You can see it on their face during a new lesson. It is obvious in the way they show their work on a page. Some students exhibit math confidence and other have yet to have it fostered. Some people have brains that think in numbers. If you are math teacher, you are likely one of them. Is developing math confidence within a student possible?
I believe the answer is yes.
DEVELOPING MATH CONFIDENCE
A lack of math confidence is displayed in a few common ways…the student who has always struggled with math, the one who has stage fright on tests, and the one who needs you to check each and every step before they go on. Sound familiar?
In my experience these students all need the same thing, someone to help develop math confidence. And how do you do such a thing? The same way a toddler learns to walk, the same way a kiddo learns to ride a bike, the same way you learn a new skill. You practice.
The tricky thing is that these students already have a bad taste in their mouth about it. They are coming with a negative experience or a defeatist mentality. Shoot, some will just tell you, “I’m not good at math”.
My number one suggestion for developing math confidence is to set your student up for success. Small wins. A student pastor at my church, often uses the phrase “stacking the deck in their favor”. Provide ample opportunities for them to be successful with the small things.
For me this played out most frequently in my math intervention class. This class was once a day for 45 minutes. Fifteen students who where in my on-level math classes would return back to me for 8th period. Here are some of the things I incorporated to help create those small wins.
- Each day we took the same fraction, decimal, percent conversion quiz. I gave the same one for several days in a row and gave students more than ample time to finish. Slowly, we decreased the time and changed up the conversions. I kept a chart (not visible, that would be embarrassing) and recorded their progress. They always wanted to see.
- We practiced our multiplication table. Over. And over.
- I used a set of rational number cards as a sponge activity and we regularly ordered them.
- We played memory with squares and square root cards.
- Throughout the week, we would use Marcy Cook centers to provide skill practice. Students liked that they could choose which one to work on and that once they got the hang of it there were 20 to practice.
These were all small wins, not because of the activity, but more so because it was repeated frequently. In five years of intervention classes, I never had a student that could convert between fractions, decimals, and percents fluidly on the first try. I did have many who were excellent at it by the end of the year.
Students who lack math confidence need regular and repeated practice, so that they begin to see those small wins. An intervention class is the perfect way to incorporate it.
A win is always more exciting when there is someone to celebrate with. Often times that might be a fellow teammate, or a coach, or a parent. In the math classroom, it’s you, the teacher.
Students need and want to be have their accomplishments celebrated. Now in the middle school classroom, this is often “not cool” or “embarrassing” because it singles them out from the crowd. So, I warn that you must tread lightly.
A few simple ways to encourage:
- Provide genuine and specific feedback on paper. Sometimes it was a sticky note that I placed on their desk, sometimes a note on a returned assignment. Either way, it always brought about a smile.
- Point out the progress they have made. Students who lack math confidence tend to compare themselves to where they “should” be or where others are. Remind them often of the progress they have made. I used to compare math to learning a new sport, it takes a lot of time and practice.
- Find out where they excel. Are they a talented artist? Do they love reading? Maybe they are super interested in mechanics or sports or comic books. It doesn’t matter what “it” is, what matters is that they know that you know. Ask them about it, encourage them in that way.
- Acknowledge that they struggle. This might be controversial, since we tend to call intervention classes “Math Success” or “Power Math”, but I think students appreciate when you acknowledge that they struggle. Possibly, even share about something you are working towards.
- Praise them verbally. We often did this during our data talks when reflecting on their most recent benchmark assessment.
I recently started a cross training program, Camp Gladiator. I can count the number of times I have exercised in the past year on one hand. It was a struggle on day one. Actually, I pretty much couldn’t move. The instructor said something that really struck me, “the best way to get rid of the pain is to keep coming back.” I think this applies to students who are developing math confidence. Its not easy. It might make your brain hurt. It doesn’t come quick. But if you keep coming back, you will improve.
Not only a math lesson, but a life lesson.