How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2
“It builds confidence, develops reasoning skills through talk, and is a safe environment for children to become confident in making mistakes – leading to increased resilience. The children enjoy focusing on specific skills in a fun and different way”
Assistant Headteacher, Mount Nod Primary School, Coventry
Why is confidence so important in maths?
There’s no denying that children need to feel confident with a subject to be able to really reach their potential, and that without that confidence, pupils are less likely to engage with maths or push on through more challenging questions.
With maths in particular, confidence is key. It’s what sets apart a hesitant learner from one who is willing to give it a go, to ask questions, and keep going even if they get it wrong the first time. A lack of confidence in maths can easily lead a pupil to believe that they ‘just can’t do it’ or that they’re ‘just not a maths person’.
It’s one of the reasons why there has been such a focus on Growth Mindset in recent years:
“A Growth Mindset approach was particularly effective in relation to maths teaching, where pupils were more likely to believe they lacked ability and to give up. More widely, schools felt that the approach was effective with pupils who feel that they are poor learners, that education is not for them and who tend to disengage from learning” – The Changing Mindsets Education Endowment Foundation study
This is especially true with girls. As maths consultant Jodie Lopez says of her own experiences:
“The girls in the class were the quietly confident types. While there was nothing separating the boys from the girls’ maths skills on paper, there was a lot to separate them in class. The boys would often shout out the answers straight off the bat – even if they were wrong. The girls would quietly put their hands up or not even attempt to answer – even when they 100% knew the answer (there were of course exceptions, but it was a very stark general rule).”
How to boost confidence in KS2
One of the best ways to boost confidence in KS2 is to give each pupil the attention, time and space they need to feel secure in their learning.
Often, it’s the pressure of speaking up in front of their peers that puts KS2 pupils off contributing to class discussions or answering a question. When you provide pupils with a safe space in which to try without this fear, you build the foundations for a confident mathematician – even when faced with the rest of their class.
For the pupils who lack confidence, some 1-to-1 time with a teacher or tutor can make all the difference. For the wider class, it’s important to combat this fear of failure by making a point to notice and reward children who spot their mistakes and have shown they can explain how to correct them. Activities like looking at famous mathematicians and the ways in which they have failed are great ways to help show pupils that’s OK not to succeed at first.
Schools choose which pupils they’d like to support in this way – whether that’s pupils who lack confidence, those who aren’t quite where they should be or those receiving Pupil Premium – and, once a week, they log on to our secure online classroom for a fully personalised 1-to-1 maths lesson, connecting with their tutor via a shared screen and headset.
Tutors praise pupils for attempting each question and guide them with thoughtful questions until they reach the correct answer, helping them realise that it’s not a case of ‘I can’t do it’, it’s a case of ‘I can’t do it YET’. They’re encouraged to take risks, and articulate their ideas with someone they trust to be encouraging and non-judgmental.
Plus, by only having a shared audio and not having any video connection, pupils are fully focused on the maths at-hand and not feeling worried or under pressure of being ‘on screen’.
We’re currently signing schools up to begin in September. Schedule a call with us here before 5th July to discuss your school’s requirements and secure your school’s space for the autumn term.[/fusion_text]
Four of the best ways to boost confidence in maths at KS2
1. Make confidence a whole-school priority
Things like confidence are often reserved for PSHE or a one-off assembly, but it’s important to incorporate it across the school and the wider curriculum. You may want to review your behaviour policy, discuss how you use praise across the school or consider a staff meeting focused specifically on mindset in maths. It’s important to ensure that all staff understand what behaviours instil confidence in pupils and how to spot (and intervene!) when a pupil might lacking.
At Third Space Learning all our tutors receive over 130 hours of Initial Tutor Training (ITT) and an additional 32 hours of Continuous Professional Development (CPD) each year, a significant proportion of which looks at how they can help develop confidence through the 1-to-1 lessons. Our Tutor Team Leads provide all tutors with a range of specific techniques to help the children they work with tackle new challenges with enthusiasm and confidence.
2. Reward effort, not just success
Whilst it’s important to praise the pupils who’ve successfully reached the right answer or solved a problem, it’s also important to reward those who have shown effort and a willingness to try. However, too much emphasis on effort can result in ineffective progress, so it’s important to strike the balance; praise pupils for their effort, but also make sure to equip them with strategies to improve if they’ve got it wrong.
Pupils signed up to our intervention programme are rewarded with “effort points” when they demonstrate this kind of persistence, helping to show pupils that ‘hard work pays off’ and the more they try the more they succeed. When they do get it wrong, tutors can work with the pupil to ensure they understand where they might be confused and how to rectify it.
3. Provide ability-appropriate challenges
If a pupil is presented too early with a challenge that is obviously out of their reach, they may give up before they’ve even finished reading the problem causing a knock to their confidence. This is where adopting a “low threshold-high ceiling” (LTHC) approach can be really beneficial, allowing all pupils to access the work in their maths lessons and then work through increasingly harder levels of challenge. The aim here is that no child is left behind feeling like they can’t do it.
Our ready-to-go lesson slides include lots of LTHC activities, providing the perfect opportunity to develop confidence throughout maths lessons whilst saving teachers time. We use this same approach for the online 1-to-1 lessons, where pupils sit an initial assessment to help tutors understand their level of ability. They can then further personalise the pitch and pace of each lesson to ensure an appropriate level for each pupil, only moving onto to more challenging questions when they feel the pupil is ready for it.
4. Be aware of your language
A child’s perception of intelligence and their own ability can be moulded by subtle environmental cues. Statements like “that’s correct, you’re so good at maths” reinforce a fixed mindset, whilst something like “you worked really hard to find the answer” lead towards a growth outlook. Phrasing questions so they only have one right answer can lead to a knock to their confidence when pupils get it wrong. Try using more open questions, where pupils can see there are different approaches and feel more confident to give one a go.
All Third Space tutors are trained to use positive, open language with their pupils, and to ask questions such as “how might you work this out?” and “what methods could you use to find the right answer?” to help pupils feel confident in their abilities. Not only does this help pupils feel more confident when answering, but also helps tutors ensure a pupil has really understood the topic at hand.