1. Schools expressly develop children’s ‘cognitive competencies’, furnish them with knowledge and develop problem-solving skills.
2. Schools formally evaluate young people’s competencies and compare them with others.
3. At school children are exposed informally to other young people and how they model cognitive skills, and compete with others.
4. Schools deliberately try to motivate children with rewards and punishments.
5. The way that teachers interpret and react to success and failure can have profound effects on children’s feelings of efficacy.
In effect this means that teachers have tremendous opportunities to influence their students’ feelings of efficacy
What teachers can do to encourage feelings of efficacy
i. Be challenging
Children develop feelings of mastery by being able to overcome challenges – not from accomplishing easy tasks. Mastery, therefore, requires persistence and some degree of frustration. Being overly sensitive to students by putting too much emphasis on how they feel in the here and now, and not encouraging them to stick with something, despite the frustration, will undermine the development of efficacy. Conversely, encouraging students to persevere with a difficult task, which they are likely to accomplish, will help build self-efficacy. This is not just consistent, but at one, with the spirit behind the Curriculum for Excellence. When describing principles for curriculum design, it states:
Young people should find their learning challenging, engaging and motivating. The curriculum should encourage high aspirations and ambitions for all. At all stages, learners of all aptitudes and abilities should experience an appropriate level of challenge, to enable each individual to achieve his or her potential.
ii. Help students with goal setting
Bandura argues that failing at a task can undermine self-efficacy particularly ‘if failures occur before a sense of efficacy is firmly established’. This means that teachers have an important part to play in helping young people set sufficiently challenging, yet realistic, goals. A. Woolfolk Hoy, in a paper called ‘What do teachers need to know about self-efficacy?’ recommends that teachers have regular goal setting and goal review meetings with students. Other experts on self-efficacy and education, Schunk and Parajes, contend that ‘learning goals that are specific, short-term and viewed as challenging but attainable enhance students self-efficacy better than do goals that are general, long-term and not viewed as attainable.'
iii Encourage students to see failure constructively
Even if teachers help students to set attainable goals students are still likely to encounter failure. They can be encouraged to take a more constructive view of failure, if the teacher does not link failure with fixed traits, such as IQ or physique, or other matters beyond the young person’s control. Instead, the teacher should encourage the student to link failure to weaknesses which they can put right with effort and the application of better strategies. Alan McLean highlights the importance of this when he writes:
The primary cause of disengagement from learning is repeatedly putting failure down to stable, personal, uncontrollable, and global factors that suggest failure is inevitable. Students with a lethal cocktail of pessimistic explanations of progress, fixed ability ideas, a strong performance attitude to achievement and low competency beliefs are especially vulnerable to a spiral of failure avoidance.
iv. Give feedback that encourages good strategies for improvement
Zimmerman and Cleary, two experts on adolescents and ‘personal agency’, argue that the constructive view of failure must also be incorporated into teachers' feedback. Feedback can be defined as a structured response - either written or verbal - that aims to inform the learner about how they are doing and what steps they must take to achieve their goal. Zimmerman and Cleary argue feedback is important 'because it focuses a student's attention on important learning strategies', Later they add that 'thinking in the "language of strategies" motivates adolescents to view success and failure in terms of using "controllable" strategies rather than innate, unchangeable factors such as ability.'
v. Give genuine encouragement
Bandura, Woolfolk Hoy and other experts on self-efficacy argue that social persuasion is important but that the potency of persuasion depends on the credibility, trustworthiness and expertise of the persuader. This is not a new notion. In the 1950s Eric Erikson warned ‘children cannot be fooled by empty praise and condescending encouragement’. Nonetheless, this still means that a trusted teacher or coach can influence young people’s effort. Woolfolk Hoy argues that the intervention of a good teacher or coach may be enough to encourage a student to make the effort which leads to improvement. As the French writer Anatole France
once remarked: ‘Nine tenths of education is encouragement’.
vi. Encourage students’ self-reflection
Experts agree that an important aspect of self-efficacy is self-reflection. This means that teachers can help students develop self-efficacy if they encourage them to try to make sense of their personal experiences and their beliefs, and to evaluate themselves and their behaviour. Following this self-reflection the young person can then take steps to behave differently.
vii. Get students to think and say … I can
The language of self-esteem is ‘I feel’ whereas the language of self-efficacy is ‘I can’. Such ‘can do’ attitudes are the antithesis of Martin Seligman’s helpfully defined ‘learned helplessness’. It is very empowering for adults in Scotland, let alone young people, to focus attention on what they are able to do in life: to see themselves as active agents able to shape their own destiny. Again this is in tune with the Curriculum for Excellence. The Progress and Proposals document states that a key feature of the CfE approach is that it describes experiences and outcomes from the learner’s point of view, using terms like ‘I have …’ for experiences and ‘I can …’ for outcomes.