Sometimes it’s hard to pick yourself up when you get a knock to your confidence, especially when you’re a kid and everything seems to be another test or assessment that you can fail. We can’t all be Chumbawamba after all.
It’s not surprising that kids in general feel a lot of pressure at school; they’re constantly being assessed and tested and obviously schools want to be seen to be doing well at Ofsted and in league tables. Past a certain age kids simply don’t often get to learn through experimentation and making mistakes the way we do when we’re infants, instead it’s all about results.
Not forgetting that you also get kids who were born to be worriers who are just really great at catastrophising any small failure into a world-ending problem – leaving them unwilling to try again and with a huge dent to their confidence.
On top of that, in a 2013 study* researchers at Stanford and the University of Chicago found that the way we praise children can affect their achievement and the way they handle failure. Whether children were predominately encouraged using “process praise” (where the praise is focused on their effort or actions e.g. “You’re doing really well.”) or predominately praised using “person praise” (where they are praised on a fixed quality e.g. “You’re so clever.”) affected how well the overcame setbacks and how they approached challenges.
Children who were praised with process praise more were a lot more positive towards challenges and believed that they could improve with effort. On the other hand, children predominately praised with person praise were more likely to give up on a task if they didn’t immediately succeed, as they were more likely to believe that their abilities were fixed and not changeable through effort.
Even more interesting was that parents of boys were more likely to use process praise than parents of girls. So, this could be part of the puzzle for the common problem of girls giving up on tasks in the classroom if they don’t initially succeed.
So, with all of these challenges to helping students build resilience, what can you do in the classroom to help?
I have one word for you. Games.
Babies, toddlers, and infants all learn primarily through play. Everything is exploration and experimentation. Everything is a game (or food, but then again most of the time food is a game too). When we fail in a game it’s not the end of the world, we learn from it, and we use the information we’ve gained to do better. In fact a lot of the time in games you have to get it wrong before you can get it right. Not only is it a really effective way to learn, it’s an effective attitude for life in general. After all, when you get knocked down, you really do need to get up again. (Thanks Chumbawumba; you were wiser than we knew.)
Imagine how terrifyingly fearless a toddler Moby would be
Well, what kind of games?
Pretty much any kind of game you can imagine really. Board games, card games, playground games, clapping games, video games (both educational and off the shelf) anything playful can go in your educational toolbox to help.
What can games do?
- The students who tend to struggle get a chance to shine when games are in play when normally they might lack confidence academically. This can actually lead to them having more confidence in themselves going forward when they realise they’re not doomed to always be bottom of the class.
- High achieving students have the furthest to fall and often the fewest tools to get themselves back up again if they do. It’s just as important to teach high achieving students to be resilient in the face of failure as it is with students with less ability.
- Even the shyest kids in a class tend to relax when things are focused around a game – it’s almost like they forget to be shy.
- You get to have fun too.
It’s the playfulness of games that’s key to reminding students that failure isn’t something to dread, and the more they do it the less afraid they’ll be. Games are low stakes practice at handling failure and handling it well. Remember how terrifyingly fearless toddlers are? That’s because they’re not afraid of failing.
The more a playful approach can be brought into the classroom, the more potential it has to bleed over into students’ other work and their life in general, raising confidence, creativity, and self esteem.
Resilience can be learned and we can be resilient in our learning, but first we need to remember how to play.
So, where can I find games to play?
Games are all around us and you probably play games on your smartphone, with your friends and family, and you can probably think of the best games you used to play when you were child. It’s also pretty fun to come up with your own, but here’s a few suggestions for starting points:
- Charity shops are a good place to find old board games (as is the attic). Board games have come a long way since you were a child and can teach a lot of different things from how fire spreads to how pandemics work and what you can do to stop them. (As well as the expected team work, co-operation, and critical thinking) And they’re not always competitive either!
- Card games can be easily found from friends, family, and the internet and are often great for maths learning.
- Co-operative story-telling games whether they’re cube-based (and a free BrainPOPped version), card-based, or completely in your head they are great practice for creative writing and drama projects and they’re a lot of fun too.
- Off the shelf video games from Minecraft to Portal you can use these in an endless array of lessons and subjects. Your imagination is the limit (or possibly your googling ability as there are many free online lessons plans using these games just waiting to be found).
- Educational games – good educational games can be hard to find but you can find a curated section of useful, free educational games (with BrainPOP resources readily available for if you get stuck) in BrainPOP UK’s GameUp section
- Friends and family – even adults love to play!
- Ask your students! Not only will they be keen to tell you they’ll often let slip what they’ve been learning through it so it will be easier to integrate into a lesson.
If you would like to read more about how to incorporate games into your lessons or why they’re great you can find our other resources on gaming in schools here.
*Parent Praise to 1-3 Year-Olds Predicts Children’s Motivational Frameworks 5 Years Later, Child Development.