Helping Students Touch Snakes

Helping Students Touch Snakes

Julia Daley

There’s a common reptilian thread winding through the articles in this month’s issue, and it has everything to do with Albert Bandura’s famous research on curing ophiophobes of their fear of snakes. Through a series of baby steps, lasting about four hours, Bandura perfected a process (known as “guided mastery”) to help his fearful patients overcome their snake-phobias. Self-efficacy is a term that Bandura coined during his psychological research, and, though it originated with ophiophobes, it has everything to do with education.

Self-efficacy has to do with our confidence (or lack thereof) towards successfully completing a specific task (see Raina Burditt’s video for a quick and thorough explanation of self-efficacy). Bandura’s ophiophobes had very low self-efficacy for the task of touching a snake in the room next door—their fear and anxiety led them to truly believe they could not succeed at this objective. Indeed, their low self-efficacy would likely have them avoid the snake-touching scenario altogether by leaving the building, and so avoiding the risk of failure. However, with Bandura’s guidance, the patients experienced one small success after another, and slowly their self-efficacy went up enough for them to confidently pet snakes. (David Kelley’s TED Talk does a nice job of insightfully summarizing this research.)

Our students aren’t so dissimilar to Bandura’s. As teachers, we of course want our students to have high self-efficacy; students with high self-efficacy can commit to challenging learning goals and persevere to complete a task. However, many students will enter our classrooms with low self-efficacy towards certain tasks: learning English, speaking English, giving presentations, etc. Fortunately, Bandura’s process of “guided mastery” points the way towards methodologies we can use in our classrooms to boost students’ self-efficacy towards the various tasks they need to tackle to succeed.

Raising students’ self-efficacy is a delicate process—one critique too harsh, one unkind comment from a peer, are all that it takes to drastically lower self-efficacy. However, this month’s issue is full of suggestions that we can use to help students boost their self-efficacy so they can successfully touch snakes.

Julia Daley is a lecturer at Hiroshima Bunkyo University, where she teaches English conversation and writing. She earned her MA in TESL at Northern Arizona University and is certified to teach secondary English in Arizona. Julia enjoys learning about neuroscience and finding ways to apply the research to her classrooms.

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