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In my nineteen year community organizing career prior to becoming a public school teacher, one tool we used to encourage people to do something they had never done before — participate in public life — was develop what we called “fixed-fights.” These were small-scale actions where new volunteer leaders had an almost guaranteed chance of success. These victories would help them develop self-confidence and a belief that it was worth continuing on the road to greater risks.

These kinds of actions helped people develop their sense of self-efficacy – their belief in their ability to be successful (Albert Bandura is well-known for his work applying this concept to education and other fields).

Most teachers know that a similar perspective can be applied to education, as well, and a new study demonstrates its potential for success in the classroom.

Basically, researchers secretly gave some students a group of easier problems than another group, and then those with the easier problems were publicly praised for getting more of them correct. Then,

We found that the success-induced students raised their self-efficacy, and this elevated self-efficacy persisted for as long as one year.

In other words, their raised belief in their ability to succeed carried over to their classwork, and raised their overall academic achievement.

Here’s how the researchers explained that carryover success:

One possible answer comes from self-regulated learning theory (Zimmerman, 1990), which hypothesizes a “virtuous causal cycle”: Students first experience success, which raises their self-efficacy. Improved self-efficacy increases motivation and the use of effective learning strategies. These covert and overt changes then lead to improved academic achievement, and the cycle begins anew.

It’s not unusual for me to have some students who have little belief in themselves. “I’m an F student” or a “Nothing” response to my question, “Can you tell me one thing you’re good at?” is a typical indicator of those feelings.

I believe that setting up situations for students to increase their sense of self-efficacy – for example, offering plenty of opportunities for “do-overs” or, as we are doing in our Long-Term English Language Learner Support Class, providing extra help in academic classes (even for students who aren’t quite at the “I’m not good at anything” level but who, nevertheless, lack self-confidence because of past struggles in school), can result in similar impacts on academic achievement.

What do you think?

I’m adding this piece to Best Posts On “Motivating” Students.

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What strategy is most useful in promoting self-efficacy in educators and in learners? is from Digital Promise.

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