Students with higher self-efficacy tend to set higher goals and expend more effort towards their achievement.
Self-efficacy is the judgement that a person makes about their own capability to achieve a task. High self-efficacy is the confidence or strength of belief that one can learn and experience success in learning. Students with high self-efficacy enjoy challenges and tolerate failure, whereas those with low self-efficacy are more likely to avoid difficult tasks, and have low commitment to goals. It is important to remember that self-efficacy is not fixed, and people tend to be more efficacious in particular contexts or towards specific tasks.
Students’ self-efficacy beliefs are based on:
- prior task accomplishments, and whether success is interpreted through a growth or fixed mindset
- seeing someone else perform the task or activity (because students develop an expectation that they too can acquire the skill)
- teacher expectations and verbal persuasion
- the amount of support students can expect from teachers and peers
- physical symptoms such as anxiety. (Students with low self-efficacy are more likely to experience achievement anxiety.)
Self-efficacy judgements affect which activities students choose or avoid, how much effort they put in, how much resilience they have, and how long they persist with a task. Students with higher self-efficacy tend to set higher goals and expend more effort towards their achievement. They persist longer and use more cognitive and metacognitive strategies (higher-level thinking showing an understanding of learning processes). The most useful efficacy judgement for a student is slightly overestimating what they can actually achieve on a task — this motivates greater effort and results in greater learning.
There is a strong research-base on self-efficacy and its importance for student learning. There is both quantitative and qualitative evidence suggesting that both student and teacher self-efficacy are important contributors to student learning.
A student’s experience of succeeding in tasks is the most important source of self-efficacy beliefs. Think about how you can structure your teaching to provide students with clear expectations for their learning and regular feedback and support as they work towards these expectations. Once students experience an improvement in performance or an achievement, feelings of efficacy are enhanced, which enable students to tackle further learning challenges. Students learn that their efforts improve their performance.
Peer modelling is more effective than teacher modelling, especially as some students may doubt they can ever attain the teacher’s level of competence. However, choose your models carefully. The best peer models are those that make errors at first and express doubt about their self-efficacy (“I’m not sure I can do this”).
- How often do all students in your class experience success with their learning?
- How do you scaffold learning into smaller tasks, so that students experience smaller successes more regularly?
- How do you communicate your aspirations for your students, and let your students know that you think they can succeed in their learning?
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