Noteworthy Voices 2-MIN. READ

Reaching Reluctant Learners: Fostering Self-Efficacy in the Classroom

Discover how to reach and engage your most reluctant learners.
Young learners collaborate during a lesson.

As educators, we often encounter students who are reluctant learners. They may struggle with reading a book or solving a math problem. Their lack of self-efficacy—or their belief in their own abilities—can hold them back. It’s crucial to encourage and support these students to guide them toward newfound achievements in the classroom.

Understanding Self-Efficacy Theory

Coined by Albert Bandura in 1997, self-efficacy theory states that “our beliefs about our own abilities can influence our motivation and performance.” This is reinforced through personal successes, modeling successful behavior from others, and receiving positive feedback. If students are told they can’t do something enough times, they begin to believe it. That’s why it’s critical to create an environment that fosters positive self-belief, especially for students who have a history of failing.

Creating Productive Learning Spaces

Establishing a classroom culture in which your students feel more like friends than classmates can go a long way. You can do this by implementing culturally responsive teaching practices, showing vulnerability yourself, and creating an atmosphere free of shame. Each student should feel valued and know that you will always support them and defend their right to learn.

Teachers play a crucial role in creating productive, encouraging, and safe learning spaces in which students are empowered to take risks, fail, learn, and grow. Here are a few strategies that can help.

1. Set Realistic Goals

When students work toward an achievable goal, it gives them a clear sense of what to focus on and can motivate them to achieve it, giving them a sense of accomplishment when they do. Success breeds more success. Setting stretch goals—ambitious but achievable goals—can show students what they’re capable of and motivate them to rise above expectations. Setting collective class goals encourages students to support each other and celebrate together.

2. Break Down Tasks into Manageable Steps

When you break down challenges and problems into small, achievable steps, students can begin to envision their success. Small wins early on really matter. Be sure to give your students enough processing time for productive struggle—that moment of confusion that ultimately leads to a sense of clarity when everything clicks. If you don’t allow enough time for your students to process the problem, sound it out, make mistakes, and fix them, they can easily shut down and disengage from learning. Productive struggle is essential to solidifying learning and building confidence.

3. Help Your Students Visualize Success

If your students can see themselves succeeding, they will believe it and make it a reality. But success doesn’t come out of nowhere. Give your students a roadmap to get there, and show them that you and their peers believe in them. 

Social-Emotional Learning

The upheaval caused by the pandemic has left many students in a fragile emotional state. The burden falls on educators' shoulders to create calm, supportive spaces to counteract heightened anxiety. When students feel secure and supported, they’re more likely to relax, express themselves openly, and engage in more effective learning. While not universally adopted, social-emotional learning aims to foster self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, relationship skills, and responsible decision making. These skills contribute toward building a student’s sense of self-efficacy.

The Essential Role of Teachers

There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for reaching reluctant learners. Yet, by implementing the principles of self-efficacy in the classroom, fostering trust, promoting accomplishments, and focusing on social-emotional learning, you can provide a more inclusive, supportive environment. 

Remember, every child is capable of learning, they just need the right environment to thrive. When we successfully teach students that they’re capable and valued, we set them on the path to lifelong learning. Let’s celebrate our students’ successes, big or small, and continue to support and inspire them every day. We are not just fostering better students, we are nurturing the leaders, innovators, and thinkers of tomorrow.

To learn more about reaching reluctant learners, listen to this episode of the Extraordinary Educators™ Podcast