The confidence level of both my TOEFL and IELTS exam preparation courses are sub-zero. I am talking about a group of 25-40 year old working professionals, some of whom are PhD students or graduates who cannot, even when pressed, name a single thing they are extraordinarily good at doing. Of course, I do understand that our society frowns upon tooting one’s own horn, but really? “I am good at eating” said the biochemist who thinks she is who I suspect worries about her weight at a whopping size 5. “I am really good at recommending shows on Netflix” said the early childhood development doctorate. “I really can’t say,” said the physician specializing in hand surgery. Are you kidding me?
O.K. I said, let’s change words, maybe none of you feel extraordinary, but what if I change the word? Tell me about something you are just plain good at.
That is when I decided to dedicate the entire class to digging deeper into this idea of self confidence.
What exactly ‘is’ confidence? Is it something we feel because people have told us we are good at something? Is it something we have gained thanks to personal experience? Is it a lie we tell ourselves over and over again until we believe it? Well, yes and no. It could be all of those and it could simply be a feeling we harbor deep in our guts.
After a good long discussion I pried confessions of, “Well, I suppose I am a good friend/listener/advice giver/organizer,” etc.
My next questions were more personal.
How do you know that you are good at it?
Have you always been good at it?
If not, how did you persevere in order to become good at it?
We discussed and shared opinions while staying in the target language and taking note of new vocabulary words along the way. They engaged in questions among themselves while I helped them to notice that, interestingly enough, all of them felt they were good at their skills without needing the validation of others.
And so, our definition for confidence became: Acting effortlessly with an unwavering feeling that you are good at said action, regardless of outside opinion.
“Hmm,” I said, “very interesting, because we are all about to take an international exam where someone will, undoubtedly, give us a grade, whereby depicting their opinion of our language skills. How might we transfer the feelings we have about being a good listener, being a good friend, or giving good advice to sitting for these exams?”
That was our “Ah ha” moment.
“We need to practice more,” said one.
“Practice what more?” I responded.
“The exam.” said one. “The verb tenses” said another.
“We need more vocabulary” said another.
“And how might we gain vocabulary?” I asked.
“We need to read more,” said one.
“O.K., I am hearing a lot of tips here and they are all helpful, but what if we made a kind of preparational manifesto to help us gain more confidence before the exam?” I said.
“That might be helpful,” they all agreed and so, we got to work and this is what we came up with:
Starting next week, each Wednesday we will open the class with each of them sharing a summary about an article they read during the previous week. They will need to point out important vocabulary they found, and try to come up with a synonym for those new vocabulary words.
We will do the same thing for podcasts.
And starting now, in every class we will do quick drills for creating opinions and supporting that opinion, but instead of doing it based on what we think, we are going to do it based on the stereotypes we have of public figures and how we think they might respond. They agreed that it takes the pressure off from having to support their own ideas and therefore allows them to be more creative.
I really look forward to the next few weeks! Some of these are new approaches for me, so I too am trying things out and taking notes.
Some self assessment:
I can’t believe I am only doing this now! This is something that I will do during the first month of all future courses.
Have you done lesson plans that are similar? What was the outcome? If you haven’t, feel free to adapt mine and then tell me how it worked for your learners!