Chapter 13: Motivation- Self-Efficacy




Submitted by: Leslie Culpepper

self efficacy 2


When talking about motivation, self-efficacy is a very important factor. Self-efficacy is the belief in yourself to meet a goal or attain a certain outcome. Self-efficacy affects how we feel, think and act. Some people have high self-efficacy and others have low. Let’s pretend that you are about to jump out of an airplane. What is the voice inside your head telling you? The voice is a reflection of your self-efficacy. If the voice inside your head is telling you that you can do it, more than likely you will. If you are uncertain that you can do it, you probably can’t.

People high in self-efficacy take better care of themselves, see tasks as something to be mastered, and they feel more empowered. (LeVan, 2010) They learn from failure and use it to create success. They have a greater sense of motivation and persistence. These students with high self-efficacy know how to improve their own performances. They are more engaged, have better achievement and have greater task persistence. (Barkley, 2006)

Students with poor self-efficacy have low aspirations which may result in substandard academic performances. They look at challenges as threats that should be avoided. They fall victim easily to depression and stress. Children with low self-efficacy have low commitment to goals and give up when faced with difficulties. It has been linked to helplessness, anxiety and depression. (LeVan, 2010) Learned helplessness is the perception developed through experience that no matter what you do, you will not be competent in a domain. (Bergin & Bergin, 2012) These students believe that they cannot do something no matter how hard they try.

How can students gain self-efficacy?

– Mastery experiences: successful experiences enhance self-efficacy

– Vicarious experiences: watching others succeed strengthens own beliefs

– Verbal persuasion: boosting and motivating others to do their best

– Emotional state: being positive and happy can boost self-efficacy

Efficacy beliefs are powerful predictors of performance, not only for students but also for teachers. (Barkley, 2006) Teachers with low efficacy beliefs find it complicated to teach to the individual needs of their students. Teachers who are found to be highly efficacious in their teaching beliefs and strategies typically find it easier to both confront and correct educational pitfalls in the classroom. (Barkley, 2006) Current research does show that teacher efficacy is linked to student efficacy and student motivation. (Barkley, 2006) Students need teachers who will promote day-to-day activities resulting in activities designed to maintain high but accurate self-efficacy beliefs. (Barkley, 2006) They also need challenging tasks with positive feedback and the understanding that ability is a controllable aspect of learning. It is crucial that students have a positive role model to help them be successful.

There are a few things to avoid as educators. Try to avoid instruction that does not allow student input. Let students take control of their learning so it can be tailored to individual performance. Avoid goal driven instruction. It can put too much pressure on students and emphasize extrinsic outcomes. (Kirk, 2012) Also try to avoid comparing student performances to each other. This can really lower the self-efficacy of many students.


Barkley, J. (2006) Reading Education: Is Self-Efficacy Important? Reading Improvement, 43. Retrieved from:

Bergin, C. C., & Bergin, D. A. (2012). Child and adolescent development in your classroom. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.

Kirk, Karin (2012). Self Efficacy: Do you Believe you can be Successful?, 32 Degrees: The Journal of Professional Snowsports Instruction, Winter 2012. Retrieved from:

LeVan, A. (2010). If You Think You Can’t…Think Again: The Sway of Self-Efficacy. Retrieved from:

Discussion Questions:

1. Have you had a student with low self-efficacy? How did you help them?

2. What are some ways that you could give students control over their learning?

3. What do you do to increase self-efficacy with your students on a daily basis?

4. Do you know a teacher with low self-efficacy? Have you seen the effects it can have on students?

5. Have you ever had a student with learned helplessness?

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6 Responses to Chapter 13: Motivation- Self-Efficacy

  1. Janet says:

    Have you ever had a student with learned helplessness?

    In the field of special education, I have worked with many students with learned helplessness. It is so unfortunate when they enter middle school with the belief that they are not capable of completing tasks independently. At this stage, it takes a lot of intense intervention, but the students can learn they are capable of achieving the high expectations that are put into place. Unfortunately, although it is not intentional, many staff members and/or parents create the learned helplessness by doing everything for the student. When all tasks, and even decisions, are made for them, they begin to doubt their ability to perform the task or make their own decisions. I once worked with a student that always turned to the paraprofessional when a question was directed towards him. Everyone in his life had always answered for him, so by the time he got to middle school, he just looked towards the nearest adult to field communication that was directed towards him. It was so severe that I once witnessed someone asking him if he needed to go to the restroom and he looked at the nearest adult for an answer. He wasn’t confident enough to make that decision independently. In these cases, we give the students tasks in which we know they will have success. We build on the success of each task and we work on fading out adult support. We have had many students that thrive with the new experiences and push past all goals and expectations. However, we have also had students that resist the push for increased independence because they have found comfort in having adults taking care of them. In this instance, we continue to set the expectations for increased independence in hopes that they will find that the quality of life is so much more fulfilling when they are able to take care of daily life skills independently.

  2. anonymous50 says:

    1. Have you had a student with low self-efficacy? How did you help them?

    Teaching the high achieving and academically gifted students, I frequently work with issues of low self-efficacy. Many of these ‘bright’ middle school students are perfectionists or have perfectionist parents, and the pressure to excel, both intrinsic and extrinsic, often leads to their feeling overwhelmed and unworthy or incapable of maintaining the high standards they and others hold for them. As a result, some of these students become “frustrated perfectionists”, believing that their lack of perfection translates into unworthiness, which then leads to purposeful sabotaging of themselves, which is then evolves into underachievement. Still others, because of their fear of failure, will simply adamantly avoid any situation (generating an original idea, attempting a new task, or publicly demonstrating a new skill) that might result in less than perfect performance, thus limiting their participation or the acquisition of new skills altogether.

    I spend a lot of time gently educating parents about individual diversity in “giftedness”, learning styles, and scaffolding of skills, attempting to earn both their patience with their child and respect for the process as I guide their student through the challenges of our rigorous curriculum, a venture that does not always render the immediate “perfection” many expect. I also spend a good deal of time with individual students and the class as a whole, helping them to define what “gifted” means for them, to identify their strengths and celebrate both their individualism and their attempts (regardless of success or “failure”) as we endeavor to phase out their need for perfection in all tasks (especially by comparing their performance to others’ strengths) or the need for extrinsic recognition.

    Because I have most of my students for all three years of middle school, I generally see students grow in their self-efficacy, not avoiding that which they fear might be unsuccessful and forgiving themselves for imperfections, but this is, unfortunately, most often true only for the students whose parents are able to reign in their own quixotic expectations.

  3. Drew Ibendahl says:

    Have you had a student with low self-efficacy? How did you help them?
    Teaching middle school students and upper elementary students, I frequently have students enter my classroom from day one displaying low self-efficacy. At this age, I have learned that all of my students, especially those with low self-efficacy, need someone to take an interest in them, their talents, abilities, and their personal interests. Most students, when they reach this point in their schooling, understand a teacher’s job is to educate and motivate. Simply letting students know you’re proud of them and praising their work may not go very far with students if they don’t trust a teacher, understand their sincerity, and feel they are valued as an individual. From day one, I get to know my students both in school and out of school, especially those students who lack confidence in themselves and their abilities. In addition, I do everything I can to set my students up for success at the beginning of the year, setting clear expectations and goals for my students, the class, and myself. In addition, I help my students set up their own personal goals with specific ways they are going to work to reach said goals. Throughout the year, I will frequently discuss progress toward goals (academic/social/behavioral). I take every opportunity to celebrate progress toward goals and achievement of goals. If students are struggling to reach their goals, we modify goals, making sure to emphasize that modifying goals is often necessary, but does not mean failure.

    In addition to goal setting, working with students to develop social skills and communication skills with peers may also help improve self-efficacy. By helping to develop and strengthen peer relationships within the classroom, students may feel a greater sense of self-efficacy through the peers. For many students, especially adolescents, recognition and praise from peers is often stronger than any praise from a teacher or adult. By highlighting strengths/talents and abilities of students, especially those with low self-efficacy, students may be made aware of characteristics and qualities of their classmates they may otherwise never have learned, because they have not taken the time to get to know each other.

  4. Andrea says:

    Have you ever had a student with learned helplessness?

    I currently have a student who practices avoidance strategies to get out of doing assignments in the classroom. He stated last week before he took the summative assessment that he never does well on tests and will not do well this time. He attends the after school tutoring program (STOMP) where he gets one on one assistance. This is a program that he also participated in during 5th & 6th grade. He has learned that if he says “I don’t know how to do this” or constantly writes “I don’t know”, then he will be able to redo the assignments in STOMP. At the beginning of school he at least attempted half of the questions on a summative or formative assessments. As this school year went by, he began to attempted less and less on assessments. He would say before he started the assessments “I will have to retake it”. He seems to have resigned himself that he is not good at taking assessments and it doesn’t matter because he can get tutoring help after school. This attitude unfortunately has kept his level of concern rather low for learning the information in class. I try to encourage the student during the class period to try answering each of the questions and give him positive feedback when he is on the right track for an answer.

  5. Brooke says:

    3. What do you do to increase self-efficacy with your students on a daily basis?

    There are many ways to increase a student’s self-efficacy in the classroom on a daily basis. In my classroom, I try to keep a light and positive tone in the classroom. As a teacher it is important to keep all positives comment, especially when a student does not seem motivated or is not showing success with a task. I like to give the students lots of encouragement myself, but also encourage others to be supportive as well. Most of the time trying is half the battle in my 7th grade class room and peer support and a positive learning environment can impact student learning. We celebrate small victories and improvements and talk about short term goal setting. I think this helps students digest bigger, more daunting tasks and makes it feel more feasible. I also like to check in regularly with students with long term tasks. I also try my best to develop activities that vary in difficulty and ask students to use a variety of knowledge multiple intelligences. Giving the student the option to complete a task in a way that they are comfortable and lets them demonstrate their strengths as a learner is important.

  6. Nicole Gaffney says:

    Have you had a student with low self-efficacy? How did you help them?

    I am fighting this battle right now with a one of my kindergartners. He has come into my class lacking previous experience. It also seems the other kids on his street have matured and mastered things before him. From what I can gather, he has always been “a little behind” his friends and others his age. In the classroom, this is apparent in his motivation to do anything. He is constantly saying, “I can’t” or “It’s too hard” usually through sobs and pouting. He is very anxious and nervous throughout the day. He gives up easily and fails to start tasks without my help. I try to make learning fun for him. I create games for him to play to help motivate him to remember his letters and numbers. This has seemed to prove he can attain his goals. I encourage him frequently in all subjects. I also keep a positive tone in my classroom to promote a happy, positive atmosphere.

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