Belief is a powerful mindset. When we truly believe something, we don’t just think it – we feel it. When you believe, you know like you know like you know like you know – it’s unmistakable. Our belief about anything is usually what sets the wheels of success or failure in motion. It’s Henry Ford who is credited with saying:
If you think you can or if you think you can’t, either way you’re probably right.
When it comes to learning, it turns out belief is every bit as powerful. Those who know me know how often I speak about the importance of developing student confidence as a precursor to maximizing student engagement and success; that the development and maintenance of confidence should be our first priority. In fact, the first blog post I ever wrote was about confidence. With confidence, students will try harder and persevere through temporary obstacles on their road to success. Without it, students are likely to give up and stop trying.
So much has been written about the importance of failure in the process of learning; that we have to create an atmosphere within our classrooms where failure is ‘okay’ and where students view their initial failures as part of the learning process. While I agree wholeheartedly with that perspective, without first developing a student’s confidence and belief of eventual success, failure is counter-productive. If we want students to have a productive response to failure then we must develop their confidence.
Confidence, remember, is grounded optimism based on a history of some success. Confidence is not about artificially inflating self-esteem without any evidence of previous success. Confident students see themselves as learners because they have learned and have been successful in the past.
Now when it comes to learning, assessment, and the use of descriptive feedback, it turns out that the research is clear that confidence plays a pivotal role in whether or not students will have a productive response to being assessed and receiving descriptive feedback:
Feedback has its greatest effect when a learner expects a response to be correct and it turns out to be wrong. Conversely, if response certainty is low and the response turns out to be wrong, feedback is largely ignored. (Kulhavy & Stock, 1989)
Students can be wrong, they only have to believe they’re right! If students don’t expect their responses to be correct then feedback is essentially ignored. What matters is how certain students are about the correctness of their responses.
The degree of confidence that students have in the correctness of responses can affect receptivity to and seeking of feedback. (Hattie & Timperley, 2007)
Again, confidence in correctness. The real key to the effective use of descriptive feedback is how receptive our students are to the feedback they’re provided, which is directly related to their level of confidence. Confident students will invest more of themselves into reaching the intended learning goals:
Feedback is effective to the degree to which it directs information to enhanced self-efficacy and to more effective self-regulation, such that attention is directed back to the task and causes students to invest more effort or commitment to the task. (Kluger & DeNisi, 1996)
The bottom-line is that descriptive feedback is the key to advancing our students’ levels of proficiency in relation to the intended learning goals or standards, however, it’s the students’ confidence or self-efficacy that maximizes their use of that feedback. Remember, they don’t have to be right, they only have to believe they’re right!