of work, it’s important to reinforce the message, unwaveringly, that they are incredibly capable and can accomplish anything to which they set their minds. This type of encouragement will help build resilience, as well as confidence.

Understand the limits of talk. While encouraging children and providing unconditional support are crucial, talk, by itself, will only take us so far. Confidence is an earned commodity and can’t be transmitted or given to children via talking. Confidence will only grow when children see themselves earning higher scores and feel an increasing sense of mastery with their schoolwork.  

Share stories of others who have made significant progress. When we find ourselves going through a difficult time, it’s easy to think that we’re the only ones who have ever experienced this type of struggle. Sharing stories with children about yourself, family members, and well-known people can help them understand that they’re not alone and that others have met challenges and overcome obstacles similar to the ones they may be facing now. The main reason I wrote 2-Minute Biographies for Kids was to help children draw inspiration from others whose life stories may resonate with their life stories.

Consider involving peers. In my experience, I have noticed that many children work harder and perform far better on a piece of work or project when they are paired with high-achieving students. Working with a super capable peer brings out the best in these children and can have a lasting effect. If you believe this strategy may benefit your child, consider scheduling a homework “play date” after school one day with a high-achieving classmate.

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In this post I describe the fifth of what I consider to be the five most important traits needed for success in school. By giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors and nurturing their development over time, teachers and parents can empower children to maximize their amazing potential.

Of course, no two children are alike, and not all high-achieving students will display the traits I am about to describe in the same way. Some of the following details may not be true of every successful student. My goal, then, is not to paint a picture of a single, rigid "type" that all children must emulate. Rather, it's to share the specific behaviors that, in my experience, have the greatest impact on a child's success. Focusing on these behaviors gives teachers and parents the greatest bang for our buck in our efforts to help children become better students.


  E - Engage in Energetic Listening
Successful students are attentive listeners. Many kids listen closely when their teachers present lessons or give important directions, yet they tend to tune out when their classmates are sharing information and asking and answering questions. Successful students listen closely to everyone; they don’t miss a thing. You can see it in the posture they take during instructional lessons and in the eye contact they consistently make with the speaker. They want to absorb as much information as much as possible during lessons and discussions, and they participate frequently. Furthermore, they involve themselves in the conversation, enthusiastically and confidently.

The trait of energetic listening is tightly connected to many of the other traits featured in this blog series. For example, one of the main reasons these children listen so well is because they hold themselves to such high standards with their learning and have such a strong desire to understand the content they encounter. These high standards also explain why successful students ask for help so freely when they don't initially understand something presented during a lesson. By listening well during instructional lessons, these students are prepared for the independent practice that usually follows the lessons. Showing drive and determination as a listener enables kids to show drive and determination as independent workers. Listening well during lessons, working with drive and determination during independent work time, asking for help whenever it's needed, and maintaining high personal standards along the way is a recipe for unparalleled success.

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In this post I describe the fourth of what I consider to be the five most important traits needed for success in school. By giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors and nurturing their development over time, teachers and parents can empower children to maximize their amazing potential.

Of course, no two children are alike, and not all high-achieving students will display the traits I am about to describe in the same way. Some of the following details may not be true of every successful student. My goal, then, is not to paint a picture of a single, rigid "type" that all children must emulate. Rather, it's to share the specific behaviors that, in my experience, have the greatest impact on a child's success. Focusing on these behaviors gives teachers and parents the greatest bang for our buck in our efforts to help children become better students.


  V - Venture Toward Important Purposes
Successful students have a strong understanding of why they're in school and why it's important to work hard and do well academically. They know that doing well in school matters, both now and in the future. These kids understand the link between today's successes and tomorrow's opportunities. They think about such things as what type of careers they might want to pursue and what areas they might want to study in college. Understanding the multiple purposes of doing well in school increases students' intrinsic motivation to learn, leads to higher levels of maturity, and positively impacts the other four traits featured in this blog series.

As I describe in the First Month of School, I believe that one of our highest priorities in the classroom at the beginning of each school year is to establish a sense of purpose with our students to help every one of them develop this type of strong understanding. We invest time to write a class mission statement that identifies the reasons why it's important to come to school each day and work hard, and we review that statement at least once a week to ensure that these critical ideas remain in the hearts and minds of our students. Later in the year, we provide children with the opportunity to write their own personal mission statements so they can further develop an understanding of why it's important to commit themselves to education. We also use tools such as The Tower of Opportunity to help our students make daily connections between what they study in school and the life roles that we all fulfill throughout our lives. As often as possible, we point out and discuss why we are studying class content. The better children understand the purposes of their learning, the more motivated and successful they will be.

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In this post I describe the third of what I consider to be the five most important traits needed for success in school. By giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors and nurturing their development over time, teachers and parents can empower children to maximize their amazing potential.

Of course, no two children are alike, and not all high-achieving students will display the traits I am about to describe in the same way. Some of the following details may not be true of every successful student. My goal, then, is not to paint a picture of a single, rigid "type" that all children must emulate. Rather, it's to share the specific behaviors that, in my experience, have the greatest impact on a child's success. Focusing on these behaviors gives teachers and parents the greatest bang for our buck in our efforts to help children become better students.


  I - Immediately Ask for Help When They Need It
In my previous post I described how successful students hold themselves to impressively high personal standards with regard to their work, effort, and behavior. These high personal standards also come into play when students encounter new material during instructional lessons and while reading. These children expect to understand academic content, and when they don't, it's as if an alarm bell goes off in their heads, and they immediately raise their hands to ask questions and gain clarity.

There are, of course, many reasons why children choose not to notify the teacher when they are confused. In my experience, I have found that the three most common reasons are that 1) kids may be shy, 2) they may be worried that their classmates will judge them, or 3) they may not be engaged enough in the lesson to identify what they "get" and don't yet get. Early in the school year, it's important to build with our students the type of classroom culture where everyone feels comfortable asking questions and seeking clarity without fear of embarrassment. As teachers, we model this for our students by openly admitting when there's something we don't understand and sharing times when we've needed to ask for help. If some kids are too shy to raise their hand in front of the whole class, then they definitely need to signal our attention during independent work time or some other time when they can interact with us one-on-one, away from the spotlight that's a part of whole-class lessons.

I believe that this trait may be the single most powerful differentiator between highly successful students and those who have yet to achieve consistent academic success. Everyone gets stuck at one point or another during class lessons, yet I find that it's almost always the most successful students who ask the vast majority of the questions. Not only do these kids ask the most questions, but also they ask the most specific ones. Their understanding of class concepts is usually very solid, and their need to achieve full understanding is so strong that they will ask questions to clarify highly specific points and close even the smallest gaps between their current understanding and full understanding. At the same time, children whose understanding is far less developed tend to be the least likely to raise their hands. I find this fascinating, and it's something that teachers need to address until everyone is comfortable asking for help freely. Successful students advocate for themselves.
 

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In this post I describe the second of what I consider to be the five most important traits needed for success in school. By giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors and nurturing their development over time, teachers and parents can empower children to maximize their amazing potential.

Of course, no two children are alike, and not all high-achieving students will display the traits I am about to describe in the same way. Some of the following details may not be true of every successful student. My goal, then, is not to paint a picture of a single, rigid "type" that all children must emulate. Rather, it's to share the specific behaviors that, in my experience, have the greatest impact on a child's success. Focusing on these behaviors gives teachers and parents the greatest bang for our buck in our efforts to help children become better students.


 R- Reach for the Stars
One morning last year, my students were creating bar graphs and other types of charts and tables to display the results of our Winter Enthusiasm Survey. After working for a very short time, one child raised her hand, and I was worried that she had rushed through the activity just to get done. Instead, she told me that she wasn't happy with how the paper looked and asked if she could start over. That action exemplifies the trait featured in this post.

Successful students hold themselves to impressively high personal standards with regard to their work, effort, and behavior. They care deeply about their schoolwork and don’t rush through it. Their goal isn't simply to finish. They take uncommon pride in what they do and only want to turn in work that represents their very best effort, even if it means putting in extra time. These kids believe that this extra time and effort are worth it. It's wonderful when parents and teachers hold high expectations for children, but the breakthrough moment occurs when these expectations are no longer adult expectations; they become a child's own personal standards. There is a well-known quote that says: "Every piece of work is a self-portrait of the person who did it." Highly successful students live this quote, and their daily actions show that they are committed to doing their very best each day and won't settle for anything less.

One critical area where a child's commitment to maintaining high personal standards can be clearly seen involves how well they pay attention to detail. Reading directions carefully, answering every part of multi-step math questions, and proofreading written work aren't typically the most interesting tasks students encounter, but how well they are done often determines the difference between quality work and work that cannot yet be considered quality work. Highly successful students understand the importance of paying attention to detail and do so consistently and independently, without needing adult reminders.

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In this post I describe the first of what I consider to be the five most important traits needed for success in school. By giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors and nurturing their development over time, teachers and parents can empower children to maximize their amazing potential.

Of course, no two children are alike, and not all high-achieving students will display the traits I am about to describe in the same way. Some of the following details may not be true of every successful student. My goal, then, is not to paint a picture of a single, rigid "type" that all children must emulate. Rather, it's to share the specific behaviors that, in my experience, have the greatest impact on a child's success. Focusing on these behaviors gives teachers and parents the greatest bang for our buck in our efforts to help children become better students.


D - Demonstrate Drive & Determination
Being a highly successful student begins with a commitment to education. Before becoming successful, children need to decide that doing well in school matters and that they are willing to do what it takes on a daily basis to live up to that commitment. Children display this commitment by working hard throughout the day. They don't repeatedly start and stop while completing a piece of work; they don't need teacher reminders to get their work done. They invest themselves completely in the task at hand and use their time well. It's easy to spot students who work with drive and determination. You can see it in their posture and how they carry themselves in the classroom and while doing homework. You can see it in the enthusiasm, energy, and passion they put into their work. Children who demonstrate drive and determination take responsibility for their learning and show strong self-discipline. When these children encounter difficulties, they don't quit or become distracted. Instead, they enjoy and embrace difficult challenges and persevere until the end.
 

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For most of my career, two powerful sets of habits have guided the work I do with my students. Together, the Habits of Mind and Habits of Character show children the specific traits and behaviors needed to become better thinkers, better students, and better people. These 22 habits empower children to maximize their considerable potential, and I simply cannot imagine myself teaching in a classroom without using these ideas as daily reference points.

Recently, I have noticed that a few of the behaviors included in this larger list seem to have particular power in explaining why some students consistently achieve success in school and why others haven’t yet been able to do so. Of course, factors that lie outside the control of teachers and schools most certainly impact how well children perform in the classroom, but the good news is that there are a small number of “high-leverage” behaviors that all children can learn and that all teachers can nurture and develop. With time, effort, and consistent attention paid to these five areas, every child can become a highly successful student and experience the greater confidence, higher self-esteem, and greater learning gains that result from this success.

I describe my quest to help children develop these behaviors as “The Drive for 5.” Over the next few weeks, I will be writing a series of blog posts that describe each of these traits. It is my hope that by giving attention to these high-leverage behaviors, we can empower all of our students to be successful in school and beyond.


 

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During our first Reading Workshop unit of the school year, my students and I have been focusing on three important comprehension strategies. To make the learning "stick," I have been using simple visuals that convey the meaning of each strategy in an engaging, user-friendly way.

This week I am sharing with you the visual that brings to life our first strategy, envisioning. For children to understand what they read, they need to be able to see "the movie in their mind" clearly. As teachers, we want to encourage children to picture the story so well that they actually feel like a character in the book.  

Using Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory as an example, this visual provides a nice introduction to these concepts. The popcorn image located at the top right further reinforces the idea of "watching a movie" as we read. Visuals #2 and #3 are coming soon.

Click here for a jpeg copy of this visual.
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In my previous post I mentioned that one of my primary instructional goals for this school year involves increasing the amount of "active learning" that occurs in my classroom. One strategy that has become an early favorite with my students was inspired by well-known presenter Jean Blaydes, and we use it during our 10-15 minute "word work" sessions that conclude our Reading Workshop a few days a week. In the past my students would frequently sit on the rug during word work and gain practice with a variety of spelling, capitalization, punctuation, and grammar concepts by correcting sentences that I would show on the board. Kids would work independently to copy the sentences onto their individual dry erase boards and correct the mistakes. We would then come together as a group to go over the correct answers.

This year's approach features a few significant changes. First, instead of having my students copy the sentences, I type the sentences and distribute a sheet to each child. We use transparent "sleeves" that envelop the whiteboards so that when the kids make the corrections with the markers, the actual sheets inside the sleeves stay clean, and I can re-use the sheets in future years. Because the kids are only making the corrections instead of copying entire sentences, we can proceed through each sentence much faster and accomplish more word work in less time.

Second, instead of working alone, every child now has a partner, and the pairs begin each sentence in a standing position. Before the kids sit down to make the corrections together, they "move through" the sentence by acting out specific movements that correspond to the types of changes they need to make. For example, as they read the sentence aloud, the kids spin in a circle every time they encounter a misspelled word. When we correct misspellings on the paper, we circle the word and write the correct version above the circle. So, the spinning corresponds to the circling they do on the paper. At the conclusion of this post, you will find some other examples of the movements we make for different types of corrections. Please e-mail me via this site if you'd like to know moves we make for other types of corrections, or, better yet, simply create your own with your students.

Once the kids have moved through the sentence, they sit down and make the corrections with the markers. After a couple minutes, we go over the answers together as a class. Incorporating movement has added tremendous energy and engagement to our word work, and the kids are paying greater attention to detail than they did under our more sedentary approach. In addition, working with partners allows the kids to help one another more easily and provides an important sense of belonging. In short, the kids are learning more, bonding more, and displaying greater enthusiasm with this active approach. As I mentioned in my book Rock It: Transform Classroom Learning with Movement, Songs, and Stories, movement has the potential to turn potentially dry academic lessons into engaging, multi-modal experiences that kids will remember for a long time. If you use other active learning approaches in your classroom, please contact me. I'd love to share them.

 
• To show that we need to indent, we do a skier jump from left to right.

• To change a lower case letter to a capital, we duck down to the ground and then rise up and extend our arms (as if doing the wave).

• To change a capital letter to lower case, we start with our arms extended above our heads and duck down to the ground.

• To insert a comma, we hop on one foot.

• To insert a period, we jump on two feet.
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As this new school year begins, my two main instructional goals are 1) to increase the use of visuals to aid student understanding of important concepts and 2) to incorporate movement into the classroom as frequently as possible as a catalyst for learning.

This week I am happy to share with you a helpful visual that connects to both of these goals. Exercise powerfully impacts focus, memory, and overall cognitive functioning. In addition, research has shown that exercise actually grows new brain cells. One well-known author has even referred to exercise as "miracle grow for the brain." As teachers, we want children to know and understand the benefits that exercise offers.

In future posts I will share specific ways that we can build more movement into the school day to take advantage of these incredible benefits. I invite you to contact me if you would like to share any effective active learning strategies that you use in your classroom.


Click here if you'd like a copy of this visual.
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