Self-efficacy and buoyancy

Efficacy also increases the ability to bounce back when our desired outcome doesn't match our expectations. Confidence in our ability to successfully complete a task allows us to deal more successfully with setbacks. This appears to be the result of two interrelated processes, our confidence in our ability to deal emotionally with failure and confidence in our ability to learn from failure, dust ourselves down and rectify the reasons for the setback. The first process is also related to emotional stability, that is, how well we can accept the inevitability of setbacks and prevent our emotions from overpowering us. When we face failure or are presented with something that is preventing us from achieving our goal, negative emotions such as anxiety and guilt can easily overwhelm and we might conclude that we are incapable of successfully completing such a task. Our attributions, therefore, play a role. We might view failure as inevitable and attribute its cause to something about ourselves, such as lack of intelligence. The danger is that these attributions then become stable - they become things that are more difficult to change, leading to the belief that trying is pointless because all outcomes will always be the same. Our attributional style can play a major role in how we approach success and failure (Chapter 10).

The second factor is perhaps a little more complex, as it involves a number of related sub-factors. We know that students with high self- efficacy are more academically buoyant and more willing to accept advice on how to get through roadblocks and push forwards following reversals in fortune. They are certainly more persistent, but persistence isn't always enough to enable us to bounce back. What appears to be different about these more buoyant students is that they have a more realistic view of outcomes. On the one hand, they are confident in their ability to succeed, while on the other, they also accept that failure is a possible outcome. By holding realistic views of outcomes we anticipate things that might go wrong and remain confident that we can also deal successfully with negative outcomes.

In action

Building up a positive view of ourselves can be viewed as an on-going project. High academic self-concept doesn't simply result from being continually successful - it's also about being able to change in response to circumstances, or, adaptability Self-concept then fuels self-efficacy, building the confidence that is needed to tackle complex and challenging tasks. The strategies useful for building the former are similar to those for the latter.

Establish support mechanisms

It's useful for teachers to consider what they might do in the event of failure and setbacks and, as we saw in earlier chapters, support mechanisms are vital if students are to become more buoyant. This support could be provided by the teacher, teaching assistants or study partners, just as long as there is support in place and the floundering student is never left alone to dwell on their perceived inadequacies.

Establish routines

As mentioned several times already, human beings are generally none too keen on change. This is even more so with young children and, even though we become better at adapting to change as we age, older children will still cope better if there is routine. This might include knowing the format of the lesson and how learning is expected to proceed, but will also involve aspects of behaviour management.

But allow for change

This is obviously in direct contradiction to the previous advice but coping with change is important if students are to adapt when the situation alters. It's more about the extent of the change that is at play here and how students are supported. Small changes to routines or the environment nurture flexibility

Encourage the view of the self as an on-going project

Viewing who we are as an on-going project has a number of benefits. First of all, our sense of self becomes more flexible, allowing us to cast aside aspects that don't appear to be working very well for us. While our academic self might have emerged via our early experiences in learning environments, being aware that our lack of confidence in, say maths, has arisen because of an early negative experience allows us to identify the cause and adjust our thinking (meta-awareness or meta-cognition). Take the example of someone being frightened of dogs. Chances are, this fear would have originated because of one dog and was then transferred from experiences of this one dog to all dogs. Perhaps our lack of confidence in maths has arisen because we struggled early on in our academic life and we then attributed a global cause to it - 'I was bad at maths when I was six, so I'll still be bad when I'm 16'. There are, of course, other issues at play here, such as anxiety, yet all these remain wrapped up in our general sense of self.

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