Building Confidence in Mathematics

 

Mathematics has a massive effect on student confidence.  Not only is confidence the most important trait for success in mathematics, performance in mathematics has a huge effect on overall confidence.  Therefore mathematics provides a wonderful opportunity to build confidence which is our core offering.

It doesn’t take much to make or break your confidence when it comes to math.  All it takes is one incident of feeling dumb about a math problem for a student to decide math is not their thing.  We’ve seen it over and over again, a student comes to us that “hates math” or “sucks at math” looking for help in their class.   Every single one of these students had an incident somewhere around the 4th to 7th grade in which they decided not to be good at math.  Usually it’s a mean teacher that embarrassed them in front of the class.  Other traumatic events that could cause this include missing out on a year of school, being put in the advanced class and competing with smart friends, or a learning difference that requires a different approach to math that was never received.  It’s the traumatic event that caused the student to decide not to be good at math.  What is the psychology behind this decision?  It’s much safer to have been born “not good at math” than it is to try at it and fail.  Therefore the student takes comfort in “not being a math person” and proceeds to mentally check out of any further math conversation.  This is what we call the narrative, or the the story you tell yourself about you and math.  The longer a negative narrative is allowed to run, the truer it becomes.  After multiple years of a negative math story guess what happens to your confidence?  It drops.  Not just in math but in all areas of your life.  You start to feel un-smart and like you can’t figure out problems by yourself.  I’m not just talking about math problems, I’m talking about life problems too!  Have you ever met an adult that will ask for help the second a problem gets challenging without directly engaging the problem themselves?  This could be something like logging into a website or fixing the kitchen sink.  This is a remnant of lacking confidence, they don’t think they can solve the problem themselves.  The crazy thing is that for both the math student and the adult THERE IS NO CORRELATION TO ACTUAL MATHEMATICAL ABILITY!  Students that struggle in math are victims of their own psychology, not genetics!

Therefore there is light at the end of this tunnel.  If lack of confidence in math is truly psychological in nature and not related to innate ability then there must be a solution!  And here’s the good news, as easy as it is to crush a students confidence in math, it’s also just that easy to turn it all around.  All it takes is one “ah ha” moment for a student to start seeing themselves differently.  What a great math tutor does is deliver that “ah ha” moment and then build upon it.  Once the student realizes they “get it” we’ve entered a different universe of learning.  Now the student is engaged and enjoys finding the right answer.  Now the student is ready to learn.  Our job is to re-shape the narrative into something positive and self sustaining.  This will build the students confidence not only in mathematics but in their ability to solve life’s challenges.    We consider confidence to be the number one, most important skill we teach, even above the actual math and physics.