Yes I CAN!
Strategies to Increase Self-Efficacy
Part two of a two-part series on Self-Efficacy
In part one we discussed what is self-efficacy and why it matters (click here to read). Thank you to everyone who reached out after reading part one. It made me feel successful and caused a slight increase in my beliefs about my writing ability!
Last time I had mentioned I would share more about how I have embraced the writer in me. However, I found a fascinating case study from the 2022 Laver Cup so I decided to write about that instead.
The 2022 Laver Cup will always be etched in our collective memory as Roger Federer’s last game but it was Casper Ruud who stole the show for me. During the post match interview, when asked what he has improved most in his game that’s allowed him so much success he responded, “Just self-belief that I can play with these guys and belong on this level. It was not easy to have that a year or two years ago.”
The video clip above is an incredible example of the genesis of self-efficacy beliefs! Let’s dive in to see how.
Genesis of Self-efficacy beliefs:
Individuals form their self-efficacy perceptions by interpreting information from four sources:
Past Performance - Students bring a wide variety of past experiences with them when they enter your classroom. Some of those experiences have been positive, others have not. How students interpret their past successes and failures can have a dramatic impact on their self-efficacy.
This was precisely the case with Casper Ruud also!
In 2022 Casper finished as runner up at two of the four grand slam tournaments (2022 French and US Open).
From hundreds of European tennis players he was selected to be a part of the 6 member Europe Team at the Laver Cup for two consecutive years!
In September 2022 the Association of Tennis Professionals raised his ranking to No.2 in the world.
All these accomplishments boosted his self-belief.
Vicarious experience - Students build self-efficacy by observing others like themselves perform tasks, individuals make judgments about their own capabilities.
The more Casper played with tennis players at the top level, saw them succeed as well as lose, the more he started believing that he could also do the same! He articulates this eloquently during the interview when he says that NOW he thinks he can belong at this level and play with these guys!
Social persuasions - Students' beliefs in themselves also come from social persuasions. This means that the more they hear words of encouragement like, “You can do this,” more is their confidence in themselves to accomplish a task. However, it does not contribute as much towards building self-efficacy beliefs, as an individual's own past experiences or vicarious experiences.
I am quite certain that there may have been countless moments on and off the court when a pep talk from his coach, encouragement from his team mates, cheering from the crowd may have given Ruud’s confidence just the right amount of boost and reminded him that he can do it!
Physiological Cues - Physiological cues are signs of nervousness and anxiety, noticing the effort and time involved while doing an activity, etc. Of the 4 sources presented here, these have the weakest influence on self-efficacy beliefs.
Casper mentions how nerve wracking it was in front of the crowd and in front of the Big 4 who were watching him from the bench! So he is aware of his nervousness and the tension was explicit for him. And while he doesn’t say it explicitly, like all other elite athletes, he’s also probably trained to manage these nerves!
Of these four sources, for most people, the most influential source of self-efficacy beliefs is past performance. When students experience genuine success it obviously raises their self-efficacy. Hence the most important strategy in increasing students' self-efficacy is enhancing their knowledge and skills such that they experience success on challenging (yet manageable) tasks.
However, the path to success is not straightforward. It is littered with failures, adversities, and challenges. And, how children interpret these moments of failure, what they attribute this failure to will equally influence their self-efficacy beliefs. In fact, attribution in such moments dramatically impacts their self-efficacy. Will they say, “I’m not a math person?” or will they interpret it as,”I am struggling with this concept and need to work harder..” and that will make all the difference.
Let’s look at some strategies we can use to help children change their attributions -
A: Teach Children that Ability is NOT Innate
Carol Dweck demonstrated that students who believe abilities can be developed are more likely to attempt challenging tasks, persevere more in the face of difficulties and less likely to undermine their self efficacy in case of failure. This is an absolute contrast from students who believe their abilities are innately fixed and they don’t have the power to improve them. So it is important that we help students learn that abilities are NOT innate or fixed.
How can we do this?
Children often believe that if they have to put in effort or work hard it means they are not smart. Bust that myth by -
Teaching students that our brain, like a muscle. It becomes stronger when they put in effort. The intent is to convince students to work hard to cause their brains to grow, rather than just worrying about how smart they are.
Sharing examples of how athletes or other people that children identify as successful spend time developing their skills and talent.
Reading “You Can Grow Your Intelligence” by Carol Dweck at regular intervals.
Praise the process not the person - Compliments like “You are a genius”, “You are so smart” often make people think that their ability is innate. They may hesitate from taking on challenging tasks where the chance of failure is higher because they don’t want to look less smart. Instead, appreciate students for their effort, attention, use of strategy and persistence regardless of the outcome. This not only reinforces the connection between effort and success but also helps students better understand their progress.
B: Help Children Embrace Failure
Except for the field of sports where we see examples of great effort, failure, sweat, and success, students do not normally see the nitty-gritty of achievement. This creates room for filling in all sorts of crazy ideas, such as successful people do not fail, so if students fail they must be stupid or incompetent. Help students appreciate the twisting path to success and teach them how to fail when failure is unavoidable.
How can we do this?
Share stories about the struggles of famous people like -
Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team
27 publishers rejected Dr. Seuss’s first book, To Think That I Saw It on Mulberry Street
Thomas Edison had made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb
Steve Jobs was fired from the company he founded
Rephrasing put downs by adding the magical word ‘yet’ at the end. For instance when students say things like, “I am not good at this” or “I am not a math person” encourage them to rephrase it by saying, “I am not good at this yet” or “I am not a math person yet.” This emphasizes to students that you believe they are all capable of being successful at what they are doing in class and that they will understand it with enough practice and effort.
Model coping strategies (as opposed to dismissing struggles) - As adults when we admit to errors and respond by saying, "Oops, I was a little careless. Thanks for pointing that out.", help youngsters understand that missteps are inevitable, that they can be overcome, and that even authority figures can make them.
The strategies are not exhaustive. To know more you can refer to the additional resources listed below.
Brainology: It’s a fun, interactive program that shows students how their brains – like their muscles – become stronger with effort and practice. Students discover how the brain functions and learns. They also learn healthy habits, study techniques, self-regulation strategies, and other essential non-cognitive skills that help them to become confident and effective learners.
Schwartz, D. L., Tsang, J. M., & Blair, K. P. (2016). The ABCs of how we learn: 26 scientifically proven approaches, how they work, and when to use them. W W Norton & Co.
Urdan, T., & Pajares, F. (Eds.). (2006). Self-efficacy beliefs of adolescents. IAP.
National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. (2018). How People Learn II: Learners, Contexts, and Cultures
An Introduction to Self-Efficacy: The National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented (1990-2013)