Embed strategies

To raise student self-efficacy we need to examine those things that impact on it. This isn't something that can be achieved with an intervention that teaches young people to have higher levels of ASE, but rather requires imbedding within the culture of the classroom or (even better) the whole school.

Positive learning experiences

Positive learning experiences lead to long-term academic benefits. Indeed, enjoyment of school has been identified as a major component of both academic buoyancy and academic outcomes (Martin, 2003). Children who enjoy school, therefore, appear to do better than those who don't find the experience enjoyable. School doesn't have to be fun (although it can be), but the more positive experiences we accrue, the more likely we are to work harder for longer and build more positive relationships with those around us.

Positive experiences can arise in multiple ways and Early Years teachers are best placed to ensure that children develop the psychological skills to thrive throughout their academic life. Secondary school teachers might have a harder time, but year 7 can often represent a new start for many children whose earlier school experiences were less positive.

Support mastery goal orientations

A mastery goal orientation places the emphasis on personal goals rather than peer comparisons. This is opposed to a performance goal orientation that encourages learners to avoid failure by choosing less demanding tasks, giving up earlier and employing self-handicapping strategies such as defensive pessimism. While performance orientated learners attempt to safeguard their self-esteem by devising ways to prevent them looking unintelligent, mastery goal orientated learners see failure as a chance to improve due to the confidence they have in their ability to bounce back.

Teachers can help to nurture a mastery goal orientation by playing down comparisons between students and promoting the use of self-reference goals, such as Personal Best goals. This not only has the benefit of nurturing a more buoyant student, but also one that is more intrinsically motivated.

Breaking down tasks and goals

ASE is partly the result of past educational experiences, so teachers can help by ensuring that tasks and goals don't overwhelm. Setting realistic and manageable goals is essential in order to foster positive experiences; if goals are seen as too challenging, students will become disheartened and anxious, if they aren't challenging enough, they will become bored and despondent.

Individual tasks can also be broken down into manageable stages, similar to those used for solving complex problems in mathematics. Avoid leaving students with large tasks to complete by themselves, rather, break the task down, clarify errors and misconceptions, offer verbal feedback and then, move on.

Providing models or worked examples can also raise levels of ASE by ensuring that students understand both what is expected and the stages that are required to achieve the desired outcome. Breaking tasks down into manageable chunks and using worked example are also important for reducing the load on limited cognitive resources, especially those related to working memory. By reducing or managing cognitive load we increase the chance of task success which, in turn, raises levels of ASE.

Celebrate small successes

Breaking down tasks into smaller chunks allows us to celebrate each success as it comes along while gradually increasing the level of challenge. We can think of this as building self-efficacy from the ground up. This is fairly common strategy in teaching, although it's not necessarily aimed at increasing confidence. A teacher might, therefore, break a complex equation down into stages or a challenging essay into smaller components. As each small task is successfully completed, the student become more confident in their ability to complete the next task.

Clear outcomes and expectations

The belief in our ability to successfully complete a task is influenced by how specific the outcome measures have been conveyed. If task instructions are vague or ambiguous, there is little in the way of knowing what is expected. Many teachers will be familiar with the student who simply sits motionless because they didn't understand the nature of the task or the desired outcomes; rather than risk potential ridicule, they sit in silence, becoming more anxious as each second passes.

Anticipate setbacks

Asking the question 'what if you don't get the grade you want/need?' or 'what are you going to do if you get stuck?' embeds the possibility that things might not go according to plan. Chapter 6 introduced the concept of doublespeak to describe the way in which we incorporate setbacks into our goal setting agenda and how by doing this we are better equipped to deal with problems that might prevent us from reaching our goals. This is not a pessimistic response but rather one of preparing ourselves for every eventuality.

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