- Various Articles - General
- Student Perspectives on English Language Teaching Efficacy: Evolution of Confidence
Student Perspectives on English Language Teaching Efficacy: Evolution of Confidence
Mr. Velez is a Japanese American Communication and Asian Studies major of Kennesaw State University. He spent the last year as a teaching and research assistant exploring language teaching efficacy in undergraduate Asian Studies students and methodologies of educational research.
Dr. NguyenVoges is an Associate Professor of Education and the Director of the Masters of Arts Program in College Student Development at St. Edward’s University with more than 10 years of teaching experience in adult and higher education contexts. Her research explores the practice of adult learning theory targeting experiential learning, narrative, critical reflection, and sociocultural influences on study abroad participation. email@example.com
Adult and higher education (AHE) learners seeking opportunities to put educational theory into practical application via teaching English in Asia has brought increased need for professional and academic inquiry on the subject. One research perspective has analyzed EFL studies, both its pedagogy and epistemology, through the lens of Bandura’s social cognitive theory. While there are many subtopics within Bandura’s concept, one area in particular, the study of an educator’s self-efficacy, has proven to be of special significance for EFL practitioners. Social cognitive theory details the ways in which achievement, interactions, and numerous personal attributes influence each other, the topic of self-efficacy narrows this broad discussion by focusing specifically on how self-perception impacts successful behavior. There is, however, a gap in the research relating EFL studies and self-efficacy. Often self-efficacy research is performed to measure the current perception at various points in the academic career of the participant. Such research is usually done with a focus on EFL students. However, while much research has been conducted to analyze the self-efficacy levels of EFL students at the end of their semester or education career, little has been done to analyze the progression and evolution of these perspectives for EFL pre-service teachers, an integral part of the future of English education, in a shorter frame of time, i.e. a 16 week semester. There are many benefits to monitoring the long term effects of self-efficacy on students, but research from this narrow perspective is crucial as it would not only serve to explain how pre-service teachers react to the challenges of a semester on the subject, but would also shed light on the effectiveness of the class itself, the effectiveness of assignments used in the classroom, and the mindsets of students as they enter or leave their semester. Being able to examine such details would eventually lead to improved methods, which ensures a successful future for EFL education.
Ultimately, this research aims to fill the gap in the literature and take advantage of the aforementioned benefits by analyzing a class of ASIA 4001: Teaching English in Asia students, and by measuring their self efficacy periodically through a mixed method approach. The previous research in both Self-Efficacy and TEIA that relate to study at hand will be reviewed in the Literature Review section. The methods, procedures, and materials used to collect data will be included in the Methods Section. The Findings and Discussion section will attempt to present, review, and analyze the data. Finally, the closing thoughts, limitations and future recommendations will be given in the Conclusions section.
The purpose of this literature review is twofold. First, this review intends to summarize the current understanding of self-efficacy, the changes and additions that have been made, and its relationship with teaching in an EFL context. Second, this review is written to provide a basis for the research direction, and a justification for the analysis conducted in the latter portion of this discussion. To achieve these goals, this review shall discuss why self-efficacy is significant in terms of education, variables which have been shown to effect self-efficacy in an educational context, and finally a short review of self-efficacy in an EFL context.
The overall importance of efficacy
At its core self-efficacy is the belief an individual has in his/herself to achieve a goal (Bandura, 1986). Tests in both academic and professional environments have shown an existing relationship between the efficacy levels of the individual and that individual's level of achievement. Generally, in such studies, higher scores result in higher levels of success, while lower scores are correlated with lower levels of success. While the theory has many heuristic elements, self-efficacy is at its most useful when studied from a pedagogical perspective, for it then becomes a tool for perfecting a student’s talent. In an EFL context, this would mean that one studies the interactions which positively impact self-efficacy, how efficacy positively impacts language proficiency, and then seek to replicate this cycle. The importance of perceived self-efficacy lies in its impact on success, with Bandura himself commenting that out of all the facets of social cognitive theory, from a human agency perspective, self-efficacy is of the most value (Bandura, 1999).
To apply these roles to education, a plethora of studies support the conclusion that a high level of perceived efficiency within teachers benefits the classroom. Armor et al. (1976) analyzed teaching efficacy in minority classrooms. Their data revealed that minority students in the classrooms of teachers who believed they were capable at reaching struggling students could read at higher levels than those with less confident teachers. Mojavezi and Tamiz (2012) after experimentation in Iranian classrooms concluded strong correlations between high levels of the teacher’s self-efficacy and student motivation and achievement. Still other scholars have focused on the impacts which teacher beliefs can have on attitude and teaching style. Weber and Omotani (1994) note that higher self-efficacy scores amongst educators is tied to an increased likelihood of the teacher being able to teach in a constructive manner, without blaming the student for educational difficulties. Woolfolk, Rosoff, and Hoy (1990) also found that teachers are less likely to make use of more controversial modes of teaching, and more likely to have a humanistic and kindly nature in their teaching practices.
Variables of self-efficacy
As all these studies and many others support the idea that higher levels of efficacy contribute to higher levels of student success, it should appear that self-efficacy is a thing to be encouraged in educators. So where and how is self-efficacy produced during a teacher’s career and what contributes to its increase or decrease? There are numerous answers. First among these are mastery experiences. A mastery experience is simply a circumstance in which an individual is allowed the opportunity to utilize the skills they have obtained during their training. For example assigning students to lecture or teach in a mock classroom could provide one such experience. The point, in other words, is not to practice a skill set, but to exemplify the skills which the individual already possesses. The reason mastery experiences are mentioned first here is due to their recorded significance in self-efficacy. Bandura (1999) identified mastery experiences as one of the most influential aspects of self-efficacy for students, outranking all other variables. Evidence of the impacts of mastery experiences come from research conducted in Australia. Graduating students of an EFL program described assignments where they were able to demonstrate mastery of a skill as being an important means to gain practical experience (Filatov, Pill, 2015). A lack of such experiences was noted by both researchers and participants to coincide with a lack of confidence, and therefore a lower self-efficacy score (Filatov, Pill, 2015).
Other variables of note which impact self-efficacy come from teaching techniques. The practicum experiences’ effect on self-efficacy was measured by Costa, Martins and Onofre (2015), who focused on how practicums (means of study meant to reinforce the practical skill set) determine self-efficacy. The study highlighted where areas of perceived self-efficacy were highest or lowest amongst the students after their experience. According to their results, the highest area of self-efficacy as a result of the practicum lay in their ability to foster relationships with their own students, while the lowest area lay in their confidence to manage a classroom (Costa, et. al., 2015). Interpreting this into the current discussion defines practicums as a means of establishing self-efficacy, if not necessarily encouraging it. Being able to establish efficacy, and understand what areas an individual is lacking in, is just as important to an individual’s progression as is establishing mastery. Simply put, practicums establish, while mastery experiences confirm.
Experiences, both masterful and practical, have been observed to be prey to prior self-efficacy scores (Chang & Chiou, 2016). Emerging research argues that the value the student places upon an experience is better examined, not as an independent variable, but as dependent upon previous self-efficacy scores (Chang, Chiou, 2016). Chang and Chiou (2016) noted that, amongst their sample of pre-service physical education teachers, prior self-efficacy beliefs changed how experiences were perceived and valued. Their findings indicated that, first, good experiences were more significant to individuals who had lower, prior self efficacy scores, second, poor experiences were more significant to individuals who had higher, prior self efficacy scores, and third, positive experiences appeared to be more significant in changing efficacy than negative experiences (Chang & Chiou, 2016). This take on self-efficacy does not reduce the power of experiences, but rather offers another variable that influences the ways in which self-efficacy can change. In any case, rather than examining self efficacy only under the light of how it evolves through experience, it is better to understand that prior self efficacy affects experiential valence, and that both should be taken into account when attempting to discern what factors potentially raise or lower self-efficacy scores (Chang & Chiou, 2016).
While, internal cause and personal control (Bandura, 1999) suggests experience and other intrinsic factors shape efficacy, academic environment is the predominant way in which a positive perspective of one’s self can be established. Since many experiences changing efficacy occur prior to a teacher’s service, it is therefore important to examine self-efficacy from a pre-service standpoint.
Self-efficacy for EFL pre-service teachers
Filatov and Pill (2015) measured a variety of variables and determined that a lack of understanding in regards to the course content, in this case EFL pedagogy, was blamed upon a lack of curriculum present in the classroom. Alagözlü (2016) demonstrate the benefits of tracking self-efficacy in pre-service teachers and found that good self-efficacy in pre-service EFL teachers indicates good self-concept, emphasizing, again, the importance encouraging self-efficacy while the teacher is still in the state of being educated and not yet practicing professionally.
Combining notions that self-efficacy is desirable in teachers, the fact that self-efficacy is heavily determined in the classroom, and the lack of current research on how one drives the other in an EFL context drives this present study. Despite the wealth of knowledge on the overall topic of self-efficacy, there is a current lack of research measuring the progression of a pre-service teacher’s level of teaching efficacy in an EFL context. This study seeks to fill this gap in current research by measuring changes in student perception in regards to their teaching efficacy throughout the duration of a semester. With the understanding of the variables resulting in self-efficacy, the researchers developed the goal of filling in this gap in academic knowledge, and will contribute to TEFL pedagogy and andragogy in a practical and quantifiable manner.
To meet this goal, the following research questions were asked:
1. How do undergraduate students enrolled in ASIA 4001: Teaching English in Asia perceive their own teaching efficacy at the start of the course?
2. How do undergraduate students enrolled in ASIA 4001:Teaching English in Asia perceive their own teaching efficacy at the conclusion of the course?
3. How do undergraduate students enrolled in ASIA 4001: Teaching English in Asia perceive modifications in their efficacy scores throughout the course of a semester?
Participants were undergraduate students enrolled in an ASIA 4001: Teaching English in Asia course. The class consisted of approximately thirty students from a variety of different academic areas to include education, Asian studies, and business. The survey was anonymous, voluntary, and no demographic information was gathered. There was no incentives offered for participation.
Four forms of data gathering were employed during the research. Participants in the study first took an EFL Self-Efficacy survey, were asked open ended questions at the end of this survey, were asked further questions in a focus group, then a final survey was administered at the end of the semester. In regards to the surveys, both versions, the initial and final, were based upon the ESTOS survey. The wording of the survey was modified from its original format to better relate to the subject of EFL studies. This included the addition of several questions, which quantified Asian Classroom Management efficacy levels. This area was developed with the intent of analyzing intercultural communication competence, alongside intercultural anxieties, which might influence student perceptions. Therefore, the questions falling into this area inquired into matters such as language competency and intercultural relationships. Two open-ended questions were also asked at the end of the first survey. These questions sought to obtain first, the perceived benefits of taking the class along with the specific activities that led to the class being beneficial, and second the effectiveness of the class in improving the teaching ability of the students, and finally the perceived areas which aided in this improvement. Both versions of the test asked 15 questions each, and, while the order was modified for the latter survey, the only key difference between the two was the absence of the open-ended questions on the final survey. A month into the semester, the first version of the survey was handed out in class, with a response rate of 43%. One week before the conclusion of the semester, participants were asked to participate in a focus group. From the class, six participants volunteered, and their answers were recorded and transcribed. At the conclusion of the semester, the longform survey was handed out in class, gaining a response rate of 96%. In line with the OSTES format, all survey questions were asked with questions pertaining to the Likert Scale: Not At All, Very Little, Some Influence, Somewhat Effective, Very Effective, each relating from 1 to 5 respectively.
The research conducted used four methods to obtain data from the sample, making use of two surveys, two open ended questions, and one focus group. The surveys contained four measurements to analyze perceived levels of teaching effectiveness, the first measuring Student Engagement, the second Instructional Strategies, third Classroom Management, and lastly Asian Classroom Management.
- Student Engagement (SE): this measurement examined the extent to which students in the class believed they were capable of serving as leaders for the students, and the their perceived efficacy in regards to aiding students who would otherwise struggle in the classroom.
- Instructional Strategies (IS): this measurement examined the beliefs the students held in regards to their ability to make use of a variety of instructional strategies, and their ability to adapt the strategies as needed.
- Classroom Management (CM): this measurement examined the extent to which students believed they were capable of dealing with distractions, developing systems for managing the classroom, and handling disruptive students.
- Asian Classroom Management (ACM): this measurement combined elements from all three prior measurements, and examined the efficacy the students held in relation to teaching in an Asian culture and Asian classroom.
- Open Ended Questions
1. How do you perceive your learning in the ASIA 4001 TEIA course will help you to meet your career/professional goals, and what specific activities, assignments, or discussions have influenced these perceptions?
2. How do you perceive class activities in the ASIA 4001 TEIA have enhanced/will enhance your teaching ability? What aspects of your teaching ability do you believe have the most possibility to be changed, and what do you perceive as most impactful to changing them?
- Focus Group: Six students volunteered to give their feedback and thoughts, and were asked a series of questions about their beliefs in regards to their level of self-efficacy. The questions and answers were transcribed and recorded for accuracy. All questions, including follow up questions, were based off of the two open-ended questions asked at the end of the survey.
- Focus Group Questions
1: “Do you perceive your learning in the Asia 4001 course has helped you to meet your career or professional goals?”
2: “Identify 2 or 3 specific class activities that you believe have enhanced your teaching ability,”
3: “What aspects of your teaching ability do you believe have the most possibility to be changed, and what do you perceive as having been most impactful to changing them if they have changed?”
4: “Were you optimistic about your abilities as a teacher at the beginning of the semester, and what area were you confident in?”
5: “Now that we’re nearing the end of the semester, are there areas you feel you lack confidence in?”
6: “Would you say this class has hurt or helped you achieve your goals as an EFL teacher?”
The quantitative data was analyzed through a spreadsheet program, making use of various functions available like frequency, mean, median, and range. The qualitative data from the open-ended questions and focus group were analyzed through a constant comparison analysis method (Glaser & Strauss, 1967).
Findings and analysis
Pre-test individual responses
The initial survey received 14 responses, yielding a response rate of 43%. Students reported themselves as being most confident in regards to Question 13, “How well can you form relationships with students of different ethnicities?” The mean for this response was 4.463, placing this response between “somewhat effective” and “very effective”. The question which yielded the lowest level of perceived efficacy was the 14th question, which asked, “How well can you communicate in the language of your target country.” The mean for this response was 3.154. Both of these questions fell into the category of Asian Classroom Management, which sought to inquire into the perceived efficacy levels of the students in regards to their ability to teach in a classroom belonging to an Asian culture. It could be that students being in their latter stages of the college career had a lot of confidence/knowledge about instructional strategies, as well as cultural knowledge, but lacked some of the experience and skills to employ these in the beginning phase of the course. This breakdown can be illustrated in Figure A below.
Open ended questions
In regards to the open ended questions asked at the end of the short form survey, students answered in a mostly positive fashion. In response to the first question, four students cited the education analysis presentation as being an influencer to their learning in the course. This assignment involved groups of students designing and delivering an interactive presentation of an Asian educational system of their choosing. Other students mentioned the ‘My Adventure Project’, and the readings. It should be noted, however, that, at the time of the survey’s completion, students had not yet completed the final project (My Adventure), and had only begun the first phases. Overall, students tended to respond positively to this question, discussing the areas they believed they would see improvement. In regards to the second question, the most common mentions were “lesson plans” and a general nervousness associated with teaching a classroom. These two topics were generally associated with a feeling that they would improve as the class progressed. However, the fact that students displayed a lack of confidence in their ability to run a classroom offers insight into the low score of classroom management. Students also responded by expressing their feelings that learning more about the classroom environment in other countries would enhance their ability to teach in an Asian classroom. One student mentioned an assignment centered around exploring positionality/epistemology as having made a significant difference in her abilities, “specifically as far as communicating and understanding students.”
Post-test individual responses
The final survey received 25 responses, with a response rate of 96%. The highest and lowest scores fell beneath the same questions as on the short form survey. The lowest overall average on the long form survey was under the 25th Question, which asked, “How well can you communicate in the language of your target country?” This question received a mean of 3.44. It should be noted that this is still an increase from the same question on the short form survey. On the other hand, students placed their highest scores on Question 22, which asked “How well can you form relationships with students of different ethnicities?” Student responses averaged 4.64. While this response was higher than the original form, it was only very moderately higher. Both of these questions, again, fell under the area of Asian Classroom Management and can be seen in Figure B.
In regards to the types of questions asked, the following measurements are of note. The area with the highest reported level of perceived self-efficacy was in Classroom Management, with a mean of 4.192. The area with the lowest reported level of perceived self-efficacy was on the subject of Asian Classroom Management, with a mean of 3.846 and a standard deviation of 0915.T he overall average for this survey was 4.102, depicted in Figure C which is a notable increase from the first.
Discussion and future directions
The following records the most relevant observations obtained from the surveys. The data presented by the following graph, which compares the scores from the first and last survey, displays the participant’s averages according to each category of question
There are two changes of significant note. The first is the relationship between classroom management and instructional strategies. From the first survey, the data showed that the area of instructional strategies contained the highest levels of self-efficacy while the area of classroom management held the lowest levels of self-efficacy. These scores exchanged positions within the second iteration of the survey, with the area of classroom management taking its place as the highest score, while Instructional Strategies dropped to the second highest. The instructional strategies score improved only slightly, while classroom management increased significantly. The second important change relates to the area of Asian classroom management. This area, although with slightly higher scores than classroom management in the initial survey, saw the least increase out of all areas, and improved only by 0.077, while all others saw an over 0.1 increase. As the purpose of this research was to understand how students in the course perceived their efficacy at the beginning and the end, and the events which they believed to have modified their efficacy, these details are here broken down, with data added from the qualitative research.
The Importance of the practicum
Starting with the relationship between classroom management and instructional strategies, there are several explanations for the shift. First, the class provided a practicum learning experience as a final project, which has been cited as a variable influencing efficacy levels (Costa, et. al. 2015). Supporting this claim, the students named the final project/practicum as one of the most significant and influencing projects of the semester during the focus group. Responding to the second focus group question, five of the six students identified the My Adventure (the title of the practicum) assignment, and specifically the Lesson Plan aspect of the project, as being the most beneficial class activity. Male participant 1 identified the following benefits to the assignment, “there was a chance to actually try that, cause that's not to say I haven't done it before, cause I have been in similar situations (...), but this was the first one where it was very much like ‘alright, this goes here, this goes there, this, this and this, and it was very professional...”’ Female participant 2 identified similar areas, saying, “the biggest thing I took from that was creating the lesson plan which entailed really thoroughly looking into what do I want to accomplish from this lesson, in itself, what do I want the kids to take away from it, how am i going to reach the point where the kids actually understand what they're doing when their learning, and as well as what's the best way to approach it through gamification.” Yet this is not the only factor, as there are several ways of explaining why these two areas shifted so drastically.
Since the practicum was a one-time assignment, it is possible that the students gained more realistic perspectives on their efficiency when performing specific teaching tasks. While the practicum had not occurred by the time of the first survey, the second survey was initiated in its final days, meaning both the survey and the focus group reflected their fresh, first-hand experiences and perspectives. It is likely that the practicum itself is to blame for the swap. Students gained confidence in their ability to manage a classroom by obtaining practical experience in doing so, but lost faith in their ability to implement instructional strategies by realizing they lacked skills in this area. In other words the practicum influenced identifiable but individual variables for students. Female participant 2 noted some of these areas, saying, “the biggest thing I took from that was creating the lesson plan which entailed really thoroughly looking into what do I want to accomplish from this lesson, in itself, what do I want the kids to take away from it, how am I going to reach the point where the kids actually understand what they're doing when their learning, and as well as what's the best way to approach it through gamification.” Furthermore, when answering the third focus group question, which asked in what ways their teaching ability had undergone change since the beginning of the semester, three of the students identified their leadership or presence in the classroom as having noticeably evolved. Male Participant 1 stated that his ability to ensure students were keeping track with the lesson as being the thing he most wished to change. Female Participants 4 and 5 mentioned the attitude they had in the classroom, with Female Participant 5 defining it as “tone,” as being the trait which underwent the most evolution. Four of the participants identified or implied time management as being another area with the most potential to change, with three students identifying a tendency to go over time, and one student, Female Participant 3, identifying the need to fill time. All these point to the individual experiences each student had, and how these influenced the students in a variety of ways, typically pointing them towards a more realistic notion of their teaching ability.
Preconceived notions and self-concept
Coinciding with this is the research conducted by Chang and Chiou (2016) in regards to prior levels of efficacy. In their research, students with lower levels of scores reported positive events as being the most influential, while students with higher scores saw the same in negative events. While many ‘events’ occurred during the course of the semester, the emphasis placed on the practicum in terms of grading, and the powerful role researchers have found it to play in determining self-efficacy (Costa, et al., 2015), indicate its influence. In other words, this event likely provided a number of positive and negative experiences for individuals to weigh their efficiency against. Since the area with the highest score saw the least improvement, while the area with the lowest score saw the most, it is safe to assume that the practicum offered negative experiences in the category of instructional strategies, but positive experiences in the category of classroom management.
The low Scores in Asian classroom management
This category improved only slightly, but the significance of this lies in how much the improvement fell short compared to other areas. There are again several potential reasons for this, but in all likelihood the scores are the result of a lack of mastery experiences. While students could experience a grasp of several skills in the classroom, such as student engagement, or classroom management, since the class was only a simulation of a different environment, there were few opportunities for them to obtain any experience in this area. In other words, a student in an American EFL classroom has many opportunities to learn the theories behind instructing, leading and engaging with students. With a firm grasp of these theories the student is then often provided outlets where they are able to demonstrate their understanding of these subjects. The environment matters little in this case, as the concepts are generalized enough. However, due to the difficulties in creating a believable environment which is as nuanced as the culture it is based on, it is nearly impossible to provide an experience synonymous with an Asian classroom. Education and theory regarding the management of an Asian classroom can be obtained in surplus, but the opportunity to demonstrate an understanding of these is difficult. As Bandura (1999) noted, mastery experiences are one of the most important elements to the formation of one’s self efficacy, and unfortunately the students did not have access to this during their semester.
Conclusions and limitations
The research was slightly limited first due to the timing of the surveys, and to the sample. The first survey was offered a full month into the semester, making it impossible to determine if the students had the same mindset as they had on the first day. This survey was also handed out to be taken home, which resulted in a lower response rate than the second which was given during one of the last classes. This difference in response rate likely resulted in differences in self-efficacy scores which otherwise would not have existed. Furthermore, it is important to note that the focus group, while offering insight into the minds of the class, was not indicative of the class as a whole, as only a minority volunteered. The impact of their answers is therefore subjective.
The data collected from the surveys indicated that students benefited, at least in their self-efficacy scores, throughout the course of the semester, although some thought needs to be given on how exactly these scores improved. The students, during the focus groups, seemed to indicate that although they felt more effective as teachers, the class had served less to improve their teaching ability, but more to increase their awareness of their current standing as teachers, and how to improve this. This attitude is reflected in the evolution of the data. In the first survey, the topic of classroom management was the highest rated area of efficacy, whereas, in the second it has risen to the top, but the area of Asian classroom management saw only a slight increase, and was the lowest score by the end of the class. Students, however, also indicated that their overall teaching ability had been enhanced, and specifically cited the assignments which encouraged the practice of teaching, such as the final project, as being the most effective in encouraging this shift. In regards to the research question, the data indicates that students do indeed improve their efficacy scores throughout the course of a semester. However, the data, especially when contrasting the scores to the responses from the focus group questions, also indicates that efficacy is not simply a matter of confidence, but also a matter of perspective. This is supported by the fact that, while the overall scores increased, and students were more optimistic about their abilities as teachers, the students also cited an increased awareness of their shortcomings, and cited specific examples. Examining this from a more negative perspective, one can’t help but notice that the excitement students originally had in regards to TEFL suffered some instances of decreased interest, with several students noting that they were no longer sure that TEFL was a career goal for them. This can lead one to assume that the class may, in of itself, negative impacting perceived self-efficacy. However, it is important to note that the remaining students did not cite this as discouragement, but as an opportunity to understand them better, feeling empowered to make better decisions for their future. Students, as a body, developed improved levels of self-efficacy, both by improving their confidence in certain areas and by coming to a better understanding of their ability. The quantitative data supports and further details this claim. However, their ways of approaching this development, and the ways in which it changed their experience, varied wildly, as noted in the focus group. In short, while the class provided students with a means of improving their self-efficacy, their individual ways of utilizing those means differed on an individual level.
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Please check the How to Motivate Your Students course at Pilgrims website.
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