Low confidence levels in Computer Science for girls
All sorts of factors influence a student’s confidence in any given subjects. When I teach computing at primary school, most girls have the same if not greater confidence than their male counterparts so what am I doing wrong in Y7 and Y8 that knocks the confidence of so many of my students?
Mistakes I’ve made and lessons learnt
- Praising students who succeed is so deeply ingrained in teaching that sometimes I forget to praise students who fail.
I learn much more from my mistakes but if I only ever praise the students who get their work right first time then I’m never modeling how to cope with difficulty. If I want my students to be resilient enough to be able to be confident programmers then they’ve got to see that every difficulty as a learning opportunity: a challenge to be solved. Students don’t magically develop this highly prized characteristic. We have to instill and nurture it by reacting calmly when things go wrong – modeling, discussing and delegating the process of searching for and attempting different potential solutions. A student who’s spent a lesson battling trying to recover their work after their computer crashed hasn’t wasted that hour if they’ve learnt what caused the problem, how it can be fixed and how it can be avoided in future. If that student leaves the room feeling more confident, having been praised for their resilience, they may not have achieved the learning objectives I wanted them to but they certainly haven’t wasted their time.
- Pressure on time can mean work for each project is often not finished. Curriculum time is a huge limitation at KS3 especially if each class only has one hour of contact time per week. Because there are so many exciting topics and projects to race through, I’m often guilty of not giving students enough time to finish a piece of work or tie up all the loose ends before moving on. This suits the stereotypical boy who likes to start new things and not get bored but those people who gain confidence, enjoyment and fulfilment from completing a task fully can perhaps suffer. Time constraints aren’t going to go away, but I’m slowly learning that we need to be more realistic about the number of projects we attempt and be conscious of the balance between maintaining a fast and exciting pace as well as allowing time for completeness and resolution.
- Static seating plans can reinforce low confidence. I love a good seating plan. There’s nothing more valuable with a new class than having a piece of paper telling you the names of who’s sat where and it makes a massive difference to behaviour if the teacher has the power to set and change the social dynamic for that lesson. I’ve noticed though that sometimes I’ve got lazy and kept the same seating plan for far too long when unhelpful working relationships have built up between adjacent students. Physical space is limited and it’s often impossible to get it perfect. Plus, changing the seating plan takes effort so I don’t do it very often. This can mean though that if someone with low confidence is sat next to someone else who’s low in confidence they together can quickly build up a critical mass of I-can’t-do-it-ness that infects others near them. Also, if someone who lacks confidence sits near someone with oodles of it, an unhealthy dependency relationship can build up which reinforces the inferiority of the former whilst boosting the ego of the latter. I’ve tried to shake this up by choosing a random student most lessons to be a roaming helper who encourages and supports the rest of the class whilst being showered with praise from the front and treated like a celebrity whenever they fulfil their role maturely and sensibly. Ideally though, I’d like anyone in my classes to be able to work confidently with anyone else and that’s not going to happen unless I invest the effort to disrupt the seating plan every term or so. Oh dear.