Student Life

Believe to Succeed: The Impact of Self-Efficacy on Performance — The Learning Scientists

The self-efficacy intervention was designed to be comprehensive, targeting all the different ways in which self-efficacy is thought to be influenced:

1)      Previous experiences: If you think about times that you have been successful in the past, you are more likely to believe you can be successful in the future. For the intervention, students were provided lots of opportunities to be successful, with tasks that were a little challenging, but that were at the skill level of the students and students were given lots of encouraging feedback to show them their individual progress.

2)      Messages from others: If other people tell you that you can succeed, you are more likely to believe that you can! For the intervention, teachers were asked to praise student efforts and improvements and to have individual conversations with each student to talk about their strategies and how much progress they were making.

3)      Vicarious experiences: If we see other people like us who succeed in a task, we feel like we can do it too. For the intervention, students were encouraged to notice when their peers were successful and to share that with the group. Group progress was also highlighted in addition to individual progress.

4)      Emotional/physiological state: If you are cranky or tired, you are less likely to feel confident in your ability to succeed. Arguably, this is the most difficult for a lot of educators to manipulate directly. For the intervention, though, they taught children about how emotions can influence behavior and learning through stories and discussions.

The Results

The researchers measured students’ math self-efficacy before, immediately after, and 5 months after the intervention. Students who received skill training only showed a small increase in self-efficacy, but those in the self-efficacy group showed a big change. When looking at just those who started with low self-efficacy before the intervention, there was a substantial increase in their self-efficacy by the end, with a large effect size.

Then they looked at just what part of the intervention had the biggest impact on those gains. Students reported that previous and vicarious experiences were the biggest factors that led to their increased confidence. That is, seeing their own success and celebrating their friends’ successes gave the biggest boost to their confidence.

But what about performance?

The researchers didn’t report the change in math skills for students in the skills group. Instead, they looked at how math skills changed for students within the self-efficacy condition. The intervention worked better for some students than others. For students who ended the intervention with high self-efficacy, their math skills went up considerably. Students who ended the intervention with about the same low self-efficacy as when they started did not show those same improvements.

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