What is Self-Efficacy and Why Do Kids Need It?

In recent decades as educators, parents and even communities, we’ve been doing better at building kids’ self-esteem – the idea that you inherently worthy. Kids with good self-esteem value themselves, regardless of external events or voices.

What you may have noticed in your classroom or homeschooling space is that these same kids may have high self-esteem but rock bottom self-efficacy. And in a classroom setting, that’s a problem.

What is self-efficacy?

Self-efficacy is the belief that you have the ability to succeed. It the difference between the student who is given an assignment and says, “I’ve got this!” and the kid who takes one look at it and says, “I’m going to fail.”

So, what’s the problem?

Apart from the fact that as teachers we don’t want our kids to believe they’re incapable of doing anything, low self-efficacy stops them from trying in the first place. If you don’t think you can do something, why try in the first place? Hell, why even show up?

Building self-efficacy

If a student has good self-esteem the fact that they can’t do quadratic equations isn’t going to make them think less of themselves. Great! But as their maths teacher you still want them to give quadratic equations a go.

You need to build their self-efficacy and a good way of doing this using rubrics in the classroom. The strategy I like looks like this (for this example I’m envisioning an assignment but it can be adapted to fit a teaching unit or a single task):

  • Give all students the rubric that you’ve created for the task or unit of work. The rubric should begin at a point below the students’ capabilities (that is, easily achievable) and end at a point above their capabilities (that is, a real challenge). Have them read through the rubric or read through it with them.
  • Have students mark on the rubric where they are now. Stress that there’s no right or wrong answer – they might not be at the same stage as the person next to them and that’s OK (this is where good self-esteem comes into play).
  • Have students mark on the rubric where they would like to get to. This is their goal. They might want to move up one place on the rubric – from ‘I can explain one contributing factor of WW1’ to ‘I can explain and give evidence to support my explanation of one factor that contributed to WW1’ – again it’s not a competition. It’s about setting a small, concrete goal.
  • Have students take particular note of what they need to do to achieve their goal. Now work with them to make a plan of how they are going to do that. For example, if they want apply the correct method to work out Sine, Cos and Tan, what to they need to know, practise and achieve? During this time make sure you talk with students about their goals and strategies. You my need to help students identify where their goal is too challenging, and help them to be more realistic.
  • Collect the rubrics. You will use these to assess the students at the end of the assignment. When you return them, students will be able to see how they’ve improved.

And, what if they don’t improve?

We don’t all meet our goals all of the time. Sit down with the student and look at the reasons they may not have achieved what they set out to achieve. Keep the focus on things that could control. If they phrase it as, ‘I didn’t have enough time,’ rephrase it as, ‘how could you have used your time better?’ Once you looked at what didn’t go to plan, refocus them on what they did achieve or where you felt they grew as learners.

Further Reading

If you want more insights into self-efficacy in the classroom, check out these websites.

Self-Efficacy: Helping Students Believe in Themselves

4 Ways To Improve And Increase Self-Efficacy

Building A Culture of Self-Efficacy

What strategies do you use to build self-efficacy in the classroom? How did the move to remote learning challenge your self-efficacy as a teacher? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

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