How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2

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’. 

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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
How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2

How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2

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 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

Four of the best ways to boost confidence in maths at KS2

1. Make confidence a whole-school priority

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.

How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2
How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2

1. Make confidence a whole-school priority

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.

How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2
How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2

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.

How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2
How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2

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.

How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2
How to Build Confidence in Maths at KS2

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.