Confidence not equal to achievement

Jay Mathews (Washington Post) writes that Confidence in math doesn't always equal success. Reporting on a study from the Brookings Institution, he writes,

countries such as the United States that embrace self-esteem, joy and real-world relevance in learning mathematics are lagging behind others that do not promote all that self-regard.

Mathews includes pro and con perspectives on this report. Of course, confidence based on a lack of reality doesn't bode well for success in one's life. Some time ago, I remember reading about a study that showed that competent people usually have less confidence than incompetent folks, at least initially, that their ability to do something is better than the average in the room.

In foreign language (and other) education circles, we do our best to make the classroom a safe haven for students and try to relate the classroom learning to their own lives. It's possible that some work harder at making everyone feel good than at learning. Even so, it's hard to see why having fun and making things relevant would reduce learning. The only factor I can think of is that countries that focus on lots of drills will do better on a test that reflects that type of learning. Those scores say little about whether students can employ those skills outside of the classroom. As Mathews cites Gerald Bracy, an educational psychologist as saying,

the report overlooked countervailing trends in Japan, Singapore and other countries that do better than the United States on eighth-grade math tests. Officials in those countries say their education systems are not yielding graduates who have the same level of creativity as American graduates. Some Asian nations have begun to copy aspects of U.S. education, including the emphasis on letting students search for answers rather than memorize them.

Still, it is important for our students to have an accurate sense of how well they are doing and how they can improve their abilities in various areas. Self-assessment and peer assessment, along with seeing their peers work, can help in this regard. For a portfolio system that includes these aspects, check out The Learning Record.