Help Your Students Believe in Themselves: Self-Efficacy in the Classroom

In his pioneering work, Albert Bandura characterised self-efficacy as the individual’s belief in his capacity to execute behaviours necessary to produce specific performance attainments. It reflects confidence in the ability to exert control over one’s own motivation, behaviour, and social environment. As teachers, this is an important element of human behaviour that can be harnessed to optimise students’ learning experience.

A host of research has already demonstrated that self-efficacy appears to be an important variable because it impacts students’ motivation and learning. But what are the factors that teachers should bear in mind to ensure that self-efficacy flourishes in the classroom?

  1. Learning from other’s experience. An excellent source of of self-efficacy comes from vicarious experiences, especially when students observe people whom they consider as role models. As an example, if you’re a teacher, it is worth sharing with your students how you have struggled in the past but were able to manage it later on in life. Similarly, students can also learn from their classmates. The key thing is that when we see people similar to ourselves succeed by their sustained effort, it reinforces our beliefs that we too possess the capabilities to master the activities needed for success in that area. So emphasise to your students that, ‘If they can do it, you can do it as well.’
  2. Previous performance. You know the old adage: ‘Nothing breeds success like success’? That one is certainly true when it comes to helping your students improve their self-efficacy. If a student has been successful (and has been rewarded) for a particular skill in the past, they will begin to believe in themselves that they have the ability to execute the same skill in the future, and be excellent at it. Acknowledge those brilliant performances from your students. The power of praise in changing student behaviour is that it both indicates teacher approval and informs the student about how the praised academic performance or behaviour conforms to teacher expectations.
  3. Social persuasion. This one generally manifests as direct encouragement or discouragement from another person. Discouragement is generally more effective at decreasing a person’s self-efficacy than encouragement is at increasing it. Hence, parents and teachers should collaborate in providing effective feedback to students. A recent study illustrated this by exploring the self-efficacy of Chinese students after receiving positive and negative feedback that were described as coming from their teacher, mother and father. Researchers observe that there is no difference in the change in self-efficacy after receiving feedback from the father and the teacher. Indeed, this kind of parent-teacher collaboration for students’ well-being is one of the keynotes that Dr Berney Wilkinson, host of Psychreg Podcast, aims to address at the upcoming ICPCE 2018 conference.
  4. Physiological factors. In situations such as exams, students may be stressed. Their perceptions of their responses can have a significant impact on their self-efficacy. Students may experience ‘butterflies in the stomach’ when asked to deliver a speech in front of the class. Bear in mind that it is the way people interpret and evaluate emotional states that is important for how they develop self-efficacy beliefs. For this reason, being able to diminish or control anxiety may have a positive impact on self-efficacy beliefs. So how do you deal with this? One strategy that could work is to coordinate pairs and groups of students during classroom activities. This could potentially peel off the anxiety of some students having to work on their own.
  5. Genetics. You might have considered the first four factors but still wonder why some of your students fail to develop their self-efficacy. It could be just they are born that way. In one study done in Norway, it was observed that the heritability of self-efficacy in adolescents was estimated at 75 per cent. The remaining variance,  was due to environmental influences not shared between family members. The researchers suggest that the shared family environment did not contribute to individual differences in self-efficacy. If that is indeed the case with one of your students, then practise differentiation to meet a particular student’s needs.

Take away

Although there is considerable evidence to support the direct effects of self-efficacy beliefs on academic achievement, there are still students who struggle in believing what they can achieve. As a teacher how can you make a difference to your students’ learning journey? Do you have other strategies that you can share with other teachers?

About the Author

Dennis Relojo is the Founder of Psychreg, an online resource in psychology, mental health, and well-being. He previously taught at South Essex College (UK), Centro Escolar University (Philippines) and Manila Central University (Philippines). Dennis is also the Editor-in-Chief of Psychreg Journal of Psychology and serves as an editorial board member for a number of peer-reviewed journals. His research interests lie in the broad area of applied psychology. A graduate member of the British Psychological Society, Dennis holds a master’s degree in psychology from the University of Hertfordshire, and another master’s degree from the Polytechnic University of the Philippines. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from New Era University (Philippines). You can connect with him on Twitter @DennisRelojo