How to Increase Your Students' Math Confidence {Part 3}

Welcome back for Part 3 of this Student Confidence blog series! In part one, we addressed the role of skills fluency, written feedback, and student reflection in building students’ math confidence. In part two, we continued the discussion with a focus on routines, mixed groupings, and student interests. Today we’ll wrap up the conversation with three final ideas for increasing your students’ math confidence this year: differentiating based on interests and needs, embracing humor and creating a positive classroom climate, and using pictorial models in lessons.

7) Differentiate Based on Interests and Needs

Differentiation, as it relates to student confidence, has everything to do with student choice and ownership. By providing options, students can select practice activities that they find motivating and interesting. Get to know your students and what they enjoy doing outside of the regular school day, then create word problems around those themes. Students may have a choice between a horseback riding-themed worksheet and karate-themed worksheet. Then next time switch it up! The students for which those topics are important will go into the activity with increased confidence because they already understand the context. On the other hand, if you select themes that mean nothing to students, their confidence with attacking the problem with likely start lower because they do not understand the context.

Differentiating practice based on readiness is also a key component here. Provide two levels of practice on the same topic when you can. Then train students to choose the level that is at an appropriate challenge level for their individual needs on that day. Still trying to work through some confusion on a new topic? Then stick with the on-level version of the practice. Ready to move on to something a little more challenging? You’ve got something for them, too! When students work on assignments that are just within their reach, they’ll experience the most growth.

8) Embrace Humor

Learn to read your students. Lack of confidence, total overwhelm, and math anxiety can often be seen on your students’ faces. You’re teaching, and they’re like “yikes.” You can help your students to get out of this mental state by injecting humor in your classes. When you’re able to inject a small amount of age-appropriate humor and get off subject for a minute or two, students are able to take a deep breath and reset. A little bit of laughter can go a long way in reducing stress in that moment, and allow students to continue the lesson with a clear head and a better chance to learn something new. More on this with the next example…

9) Use Pictorial Models

Using multiple models is widely accepted as a good teaching practice, but have you considered how it can increase your students’ math confidence? Math becomes increasingly symbolic as students progress through school. Where you can, use pictorial models to increase student understanding. Did you know that the brain processes pictures about 60,000 times faster than text? Let that sink in. What?! 60,000 times faster. So if we are to consider brain-based learning, we better be creating pictorial models to teach our students and facilitate students’ creation of their own images to represent math content. Let’s think about this in terms of word problems. There are probably a few sentences of text for students to take in. No wonder many students get overwhelmed and lack confidence in their ability to attack this type of problem. Draw a picture to model the scenario. With your students, work through the problem; converting the words to pictures. This happens naturally with word problems that involve area or other types of measurement, but I’m talking even more generally than that. It’s a shopping problem? Draw a stick figure with a purse walking up to a counter. Seriously. I am the WORST artist, but this gives your students brain an image to latch on to and will boost retention and will, therefore, increase their confidence with this type of problem.

This ties into humor as well if you draw as poorly as I do. I was teaching word problems involving quadratic functions to my eighth grade Algebra 1 class a few years ago. Our textbook gave us a word problem about a cheetah pouncing from a ledge onto its prey. This could have gone a bunch of different ways, but I chose to draw some (terrible) drawings to show what was happening. They laughed at my awful artistry, which sky-rocketed engagement in the lesson. But guess what… they had a visual of that concave down parabola imprinted in their brain. So the next time they had to attack a similar word problem on their own, they knew just what to do.

Okay, math friends.

Are you convinced that math confidence is something we have the control to increase?

I have outlined NINE actionable strategies for increasing your students’ math confidence this year.

Did one resonate with you more than the others?

Try it out!!! Then check in and let me know how it went.

You may also like:

Subscribe to the Free to Discover blog here:


* indicates required
I teach:

Free to Discover will use the information you provide on this form to be in touch with you and to provide updates and marketing. Please let us know all the ways you would like to hear from us:

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by contacting us at We will treat your information with respect. For more information about our privacy practices please visit our website. By clicking below, you agree that we may process your information in accordance with these terms.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Free to Discover

No comments:

Post a Comment