Overcoming the Winter Doldrums in Student Learning

Cancelled classes in combination with incessant winter weather can cause the winter doldrums to settle upon students’ motivation to learn.  What should a teacher do?  The literature on self-efficacy suggests that four factors contribute to a student's sense of self-efficacy as a learner.  Adopting teaching strategies that relate to these four factors can heighten your students’ sense of self-efficacy as learners. 

1.  Mastery Experiences

When students recognize their past successful performance and learning accomplishments, their sense of self-efficacy to learn increases.  Recognizing past mastery experiences is the most influential source of self-efficacy.

Try to help your students recognize what they have mastered and accomplished.  One way of doing this is using a pre and post quiz on a unit to show students how they have mastered the materials.  The pre-quiz is not graded; it simply gives the students a gauge of the change in their knowledge.

2. Vicarious Experiences

Observing the successes of peers at a task can strengthen beliefs in one's own abilities.  In "Learning Professional Confidence: Linking Teaching Practices, Students' Self-Perceptions, and Gender," Colbeck, Cabrera and Terenzini (2001) say, "Collaborative learning experiences provide opportunities for observing behaviors modeled by others.  Students who see peers performing a task are likely to believe they can accomplish a similar task."    

3. Verbal Persuasion

Teachers can promote self-efficacy through credible communication and feedback. Types of verbal persuasion that promote self-efficacy include praising students' past performances, indicating your belief in their future work (pep talks, "You can do this," etc.), and positively explaining what it will take to perform well on a given assignment.  Remember that verbal persuasion must be genuine.  “Effective persuasions should not be confused with knee-jerk praise or empty inspirational homilies.  Praise and encouragement should be delivered honestly and in their proper measure when they are deserved” (Pajares, 2009)  

4.  Emotional state

Creating a positive learning environment can boost your students’ self-efficacy as learners.  High anxiety over tests and assignments can diminish motivation and self-efficacy, but assignments and quizzes should challenge students.  How do you not overwhelm students while giving them challenging assignments?

  • Be clear about expectations by supplying students with helpful guidelines
  • Be explicit about the learning goals of each activity and assignment
  • Sequence the difficulty of tasks so that students recognize their growing mastery
  • Break large projects into manageable segments
  • Provide timely, constructive feedback that gives guidance for improvement


  • Bandura, Albert. (1997). Self-efficacy: the exercise of control. New York: W.H. Freeman.
  • Colbeck, C.L., Cabrera, A. F. and Terenzini, P. T. (2001). Learning professional confidence: Linking teaching practices, students' self-perceptions, and gender. Review of Higher Education, Vol. 24 (No.2), 173-191
  • Pajaras, Frank. (2009). Toward a positive psychology of academic motivation: the role of self-efficacy beliefs. In R. Gilman, M. J. Furlong, and E.S. Huebner (Ed.), Handbook of positive psychology in schools (pp. 149-160). New York: Routledge.