By: Pamela Whyte, Key Classrooms
“People with high assurance in their capabilities approach difficult tasks as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided.”
Do you remember the strong push to ensure students felt successful in the 90’s? We made sure students felt like star students by praising them, providing unending incentives and using the term “You are so smart!” over and over till all kids felt they were “so smart” at everything. Middle school basketball players were all going to be NBA stars, three year-old dancers were going to grow up to be Broadway dancers and everyone was so smart that they should all go on to college. There was research coming out that told us if students felt successful in a small task they would feel confident on the next level, and that would lead to mastery. Teachers across the country were encouraged to make students feel successful and we did that, very well! So why didn’t student achievement improve? And why did student entitlement increase? We missed a very important part of the research until Albert Bandura wrote Self Efficacy: The exercise of control in 1997 then connected efficacy to educational settings in 2003. Many other researches have worked on efficacy for many years, but it seems to be Bandura’s work from 1997 that is most prevalent in current discussions on efficacy.
This is what we now know: The more effort you put into something the better you will become at that task. Students need to understand the reason they do well at a task is because they worked hard at the task. Refrain from saying “This is easy and you guys can get this” or “You can do this you are so smart.” Move to feedback and praise like “Class, this is very difficult work, but I know if we work hard on this we will get it” or “I watched as you struggled on number four, and you got it right, what matters is your hard work.” People want to know they accomplished the task because they worked hard not because it was easy or because they are “smart.” We are programmed to believe we either ARE or ARE NOT “smart”. We believe “smartness” is a trait that we HAVE or DON’T HAVE. That is inaccurate. What are the implications of a student with a learning disability who believes he is a “HAVE NOT?”
Efficacy does not end with students, teachers and staff need to have a high level of self-efficacy. The teacher down the hall has the best classroom management you have ever seen in your grade level, it isn’t because she is “smarter” than you it is because she has worked harder on classroom management than you. You have worked harder on another component of teaching, maybe you have the most incredible smart board lessons. You are not “smarter” than other teachers, you have just worked harder on smart board lesson plans. Efficacy applies to everyone in every position within a school. As we increase efficacy and build a culture around efficacy, student achievement will increase.
Build efficacy in your classroom by focusing on effort and relevant practice. Build efficacy in your classroom by using praise that focuses on the struggle students have gone through to accomplish a task. Build efficacy in your school by focusing on coming through the struggle and all of the tasks that have been accomplished even through trials and tribulation.
We have more resources on efficacy on our “Resources” tab at www.keyclassrooms.com