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Why Increasing Student Confidence May Be a Hollow Victory
Sunday, February 24, 2013

If we ask a simple question, “Can tutoring increase a student’s confidence?” most people would probably answer yes. If we then asked, “Should increasing a student’s confidence be one of the primary goals in a tutor-student relationship?” most people would again say, yes!

Well, not so fast.

According to Candice Shoemaker, a professor of Horticultural Sciences at Kansas State University, whose recent study charted the relationship between confidence and self-efficacy in the classroom, the answer is a little more complicated than that.

It turns out that when we say confidence with regards to academic performance, what we really mean is self-efficacy. Ms. Shoemaker defines self-efficacy as a belief in one’s capabilities to learn, while she defines confidence as a measure of one’s belief in one’s own abilities.

Here’s a scenario in which confidence-building does not tell the whole story. Say a tutor works with a student on a term paper and the student receives an A. The student then feels confident because he or she received a good grade. But did the tutor just help the student get a good grade (confidence), or did she empower the student to write a good term paper on his own (self-efficacy)? There’s a big difference between the two.

It’s easy for a tutor to help a student get a good grade, and a much harder task to impart the skills necessary for a student to learn on his or her own. But getting that good grade, although confidence-building, can be a hollow victory of sorts. What tutors and students really need to work toward is building self-efficacy, which pays out long-term academic benefits for the student.

Good tutors may not think of it this way, but what they’re really doing is empowering kids to no longer need them. And that’s exactly as it should be.