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Fostering Self-Efficacy Among Adolescents

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    Adolescence is often regarded as a turbulent time. Although adolescents tend to lead rich musical lives, their musicianship may not make obvious connections to school music programs. When students do not make these connections, they may have low self-efficacy related to their musicianship. Psychologist Albert Bandura defined self-efficacy as the belief one has in their ability to succeed or accomplish a task. While students’ cognitive processes play an important role in their development of understanding, organizing, and retrieving information, it is the affective components of student learning that I focus on in this article.

    Although some students elect to take, or find themselves obligated to take a secondary general music class, low self-efficacy can be present and interfere with their ability to fully participate and succeed. As Bandura notes, strong feelings of self-efficacy typically result in students visualizing success scenarios and pathways toward achieving them. Conversely, low self-efficacy will result in imagining a failure scenario and specific aspects of that scenario going wrong.

    As Giebelhausen notes, challenges associated with teaching secondary general music are different than those for students of other age groups. Adolescents are defined in different ways. Some societies use puberty as the milestone by which to characterize adolescence. According to the World Health Organization adolescents can be defined as young people spanning the ages of 10-19. They can be unified in general in the following ways: they are young people who generally live with parents or caregivers, experience physical changes of puberty, attend secondary school, and are part of a peer culture. Giebelhausen points out that great changes occur during this time, including physical, emotional, and environmental. Adolescents begin to confront questions of identity, and typically become preoccupied with a consideration of themselves in relationship to others, particularly peers, as they navigate their social worlds. According to Arnett this includes formulating friendships, joining informal and formal groups, and beginning to date.

    Concerns occur as students self-question: Who do I want to be?, Who do I want to be with?, What do I want to be associated with?, and so on. During this time, some students take part in a music ensemble or take private lessons on an instrument. Other students choose not to participate in these endeavors, yet lead meaningful musical lives within or outside of school that typically include formulating individual music preferences and associating with performing artists, peer groups, and sometimes a particular look or style. Adolescents listen to music frequently, and may also make music informally, sing or play along with recordings, use software, or participate in a variety of other music forums.

    The adolescents who take SGM classes may include those who do and do not participate in other school music activities. Students with these varied experiences may even be grouped in the same class together. Yet, SGM sometimes exclusively comprises students who do not take other school music classes. For some, SGM is an elective, for others it is a requirement. As authors note, SGM may benefit those students who are also involved in ensembles or take lessons, for instance by improving aural skills. But defining SGM students remains difficult. SGM students have been characterized in many ways, including as difficult or lacking engagement, or as those who broadly have a musical life outside the school music program. For some, SGM students are simply those who do not participate in traditional, ensemble-based music classes, but this may depend on other factors such as the curriculum, schedule, and culture of the school. What seems to be accepted as a commonality, is plainly that music is important to adolescents.

    For the underdefined group known as SGM students, musicianship will exist along a broad, multifaceted spectrum. This musicianship can easily go unacknowledged, or underutilized by music teachers, who themselves have likely been prepared to make and teach music in a particular way. In other words, many music teachers are prepared in the Western European art music tradition. As such, they may place value on experiences that align with their background and preparation for teaching music. Where the music teacher may play a traditional instrument appropriate for a wind band or orchestra and have a background of experiences within this particular domain, students may play by ear, play instruments suited for a rock band or through software and/or hardware that fall outside the music teacher’s own experiences. While it is certainly the job of music teachers to help foster connections between students’ musical interests, pursuits, and skills, these connections may not occur.

    Although these differences may not always exist, when they do, music teaching and learning can fall into a tension that may fail to openly value the skills students bring. In these cases, questions arise related to students’ self-efficacy within the SGM class. Although students may have high self-efficacy related to other academic pursuits, this confidence may disintegrate when asked to engage in musical pursuits that lack musical context and meaning for them.

    What is self-efficacy

    Self-efficacy is related to real or perceived limitations. A perceived limitation can impact an individual regardless of whether or not the limitation actually exists. In other words, a student with low self-efficacy may place artificial restrictions on themselves, for instance, I can’t sing. According to Bandura, the ways in which students learn not only have to do with cognitive processing, a much-studied aspect of academic development among psychologists, but also an individual’s belief in their ability to succeed. In addition to cognitive processing, Bandura focuses on the agency of the learner and their self-regulation, including the additional three categories of motivational, affective, and selection processes. These self-efficacy beliefs play a role for teachers, students, and school communities. Hendricks notes that it is important teachers are aware of students’ self-efficacy perceptions in order to motivate them toward reaching their full potential.

    For adolescents in secondary general music, self-efficacy is implicated in the ways the student approaches learning goals; sets their own goals; and approaches tasks, projects, and challenges. High self-efficacy may result in a motivated student who actively participates, shares ideas, makes music freely, takes risks, and is goal-oriented. According to Hendricks, students with high self-efficacy may also be better prepared to work through and solve independent problems. A student with low self-efficacy however, may act disinterested, approach learning passively, draw back from making music, and fail to invest themselves fully in learning.

    Some of these characteristics have been described among adolescents in general, but may become exacerbated in a potentially unfamiliar type of class that entails active, collaborative, music-making. For instance, a student who takes SGM in order to fulfill a fine arts requirement may express disinterest from the start. When the expectations of the class become known and involve singing and accompanying oneself on the guitar; playing in a four-person rock group; dancing; recording, sampling, and producing music, the student may feel immediately vulnerable and initially look for an escape route to the familiarity of note-taking and slouching at a desk.

    Musical Hesitancies

    One’s self-efficacy can impact the way students approach learning. In order to fully participate in musical ways, students must overcome such hesitancies so that they may be enabled to take risks with and among peers, including singing, moving, playing, and creating music in varied ways. As music is necessarily an auditory art form, students realize that risk-taking will be visible, that is, heard by others.

    Music requires that students take risks in ways that other subjects may not. SGM may counter other, general educational experiences that allow students the option to act in passive ways. Although traditional ensemble-type music classes likely require active participation, the kinds of participatory experiences enacted in SGM will also differ from those in ensembles. In a SGM class, students should build skills, contextual understandings, and encounter continuous opportunities to enact their own musicianship in creative ways. Students who are accustomed to their student role as a passive learner may act disinterested in SGM, whether or not the disinterest is real or used as a safety measure related to risk taking and negative self-efficacy. SGM teachers who expect students to sing, move, play, and create could be asking a lot of them relative to other educational experiences.

    Singing, playing, moving, and creating are essential components of a meaningful musical experience. SGM classes such as music history and music theory are also important—and although this is not always the case—are best realized in settings when active music making accompanies leaning about music, providing a meaningful foundation and rich context for building skills and understandings.

    For instance, while teaching principles of voice leading with four-part harmonies in a music theory class, students should play examples on keyboards, sing them in four parts in large and small groups, create their own examples, analyze their work and workshop solutions to potential issues or challenges, and sing and play them, alternating parts. These activities can be done in musical ways, involving movement and expression. Such activities should also allow for historical context, connections to modern repertoire, and creative arrangements. These activities can also tie into warmups involving aural skills, allowing for improvisatory signing, playing, and movement.

    Active music making however, can create anxiety. In order for students to wholeheartedly engage in and build such skills, understandings, and abilities, self-efficacy must be present. One’s self-efficacy sets the stage for adaptation and persistence, important characteristics for learning in SGM and for lifelong musical pursuits. According to Pajares, self-efficacy is foundational toward one’s overall motivation and well-being. Pajares goes on to state, “…unless young people believe that their actions can produce the results they desire, they have little incentive to act or to persevere in the face of the difficulties that inevitably ensue”. Although learning strategies are often discussed, students must also be motivated to implement them, and find strategies that are effective for them.

    Students can be coerced into completing tasks that they would otherwise choose not to engage in, yet once they are outside of school settings they will likely discontinue those tasks they perceive are beyond their abilities. If SGM teachers hope that their students will engage in lifelong musical pursuits for example, then self-efficacy should be at the heart of their goals for student learning, as it leads to both short-term and long-term goals.

    These goals must be appropriate for the learner—not unachievable, but not too easy. Students should be encouraged to self-evaluate without become self-judging, and distinguish between each. Self-reactions must be considered behaviorally, environmentally, and personally. For example, a student with performance anxiety might video record their own mock performance in order to begin seeing themselves in a performing role, perform in small venues such as the classroom, for a safe group such as classmates, and practice relaxation techniques in order to calm performance anxiety.

    What informs self-efficacy?

    Self-efficacy is comprised of self-knowledge and feelings about oneself including one’s ability to learn new things. According to Zelenak, Bandura described self-efficacy as “a self-referent thought through which individuals assessed their skills and abilities to accomplish specific tasks”. What contributes to this self-knowledge? According to Bandura, four components of life experience are implicated in one’s self-efficacy. These include: mastery experiences, vicarious experiences, verbal persuasion, and emotional and psychological states. Although in some ways these categories intersect and overlap, each have implications for SGM teachers that may play an important role in building learners’ self-efficacy.

    Mastery Experiences

    Authors have asserted that mastery experiences, or those that we have ourselves are the most impactful among the four sources of self-knowledge affecting self-efficacy.

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