Five tips to help your students believe in themselves


An extensive range of research over the past few decades has overwhelmingly found that student’s self-efficacy has a profound influence on their academic achievement. This means a student’s perception of their abilities is more important than their actual abilities.

Several studies have suggested that if a pupil believes they can do something, they’ll strive harder to do it and achieve greater academic success. Students with a low self-efficacy for academic success tend to underachieve as their perceptions of their academic capabilities cause them to adopt lower aspirations; they also have very little motivation to act or persevere when faced with challenges.

This is illustrated perfectly in an OECD PISA in Focus report, which found that maths self-efficacy is associated with a difference of 49 score points – the equivalent of one year of school.

The job of the school is to find ways to build students’ belief in themselves and their efficacy. Often this means small tweaks to how we teach and reframing how we view success and achievement.

Here are five tips to help you build children’s self-belief.

1. The right environment

Teachers need to create environments that allow all children to experience success – not just the high achievers. One way to do this is to effectively differentiate work and set individual goals that children feel they are capable of achieving. When they do achieve these goals, this feeling of success will boost their self-efficacy, which in turn will allow them to work towards their next goal.

2. Facilitate the right mindset for learning

Teaching students how to manage their stress and emotions helps them improve their cognition in pressure situations, such as exams, which increases confidence, academic achievement and self-efficacy. Furthermore, advocating mistakes as learning opportunities and encouraging students to try new ways of working and seek advice from others to solve problems when they are ‘stuck’ facilitates a Growth Mindset which improves resilience, self-efficacy and academic success.

3. Don’t underestimate the power of positive feedback

Many underachievers are used to only negative feedback, which over time will lower their self-efficacy. Therefore, it is important for these children to receive positive feedback too.

Rather than centring on effort – feedback should focus on how much progress has been made, as well as what steps can be taken to improve. This way, children will not be put down, but their self-belief will be improved and the children will feel encouraged to continue progressing.

4. Encourage independence

Though not so useful out of context, if independent learning strategies and skills are taught explicitly, children will be able to practise these on their own – both in and outside the classroom.

5. Make it manageable

Setting goals is a pointless exercise unless the student feels they will be able to achieve them. For this reason, it’s important to show children examples of what others with similar abilities to them have achieved. This will enable them to realise that they can achieve their goals, therefore encouraging them to work harder towards these goals.

Mastering these skills will allow the children a better chance at academic success, increasing both their self-efficacy and the likelihood of them remaining in education for longer.

These measures are especially important as children grow older and schoolwork becomes more challenging to enable them to keep trying their best and achieving – no matter what their academic ability is.

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