How to Increase Your Students’ Math Confidence

By the time students are in middle school, so many believe they are “not good at math” or “not a math person.” This could be learned due to difficult academic experiences or a shared view with parents, but no matter the cause this is a fundamental issue that needs to be addressed. There is a strong correlation between math confidence and academic achievement. Having our students believe they can do math is the first step in a successful educational journey. Over the next two posts, you’ll read about 6 easy-to-implement strategies for increasing your students’ math confidence.

1) Increase Skills Fluency

One common issue is that students lack basic math skills when they enter middle school. They may struggle with multiplication facts or fraction operations or general numbers sense and that deficiency holds them back from focusing on understanding new math concepts. When students need to struggle through the basic operations of a math problem, they’re unable to focus on the larger skill or concept being practiced. For example, if students are uncomfortable with their multiplication tables, they will struggle with learning The Distributive Property. If students are uncomfortable with fractions, they may struggle with Solving Equations with Rational Numbers. Math uniquely is a subject that typically relies on previously learned skills to be mastered so that students can build on that knowledge with new learnings. 

Tackle this issue with frequent skills fluency practice. Number sense needs to become intertwined in daily learning. Successful strategies include engaging students in Number Talks, assigning weekly Math Skill Drills, and allowing time for remediation lessons. Shana, of Scaffolded Math and Science, has a great post on Number Talks.

2) Provide Specific Written Feedback

What is the purpose of grading? To slap a score on the paper and move on? I hope not. When students do poorly on an exam, be sure to provide descriptive feedback so students can learn from their mistakes. Circle the point of error or leave a note like “distribute the negative.” When there are multiple steps involved, put a checkmark next to all the steps that are correct then leave a comment that may lead students to find their error. Seeing those checkmarks may give students hope to know they were on the right track and just made an error near the end. Or maybe the student got the first step wrong. Write out the first step for the student because they may not have known where to begin. Perhaps once they see where to begin, they will have the confidence to continue the steps successfully to the end.

In addition to written feedback, consider conferencing with students in order to provide verbal feedback. To be a confidence-building exercise, this should be a positive experience, not a punishment. Invite a student to check-in during homeroom, advisory, before school, after school, at the beginning of class, or end of the class period. Seriously, any time that you are able to find 2-3 minutes could do the trick. Facilitate a discussion with the student to identify and remediate errors. Provide positive feedback on parts of the assessment that went well. Offer suggestions for improvement. The belief that math understandings are evolving and are not based on fixed abilities is a great way to model growth mindset.

3) Reflection & Corrections

If you’ve been browsing the blog for a while, you may know that I am passionate about reflections and corrections when it comes to formative assessments. What a great way to build confidence! Once students receive written and/or verbal feedback from you, then it’s time to put those ideas into action. When students complete this evaluation form, they reflect on their strengths and challenges on a particular assessment. Was the topic something they didn’t understand or did they make a simple mistake? Students MUST choose a strength, no matter how poorly they did on the exam. SOMETHING went well; (you may just have to get a little creative in helping students identify it in some cases). If a student checks off lots of “simple mistakes,” help point out that perhaps their struggle is not the math concepts, but rather they just need to slow down and check their work. If a student checks off mostly “didn’t understand,” look for patterns in wrong answers. There may be lots of lost points, but pointing out to students that they made a similar error several times can be a confidence-builder because they only need to adjust one or two misconceptions. 

THEN students must correct their mistakes. They may need help from you, a peer, or a parent, but they should redo the problems they got incorrect. It can be tough to persevere through redoing the work, but in the end, they can say “I did it!” They will have successfully completed every problem correctly. I believe it depends on your class, school, and district whether it’s appropriate to allow points back for corrections or to allow retakes, but you may get some inspiration at the Math Giraffe blog with Brigid’s post “Best Procedure for Test Corrections.”


Friends, I have so much to say about this that I’m going to continue writing about this topic next week. In this post, we focused on increasing skills fluency, providing specific written feedback, and requiring reflections and corrections. Next week, we will focus on establishing routines, utilizing mixed groupings, and differentiating based on student interests. Thanks for taking the time to learn with me! I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

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