Fostering Student Success Through Building Self-efficacy

scott's thoughts May 11, 2022

The rigors of PA education prove challenging to even the best and brightest students.  It is not uncommon for students to encounter difficulties at some point during their training, and ensuring your program is prepared to equip learners to overcome these hurdles is imperative to long-term student success.  An effective remediation program should ameliorate knowledge deficits, but a well-designed remediation program reflects that knowledge is just one piece of a very complex puzzle.  Anyone who has worked with struggling students has likely witnessed firsthand the mental anguish and battles that need to be overcome, along with knowledge deficits, in order to ensure positive outcomes. How can we as educators influence our students’ success beyond correcting knowledge gaps?

Albert Bandura pioneered the concept of self-efficacy which posits that a student’s belief in their ability to achieve a goal is directly related to their motivation toward and likelihood of actualizing that goal.  Student’s beliefs arise from the outcomes of previous experiences.  Because the remediating student has likely had negative assessment experiences resulting from their struggles, our goal is to provide positive experiences upon which they can build self-efficacy through our remediation interactions.  Here are a few techniques that will allow your student to achieve small wins that will lead to big gains.

Encourage Mastery Learning

Mastery learning allows students to work toward achieving a goal at their own pace, being compared to their own previous performance, not the performance of others.  This can remove the stigma of peer comparison, allowing the student to truly focus on their own progress toward achieving competency. Students build on their successes and learn to “fail forward”, growing and improving as a result of their mistakes.  Incorporating opportunities for longitudinal formative assessments rather than “one and done” assessments of learning, increases student confidence. The movement toward competency based learning outcomes as the new standard of assessment is perfectly suited to allow all students to increase their level of self-efficacy.

Nudge Outside the Comfort Zone

Bandura’s research shows us that students with low self-efficacy will avoid activities they perceive as challenging.  However, small successes achieved with supportive mentoring and feedback from faculty and peers during activities that push learners outside of their comfort zone can build self-efficacy.  Likewise, encouragement from faculty in and of itself can increase efficacy, as was seen in Bandura’s study where students who were told they were high achievers demonstrated higher levels of self-efficacy than students who were not given feedback about their achievement, despite the fact that both groups were of equal achievement ability.   When students feel we are in their corner, their belief in themselves increases.

Focus on Solutions, Not Excuses

Struggling students with low self-efficacy will default to assuming every setback is a reflection of low intellectual ability.  This causal attribution has no easy solution and creates a defeatist attitude.  Working closely with students to find the source of their struggle can dispel this erroneous assumption and can help identify other issues such as poor study skills or time management, test anxiety, poor test taking skills, or self-doubt; issues which may have definitive interventions which result in successes, thereby building self-efficacy.

Helping students understand the role self-efficacy plays in their likelihood of success is imperative.  Much like other metacognitive strategies, as students become more comfortable with setting goals they believe they can achieve, and reaping success as a result, the process will become reflexive, creating stronger learners. 

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