Children’s Beliefs Impact Performance

If asked, will your child say they are terrible at math or good at math? Would they say they are a good student or a bad student? Do the words artistic, athletic, or creative show up on their list of descriptives about themselves? Or are meth challenged, poor reader, or is clumsy on their list?

Many times children form their beliefs at very young ages about their capabilities. If they could color within the lines in preschool, they might think they were good students. If coloring in the lines was challenging, they could form the belief that they were not good students. One boy shared that he knew at 2.5 that he was not a good student, because he couldn’t write his name on his paper like the other pre-schoolers. They had been taught before they started school, but his parents never taught him that skill. It didn’t matter to him at 2.5, because his truth was that not knowing how to write your name proved his parents were lying to him about how smart he was.

I was able to see a recurring belief held by students during my 25 years as a third grade teacher. When I first started teaching at the school where I taught third grade, it was considered a developmental school. It didn’t matter what the student scored on the IQ test that mattered. Each child was evaluated on their developmental growth and were introduced to concepts based on where they landed on the developmental spectrum. 

Math is a subject that really requires more of the prefrontal cortex development. When our school shifted to exposing churn to concepts for exposure purposes, is when I began to see more children with a poor math self-concept. There were some children ready for mMath is a subject that really requires more of the prefrontal cortex development of the brain. It was when our school shifted to introducing concepts to children at earlier ages for exposure purposes that I began to see more children with a poor math self-concepts. There were some children ready for more advanced math concepts that were more abstract. While others were still were in need of delivery that was more concre

How can we help our children shift their view of themselves, so they an have a different year? 

We can begin by helping them see how beliefs are formed. In the case of children who have had challenges in math and readying, we can help them see that they let the challenge define whether they were capable or not. Help them understand that if a concept is taught before their brain is ready for it, they will struggle.

Sometimes they need to step away from the concept and revisit in a month or so later when their brains are a little more mature. Knowing that they may not get it right now, does not mean they will never understand it.

They may also need a different approach. Children can learn to ask for ‘another way’ to be shown the concept if the first way is not understood. I always thought there were only 11 ways to teach long division until a student proved to me the 12th way was the most effective for her. They may also need a different approach. Children can learn to ask for ‘another way’ to be shown the concept if the first way is not understood. I always thought there were only 11 ways to teach long division until a student proved to me the 12th way was the most effective for her.

Take time to ask your children how they feel about their ability with each subject. Then inquire about how they decided whether they were good or bad at a subject.

We have to be careful l not don’t want to project our own opinions. We want to hear how they formed their own. No matter how ridiculous it may sound to parents and teachers, their reasoning is the most important tool in helping them shift thinking and guarantee future success in areas they once struggled.  Share your discoveries in the comment box. 

Examples of Beliefs I’ve Heard

The most common reason young children like a subject over another one is because it comes easily to them. 

The following are reasons I have heard over the last 25 years from children not confident in one or more subjects.

“The teacher had Jessica show me how to do the math problem in first grade, and she is a girl. It made me feel really dumb that she got it and I didn’t. I knew right then I would never be good in math.”(When he discovered that the girl was almost 10 months older than him, he was open to trying the concepts again. Once his brain was more developed, he was able to grasp the concept). Peer help is only useful when one child asks another for the help.

”In first grade I couldn’t learn my addition and subtraction facts and past 100 problems i 5 minutes.” (After addressing this child’s perception that speed indicated capability, and helping him reframe his belief, he went on to become an astrophysicist).

“My younger sister learned to read at three, but I still struggle in reading fast enough or remember what I read.” (When children are struggling with reading, it could be the approach. Phonics can make reading laborious if a child would benefit more from a whole word approach. There could be a need for vision therapy or glasses. It could also be that the expectation of being a reader and enjoying it was too high and that it created resistance. Enjoying a book while eating a piece of cheese and an apple was my mother’s form of relaxation. It was torture for me). 

“My first grade teacher told me I was dumb in math. She asked me how I can be so smart in everything else, but so dumb in math.” (This student was introduced to concepts too early. Though she taught herself to read at age three, she was not ready for math concepts that more of left brain activity. The teacher focused on her off the charts IQ, but never took into consideration the type of learner she was. When teachers used a concrete, visual, and kinesthetic approach to math, she soared).

“My friend laughed at me in kindergarten because I needed to count on my fingers to add.” (Because the concepts were taught too early without a visual representation that made sense to this student, he used his creativity to come up with a way to make it concrete for himself. That demonstrated a higher level of thinking. When he viewed his use of his fingers in this way, he grew in confidence and learned to ask for visual representation of abstract concepts. This has proven to be challenging for many math teachers who don’t think in images. His requests for visual support has raised their awareness of the need to offer different methods of delivery to meet the needs of more of their students. It also helped the teachers shift their views of students that think differently than they do. If a math teacher always loved math, there is a good chance it came naturally to them and they don’t understand why it doesn’t for others. They just need an opportunity to see math through other students’ lenses).

I think I was 3 and my father was trying to get me to memorize my facts. He slapped my hand every time I made a mistake. I worried about making mistakes and him finding out.” (We worked all year to help this student overcome the fear of making mistakes and helping the father embrace his son’s mistakes as opportunities for change).

“I had no idea what was going on in class. The teacher didn’t make any sense to me, so I copied off the boy next to me.” (This little girl went on to get the Math Award in her Senior year at a prestigious high school without cheating after discovering how she needed to be taught math concepts).

“I hate reading because my mom forced me to read books. She said I needed to read more so I could read as good as the boy next door. I don’t care about him. Reading makes me tired and I can’t remember anything I read.” (He wasn’t competitive and hated being forced to read when he wanted to be out playing. The fact that he tired from reading was a signal that he might have had visual processing challenges. It turned out that he was struggling because his eye muscles were not working together and he was reading with one eye at a time. That really impaired his comprehension. Once he got visual therapy, he realized why it was hard for him and he became an avid reader).

“I knew I couldn’t read a clock or my watch, because everyone in my family had tried and none succeeded. You’ll never be able to teach me.” (Once she realized she was taught at too young an age and her brain wasn’t ready, she became open to me teaching her. I used a physical approach to telling time that supported her learning style and she was reading her watch by December. She kept it a secret and at the Christmas dinner table, she demonstrated to all those who had tried to teach her in the past that she could now read her watch).

There are a few children who offer labels to describe themselves. It’s unfortunate that they know these labels, because it results in them seeing limitations. Many great inventors were later identified ADD or dyslexic, but they didn’t know it.They knew learning some things was harder than others, but they had tenacity. Instead of focusing on the diagnosis, my student learned how to help himself. He decided that standing during instruction and completing seat work supported his unique needs. Forming questions about what we were going to learn helped him stay interested and focused, because he wanted the answers to his own questions. Breaking his study periods into 15 minute segments also helped him keep focused).

These are just a few of the underlying beliefs that the children come into a class with that parents and teachers are unaware of unless they ask. It is common to ask how they feel, but not how they came to that conclusion.  

Please ask your children to describe their strengths and weaknesses, then share your results below in the comment section. We can all learn from what they tell us

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