Build confidence while learning with enjoyment

When I was at school, I lacked confidence in one subject – Spanish – and fell further and further being. After learning for nearly 5 years, I could barely string a sentence together as I hadn’t had sufficient practice. It wasn’t until my parents found me a tutor, who allowed me the space and time to practise speaking and listening as well as filling in my missing gaps, that my journey of learning languages began. Just having a few sessions made a tremendous difference; enabling me to pass my GSCE exam but, more importantly, develop a passion for learning languages that still continues. 

My real breakthrough came when I was visiting Havana, Cuba, and sat on a park bench next to an elderly gentleman. We had a conversation where we shared different aspects of out lives and how they contrasted. It was so fascinating to hear about the reality of a person living in Havana compared to the media’s portrayal. At this moment, I fully realised the immense power of being able to speak another language and the relationships, albeit fleetingly, that can be created. From that moment on, I pledged to continue learning languages, despite finding them so challenging.

My anxious child left your session skipping down the street!

Parent of an 8 year old after their first Maths session

As I reflect back on this experience, I realise that confidence was the key. Many people believe that confidence is a by-product of tutoring. I believe that it is actually the starting point. Once a student has confidence and self-belief, there is no stopping them! They ask for the challenge, they ask to try something harder, they don’t let small obstacles stand in their way. They understand that something they they cannot do now, just means that they haven’t learnt it, but, sometime in the future, they will be able to do it.

This is a sentence I have heard often after a child has had their first session with me. When I am tutoring, I create a safe and comfortable environment where children feel secure and experience success from their very first session. Through identifying skills and understanding that they already have, I use this foundation, build upon it, gradually extending their understanding, adapting my questions and tasks to ensure this. I focus on spending as much time as needed to build secure foundations and revisit these often to ensure that the child has full understanding. Several parents have told me that their child has left skipping down the street, won’t stop jumping and/or asking for longer or more frequent sessions!

Why focus on games?

Everyone enjoys playing games! I believe that using simple games alongside a range of hands-on activities makes learning fun and enables your child to relax, allowing them to demonstrate what they know. Playing a game, especially when the game is based around luck, enables the child to stop focussing on ‘getting it right’ but on having a go. We never more for a correct answer, but each turn is based on the answer. I am also able to adapt the questions while we are playing to focus on the key skill or area they are struggling with.

Example of a game board that provides a lot of practise for improved confidence
A simple game to practise adding multiples of 1, 10, 100, etc

During the game, I focus on giving children time to explain their understanding, using a wide variety of manipulatives to demonstrate what they are thinking. The focus is definitely on learning rather than winning and means that we have more practise at the skills being looked at than completing a worksheet. I ensure that my sessions are very different to school!

The success of confidence

A year ago, I begin tutoring a girl in Maths (online) who was a long way behind her peers. She hated Maths and didn’t want to do anything. During the first session, she experienced success through playing my games and was smiling and laughing.

A few weeks later, it was clear to see that she had begun to want to have her session with me, had clearly developed a lot of confidence and was asking people around her to ‘leave me alone, I want to concentrate’! She had begun to choose more challenging questions to answer, was not afraid to make mistakes and had made real progress. She had a huge change in attitude towards Maths, saying it was now her favourite subject.

In only a few months, she proudly showed me a test result of 100%. It was her first ever and something that only a few weeks ago seemed impossible to achieve. The test was on a topic she had covered at school rather than with me. However, it was her confidence that had made the difference. Her confidence had enabled her to work harder at school. Her confidence had allowed her to see her test as a challenge to show what she could do. Her confidence was key.

First published on Wikiexperts on 31st august 2019

Catherine Rooke

A specialist international maths tutor helping children with maths anxiety, maths difficulties and dyscalculia have positive maths experiences.