Are you familiar with the concept of self-efficacy? If you are a teacher, you should be. The concept was developed by Albert Bandura. Self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their innate ability to achieve goals. Bandura defines it as a personal judgment of “how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective situations”.

Self-efficacy has obvious connections to education: we want our students to believe that they can achieve the various tasks we set them, as well as accomplish their own goals. Bandura tells us there are at least four sources that affect students’ belief in their efficacy in specific tasks or domains.

The first and most influential is the actual outcome of past experiences. “I always fail these math quizzes, no way will I pass this time!” The second is vicarious experiences. The performance of others who we believe to be similar to us can inform us as to the likelihood of our success on a task. The third is verbal input or persuasion from significant other people. Others’ opinions on our ability or chances of success, especially if we highly respect them, can greatly strengthen or weaken our own self-efficacy. The fourth source is one’s affective state while facing a challenge. Feeling excited at the prospect of performing a difficult task may indicate the potential to perform well; however, anxiety and hyper-vigilance can reveal a lack of competence.

There are at least three educational practices we can implement to help strengthen students’ self-efficacy.

1. Frequent optimal challenges. Not too difficult, not too easy, and specific, achievable, concrete and short-term goals.

2. Constructive feedback. I’ll talk more about this in another post.

3. Nurturing coping resources. Help students develop various ways of coping with achievement related stress.

We should always remember that what the students do and how they feel about their own learning is far more important than our actions and theories about what should happen in the classroom. If the student has high self-efficacy, the sky’s the limit, it’s that simple.

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