In the late 1970s Albert Bandura of Stanford University published his research findings on self-efficacy. Self-efficacy is not so much about generalisation of a person’s confidence but the confidence level about being successful with a specific task you are tackling at that moment. Bandura suggests that self-efficacy is therefore not domain specific like esteem, but task specific and is about the confidence for succeeding on the very task you can see in front of you at that time.  Shaun Alison explores the idea of self-efficacy here.

The EEF ‘Metacognition and Self-Regulation’ guidance report offers seven recommendations to encourage metacognitive self-regulating learners. Recommendation four suggests that motivation is an integral part of self-regulation.  When learners are being challenged it is important that they feel emotionally supported and motivated to persevere. If the given task is difficult, then a pupil will need a strong sense of self-efficacy to complete the given task – which will involve the deployment of metacognitive strategies. One aspect of this is rewarding specific aspects of their effort, with regards to the task e.g. ‘I like the way you stuck with balancing that chemical equation, even though you got it wrong to start with’ rather than absolute levels of achievement; to give feedback about personal progress, and to avoid social comparison.

It can be difficult to promote high levels of self-efficacy in all students. Through encouraging students to use strategies to break down barriers to perceived ‘challenging activities’ it can aid motivation and improve their perception of the complexity of that task, which will in turn, improve self-efficacy. The EEF guidance report offers a useful insight into self-efficacy and its relationship with metacognition. It suggests that successful learners will ask themselves the following questions on the knowledge of task, self and strategy, either consciously or unconsciously when tackling a task:

These students typically exhibit an awareness of the degree of challenge in the task they are attempting and are able to draw on their metacognitive resources to overcome any obstacles with the task – through asking themselves these questions.   The level of challenge is fundamental in the process.  If it is too low or too high then the learner will not ‘accept’ the challenge or will suffer cognitive overload.  We can support this by explicitly teaching students to use these questions when tackling a task.

At Durrington High School we have come up with several phrases to use with students in order to support students with a more positive sense of self-efficacy:

1. Stay in the struggle. Do not give up straight away.
2. Use your teachers feedback on previous tasks to help you with this one. How might this be relevant to what you are doing?
3. Use your exercise book to check for models or completed examples you have already been successful with. These can help you get started.
4. Embrace uncertainty and give it your best: ‘it could be, it might be’ or ‘maybe I should try…’ are all useful phrases that will identify possible next steps.

There are three key areas  teachers can focus on, in order to promote high levels of self-efficacy with their students:

1. Improve their pedagogical subject knowledge – this will help teachers understand common misconceptions and how to ‘unstick’ students.
2. Make complicated tasks and ideas accessible through effective modelling, questioning and feedback and plan how to ‘unstick’ students when necessary – worked examples are crucial in allowing students to access the more complex elements of a task, because they free up the working memory.
3. Use scaffolds judiciously and with subtlety – these should cause thinking and be faded away over time to support students with completing tasks independently.

By James Crane

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