Confidence Banner


Support students’ confidence through instruction that includes clear expectations; challenging work that is calibrated to the knowledge, skills, and abilities of students; and informational and encouraging feedback

Confidence Overview


Confidence is a student’s answer to the motivational question Can I do this? It includes:

  • students’ beliefs about their own abilities
  • students’ beliefs about whether or not their efforts will result in success

How to support confidence: Principles

Provide clear expectations about...
  • What students will be expected to learn or understand for an assignment or unit
  • What students will be expected to do and produce for an assignment or activity
  • How students will be assessed (on a task, project, unit, etc.)
  • What is available for students to manage their work (e.g., materials, time, scaffolds) and how they might manage their work through to completion of the task
Principles: Provide clear expectations
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The teacher does not clearly articulate the learning goal to students. Directions are minimal and unclear. Students receive assignments and are expected to discern what the teacher wants them to do with little guidance. The students are unaware of the resources available to them and what will happen next in the lesson. The teacher posts and references an objective for the lesson and/or specific tasks, as applicable.

The teacher provides clear expectations for student work and clearly describes assignments so that students know what they are being asked to do, what they will learn from the task, and how they will be assessed. The teacher describes how the lesson/task will proceed (e.g., order of activities, times, more time tomorrow, etc.).

The teacher identifies resources students can use to manage their work and how they might go about completing their work.
  • Is calibrated to students’ skill level(s)
  • Conveys teacher’s confidence in students by communicating, “I believe you can do this”
  • Builds students’ confidence, helping students to see that “I can do this”
  • Note: Challenge can be less intimidating when teachers make explicit connections between challenge and learning/growth
  • Note: Too little challenge and overly scripted tasks damage students’ confidence by sending the message, “I don’t think you can handle anything more than this”
Principles: Provide challenging work
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The lesson sequence is misaligned with students’ skill level or with a coherent trajectory of skill development, undermining students’ confidence. The lesson takes a one-size-fits-all approach in expecting students to meet an arbitrary standard regardless of skills and prior learning. The lesson provides activities that are challenging yet attainable for all students, based on diagnostic/formative assessment or other evidence. Scaffolds and resources are available to help students who need them, and/or to help all students complete more challenging tasks. Students have the opportunity to work collaboratively on challenging tasks. The teacher speaks confidently about students completing their work successfully. The lesson logically follows the prior lesson and builds on the learning from that lesson.
The work students are asked to do is so challenging that they do not experience success during class. Or the work is so easy that students are bored and do not feel like they are making progress. Few or inconsistent supports are provided to support students. Students seldom feel “pushed” by what their teacher is asking them to do. The teacher explicitly articulates high expectations for all students and a belief that students can meet expectations. Because the work is well-calibrated to students’ skill level(s), students have ample opportunities to feel a sense of accomplishment in their classwork. When work is challenging, students know they have strategies and resources to support them, leading them to view their success and failure as tied to effort and strategy use.
  • Providing examples of high quality work
  • Providing examples of similar others (e.g., students from prior years, scientists) who have succeeded or who have overcome challenges. This is especially helpful for learners who struggle or have low confidence
  • Being attuned to students (e.g., to their progress, struggles, emotions, actions, reactions, etc.) through observations and interactions
  • Helping students identify supports they have available or pointing students to supports to use while they work
  • Modeling successful strategies
  • Helping students to identify prior knowledge and previously successful strategies that might help them successfully complete the current task
Principles: Provide challenging work
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When students are frustrated or feel too challenged, the teacher rarely offers suggestions of strategies or supports the student could use to overcome their challenge. The student continues to be frustrated and does not continue working. The teacher focuses on larger learning goals that obscure the incremental progress students make on a daily basis. When students are frustrated or feel too challenged, they first draw on classroom supports aside from the teacher. When the student looks to the teacher, the teacher provides feedback to the student about the sources of their difficulty, including strategy use, and points the student toward supports or models strategies to help them overcome the challenge they are facing. The teacher observes and interacts with students, anticipating challenges and responding with just-in-time encouragement and supports to help students through challenges. The teacher establishes small learning goals with the student so the student can better see their progress.
Students are unaware of the time and resources they have while they work. Transitions are unexpected to students who frequently have to stop what they are doing and “change gears” to work on something different even though they had not finished the prior task. The time and flow of the class is clearly communicated to students throughout the lesson. The teacher communicates time remaining and transitions, but is responsive to students if they are not ready to move on.

The teacher has anticipated what might be challenging during transitions and provides clear instructions and supports as students transition.
Students work alone most of the time. When students do work in groups, little guidance is provided for how students can draw upon each other’s strengths to produce high quality work. Students frequently work in groups and are supported in building their skills in working together. The teacher provides scaffolds for specific aspects of group work (e.g., protocols for brainstorming, dividing work fairly among the group members, holding each other accountable) and provides feedback to groups on where they are succeeding and how they can improve. Group success through collaboration, effort, and strategy use is celebrated.
The teacher provides students with answers or a narrow set of instructions to get them through any difficulty. The teacher proactively models effective strategy use throughout the year and provides opportunity for students to practice and reflect on strategy use so that they gradually internalize these strategies and can apply them in different situations.
  • Indicates specific things the student has done well and how the student might continue to improve
  • Contains information about the causes of success and failure so that students attribute outcomes to their efforts and strategies (rather than luck, ability, or external sources like task difficulty)
  • Communicates confidence in students' ability to meet the teacher’s high expectations
  • Avoids over-generalizing (e.g., “Good job!”)
Principles: Provide challenging work
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The teacher’s feedback is infrequent, disproportionately focused on critique and correction, overly generalized and/or brief (e.g., “good job”), or narrowly focused on answers (e.g., “no, that’s not right”). The teacher’s feedback (verbal and written), is frequent and encouraging, identifying evidence of specific student strengths that align with learning goals, as well as areas for improvement.
The teacher attributes student successes and failures to external causes like luck or task difficulty, or to a static view of students’ innate ability (e.g., “you’re so smart!”). The teacher attributes student success and failure to strategy use and effort and provides specific suggestions about strategy or effort that can help students continue to improve.