Final Analysis
One way my teaching experiences shed light on my overarching question was by reminding me that students sometimes demonstrate a sudden lack of confidence at seemingly random times. I saw this play out during my science lesson. The students were exploring the concept of camouflage by finding and discussing “hidden” animals in photographs and then choosing a place in the classroom and coloring an elephant to camouflage it in that place. One student, normally a high achiever, demonstrated a solid understanding of the concept of camouflage during the group discussion. When it came time to choose a spot in the room and create a camouflaged elephant, however, she froze. She sat silently, looking around the room, while her classmates immediately began coloring. I went over to the student and talked with her oneonone, helping her brainstorm potential hiding places. I asked her questions like, “If you wanted to hide your elephant on the wall, what color would you color it?” She knew the correct answer for every question, but I had to take her through five or six hiding places before she felt confident to make a decision. Then she got right to work and correctly colored her elephant to camouflage it under the drinking fountain. I was surprised at her hesitation, because she displayed confidence in her knowledge during the lesson. Through individual attention, though, I was able to encourage her and provide an environment in which she felt like she could succeed.
This anecdote illustrates another way my teaching provided insight into my overarching question: one way to build student confidence is by giving students oneonone attention and support. Providing individual support includes both intentionally scaffolding my instruction when I write lesson plans and providing onthefly support to students during lessons as they demonstrate need. This confirms what I wrote in my statement of beliefs about the importance of knowing each student’s strengths and weaknesses and meeting his or her specific needs as an individual learner. I was reminded of the need for teaching to the individual student as a way to build confidence during my literacy lesson as well. One student, while she reads and writes above grade level, is not quite at the level of the other three students. At the beginning of the interactive writing portion of the lesson, she did not want to write on the story map chart we were producing. I think her hesitation came from a lack of confidence when she compared herself to the other students. I purposefully asked her to complete the "characters" section, knowing that it would require less writing than the problem and solution sections, which required a full sentence each. She wrote “7 mis” (7 mice) and her writing was affirmed by her classmates. Then, when a classmate added that the elephant was a character in the story, too, the student and her classmate stretched out the word together as the student wrote. From that point until the end of the lesson, the student participated actively in stretching out words and helping her classmates spell words.
Good teachers “must adapt [an idea] for their own learners’ needs, fit it to essential learning goals in their own classroom, and polish it so it becomes a catalyst for engagement and understanding among their own students” (p. 47)[1] Because I knew my students, I could differentiate instruction and provide this student with a task that would give her success while still allowing her to contribute productively to the group writing activity. In the literacy lesson, I “differentiated what” (p. 48) for one student, slightly modifying the content the student would produce by asking for a twoword written response rather than a fullsentence response.
In my belief statement I wrote about helping students work in what Vygotsky terms their “zone of proximal development” so that they can move to the next level of understanding. During my smallgroup math lesson, I discovered that sometimes all it takes for a student to gain confidence that he or she can be successful at a task is practice! In my math lesson, students participated in a number talk with dot arrays, and then created their own dot arrays for given numerals. Throughout the lesson, I emphasized discourse and sharing counting and grouping strategies. One student seemed very unsure of herself and of the activity when we began the math lesson; she echoed the answer of the student next to her when it was her turn to share her counting strategy. As my observer noted on the assessment checklist, the student hesitated and took a long time to read the next few dot arrays. Each time she explained her counting strategy, though, I affirmed it, as did her classmates. I had established a learning environment in which every student’s strategies were equally valid, and in which students did not judge each other’s strategies. By the fourth or fifth card, this student had gained confidence – she worked just as fast as the other three students, and she willingly and assertively shared her counting strategies with the group! Over the 30minute lesson, my observer and I saw this student’s confidence, as well as her demonstrated understanding of the mathematical content, skyrocket. She didn’t need more individual, explicit instruction from me; she just needed practice.
This anecdote illustrates another way my teaching provided insight into my overarching question: one way to build student confidence is by giving students oneonone attention and support. Providing individual support includes both intentionally scaffolding my instruction when I write lesson plans and providing onthefly support to students during lessons as they demonstrate need. This confirms what I wrote in my statement of beliefs about the importance of knowing each student’s strengths and weaknesses and meeting his or her specific needs as an individual learner. I was reminded of the need for teaching to the individual student as a way to build confidence during my literacy lesson as well. One student, while she reads and writes above grade level, is not quite at the level of the other three students. At the beginning of the interactive writing portion of the lesson, she did not want to write on the story map chart we were producing. I think her hesitation came from a lack of confidence when she compared herself to the other students. I purposefully asked her to complete the "characters" section, knowing that it would require less writing than the problem and solution sections, which required a full sentence each. She wrote “7 mis” (7 mice) and her writing was affirmed by her classmates. Then, when a classmate added that the elephant was a character in the story, too, the student and her classmate stretched out the word together as the student wrote. From that point until the end of the lesson, the student participated actively in stretching out words and helping her classmates spell words.
Good teachers “must adapt [an idea] for their own learners’ needs, fit it to essential learning goals in their own classroom, and polish it so it becomes a catalyst for engagement and understanding among their own students” (p. 47)[1] Because I knew my students, I could differentiate instruction and provide this student with a task that would give her success while still allowing her to contribute productively to the group writing activity. In the literacy lesson, I “differentiated what” (p. 48) for one student, slightly modifying the content the student would produce by asking for a twoword written response rather than a fullsentence response.
In my belief statement I wrote about helping students work in what Vygotsky terms their “zone of proximal development” so that they can move to the next level of understanding. During my smallgroup math lesson, I discovered that sometimes all it takes for a student to gain confidence that he or she can be successful at a task is practice! In my math lesson, students participated in a number talk with dot arrays, and then created their own dot arrays for given numerals. Throughout the lesson, I emphasized discourse and sharing counting and grouping strategies. One student seemed very unsure of herself and of the activity when we began the math lesson; she echoed the answer of the student next to her when it was her turn to share her counting strategy. As my observer noted on the assessment checklist, the student hesitated and took a long time to read the next few dot arrays. Each time she explained her counting strategy, though, I affirmed it, as did her classmates. I had established a learning environment in which every student’s strategies were equally valid, and in which students did not judge each other’s strategies. By the fourth or fifth card, this student had gained confidence – she worked just as fast as the other three students, and she willingly and assertively shared her counting strategies with the group! Over the 30minute lesson, my observer and I saw this student’s confidence, as well as her demonstrated understanding of the mathematical content, skyrocket. She didn’t need more individual, explicit instruction from me; she just needed practice.
Another insight from this assignment was that student confidence increases when the teacher creates a safe, supportive learning environment. To me, this means that every child has the equal right to speak, students learn to respect and listen to each other, and each student receives what he or she needs to participate fully in the classroom. Many of the ideas I have about creating a classroom community and environment are similar to those of the Responsive Classroom model, especially the method of building classroom community through a daily Morning Meeting and explicitly teaching students social skills and how to interact with each other.[2]

As a teacher, I should focus more on the process of student thinking and learning than on the product, whether the product is a correct verbal answer or a paper or project. Part of focusing on the process is emphasizing student discourse, which I focused on in my math lesson. I think that when students feel that their voice matters and their contributions to the class are important, they will be more willing to take risks and see themselves as successful students.
My teaching experiences leave me with more questions than answers. Does every student or group of students require something different from the teacher to gain confidence and believe in themselves? What is the most efficient way for a teacher to get to know students quickly at a deep enough level that she can appropriately differentiate and scaffold instruction? Should a teacher take different approaches with students whose apparent confidence issues come from different sources (i.e. being behind in content/skill level vs parental pressure)? How much is a student’s confidence level intertwined with and affected by the type of classroom community a teacher has created?
Aside from the Tomlinson text on differentiating instruction, one of the most important and relevant readings I can relate to my smallgroup teaching experience is Valenzuela’s writing on “authentic caring,”[3] which was echoed in Gay’s chapter on culturally responsive caring. Gay refers to authentic caring as “caring for” rather than “caring about,” where “caring for” involves “active engagement in doing something positively to affect” a student’s wellbeing, both personal and academic. (p. 48)[4] From reading these two texts, I believe that unless teachers care authentically about their students, they cannot create the kind of classroom community or learning environment that empowers students to believe in their own potential and capability as learners.
My teaching experiences leave me with more questions than answers. Does every student or group of students require something different from the teacher to gain confidence and believe in themselves? What is the most efficient way for a teacher to get to know students quickly at a deep enough level that she can appropriately differentiate and scaffold instruction? Should a teacher take different approaches with students whose apparent confidence issues come from different sources (i.e. being behind in content/skill level vs parental pressure)? How much is a student’s confidence level intertwined with and affected by the type of classroom community a teacher has created?
Aside from the Tomlinson text on differentiating instruction, one of the most important and relevant readings I can relate to my smallgroup teaching experience is Valenzuela’s writing on “authentic caring,”[3] which was echoed in Gay’s chapter on culturally responsive caring. Gay refers to authentic caring as “caring for” rather than “caring about,” where “caring for” involves “active engagement in doing something positively to affect” a student’s wellbeing, both personal and academic. (p. 48)[4] From reading these two texts, I believe that unless teachers care authentically about their students, they cannot create the kind of classroom community or learning environment that empowers students to believe in their own potential and capability as learners.
During Terms IV and V I hope to investigate some of the questions my teaching has raised for me. I would like to continue working to differentiate and scaffold instruction to support each student’s needs. I would also like to gain more experience working with those students in the class who seem to show a lack of confidence by constantly seeking affirmation and help from the teacher. I would also like to focus on how assessment, especially informal assessment during a lesson and anecdotal notes, can be used to plan appropriate instruction for both individual students and the class as a group. Finally, I would like to be more mindful of how my classroom mentor created and maintains a positive, safe classroom community in which students feel comfortable sharing ideas with each other and taking risks in their learning.

References:
[1] Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
[2] Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc. Responsive classroom. Retrieved from http://www.responsiveclassroom.org/
[3] Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling: Issues of caring in education of U.S.Mexican youth. Albany: State University of New York Press.
[4] Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
[1] Tomlinson, C. A. (1999). The differentiated classroom: Responding to the needs of all learners. Alexandria, Va: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
[2] Northeast Foundation for Children, Inc. Responsive classroom. Retrieved from http://www.responsiveclassroom.org/
[3] Valenzuela, A. (1999). Subtractive schooling: Issues of caring in education of U.S.Mexican youth. Albany: State University of New York Press.
[4] Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.