Ways to Boost Confidence in Math

Ahhh, math. I love to teach math. The strategies, the accountable talk, the real-world connections, the tools, the food. Yes… the food. We eat A LOT in math class. Tasty little treats do make the best manipulatives.  Math class is fun.  I mean, who doesn’t love to eat, right? But out of all of the food-related skills you can teach in math, the hardest skill to teach isn’t even a math concept. Yep, you guessed it: Confidence.

Confidence is an important skill in general, but building confidence in a math classroom is a whole new level of important. It’s the very thing that will make or break how your students see math, understand math, and their willingness to try math. Luckily, there are a few ideas centered around confidence in math, and if you can build and foster those skills, then your students’ confidence will take a huge boost.

Here are some tips to help build student’s confidence in math:

1. Inspire a Growth Mindset

A lot of students that lack confidence in math have a fixed mindset, meaning they give up easily and feel that they don’t have the potential to be good at math. Hence often hearing a lot of “I’m bad at math” comments from students. Growth mindset teaches students to think differently about how they learn. It’s more of a “I can do anything I set my mind to” approach. Try reading books like The Most Magnificent Thing, Giraffes Can’t Dance, or The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes and then following up with some Growth Mindset activities.

Help boost students' confidence in math by inspiring a growth mindset

2. Teach the Benefit of Making a Mistake

We all make mistakes. Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process. Mistakes are also a part of anxiety for students. But why? Because mistakes have always been known to be bad. So what if we could teach students that making mistakes is actually good? The cool thing about making mistakes is that when you learn from them, your brain creates more synapses and literally grows! Yay for learning! Try modeling mistakes in front of students, even if you have to intentionally make them (shhh they don’t need to know it was all a plan). When students see their teacher make mistakes, they are more comfortable with the ones that they make.  

3. Build Confidence in Math by Setting Small, Obtainable Goals

We all know that every student learns differently and at a different pace. Giving each student obtainable goals tailored to them is powerful. When students start to see even small successes and master those goals, their confidence grows. Think of it as scaffolding, but for confidence instead of curriculum. Try using tracking sheets to measure their progress. Tip: Start small and let students (with teacher direction) choose their own goals so that it’s more meaningful to them. These tracking sheets can be found in my student data notebooks for 1st grade2nd grade3rd grade4th grade and 5th grade.

4. Praise Efforts (meaningfully) Along with Successes

A lot of students lack confidence in math because they can’t solve the problem quickly enough, or they can never get the answer correct on the first attempt. But who said that in order to be a good mathematician you always have to get an answer correct on the first try or be speedy fast in everything you do? (We’ll talk about fluency another day.) Students need their efforts recognized to keep them motivated. Try choosing 3-5 students each day (periodically) and writing them a personal post-it note about their efforts in math. Make the message meaningful, something like “I noticed you didn’t give up in math class today even when you were getting frustrated. I’m so proud of you!” You’ll be amazed at how far this small gesture will go.

Help boost confidence in math by praising students' efforts

5. Create a Classroom Environment that Encourages Taking Risks

Even though this one is last on the list, it’s definitely one of the most important. Having a class culture that allows students to be confused or get incorrect answers without the fear of being laughed at or embarrassed is key. When students feel safe in their environment, they will begin asking questions about the confusing parts of math or mistakes they’ve made, and Voila! There’s a confidence boost! Try team-building activities or reading books like Have You Filled a Bucket Today?

Ok, time to go dig out some books… and some snacks. Let the math times roll!

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