by Lawrence Jun Zhang
Our pupils are required to learn two languages in school, but not all of them are not equally engaged in learning both languages. When teachers understand self-efficacy and self-regulated learning, we can help our pupils learn to read and write effectively in both languages.
You might be very familiar with the following scenarios:
John is not interested in Mandarin and always dozes off in his Chinese class. He sees no point in learning a language he finds too difficult and for which he has never scored well. He communicates with his friends in English but his English test scores are not fantastic either. His teachers think he is a poor Chinese learner.
Diana is a different case. She loves Mandarin and always aces her Chinese class. She is most confident in Mandarin, which is the language most often used at home. She has received very positive comments from both her English and Chinese teachers.
Diana is not only bilingual but also biliterate. Part of the reason for her success in Chinese and English, and John’s lack of interest in Chinese and relative stagnation in English, has much to do with self-efficacy and self-regulated learning (SRL). The good news is that the solution to John’s problems is within the teachers’ control.
The Role of Self-efficacy and Self-regulation
Teachers can help learners like John. But first we need to understand the role of self-efficacy and self-regulation in pupils’ language learning.
What is self-efficacy?
Self-efficacy is a person’s belief in his or her ability to succeed in learning. Psychologist Albert Bandura (1994) suggests that people with high self-efficacy – those who believe they can perform well – are more likely to tackle difficult tasks than avoid them.
Pupils with successful experiences often have a strong sense of fulfilment, and these experiences in turn boost their self-efficacy. Such pupils may blame themselves for not putting in enough effort if they fall short of their personal goals.
In contrast, pupils with low self-efficacy often attribute their failure to a lack of ability. Such experiences of failure are detrimental to their self-efficacy.
What is self-regulated learning?
SRL includes metacognition (thinking about one’s thinking), strategic action (planning, monitoring and evaluating personal progress against a benchmark), and motivation to learn (Zimmerman, 2001).
Self-regulated learners are often aware of their strengths and weaknesses, and they usually have a repertoire of strategies for completing learning tasks. Successful learners proactively chart their learning through the use of SRL behaviours. They also exhibit a high sense of self-efficacy.
Research has found that good bilingual and biliteracy learners deliberately make use of learning strategies to achieve optimal results in a learning task.
What Can Teachers Do?
By providing more explicit scaffolding, teachers can help pupils make connections between the two languages. The following are some strategies teachers can use to facilitate biliteracy learning.
- Set attainable goals.
This allows pupils to experience success and gain confidence. When pupils feel that they are actually able to complete the learning task, they will become more interested in the subject and their self-efficacy will increase.
- Share beliefs, goals and expectations.
Before starting a task, such sharing can include some of the effective ways for achieving the desired goals and expectations.
- Activate prior knowledge and experience.
This can be done through experiential learning activities, applying knowledge in broader contexts, and integrating real-life examples with classroom-based learning.
- Provide positive corrective feedback.
Such feedback will provide pupils with guidance and affirmation to help them make their best effort to achieve better results. This will help pupils develop skills for SRL.
- Engage in reflective conversations.
These conversations help pupils consolidate what they have learned. Teachers can start doing so through talk-aloud/think-aloud and brainstorming in groups, which can allow pupils to discover their weaknesses and strengths.
This use of strategies-based instruction can strengthen pupils’ learning capacity and help them make the transition from passive to active learners (Cohen & Macaro, 2006). Careful use of these strategies can help the Johns in your class enjoy learning both languages.
Bandura, A. (1994). Self-efficacy. In V. S. Ramachaudran (Ed.), Encyclopedia of human behavior (Vol. 4, pp. 71-81). New York: Academic Press.
Cohen, A. D., & Macaro, E. (2006). Language learner strategies: 30 years of research and practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Zimmerman, L. (2001). Self-regulated learning and academic achievement. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.