Self-Efficacy and Learning (page 2)
For all of us, self-efficacy, the feeling of adequacy and effectiveness in dealing with life, is critical to learning success. With appropriate opportunities, the sense of self-efficacy develops as a belief that we have some degree of control over what happens to us. The way we think and feel about ourselves, and what we can accomplish as learners, influences our ability to focus attention and think strategically (Blair, 2002).
Science experiences have special potential for building a sturdy sense of self-efficacy: the belief in our ability to cope with problems based on our own competence. Martin Seligman’s classic motivation studies (1992, p. 151) suggest that this belief begins in infancy and develops throughout life as mastery motivation. He believes that if young children are not provided with, or are not allowed to cope with, problems that can be resolved through their own actions, a pattern of helplessness begins. Success that is too easily reached, as well as challenge that is too easily met, produces children with a limited capacity to cope with failure. Therefore, he suggests offering learning challenges in school that children can measure themselves against because meeting challenges helps shape a person’s sense of self-worth and self-efficacy.
According to Seligman, our self-esteem and sense of competence do not depend so much on whether good or bad things happen to us, but on whether we believe we have some control over what happens to us. Early science experiences can provide children with some sense of control by allowing them to predict that certain things will happen; for example, “The pan of snow will change to water if we keep it indoors.” Through this process, some of the confusion and uncertainty about events occurring around children can be replaced with an awareness of predictability. Children can learn that even they can bring about some of these small occurrences. Science knowledge helps develop the only control children can have over powerful and sometimes unpredictable natural forces. Children can control their attitudes through understanding the causes of an event and can control their helpless fear through training to cope safely with events such as earthquakes and violent storms. Science experiences are unique in fostering this strengthening influence on the child’s personality.
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