Excerpts from College-Prep Homeschooling
by David and Chandra Byers
Readiness for Learning
In 1977, psychologist Albert Bandura published a paper about self-efficacy, which he defined as people affecting their own abilities to succeed at specific tasks or activities, as well as life in general by believing in themselves. Or, as an old saying goes, “Those who seem to have good luck the most also seem to be the ones who work hardest at getting it.”
People with self-efficacy are more likely to overcome the fears that keep others from even trying. Self-efficacy may help keep people more involved and committed to what they are doing—even when there is a chance of failure; failing is not seen as permanent, but rather something to be overcome by trying again after learning from the situation.
Bandura claimed that self-efficacy can be developed through four primary means: 1) Mastery of experiences, 2) Role Models (or what he called social models), 3) Verbal (social) persuasion, and 4) Reducing the stress and both the emotional and physical reactions that come with the stress of failing.
We can easily see that when our children master tasks in schools, such as memorizing the multiplication tables, they are likely to be less concerned about attempting times-table problems in math class. A child who has learned how to swim would likely be less concerned about going to a friend’s swim party. Mastery of tasks helps us realize we can do it—whatever “it” is.
In the second area for developing self-efficacy, Bandura describes “social models”, which are defined as people like us that we see succeed. It’s sort of like, “Well, if she can do it, I can do it, too!”
Yet, if we see people like us “fail” even after trying their best, we might become fearful about our own success and have lower efficacy as a result.
What we might call verbal encouragement, Bandura called “social persuasion”. We have all probably told our children, “You can do it!” followed by other comments or general cheers of praise to keep their spirits up and their efforts going.
Of course, verbal encouragement alone won’t make your child succeed, but verbal discouragement is almost guaranteed to help your child fail. Children who have difficulties in one or more subjects in school and who have been yelled at, been made fun of, and punished for their mistakes are going to have a very difficult time developing self-efficacy—if they ever do.
So, should we encourage our children to try something no matter what—even if we are pretty sure they might fail at it? Should we build them up through verbal encouragement despite the possibility that they might fail no matter how much we praise them? The answer to both questions is “YES!”
We don’t ever want to encourage our children to do something that may be potentially harmful to them or that they simply don’t stand a chance of being able to do successfully for reasons beyond their control, but if they want to try something that won’t hurt them physically or devastate them emotionally, we should encourage them to try.
What if they fail? That’s no big deal as long as you are there to help your child deal with the failure by keeping it in the proper perspective, which is part of Bandura’s fourth means of developing self-efficacy.
When a failure occurs to someone with self-efficacy, she may instead become motivated to try harder. You know the old saying, “When you fall off, you have to get right back on.”
Cognitive processes really boils down to confidence in ourselves; the higher the confidence, the bigger the challenges we are willing to take on and the less likely we are to easily give up on them. Of course, this in turn relates to our motivational levels with what we want to do in our lives and how we learn to figure out ways to achieve our goals.
Although we may not achieve our goals or we may find it more difficult to achieve them than expected, if we feel capable of handling stress and let downs appropriately, then we aren’t likely to be overcome by obstacles and in turn, we don’t become our own obstacle to success (affective processes). In fact, using what Bandura calls “selection processes”, we work to create an environment that is conducive to our success. We surround ourselves with encouraging rather than discouraging people. We work in places where the tasks we have to perform fit in with our skills and interests. In short, we actively try to help ourselves succeed rather than waiting for it to happen to us.
There is, of course, so much more to Bandura’s ideas than we can cover here. If you read about his work, we recommend you start first with his own work and then explore other ideas and theories that relate to it. A nifty site we found that you may like is: http://des.emory.edu/mfp/self-efficacy.html
So, what does all this have to do with homeschooling, especially in high school? Well, believe it or not, it applies not only to your child, but to you, as well.
You may be very afraid to try homeschooling through high school, but with a little time and effort, you may find yourself mastering your experiences in no time. If you call on the expertise of others (either in person or via books) who have or are currently homeschooling through high school, you’ll get the role models you need. Those role models and others will probably be giving you verbal encouragement along the way and be working to help you reduce your stress and to help you keep everything in perspective even when it’s not going perfectly. Eventually, you’ll develop some self-efficacy as a teacher!
For your child, it’s much the same thing. You become the role model, source of encouragement, and perspective manager as you help your child develop her learning skills and academic knowledge. The more you help her to succeed, the more success she will want and be willing to work to get. Can self-efficacy be far behind?