Noilly Prattle: Self Confidence – 自信 (JISHIN)

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Self Confidence – 自信 (JISHIN)

     I've come increasingly to realize that teacher's don't really teach, good ones simply get out of the way of learning. The best ones are simply facilitators of self confidence building. This is especially true in the case of young learners who have poor self images that block their ability to learn because they compare themselves to the “smarter” kids and come up short in their own eyes.

a young reader (6-years-old)
      Unfortunately, in a classroom, it isn't possible to erase or hide the different levels of learning ability among a group of children from each other. The teacher can try to shoot for the “middle” but will soon find that that doesn't work. There really is no such thing as “the middle”. Each child has different degrees of ability and different learning styles. Every parent wants to think that his child is a genius. Every teacher knows that there are very few if any geniuses in any given population.

      Although retired, I do a little part time ESL (English as a Second Language) teaching to a couple of evening classes of primary school age children a week. They are boys and girls of 8 to 10-years of age in grades three and four. Their levels of achievement therefore are also related to age and experience as well as learning ability. Generally, an older child will be advanced over a younger one. Ideally, they should be separated by grade level, but scheduling circumstances often preclude that possibility. In which case a younger child might feel intimidated by an older one.

      Since the situation of mixing ages and grade levels can't be avoided I found it necessary to have reading groups—the more advanced learners of course reading more difficult material. The less advanced, be it due to age or some reading or emotional problem, are aware that their material is easier and can feel a little inadequate (they might say “stupid” to themselves), loose confidence and get stuck in a kind of negative self feedback loop and be reluctant to try more difficult material. I have two students, one boy in the third grade and a girl in the fourth who I would say are caught in a poor self image and confidence trap.

      The third grade boy recently came to my other class for a makeup lesson where the reading level is not as high as the two third grade girls in his regular class. One of the fourth grade girls in this makeup class is a lower reader than he is. I decided to push him a bit and offered him a choice of reading with the lower level girl or with the higher level others. He asked me to show him the material. When I did he immediately opted for the easier. I said no, insisted he try the other and told him I would help him if needed. He sighed and started reading along with the other two while I attended to the other girl.

      She surprised me. I had been in the habit of reading the material for her to boost her confidence. When she first joined the class she sat in as an observer during the reading lesson. When I asked her if she would like to join in and try a little reading she broke down into sobs and tears. I took quite a while for her to compose herself, but she joined the class. She had heard the exchange between myself and the third grade boy. Instead of waiting for me to read she started to read by herself. I asked her if she wanted me to read it first, but she indicated no and wanted to read on her own. I helped her with a couple of word stumbles but she managed the whole text and got 100% on the multiple choice comprehension quiz.

      When I returned to the other group, my reluctant reader was engrossed in the text. I asked him if he needed some help, but he indicated that he didn't. When they had all finished with their silent reading I read the text aloud to model pronunciation and then had them read aloud as I listened. As I had suspected, my reluctant reader read very well with only a little help from me. The reading is followed by a 10 sentence True/False quiz. I asked the group, as I usually do, if they wanted to do the quiz “together” (with me) or on their own. They all, including my reluctant reader, opted to go it alone. The “star”, a fourth grade girl, got, unsurprisingly 100%, but the two third grade boys both managed 90%.

      I tapped my reluctant reader on the hand and said: “See, you can do it. You just need self confidence.“ [自信が必要です.] Then he blurted out: “自信がない!” [“I don't have self confidence.” ]

     “Uh-huh,” I thought to myself, “we'll see about that!”

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