There have been times in my life when I haven’t been confident—when I was learning to drive a stick shift, when I started a new job, when I carried my first baby home from the hospital. (Do these nurses think I know what I am doing? FYI: I DON’T!) Then there are smaller moments that require confidence too: when I hit Publish on a blog post, send an article out for feedback, or try a new teaching move in front of others.
It is during these moments when I doubt myself and feel like I am “faking it.” When my confidence is shaky, people who care try to help. They say, “You can do it. Don’t worry. You’ve got this!” More often than not, those words don’t “build my confidence.” Sometimes they make me question myself more. What builds my confidence is asking myself why I want to take this risk, creating a plan for how to complete the task, taking the first step, and celebrating the small wins. I have to push myself through the discomfort and remember that being fearful is sometimes a natural part of learning.
Now consider a student’s day at school. They are expected to try new things all day, every day. New games and exercises in P.E., new techniques in art, and new strategies and skills in reading, writing, math, social studies, and science. No wonder their confidence gets shaky at different moments throughout the day.
Helping Students Develop Confidence
As adults, we know what it feels like to lose confidence. We have experienced it many times, so we also know how to move forward. Many students are rookies when it comes to overcoming uncertainty. Generally, when students learn something, they don’t remember how they learned it. The adults around them planned and facilitated the learning experience, so figuring out how to learn is a new experience for them. Our students need to experience what it feels like to set a goal, make a plan, try to follow it, revise the plan, and follow it through to completion.
With our support and a bit of structure, we can teach students some ways to build their own action plans and next steps. Here is where reading mats can be helpful. A reading mat is simply a list or grid of choices a student can make during reading workshop. The skills listed on the reading mat are the concepts we are teaching during whole-class, small-group, and one-on-one conferences. We place the mats in a clear plastic sleeve, and as readers set up their materials for reading workshop, they create a plan. Students star or number items they want to remember to do as they read. Here are a few different examples.
In this first mat, second graders are beginning an informational text reading unit of study. To help them set a goal and plan their reading time, one second-grade teacher created this reading mat listing the skills students have learned. Before reading workshop begins, students decide which skills they need to practice. They put a mark next to those skills and begin reading. Notice how the teacher left blank boxes that can be filled in during reading conferences or small-group instruction.
|Take a picture walk.
|Think about the topic.
|Think about the author.
|Read the text features.
|Look at all the parts in the word.
|Ask, “Does it make sense?”
|Reread. Notice new details.
|Think about what you learned.
These fourth graders are working on a character unit of study. To expand and deepen the way students think, the teacher created this reading mat based on the critical skills in the unit. Students read the choices on the mat and choose one or two items to focus on as they read. You will see that some of these goals help the students think about what to record in their reading notebook, and others are ideas to remember as they read.
|Stop and think at the end of each chapter.
|Notice how the minor characters affect the main character.
|Think, “What is this character learning that I could learn too?”
|Notice words and phrases that repeat.
|Remember to stop and remind yourself what happened.
|Ask, “Does it make sense?”
|Record ideas to share with your book club.
|Mark places to reread.
|Find lines you love.
Reading mats work well for independent work, and they can also help partnerships and book clubs make plans. During each book club or partnership meeting, students look at the mat and make decisions about how they will use their time. Younger students tend to make a plan each time they meet with their group, whereas older students might make a plan, set off to read, and then execute the plan at their next meeting. The empty boxes on this mat are often filled in by students. Sometimes students make up their own ways to read together (for example, read a book in a scary voice, or share funny parts of the text).
|Partners and Book Clubs
|Act out a scene.
|Discuss important parts of the text.
|Talk about the character’s traits.
|Discuss words and phrases that repeat and what they might mean.
|Reread favorite parts together.
|Share possible themes and discuss evidence.
|Talk about new and interesting words.
|Share lines you loved.
|Decide your next steps.
Writing this article about building students’ confidence is an exercise that helped me face my fears as a writer. As I finished it, I felt a sense of accomplishment, and I could reflect on my process. I pondered this topic for quite a while, drafted and revised it several times, met with my writing group to get feedback, and made even more revisions.
Kids need to experience these feelings too. Reading mats may seem simple, but they can give kids ownership of their learning. I think they send powerful messages to kids: “I can make decisions. I know myself as a learner and what works for me. I am in charge of my learning.”