Academic Focus: Self-efficacy

Academic Focus: Self-efficacy

Over the last semester I have been reading research that attempts to identify the traits, dispositions and skills most highly correlated with academic success. To be able to produce such a definitive list, and then teach the skills, is obviously the holy grail for educators! The research, however, indicates that academic growth is a complex phenomenon. While it is undoubtedly linked to competent teaching, it is also very much the product of students’ own participation, emotionally, relationally, cognitively and behaviourally, in the process of learning.

One of the most interesting areas of my reading has been ‘self-efficacy.’ This term simply refers to the beliefs individuals hold about their own ability to be successful in a given task. In this sense, self-efficacy is a cognition – the way a student thinks about his own capacity to meet the learning challenges in a specific subject. For decades, researchers have reported that students’ academic self-efficacy beliefs are correlated with students’ academic performances and achievement. In fact, self-efficacy has been reliably shown to predict academic performance, often more accurately than by prior achievement scores on standardised testing!

For me, this is a really provocative idea. It’s more than just confidence – it’s actual beliefs about the self, that prompt a student to take certain actions. Current research in the field of motivation is premised on the assumption that the beliefs, or cognitions, that individuals create and hold to be true about themselves form the foundation of human agency and are vital forces in their success or failure.

As I continued reading research in this area, I became fascinated with the way in which these self-efficacy judgements of how well one can execute courses of action required to deal with prospective challenges, not only help determine what individuals do with the knowledge and skills they have acquired but are critical determinants of how well knowledge and skill are acquired in the first place. Specifically, self-efficacy beliefs have been shown to influence:

  • the choices students make,
  • the effort they invest,
  • how resilient they will be in the face of difficulty.

Self-efficacy beliefs are based on four sources of information:

  • performance mastery: the most influential source of information, success experiences raise efficacy appraisals
  • vicarious learning: the example of others and modelling can both increase efficacy belief and mitigate impact of failure
  • verbal engagement: encouragement and verbal persuasion can contribute to heightened efficacy beliefs if it is within realistic bounds
  • emotional states: fear, anxiety, stress and fatigue negatively impact self-efficacy beliefs; therefore, adjustments to the environment that promote safe, inclusive and low-stakes learning experiences, heighten self-efficacy.

The challenge for educators, and parents, is how to tap into the beliefs students hold about their own ability to meet learning challenges … and how to support students to develop increasingly positive states of self-efficacy. As you step into a period of break from school, I hope that you might have opportunity to talk about how your son thinks about his own capacity to be successful in the different demands he faces as a Trinity student!

Finally, may I wish every family a marvellous term break, and provide a reminder that Semester 1 Learning Progress Reports will be released to the parent portal late next week, and parents will be notified via the School App. Information about booking Learning Progress Conversations will be emailed to parents in Years 8 – 10 on Friday 1st July, and to Year 7 parents at the beginning of Week 2 next term.

Deborah Williams | Academic Dean

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