One of the invaluable traits that our students in Nonthaburi, Thailand have acquired from us, foreign teachers, which can't be measured by pen and paper test is confidence. Compared to the time when we first taught English in this province eight years ago, our Thai students nowadays are no longer afraid to stay around us, or talk to any of their foreign teachers. They can already crack jokes to their English teachers in broken English and tell them about anything they would like to share.
Student confidence, next to motivation, is a prime mover in learning. It is the insatiable longing for more learning, an unstoppable desire as if things are easy to acquire and learn. A student who has confidence excels in his/her studies and can attain tremendous achievements. Sometimes he/she commits mistakes but these do not stop them from pursuing what they want. Their confidence flows like water from a spring.
At a certain point some teachers kill students' self-confidence when they teach English by:
1. emphasizing more on form rather than content. So what happens, when oral communication comes, students are tongue tied and inhibited to speak because they are afraid of making mistakes?
2. setting very high expectations from students such that when students fail they get discouraged.
3. correcting students a lot thus students feel belittled, making them more nervous. And they make more blunders
4. giving too much criticism.
"No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit."
- Ansel Adams
One student in my grade 2 class was not so good in many ways; not good in reading, not good in writing, and not good in speaking. Being worried about his nature since he was in Kindergarten 2, last term I finally thought of a way to give him confidence. During class recitation and language games I would pair him with his equal or with someone slower than him. Naturally, he would win. Because of this, his confidence improved little by little.
One time, he was incidentally paired with the best student in class. Would you believe that he beat that good student? I praised him for that and his classmates did too. This trivial but significant victory changed him. It was a turning point in his life. In fact recently he volunteered to join the morning activity competition in giving the English translation of some greetings in Thai. He didn't win but he scored equally with 5 other better students.
One time I praised my Grade 6 student for answering a question no one could answer in class except him. I said, "You deserve to be in Mathayom 2 (Grade 8)." Because of that, my student was full of enthusiasm to answer all questions asked. I usually say things like this to my students in prathom (elementary) that they are 2 or 3 years ahead of their level and they feel great about it. Do you do this too?
At times our students need an important experience to break that barrier of fear. Once this is surpassed confidence will spring out and it will lead to one success after another.
I knew a girl who once joined a singing competition in a mall. Contestants came from various places of the city. In the competition she was very confident because her singing gave her the title, " Best in Talent "when she joined a kiddie beauty pageant. In this competition she didn't win first prize? She was only second. With her confidence, she asked her Dad to join again. She was permitted to join again . She did not get the first prize but the remarkable thing here was she had the confidence.
Sometimes it is neither the teacher's fault nor other people's fault, but also the student's why confidence is lost. My friend's daughter at age was 12 was a candidate for a national scholarship in art. She underwent the screening process. One of this was on-the-spot creation of an art piece out of the materials provided for them. Before the testing day, she had a lot of preparation in enhancing her skills like joining several art competitions which she easily won.
That day, the father was able to have a peek at her work. Her daughter's work was ugly. When the daughter got out of the room, the father met her asked why her work was not beautiful. She answered, "Daddy, I did not make it beautiful because I don't like to pass and I don't like to study here." What could the Daddy do?
Once confidence is acquired, the student makes remarkable self-perception and strives further to succeed. Therefore, instead of killing this important trait, let's develop it among our student. As Sylvia Plath and Johnny Panic put it, "So many people are shut up tight inside themselves like boxes, yet they would open up, unfolding quite wonderfully, if only you were interested in them."