The confidence game
Support and attention help students become self-assured
Reflecting on what I could’ve changed about my school experience, it comes down to wishing I’d had more confidence. I didn’t believe in myself as a learner. And I sure didn’t believe in myself as a performer.
In fourth grade I was asked to sing a solo for a school production of “Fiddler on the Roof.” I had memorized all the lyrics to the songs, had a costume, and really loved acting and singing. But when the day came to perform, I feigned being sick (sorry, mom) and stayed home because I didn’t believe I could perform in public.
In high school I was chosen to sing in a select choir, and again I loved it. I enjoyed going to school early to rehearse with my fellow choral members. But when the choral director asked me to sing a solo in front of the group, I froze again, unable to sing something I easily sang when I was at home.
I never believed I sang as well as my peers, and I wondered how I was chosen for this select group. Looking back, I know that was the thinking of someone who had absolutely no confidence.
Those were painful experiences, and the memories remain strong and uncomfortable to this day. What could have helped a shy student who had the ability to be involved in the performing arts, but lacked the confidence to do so? Maybe if my choral director had asked me to practice with him first without my peers around, I would have gained confidence in my singing. And if I’d practiced in front of family or friends, that could’ve helped, too.
There are things we can do to help students feel more confident in school. For the child who has difficulty making peer connections, we can provide opportunities to help them develop those connections.
For example, if all the other students know how to do something that they don’t – like playing checkers – then working one-to-one with that student to build confidence playing that game can be constructive. Once the student gains the skills to play the game with a supportive adult, we can set up guided experiences during which they practice playing with one or two trusted peers. As the student gains confidence, we add in more opportunities to connect with other peers, which strengthens that student’s peer relationships.
Some night school students have told me that no one read to them at home in their early years. Why then would we think they would feel comfortable reading out loud? We assume that all young students have been read to and are experienced at sitting quietly, listening well and taking turns reading. But the truth is not everyone has had this experience, so reading out loud can be overwhelming.
In my English class, I initially do all the reading to ease the students’ anxieties, then gradually add in paired activities in which they quietly read to each other. We build on this until they feel comfortable reading to the whole group. And it’s fine that some don’t feel ready to read out loud, because developing confidence takes time.
Individual attention, supportive practice, and time definitely could’ve helped this kid sing her heart out in public.
Elizabeth Feingold retired from Kearsarge Regional School District, where she worked for over 30 years as a special education teacher and coordinator at the elementary, middle and high school levels. She is now a consultant and advocate. Reach her through www.seacservices.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org.