Self-Efficacy and the Effects of Poverty on School Children

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After reading chapter 10 in my educational psychology book and learning about Albert Bandura and his Social Cognitive Theory, I knew that I had to report on self-efficacy, but I also wanted to make sure to touch on the effects of poverty that has been discussed throughout the book as well. Poverty is an issue that more and more of our nation’s children are coming face to face with. The price that children of poverty must pay is unbelievably high. Each year, increasing numbers of children are entering schools with needs from circumstances, such as poverty, that schools are not prepared to meet. Being able to identify and understand children who are suffering from poor self-efficacy or who come from a low socioeconomic background is critical if we are to support their growth and development. In order to do this, warm and caring relationships need to be developed between teachers and children. This will enable teachers to detect any warning signs that may place children at-risk for failure, interfering with their chances for success in school and life (Leroy & Symes, 2001). Academic and behavioral problems can be indicators of impending failure. Among such behaviors are: delay in language development, delay in reading development, aggression, violence, social withdrawal, substance abuse, irregular attendance, and depression.

Teachers may have difficulty reaching a student’s parent or guardian. They may also find the student does not complete assignments, does not study for tests, or does not come to school prepared to learn because of poverty related circumstances in the home environment. These children may be unable to concentrate or focus. They may be unwilling or unable to interact with peers and/or adults in school in an effective manner. These issues not only have an impact on the learning of the child of poverty but can also impact the learning of other children. Even more detrimental is the impact of poverty on a child’s self-efficacy.

Bandura (1986, 1994, 1997) suggests that predictions about possible outcomes of behavior are critical for learning because they affect goals, effort, persistence, strategies, and resilience. “Will I succeed or fail? Will I be liked or laughed at?” “Will I be more accepted by teachers in this new school?” These predictions are affected by self-efficacy–our beliefs about our personal competence or effectiveness in a given area. Bandura (1994) defines self-efficacy as “people’s beliefs about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that exercise influence over events that affect their lives” (p. 71).

Most people assume self-efficacy is the same as self-concept or self-esteem, but it isn’t. Self-efficacy is future oriented, “a context-specific assessment of competence to perform a specific task” (Pajares, 1997, p. 15). Self-concept is a more global construct that contains many perceptions about the self, including self-efficacy. Self-concept is developed as a result of external and internal comparisons, using other people or other aspects of the self as frames of reference. But self-efficacy focuses on your ability to successfully accomplish a particular task with no need for comparisons–the question is whether you can do it, not whether others would be successful. Also, self-efficacy beliefs are strong predictors of behavior, but self-concept has weaker predictive power (Anderman & Anderman, 2009: Bandura, 1997.)

Self-efficacy is “context specific”, which means it varies, depending on the subject or task. For example, my sense of efficacy for singing is really low, but I feel confident in my ability to read a map and navigate. Even young students have different efficacy beliefs for different tasks. One study found that by the 1st grade, students already differentiated among their sense of efficacy for reading, for writing, and for spelling (Wilson & Trainin, 2007).

Self-efficacy is concerned with judgments of personal competence; self-esteem is concerned...
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