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- Changes in Self-Efficacy Beliefs of International Student-Writers on the EAP Foundation Programme
Changes in Self-Efficacy Beliefs of International Student-Writers on the EAP Foundation Programme
Dr Mazgutova is a lecturer in Language Education at the University of Leeds. She has been a language teacher for more than 10 years. She began her job as an English teacher at the Institute for English Language Teacher Education in Uzbekistan, teaching undergraduate university students. Then she continued her job as a teacher of academic English at Lancaster University in the UK. Diana’s main areas of research and teaching interest are academic writing, oral and written corrective feedback, second language acquisition and task-based language teaching and learning. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Students’ success or failure in their writing performance is directly linked to the degree to which they feel they can achieve their goals. According to Bandura (1997), people with high self-efficacy beliefs are intrinsically motivated to complete difficult tasks and are less likely to become anxious as opposed to people with low self-efficacy beliefs. A sense of confidence assists students considerably when writing an essay because it "engenders greater interest in and attention to writing, stronger effort, and greater perseverance and resiliency" (Pajares, 2003 p.140). On the other hand, students who have low levels of self-confidence and do not aspire for success are more likely to devote less effort and end up with failing to achieve their goals.
Several factors that influence writers' self-efficacy beliefs were described by Bandura (1997), i.e., mastery experience, social persuasion, vicarious experience, and psychological and emotional states. According to Manchón (2009), mastery experience constitutes the most powerful source of self-efficacy. Learners' successful performance in similar tasks in the past apparently triggers a positive evaluation, while learners' failure to perform well, on the contrary, might diminish their self-efficacy. Students' self-efficacy beliefs are also influenced by what others say they believe the students can or cannot do, i.e., social persuasion. Teacher's encouragement and feedback from peers could help raise students' self-esteem and potentially aid them to achieve success. One more source of self-efficacy is vicarious experience, which is influenced by students' observation of the behaviours of other people. Seeing a peer succeed when completing a challenging writing task might help not particularly confident students believe that they can as well succeed when completing a similar task. Finally, learners' psychological and emotional state might also influence their self-efficacy. Students with increased level of anxiety tend to receive low scores on their exams and coursework.
According to Bandura (1997), the students who have a strong sense of self-efficacy are willing to participate in challenging tasks, tend to persevere in terms of overcoming any obstacles and generally demonstrate higher academic achievement. Importantly, teachers might assist students with boosting their self-efficacy beliefs by giving them constructive feedback on their writing. The students who are more confident in their performance and have more positive expectations about their own learning achievements are more likely to continue approaching tasks with optimism and might be less anxious about the potential difficulties they might be faced with on the way to achieving their goals.
This study was carried out on the EAP international foundation programme, which is a four-week course offered by a large university in the UK. The major aims of the programme are to develop students' use of English in an academic context, to foster the critical thinking skills, and to cultivate an awareness of the learning skills they might use whilst studying in the UK. After students complete an assignment, they receive written feedback from their tutor and are invited to attend an individual tutorial where the specific strengths and weaknesses of their writing are discussed and suggestions for further improvement are made.
Participants and instruments
A group of undergraduate students enrolled on the EAP foundation programme participated in the study. It consisted of 14 students of Chinese L1 background, with the ages ranging from 18 to 21. All participants had studied English at school back in their home country, but acknowledged having had only limited experience of academic writing. Interview was one of the sources of qualitative data applied in the study, which offered insights for students' self-efficacy beliefs. During the interviews, which were conducted in English, the participants were able to explain their experiences, perceptions and feelings about academic writing. Each interview lasted approximately 15 minutes. The interview data was complemented by learning journals. Every student participating in this study was asked to keep an accurate and detailed account of their thoughts regarding their own writing by completing one entry per week. The participants were asked to reflect on the processes as well as on the contents of their learning by critically reviewing their writing experiences including their and self-efficacy beliefs.
Results and discussion
The analyses of the research findings have clearly demonstrated that from the start to the end of the EAP foundation programme, students became noticeably more confident in their writing. Given that all students had completed three pieces of writing by the end of Week 4 on the course, there was a high likelihood that they had experienced a sense of mastering the assignments, especially after having received constructive feedback from tutors. Another factor that might have helped students in terms of stimulating their sense of achievement were learning journal entries they were required to complete during the foundation programme. Learning journals could have enhanced writers' self-confidence by "fostering mastery experience" (Manchón, 2009 p. 256). The findings of this study confirm those of Manchón (2009) and suggest that the learning journals, which allowed the participating student-writers reflect on various aspects on the course without being preoccupied with grammatical accuracy and lexical variation of writing, might have helped them become more confident in expressing their ideas in written form.
All essays completed by the participants during their studying on the foundation programme were non-graded assignments, which could potentially have reduced their anxiety level. The course tutors provided students with detailed feedback on every essay followed by one-to-one tutorials to discuss their strengths and weaknesses as academic writers and offer some suggestions for further improvement. The fact that there was no high-stakes assessment on the programme could have made students feel less anxious and more motivated to complete all written assignments (Martinez, Kock, & Cass, 2011). Another factor which might have had an impact on students' self-efficacy is the vicarious experience of observing the actions of other people, specifically, of other students on the international foundation programme.
My findings are in line with those of Manchón (2009), who suggests that introducing student-writers to so called models by other students and inviting them to study and critically evaluate these pieces of writing might equip them with self-confidence. The participants of my research were also given access to good examples of students' writing from the previous years on the foundation programme. As reported by more than half of the participants during the end-of-course interviews, seeing successful attempts of other students made them realise that they can also accomplish the task successfully if they invest enough of effort and are highly motivated. It was unsurprising to observe a steady increase in students' level of self-belief and motivation from the beginning to the end of an intensive EAP course. In line with Pajares and Valiante (1999), when students have sufficient self-confidence, they develop greater interest in writing and are able to overcome difficulties they are faced with when completing writing tasks.
The students might have become more confident in their writing because their academic writing expertise grew over four weeks of studying on the international foundation programme. This can be clearly seen from the responses given by the vast majority of respondents during the post-course interviews. Reciprocally, the extensive academic reading and writing experience they gained on the EAP course and constructive feedback they received from their tutors might have increased their self-efficacy beliefs. Importantly, this study provided consistent and solid evidence for the quality of educational practices in the EAP foundation programme. On the whole, the findings of this study might be relevant to the majority of international foundation programmes in the UK.
Bandura, A, (1997). Self-efficacy: The Exercise of Control. New York: Freeman.
Manchón, R.M, (2009). Individual Differences in Foreign Language Learning: The Dynamics of Beliefs about L2 Writing. RESLA 22, 245-268.
Martinez, C. T., Kock, N., & Cass, J, (2011). Pain and Pleasure in Short Essay Writing: Factors Predicting University Students' Writing Anxiety and Writing Self-Efficacy. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 54 (6), 351-360.
Pajares, F, (2003). Self-Efficacy Beliefs, Motivation, and Achievement in Writing: A Review of the Literature. Reading & Writing Quarterly, 19, 139-158.
Pajares, F., & Valiante, G, (1999). Grade Level and Gender Differences in the Writing Self-Beliefs of Middle School Students. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 24 (4), 390-405.
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