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Self-Efficacy in Writing Workshop

I recently read Michael Putnam’s article, “Running the Race to Improve Self-Efficacy,” in the Winter 2009 Issue of the Kappa Delta Pi Record. Putnam asserts, “I have complete confidence that you too could run a marathon; but it takes a plan, plenty of hard work and dedication, and a belief in yourself. Running the race with your struggling readers takes the same commitments. For some, the race to fully believing in themselves as readers is a long and arduous process, but as you guide them down the training path for self-efficacy, eventually they will finish the race” (57).

According to, “self-efficacy is the belief that one is capable of performing in a certain manner to attain certain goals. It is a belief that one has the capabilities to execute the courses of actions required to manage prospective situations. Unlike efficacy, which is the power to produce an effect (in essence, competence), self-efficacy is the belief (whether or not accurate) that one has the power to produce that effect” (Retrieved on 12/30/08 from

This article got me thinking about the reluctant writers in our classrooms who think that everything about writing is hard or who don’t wish to write because they’ve been told they aren’t good at it (e.g., by fellow students, former teachers). Therefore, I’ve taken Putnam provides readers with five action steps teachers can use to help students who have a low self-efficacy when it comes to reading. These can be used to inspire reluctant writers too. Here’s my thinking about the five action steps he delineated in his article, which are developing short- and long-term goals, running the right route… student choice, providing explicit strategy instruction, giving feedback, and finishing the race… celebrate success.

  1. Developing Short- and Long-Term Goals

    1. My students will all complete a “Mid-Year Self-Assessment,” which I’ve adapted from Aimee Buckner’s Book Notebook Know-How.
      1. In the past, I’ve always asked my students what goals they want to set for themselves as writes. Perhaps having students create long- and short-term goals will help them develop a greater sense of self-efficacy since they’ll experience greater success, along the way, with the short-term goals they create.
  2. Student Choice
    1. Student choice already takes place nightly since I do not assign prompts to spur-on writing in the Writer’s Notebook. However, I think I need to show my students more examples of a variety of writer’s notebooks so that their notebook will grow to reflect what they wish to capture each day (not just a slice of their life or a memory from the past).
    2. Independent Writing Projects: I’ve got to carve out more time for these!
  3. Explicit Strategy Instruction
    1. Putnam talked about leaving students reminders on sticky notes about the strategies he taught during conferences. Perhaps little reminder notes on a regular basis, as a means of follow-up for conferences and strategy lessons with reluctant writers, will help keep our teaching points fresh in our students’ minds so they apply what we’re teaching them not just on the day we teach them how to do something as a writer, but everyday they’re writing.
  4. Giving Feedback
    1. Putnam suggested using the sandwich approach for feedback, “First identifying a strength, then an area to improve, and last another strength” (56). This goes beyond the traditional compliment we do before we deliver a teaching point in our conference. This approach pushes us, as teachers, to give our students one more positive nudge towards success. We all need to hear we’re doing something well… it can’t hurt for kids with a low self-efficacy in writing to hear that they’re doing something well – twice – every time they meet with us.
    2. Self-assessments, such as Davis and Hill‘s Weekend Writer’s Notebook Assessment, can help students notice their growth.
      1. This assessment can be adapted so it doesn’t just cover writer’s notebooks.
  5. Celebrating Success
      1. On pg. 57 of the KDP Record, Putnam said, “As successes are noted, it is important to look back at how far the student has come to celebrate the accomplishments of the smaller goals that will lead to greater outcomes…”
    1. Putnam, and the researchers who came before him, caution against using rewards as part of the celebratory process.

I hope my thinking process about the five steps Putnam laid-out towards creating students who have higher levels of self-efficacy prompts you to do something similar so that you can take the bull by the horns, so to speak, by helping the young writers in your classroom realize the power of their writing in the year to come.

Stacey Shubitz View All

I am a literacy consultant who has spent the past dozen years working with teachers to improve the teaching of writing in their classrooms. While I work with teachers and students in grades K-6, I'm a former fourth and fifth-grade teacher so I have a passion for working with upper elementary students.

I'm the author of Craft Moves (Stenhouse Publishers, 2016) and the co-author of Jump Into Writing (Zaner-Bloser, 2021), Welcome to Writing Workshop (Stenhouse Publishers, 2019), and Day By Day (Stenhouse, 2010).

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