Classroom strategies to improve student self-efficacy and learning outcomes

Smiling college students looking at a digital tablet at school

One of the most critical tools in a teacher’s arsenal actually belongs to the student: self-efficacy. Self-efficacy influences academic motivation, learning, and achievement (American Society for Horticultural Science, 2011). Increasing student self-efficacy, therefore, is crucial to a student’s success. As teachers, we can stimulate critical thinking and comprehension and thus increase student self-efficacy through a variety of strategies such as dialogic, open-ended questioning, positive reinforcement, increased availability, and the flipped classroom.

The first and perhaps easiest way to increase student confidence and engagement with subject material is to be available to students outside of the classroom. Teachers should have regular office hours that work for students with various scheduling needs, but should also be available to set up individual sessions outside of these hours whenever possible. Some students may simply need a bit of extra help to boost their understanding and confidence in the material and themselves.

During these sessions and in class, there are several strategies teachers can use to increase student confidence in comprehension and analysis:

  • Have students work problems out loud. This slows down the process of critical thinking and analysis, encouraging deliberate thinking and reasoning (
  • Pose open ended, dialogic questions to students rather than provide them with answers or directive, editorial style comments. Prompts teachers might use to encourage student confidence in reasoning could include the following:
  • Tell me what you know about _____ .
  • How might you break this problem into smaller steps?
  • How did you get from ___ to _____ ?
  • Why do you think the author ______ ?
  • Remember the value of positive reinforcement. Make sure that this reinforcement is more than a generic “Good Job, Jane!” Rather, make your comments and actions specific and tangible. Display a student’s artwork. Read a strong student response out loud to the class. (Avoid naming students who might be overly self-conscious; simply displaying or reading the work serves as praise.)
  • Build language arts programs that include but do not over-emphasize creative writing; build a strong analytical base by having students question and answer as they read other authors. Encourage the student to ask “What do you think and imagine?” as well as “What do I think and what can I imagine?” Notes Mahar (2016), a long-time English instructor at a Jesuit college preparatory high school in Maine, “Students seeking to understand what others know…are confident. Those conditioned for singular perception or thought lose their confidence; they discover the insular nature of a creative-centric curriculum.”
  • Consider using a flipped classroom model, which can “produce significant learning gains” (American Society for Horticultural Science, 2011). In such a model, students do the “easier” work of comprehension and acquiring information independently. A variety of sources to appeal to multiple learning styles can be used: textbook readings, online comprehension quizzes, PowerPoint presentations, and video presentations from sites such as Khan Academy, YouTube, or Coursera ( The teacher can then devote the classroom time to “skilled navigation” (Mahar, personal communication, 2016) of student analysis, application, and discussion. Literature students might discuss symbolism or theme in novels, citing support for their responses; algebra students might work through problems in class, where a meaningful dialogue (see points one and two) can occur.

The “teaching to the test” mentality encouraged by No Child Left Behind and Common Core has eroded student confidence and placed an emphasis on learning to acquire information, achieve a score, and meet a “standard.” Our most important job as educators, however, is not to produce a generation of right answers; it is to produce a generation of confident, eloquent thinkers who can understand, effectively utilize, and enjoy their individual learning processes.


About the Author
Natalie Haskell

Natalie Haskell

Natalie Kuhtmann Haskell earned her BA in English and Secondary Education from the University of Notre Dame in Notre Dame, IN. Over the course of her career, she has worked with learners of all ages, running Bible Schools, teaching high school English and college composition, tutoring, doing private educational consultations, writing educational articles and blogs, and homeschooling her own seven children. Her particular interests are curriculum development and the benefits of kinesthetic learning to dyslexic and ADHD children. She is currently a freelance academic and business editor as well as a lead tutor with Smarthinking.



American Society for Horticultural Science. (2011, April 4). Student confidence correlated with academic performance, class study finds. Science Daily. Retrieved June 11, 2016 from

Flipping the Classroom. Retrieved June 11, 2016.

Teaching Problem Solving. Retrieved June 11, 2016.