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New English Curriculum Standard ¼ˆNECS¼‰ regards the development of affective attitude as one of the objectives for junior middle students; meanwhile, strengthening their capabilities of autonomous learning which is necessary for improving effective learning and all round development is another one of the targets in NECS. However, the education of developing affective attitude and autonomous learning is ignored by educators, which brings some bad effects especially on junior middle school students. Therefore, it is of great urgency to attach importance to the development of affective attitude and improve the capabilities of autonomous learning.
The thesis focuses on self-efficacy and autonomous learning. To begin with, it presents the definitions on self-efficacy and autonomous respectively, and the relation between them. Secondly, it elaborates the importance of self-efficacy for autonomous learning. In this part, it dentally analyses the effects of Self-efficacy and autonomous learning, and the importance for English learning. Thirdly, it explores the suggestion of improving self-efficacy of junior students and their capability of autonomous learning in English learning. Furthermore, it provides specific methods to cultivate the self-efficacy and autonomous learning.
Since the development of psycholinguistics and foreign language theories, many linguists and scholars have paid more attention to both theories, which pay an important role in the innovation of English learning. The improvement of self-efficacy is one of important factors of autonomous learning, and the improvement of capability of autonomous learning is one of the targets of all-round development. Therefore, this paper tries to find out the common of both theories, analyze the effects of self-efficacy on autonomous learning and bring forward some specific measures to improve the capability of autonomous learning.
[Key Words]: Self-efficacy; Autonomous Learning; Relation; Suggestions
The Study on Validity of Self-efficacy to English Autonomous Learning in Junior Middle School
Since the development of psycholinguistics and foreign language teaching theories, many linguists and scholars have paid more attention to the researches on self-efficacy and autonomous learning. Renowned Psychologist Albert Bandura ¼ˆ1978¼‰ has defined self-efficacy as one's belief in one's ability to success in specific situations or one's sense of self-efficacy that plays a major role in how one approaches goals, tasks, and challenges, which attracts interest of motivation psychologists till now. Meanwhile, one of learning theories called autonomous learning has become more and more important compared to the traditional learning style of repetitive learning. Holec(1981) defines autonomous learning as "the ability to take charge of one's learning".
In addition, New English Curriculum Standard (NECS) by Ministry of Education advocates student-centered learning. It requires that teachers should learn how to handle the relationship between teaching the knowledge and training the learners ' abilities well in the process of obtaining the basic knowledge and skills. Teachers must change the traditional teaching aims which focus too much on knowledge obtaining, and make students form an active learning attitude. The objective of learning English Curriculum is to develop students' integrated ability of using language, which contains students' language skills, knowledge of language, emotion and attitude, learning strategy and cultural awareness. According to NECS (New English Curriculum Standard), affective attitude is one of objectives of English curriculum.
According to the document, it advocates that training the capacity of autonomous learning becomes the prior goal of reform. At present, the reform and the use of text book provide the good condition and operating platform for students to acquire the capacity of autonomous learning. In the new text book, there are more contents designed for acquiring knowledge through discovering the problem and solving problem, which require the capacity of autonomous learning and aim to build it up. It clearly presents the necessity of autonomous learning and it is the high moment to take measure to apply autonomous learning to our real learning, since the objective of learning is to be a person of all-round development.
This paper is going to indicate the importance of self-efficacy and autonomous learning and make an inquiry into its applications in English teaching in junior middle schools.
1. Introduction to Self-efficacy and Autonomous learning
1.1 Definition of Self-efficacy
Psychologist Alert Bandura (1977) generally considered self-efficacy as domain-specific; that is, one can have more or less firm self-beliefs in different domains or particular situations of functioning. However, some experts have also conceptualized a general sense of self-efficacy, which refers to the global confidence in one's coping ability across a wide range of demanding or novel situation.
He is the founder of Self-efficacy, in his book Self-Efficacy: towards a Unifying of Behavioral Change. And he believes that self-efficacy is the subjective assessment of the capability of completing specific framework, which will have a direct effect on the motivation. What's more, he figures out that the human behavior is not only affected by the result of behavior, but also by the expectancy formulated by cognition towards behavior. According to this discovery, human will not take measure even they know the result of task, that is to say, the primary motivation depended on the assessment of the capability will whether bring success or not. Therefore, the human behavior is affected by the result and also dominated by self-efficacy which plays the decisive role. In his book, he also explains the difference between result expectancy and self-efficacy, focusing on the person's assessment of their abilities to perform specific tasks in relation to goals and standards rather than in comparison with others' capabilities.
With the researches in the theory of self-efficacy, there are various definitions of self-efficacy: such as the belief that one is able to perform in a certain way to achieve certain goals; a person's belief about their capabilities to produce designated levels of performance that experiences influence over events that affect their lives. It is a belief that one has the capabilities to execute the courses of actions required to manage prospective situations.
1.2 Definition of Autonomous Learning
The concept of "autonomous learning" stems from the debates about the development of life-long learning skills and the development of independent thinkers both of which originated in the 1960s. Now autonomous learning sees learners as individuals who can and should be autonomous i.e. be responsible for ones own learning, which has developed as a school education from a kind of learning theories.
The educator Holec (1981) had been playing an important role in the debate on autonomy in language learning and his initial definition has been taken as an improtant part in much subsequent work in the era. He explains the concept of autonomous learning in his book Autonomy and Foreign Language Learning which defined autonomy as "the ability to take charge of one's own learning". What's more, he developed this definition further in 1985 by talking about autonomy as a conceptual tool.
However, other experts hold their own perceptive on autonomous learning. Leni Dam(1996) holds another comprehension of autonomous learning. The author describes several definitions of learner autonomy from some scholars and researchers. The learner is the centre of focus and it is important to identify the characteristics of an autonomous learner. Besides, an attempt is made to define the characteristics of an autonomous learner. Dam defined one as "an active participant in the social process of classroom learning â€¦ an active interpreter of new information in the terms of what he/she already and uniquely knowsâ€¦[someone who] knows how to learn and can use this in his/her life". In addition, Dam characterized learner autonomy as "a readiness to take charge of one's own learning".
The autonomous language learner takes responsibility for the totality of his learning situation. He behaves it by determining his own objectives, defining the contents to be learned and the progression of the course, selecting methods and techniques to be used, monitoring this procedure, and evaluating what he has acquired.
1.3 Relationship between Self-efficacy and Autonomous Learning
Self-efficacy and autonomous learning are closely related to each other. As we all know, autonomous learning regards the learners as individuals who can and should be autonomous i.e. be responsible for their own learning climate. In the school, Autonomous learning is aimed to help students develop their self-consciousness, vision, practicality and freedom of discussion. These attributes serve to aid the students in his/her independent learning. No matter what the aims of autonomous are, above all, it is a kind of activities about learning. Meanwhile, self-efficacy plays an important role in affecting human behavior by choosing an appropriated goal, improving higher motivation. According to the theory, your sense of self-efficacy can play a major role in how you approach goals, tasks, and challenges. For learners, these goals, tasks and challenges will inevitably occur in the process of autonomous learning.
Dr. Sliver (1995) defines it as follows: autonomy is an active and constructive learning process, during which the students at first make their own learning goals, and then monitor, regulate and control their cognition, motivation and behavior guided and restricted by the goals and contexts. Therefore, self-efficacy plays an intermediate role among an individual, context and the overall achievement.
The learners in the autonomous learning process will also be affected by a variety of internal or external factors. One of the important factors is the student's self-efficacy. It is an emotional factor which has an influence on students' learning motivation and it will not only refer to goals, but also efforts and learning strategies.
2. Effect of Self-efficacy to Autonomous Learning
Self-efficacy plays an important part in autonomous learning, which can improve the ability of autonomous learning. Generally, it is believed that self-efficacy impacts on autonomous learning as following aspects. The first one is the setting of learning and task, and the second is the effort to complete the learning task and the last is the state of a mind affected by self-efficacy.
Domestic scholars Zhou Wenxia and Guo Guiping (2006) conclude the effect of autonomous learning into four aspects: mastery experience of autonomous learners, alternative experience of learners, encouragement and persuasion from authorities, students' physical and psychological status.
2.1 Mastery Experience of Autonomous Learners
Alert Bandura points out:"People's beliefs about their efficacy can be developed by four main sources of influences. The most effective way of creating a strong sense of efficacy is through mastery experience. Successes build a robust belief in one's personal efficacy. Failures undermine it, especially if failures occur before a sense of efficacy is firmly established."
If people experience only easy successes¼Œthey tend to expect quick results and are easily discouraged by failure. A resilient sense of efficacy requires experience in overcoming obstacles through perseverant effort. Some failures and difficulties in human pursuit serve a useful purpose in teaching success usually requires sustained effort. Once people are convinced they have what it takes to succeed, they will insist in the face of adversity and quickly rebound from setbacks. By sticking it out through tough times, they emerge stronger from adversity.
During the process of English autonomous learning, if students can make progress to some extent in some way after a period of independent study, such as finding his vocabulary expanded and writing skills promoted than before, the promotion of self-efficacy will improve their intrinsic motivation for learning. As long as students develop a stable and high-level of self-efficacy, they will never give up even confronted with setbacks in learning. However, the self-efficacy will be greatly reduced if they can not gain the successful experience for a long time.
2.2 Alternative Experience of Learners
There is an old saying: if they can do it, so do I, which explain the alternative experience vividly and simply. The second way of creating and strengthening self-beliefs of efficacy is through the various experiences provided by social model. People are similar to oneself succeed by sustained effort, which raises observers' belief that they also possess the capabilities to master comparable activities required to succeed. For the same reason, when people observe other's failures, despite high effort, it will lower observers' judgments of their own efficacy and undermines their efforts. Modeling has impact on perceived self-efficacy is strongly influenced by perceived similarity to the models. The greater the assumed similarities the more persuasive are, including the models' successes and failures. If people see the models as very different from themselves¼Œtheir perceived self-efficacy is not much influenced by the models' behavior and result.
"If they can do it, I can do it as well," which is a process of comparison between oneself and someone else. People's self-efficacy will increase, when they see someone succeeding at something and their self-efficacy will decrease when they see people failing. This process is more effectual when a person sees himself or herself as similar to his or her own model. If a person who is perceived as having similar ability succeeds, this will usually increase an observer's self-efficacy. Modeling is a powerful influence when a person is particularly unsure of himself or herself, although not as influential as experience.
In the process of autonomous learning process, students will enhance their self-efficacy as well as the confidence to accomplish the same task when they see the classmate who is in the same level of English learning makes a success. However, the model is not appropriate for students to follow, which will reduce confidence and even give up continuing to learn. On the other hand, if the learners know that his classmates still fail although they make great effort, which has bad effect on self-efficacy and make them be afraid of failure.
Example of the individual model is obtained by an assessment of their own abilities. In order to play in the role of improving self-efficacy, the example needs to meet two conditions: there are similar characteristics between models and students; example of the individual model can make the individual realize the experience of success. Autonomous learners should find the model which is similar with that of their own abilities. For an instance, it is harmful for ones who want to improve ability of reading without progress by following a model whose ability is much lower than oneself. On the other hand, if there is gap between the requirement of models and ability of learner, it will hurt the learner because his or her self-efficacy is greatly affected by the effort in vain.
2.3 Encouragements and Persuasions from Authorities
The third way of improving people's beliefs is social persuasion that they have what it takes to succeed. People will be mobilized by the compliment from the authorities to master the activities, on the other hand, the self-doubt and personal deficiencies will lower the efforts of people. To some extent that persuasive boosts in perceived self-efficacy lead people to try hard enough to success, they promote development of skill and a sense of personal efficacy.
It is far more difficult to instill a higher belief of personal efficacy by social persuasion alone, but to undermine it. Unrealistic increases in self-efficacy are rapidly disconfirmed by the disappointments of the result of the individual's efforts. However, people who are convinced that they are lack of capabilities, which lead them to avoid some challenging activities and give up quickly when they are facing the difficulties. By constricting activities and undermining motivation, disbelief in one's capabilities creates its own behavioral validation.
Successful efficacy builder do more than convey positive appraisal. In addition to raising people's beliefs in their capabilities, they structure situations for them in ways that bring success and avoid placing people in situation prematurely where they are likely to fail often. They measure success in terms of self-improvement rather than by triumphs over others.
Actually, teachers are the builder of self-efficacy because of they are the representatives of authorities. Teachers praise the progress made by students (such as improvement of reciting vocabularies) timely, which greatly increase both the enthusiasm for learning English and self-efficacy. On the contrary, the self-efficacy of students will be hurt, for teachers keep silent with their progress.
2.4 People's psychological and physical status
The status of psychology and physic has the impact on people's self-efficacy, so people rely partly on their somatic and emotional states in judging their capabilities. The interpretation of their stress reaction and tension is treated as signs of vulnerability to their poor performance. People judge their fatigue, aches and pains as signs of physical debility in the activities involving strength and stamina. What's more, people's judgments of personal efficacy are also affected by mood. Positive mood enhances perceived self-efficacy, despondent mood diminishes it. The reduction of people's stress reaction and alternative of their negative emotional proclivities is the fourth way of modifying self-belief of efficacies.
It is an interpretation of them rather than an emotional intensity or a physical reaction. People who own a high sense of efficacy are likely to view their state of affective arousal regard as an energizing facilitator of performance, whereas those who are beset by self-doubts regard their arousal as a debilitator. Physiological indicators of efficacy play an especially influential role in health functioning and in athletic and other physical activities.
For example, people tend to regard their arousal level in the pain situation as a sign of incompetence and treat arousal level in the relaxing situation as performance of "all in their hands". Learners' physical status such like anxiety, stress, fatigue and emotional state will affect their self-efficacy. When students are under control of worry and pessimistic, which will lower learning efficiency. For another instance, students often judge their self-efficacy by their own heart rate, blood pressure, breathing and other arousal level. Calm reaction makes them confident, steady. Different reaction affects physical level of achievement, furthermore, the confidence or suspicion before activities is confirmed by the response indicators to the action.
To sum up, the effects of self-efficacy to autonomous learning include individual, social and environmental factors in the personal activities, and the others' assessment on the experience and ability of individual. When people evaluate their self-efficacy, they will prepare and integrate information from a wide range of performance generally. In other words, if the learners reduce the confidence only due to the setback in one aspect, which is not right, they should analyze the issue in a whole rather than a part of an aspect of the issue. Otherwise, it will delay the process of learning.
3. Suggestions of Improving Self-efficacy in English Autonomous learning
It is necessary to combine the effects of self-efficacy on autonomous learning, in order to conclude the positive methods of improving self-efficacy of learners. What's more, making measures of improving self-efficacy not only consider the effects of self-efficacy on autonomous learning, but also pay attention to how self-efficacy affects human function. The effects of self-efficacy on autonomous had been explained former, and now it was a high time to focus on the effects of self-efficacy on human function. First, people will be more inclined to take on a task if they believe they can succeed. People generally avoid tasks where their self-efficacy is low, but will engage in task where their self-efficacy is high. Secondly, people with high self-efficacy in a task are more likely to make more of an effort, and persist longer, than those with low efficacy. Thirdly, health behaviors such as non-smoking, physical exercise, dieting, condom use, dental hygiene, seat belt use, or breast self-examination are, among others, dependent on one's level of perceived self-efficacy (Conner & Norman, 2005).
In order to stimulate the self-efficacy of autonomous learners and improve the efficiency of learning, autonomous learners should do as the followings:
3.1 Gaining the Successful Achievements in English Autonomous Learning
"Mastery experience" is the most important factor deciding a person's self-efficacy. Simply, success raises self-efficacy, failure lower it. Erick Erikson (2005) puts out that "Children cannot be fooled by empty praise and condescending encouragement. They may have to accept artificial bolstering of their self-esteem in lieu of something better, but what I call their accruing ego identity gains real strength only from wholehearted and consistent recognition of real accomplishment, that is, achievement that has meaning in their culture."
The successful learning experience in the period of past time directly affects the self-efficacy level of autonomous learners. After a period of independent study, students can clearly recognize the progress and the confidence of learning English will increase dramatically; on the other hand, they can not see the progress, which will doubt their abilities, particularly for those who is unconfident in learning, they will even give up whatever they have made.
Therefore, the growth of a sense of successful experience is especially important for autonomous learners, which requires the progress in learning. Teachers as the mentors should be good at finding bits and pieces of progress and appraise students timely, so that students can understand their efforts is not in vain and make effort to learn with greater enthusiasm. What's more, teachers need to light on the bright spot of students, as some students are good at singing, and some prefer to communicate with friends in English. The discovery of bright spots of students will translate into power that can improve self-efficacy of English learning. Bandura Alert (1981) once put out that:" A small success, if make the individual believe they own the condition required for success, will make them behave beyond the present achievement and reach higher achievement, even in the activities or under the new conditions of the success."
On the other hand, students themselves must learn to keep making progress in learning, such as the expansion of vocabulary, grammar, skilled application of knowledge and so on. Do not make excessive demand on those students who do not own good basics of English learning and make them know every progress is the result of effort.
3.2 Playing the Role of Teachers' Persuasions and Encouragements
Social persuasion is about encouragements/discouragements. These can have a strong influence, for an instance, most people remember times where something is said to them significantly altered their confidence. While positive persuasions increase self-efficacy, negative persuasions decrease it. It is generally easier to decrease someone's self-efficacy than it is to increase it.
During the process of teaching, teachers should use the positive words appropriately to encourage students. For those who have difficulties in learning, it is more important to eliminate the pressure and anxiety and present them a correct attribution by giving encouragement.
Evaluation is the means by which a course or a curriculum change can be monitored to see if, in fact, it is what it claims to be and if it achieves, in students, the intended outcomes. For an evaluation taking place in any measured way, the purpose of a teaching innovation and the expected outcomes in terms of students learning and attitude changes must be specified. A lot of what has passed for evaluation has been anecdotal and based on statements such as, "the student seem to like it", or "the attendance at labs is better." There is nothing wrong with either statement, but in themselves, they do not constitute an evaluation. They may be dimensions within an evaluation, offering pointers, but they fall short of any scientific measurement.
Teachers should pay attention to focus on the evaluation of students, and help them build-confidence. No matter what kind of performance they have made, teacher had more accurate and comprehensive about their performance. For the excellent students, give them positive feedback to help them build confidence; while, for others, an objective evaluation is a good choice to leave room to improve.
The skill of communication pays an important role in encouragement by persuasion. When communicating with students, teachers should make students feel the genuineness rather than on purpose as possible as they can. Otherwise, it can hardly reach the corresponding effect.
3.3 Adjusting the Psychological Status of Self-learner
As unusual, stressful situation, people commonly exhibit signs of weakness: shakes, aches and pains, fatigue, fear, nausea, etc. A person's perceptions of these responses can markedly alter a person's efficacy. If a person gets "butterflies in the stomach" before public speaking, those with low self-efficacy may take this as a sign of their own inability, thus decreasing their self-efficacy further, while those with high self-efficacy are likely to interpret such physiological signs as normal and unrelated to his or her actual ability. Thus, it is the person's belief in the implications of their physiological response that alters their self-efficacy, rather than the sheer power of the response.
Psychologist C.R. Rogers (1961) thinks that the "psychological safety" and "psychological freedom" is the two basic conditions of creative activities. Psychological safety refers to the feeling of individual who is respected, understood and acknowledged; psychological freedom refers to the feeling of individual realizes he or she is the master of himself or herself and decide their own behaviors. When the individual's psychological safety and psychological freedom to be met, the individual can freely express their ideas, shape his own personality and create a high level of performance, which is easy to be successful.
As the mentors in the process of autonomous learning, therefore, try to create a relaxing psychological environment and harmonious, equal relationship with students for them to gain the successful experience. Students can easily devote themselves to improving performance as well as self-efficacy. For example, teacher can organize some fun activities to eliminate the pressure from learning and mobilize their enthusiasm. In addition, the regulation of their own psychological state also plays a vital role in dealing with setbacks. Confronted with difficulties, students just treat them normally, neither be afraid of them, nor give up.
The understanding of language learning is different from other subjects, including too many words and syntax, which is not easy to master it. The excessive tension occurs in oral examination will dramatically affects the performance. On the contrary, if the students have a good psychological and believe their own capabilities, they will perform better in their examinations. In short, a relaxing psychological state is a good environment for learning and enhancing their self-efficacy.
3.4 Setting the Appropriate Goals and Tasks
Whether the objectives and tasks set reasonably or not will largely affect self-efficacy of autonomous learners. Students can not remember the words or master the sentences required by teachers in specified time, which will decrease their confidence. Despite of great effort, it is still in vain. The reason of the depression is that unreasonable tasks. Teachers, as the mentors, take the actual level of students in setting an appropriate task for them, and arrange different tasks for different students according to their abilities.
On the other hand, when autonomous learners make their short-term or long-term development, do not set the tasks too high or too large. Otherwise, if they can not complete the takes at the required time, the confidence and self-efficacy will reduce naturally. So no matter teachers or students set goals and tasks, they had better ensure that goals are can be achieved according to their abilities. At least, they can partly achieve their goals and tasks, so as to gradually improve their self-efficacy.
There is close relation between the effects of self-efficacy on autonomous learning and the suggestions of improving self-efficacy in English autonomous learning. To some extent, these suggestions are derived from those effects. For an instance, mastery experience is one of the vital effects of self-efficacy; the gaining mastery experience of successful achievement in English autonomous learning is one of major measures correspondingly.
In fact, these measures are not playing a role alone as well as the effects, but as a whole. Therefore, it is essential to apply these measures after the comprehensive considerations. Every measure plays its own important role and also connects with each other.
Autonomous learning is gradually regarded as an effective method of learning, and how to cultivate students' self-efficacy is becoming more and more important. Among a number of factors, internal psychological factors play a very important role. In this paper, it elaborates the factor of self-efficacy and gives some solutions to improve self-efficacy. In a word, self-efficacy plays an important role in English autonomous learning, which can not be ignored. Therefore, paying attention is meaningful to learning English for both teachers and students.
The first inadequacy of this paper is that the relation between them can not be explained correctly, though the self-efficacy have important impact on autonomous learning. Self-efficacy is a theory based on the psychology, though it is close with English autonomous learning, in fact, there is no direct relationship between them. There is a theory called Self-esteem ABC Model¼Œin which the principle is similar with that between self-efficacy and autonomous learning. "A" stands for the real events, "B" is the assessment of "A", and "C" represents for self-esteem. In this theory, "C" is not caused by "A" directly, but "B", therefore, the assessment belongs to the field of psychology which is difficult to identify sometimes.
The second inadequacy of this paper is that those specific measures may not play role in reality, because the reality is more complex than the analysis. The general concept that self-efficacy is a positive aspect of the human cognition is mostly accepted, the advantages of high versus low level in certain society is not universally agreed upon as salient. Some researches show that while self-efficacy can be accurately reported by an individual, it isn't able to predict actual social interactions in many situations. Tasks that are specifically social oriented, such as public speaking, were more difficult to individuals with low self-efficacy, but those individuals showed no correlating social responses in a casual social setting. The controversy exists regarding how important self-efficacy is to complex social situations, and currently more research is needed to determine if one can make any predictive claims based on perceived self-efficacy.
For the limitation of collecting information of both theories and the ability of study, in this paper, there can be more comprehensive understanding of relation between them. The measure proposed stay in the surface, there is a certain degree of difficulty in practicing in fact. In other word, the further research can make progress in this room.
Based on modern research and theoretical models, it is clear that perceived self-efficacy is important for leading a healthy and comfortable life-style free from excessive stress. Further understanding of this topic will allow us to develop and institutionalize concepts that will hopefully be able to improve productivity in the work place and also within schools. This field promises to redefine how we view our own social interactions and also how we can better develop our own perceived self-efficacy.