Confident students are often the most successful learners. In this post, Lindsay Warwick explains how we can inspire our ESL learners to be more sure of themselves and do better in their learning.
She examines the importance of confidence in the English language classroom, shows us why some learners are more self-assured than others, and takes us through five key confidence-building strategies.
You can also join Lindsay for a practical webinar about building learner confidence with Roadmap. There will be one session at 9am and another at 2pm (UK time) on Thursday 19th September.
How does learner confidence affect student achievement?
A learner who has belief in their abilities will set themselves challenging goals, be motivated to achieve them, put in an effort, and use appropriate strategies to perform well.
On the other hand, a learner with self-efficacy (self-confidence) will set themselves low-level goals, not put in effort (why try when you think you’ll fail?), not use appropriate strategies and not perform well. As a result, their confidence and motivation levels will continue to fall.
This is backed by a body of research, which suggests that high self-confidence can positively affect motivation and effort, the ability to set goals and performance. Conversely, it suggests that low self-confidence can negatively affect them (Raoofi, Tan & Chan, 2012).
What affects learner confidence?
It’s also important to understand what affects learner confidence. Albert Bandura’s theory claims that there are four sources of self-efficacy:
- Mastery experiences: When you achieve one goal, it makes you believe you can achieve another.
- Vicarious experiences: When you see people similar to you working hard and achieving goals, you believe you can too.
- Verbal persuasion: When influential people (e.g. a teacher) reinforce the view that we can achieve our goal.
- Emotional and physiological states: When we feel tired, stressed or depressed, our self-efficacy will be low.
These are all key things to bear in mind when managing your classroom, providing instruction, giving feedback, and reflecting on individual and group progress.
So, how can we help to build our learners’ confidence?
Here are my top five strategies for developing learners’ confidence.
1. Establishing learning goals
It’s key that every lesson has a clear learning goal. This helps us to stage the lesson logically and ensure that learners make progress. For example:
- I can compare two places
- I can make an arrangement with a friend
It’s also important to convey this goal to learners so that they know what they’re trying to achieve. Note that learners don’t generally pay much attention to a goal simply written on the board. There needs to be some kind of engagement with it.
You can do this by asking learners to read the goal and say why it’s useful and how confident they currently feel about achieving it (1=not confident, 5 =confident). You can then repeat this activity at the end of the class and (hopefully) they’ll give a higher score.
You can read more about goal setting our article Back to school: 5 ways to establish SMART goals.
2. Staging the lesson appropriately
Once we know what we want our students to achieve, we can stage the lesson so that learners have the best chance of achieving it. Each activity should build on the last, leading up to the final task that allows learners to achieve the goal.
If, for example, the goal is to compare two places, then our lesson might include these things:
- Listening task: Students listen to a model conversation where people are choosing between two cafés for brunch.
- Language clarification: Students recognize how we use, form and pronounce comparative adjectives.
- Language practice: Students practice using comparative adjectives, with personalized practice.
- Speaking task preparation: Students prepare to compare two cafés.
- Speaking task: Students have a conversation where they decide which of two cafés to visit.
3. Providing the right support
Not everyone in the class will be able to work through lesson activities with the same level of ability. When a task is challenging, less confident learners are likely to think back to past failures and give up more quickly. To avoid this, we can add support to help weaker learners to complete the task successfully.
Some examples of support include:
- A gap-fill exercise providing two possible answers to choose from
- A listening multiple choice where students must take one option away
- A speaking task that supplies useful phrases
- Extension tasks that stronger learners can complete, so slower learners can finish a task
We can give learners the option to use the support or not.
4. Working with peers
Regular pair and group work gives learners the opportunity to see how the effort from their peers results in good performance and progress. We can also encourage learners to share strategies through discussion. For example:
How did you prepare for the test? What was helpful? What wasn’t helpful?
What stages did you follow when you wrote your article?
What did you do to get the answers to the exercise right?
Learners can discuss questions like these in L1.
5. Feedback and reflection
Rather than focus solely on error correction, it’s really important that we also point out what learners did well and should keep doing, as well as what progress they’ve made.
We can encourage peer feedback and self-reflection that focuses significantly on what went well as well as next steps. This doesn’t need to take long. We can ask one or two questions at the end of a lesson or a series of lessons. For example:
How confident do you feel at the end of this lesson? (1-5) Why?
What are you proud of in this lesson? Why?
What do you need to do to improve next time?
Again, learners can discuss these in L1.
Building learner confidence with Roadmap
In Pearson’s new general English series Roadmap, all lessons have a clear learning goal, carefully staged activities, and a task that shows learners that they’ve achieved their goal.
What’s more, learners have the opportunity to develop and practice sub-skills and strategies to help them develop their listening, speaking, reading and writing skills. There are also reflection tasks which focus on confidence, and suggestions in the Teacher’s Book on how to add support for learners who need it. All of these things are designed to help learners build confidence alongside competence.
Want to find out more?
You can join Lindsay on Thursday 19th September for a practical webinar about building learner confidence with Roadmap. There will be one session at 9am and another at 2pm (UK time).
- Bandura, A. (1986). Social foundations of thought and action: A social cognitive theory. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
- Raoofi, S, Tan, B, Chan, S. (2012). Self-efficacy in Second/Foreign Language Learning Contexts, English Language Teaching; Vol. 5, No. 11; 2012 https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1080058.pdf