Self-efficacy

Imagine you've set your class a task to complete, perhaps a mathematical equation or a critique of paragraph from a novel. Your students will immediately begin to process the demands of the task on a rather superficial cognitive level; for example, some students will have already decided that they will struggle to successfully complete the task while others will be more confident. Some might be thinking in broader terms, in other words, in terms of outcome expectations. These outcome expectations might include the long-term usefulness of the task in front of them ('why do 1 need to know what the author meant, how is this going to help me become a millionaire entrepreneur?'). Others might be thinking subject specifically ('I'm rubbish at this kind of task') or more globally ('I'm rubbish at maths'). These habitual self-judgements impact motivation to complete the task and involve past experiences. They most certainly tell us something about the confidence they have in their ability to succeed in the specific task they have been assigned. These beliefs can also inform us about how the teacher has approached the task. If instructions are unclear and outcome measures ambiguous students feel less confident because they are unsure of the specific expectations of the task. Their confidence can also be affected by given time constraints, the feeling that they don't have enough time to complete the task. Confidence might also be environmentally specific, such as too much noise or other distractions.

Confidence is one of the 6Cs of academic buoyancy, but confidence in what? As was discussed earlier, high levels of self-esteem can lead to unrealistic beliefs in our self-concept, that is, over-confidence. Over-confidence might not seem like a particularly bad thing, after all, confidence is seen in many societies as a highly prized and positive attribute and we rarely hear of anyone wanting to reduce their confidence. However, over-confidence is more commonly associated with unrealistic goals that in turn can lead to an increase in self-handicapping and defensive optimism. Such negative selfappraisals occur because safeguarding self-esteem becomes the top priority, above and beyond any kind of actual progress. Students will try any amount of tactics to ensure they maintain a distorted version of success, comparing themselves to others, concealing their failures and weaknesses and even resorting to acts of dishonesty in order to maintain their inflated ego. This behaviour isn't unique to students, of course, and can also be seen in wider society.

Confidence as self-efficacy

When we talk about confidence we are avoiding comparisons such as '/ am more confident than other people' and instead are dealing with an individual's confidence in their own ability to successfully complete a task or reach a goal, rather than their ability in comparison to others. This might seem like a very subtle difference (and it is), but this detail is important for shifting from a performance to a mastery orientation. There is also an obvious link here to academic self-concept and there is no doubt that there is a relationship between how we view ourselves as learners and how confident we are in our ability to reach our goals.

Efficacy, put simply, is the ability to produce a desired or intended outcome. We might talk about the efficacy of a medical intervention, that is, how confident we are that the medication the doctor gave us is going to deal with the infection for which it has been prescribed. We might also talk about the efficacy of a particular educational intervention or mode of teaching, such as the ability for group work to fulfil the outcomes we have set (whatever these outcomes might be), or of the ability of phonics programmes to ensure that all children develop the ability to read confidently. While we can think of efficacy in these terms, we can also view it as the belief in our own ability to produce a desired or intended outcome, such as our ability to complete a specific task or reach a certain goal. This is what psychologists call self-efficacy.

If we set ourselves a goal, for example, we have to begin with the premise that the goal is achievable (see Chapter 6). If we believe that we can reach our goal through effort then self-efficacy is said to be high and if self-efficacy is high, we are more likely to exert more effort and find ways of overcoming setbacks. On the other hand, if self-efficacy is low, there is a greater likelihood that we will engage in procrastination, employ self-handicapping strategies and half-step our way through our goal pursuit. There would also be a greater tendency to abandon goal pursuit entirely if we encountered even minor setbacks. Feelings of self-efficacy are one reason why we must ensure that goals are achievable and that larger goals are broken down into more manageable chunks.

 
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