What does one of the world’s greatest psychologists have to do with how we teach today? Or should I say, what do snakes have to do with maths? Hold on. You’ll get it in a little while. 49 years ago, Bandura was interested in phobias, so he carried out experiments on how to help people overcome their phobia for snakes. He tried out quite a number of methods, but in the end, it was Guided Mastery that worked best. What exactly is Guided Mastery? Bandura had folks with Ophidiophobia (yes, that’s what an intense fear of snakes is called) stand outside a room where they could look in through a mirror. Inside that room was another person handling the snake. Then after about 15 minutes, the person outside was encouraged to take small steps at his or her own pace, advancing towards the entrance of the room until finally, they were able to enter the room and even go as far as touching and interacting with the snake. Throughout the process, assistance is gradually withdrawn until eventually, the subject was able to remain with the snake by themselves. The experiment subjects lost their fear of snakes, but that was not the most significant result of bandura’s experiment. As a result of the steps these folks took to overcome their fear of snakes, they developed a newfound confidence in other aspects of their lives as well. Suddenly, difficult tasks did not seem so difficult anymore and subconsciously, their thoughts must have run something like “If I can overcome my fear of snakes, then I can do this or that”. Bandura might not have set out to discover a concept that would revolutionize virtually every human field of endeavour, but that is what he did. The result of Bandura’s Guided Mastery technique is what is now known as Self-efficacy. Defined as the extent or strength of one’s belief in one’s own ability to complete tasks and reach goals, self-efficacy has become a crucial variable in student motivation and learning. Now, Bandura’s experiment has modelled effective teaching techniques that no tutor must ignore.
STUDENTS LEARN BEST AT THEIR OWN PACE
There are no slow students. Just as Bandura’s subjects did not all lose their fear of snakes in the same time, so also do students achieve various milestones at individual paces. The focus should never be on the results. It is all about the process. The teacher has an obligation to ensure that unhealthy competition does not have a place in class.
OVERCOMING ONE TOUGH TOPIC BREEDS CONFIDENCE IN TACKLING ANOTHER
As I mentioned earlier, the most significant result of Bandura’s Guided Mastery was the fact that the subjects did not just lose their fear of snakes. They lost pretty much their fear of anything too. They didn’t see new and difficult tasks as unachievable anymore, so instead of running from challenges, they simply tackled them. Students need to be constantly reminded of their past achievements in order to boost their self-efficacy in future challenges. A student who is yet to conquer basic addition and subtraction cannot be expected to ace equations, right?
WATCHING A PEER ACCOMPLISH A TASK ENCOURAGES ANOTHER STUDENT TO DO THE SAME
Bandura’s subjects, for fifteen minutes, watched another person handle the snake before they could even take a first step towards the door’s entrance. Seeing another human being like themselves touch that snake must have got them thinking “If he can do it, so can I!” Students are not much different. If there is a subject which most students hold a phobia for, it would be Mathematics. Sadly, a lot of those fears are unfounded; myths and hearsay carried on from one generation to another. But what happens when one student sees another battling with algebra and then overcoming it? Exactly… “If he can do it, so can I!”
Talk is not cheap! Bandura’s subjects did not overcome their fears by hearing the words “You can’t do it” or “You’re such a failure”. They were encouraged. Here, the teacher has a role to play, but so do parents and guardians. You’ll be amazed how much difference the right words can make to the student who’s finding maths difficult. Bandura’s Guided Mastery teaches us a lot about learning, and not just in education, but in Life.