An Introduction to Self-Efficacy

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Puff, puff, chug, chug, went the Little Blue Engine. “I think I can– I think I can– I think I can….” “Hurray, hurray,” cried the funny little clown and all the dolls and toys…. And the Little Blue Engine smiled….

W. Piper
The Little Engine that Could

imagePVAWhy are some students eager to learn and willing to tackle new challenges while others seem uninterested or unmotivated? Why do some students demonstrate high levels of confidence in their abilities, while others seem unsure of themselves? What strategies can you, as a classroom teacher, use to increase your students’ confidence to learn new material? Research over the past 25 years indicates these strategies do exist! The purpose of this intervention is to provide you with some easy-to-implement strategies that educators and educational researchers have found will increase your students’ confidence to learn new material. Although no single strategy works with all students, a combination of these techniques can increase your students’ confidence in their ability to achieve, which is referred to as self-efficacy by Albert Bandura (1986).

What is self efficacy and why is it important?
Self-efficacy is a person’s judgment about being able to perform a particular activity.  It is a student’s “I can” or “I cannot” belief.  Unlike self-esteem, which reflects how students feel about their worth or value, self-efficacy reflects how confident students are about performing specific tasks. High self-efficacy in one area may not coincide with high self-efficacy in another area.  Just as high confidence in snow skiing may not be matched with high confidence in baseball, high self-efficacy in mathematics does not necessarily accompany high self efficacy in spelling. Self-efficacy is specific to the task being attempted. However, having high self-efficacy does not necessarily mean that students believe they will be successful. While self-efficacy indicates how strongly students believe they have the skills to do well, they may believe other factors will keep them from succeeding.

A growing body of research reveals that there is a positive, significant relationship between students’ self-efficacy beliefs and their academic performance. Our goal with this project is to increase the self-efficacy of the student you are working with. People with low self-efficacy toward a task are more likely to avoid it, while those with high self-efficacy are not only more likely to attempt the task, but they also will work harder and persist longer in the face of difficulties. Self-efficacy influences: (1) what activities students select, (2) how much effort they put forth, (3) how persistent they are in the face of difficulties, and (4) the difficulty of the goals they set. Students with low self-efficacy do not expect to do well, and they often do not achieve at a level that is commensurate with their abilities. They do not believe they have the skills to do well so they don’t try.

The connection between self-efficacy and achievement gets stronger as students advance through school. By the time students are in college, their self-efficacy beliefs are more strongly related to their achievement than any measure of their ability. If we wish to develop high educational achievement among our students, it is essential that we begin building stronger self-efficacy as early as possible.

Check Your Understanding:

  • Self-efficacy is the same as self-esteem.
    True  False
  • Many underachieving students don’t believe they have the skills to do well.
    True  False

Next Section: What Influences Self-Efficacy

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Sketch by Greg Hunt