Effect of a Specialized Classroom Counseling Intervention on Increasing Self-Efficacy Among First-Grade Rural Students

Added September 20, 2017

Elementary school counselors have the opportunity to use interventions and activities that optimize the distinct academic, career, and personal-social developmental needs of their students at the outset of their academic endeavors. Promoting and assessing self-efficacy and its facets is a cornerstone of students’ academic and social/emotional development and should begin in the earliest years of the academic enterprise. In this study, we examined the effectiveness of a classroom counseling intervention that emphasized first-grade rural students’ self-efficacy development. General self-efficacy, defined as belief in one’s ability to perform well in a variety of situation, is closely related to adaptive, problem-focused coping, and is a robust predictor of actual educational and career outcomes.

For our intervention, we selected five first-grade classrooms in a rural school with high rates of economic disparity and randomly assigned them to receiving either a set of 12 specialized lessons emphasizing self-efficacy, or lessons from the existing core curriculum. Specifically, our research question was: Do students who receive the specialized classroom lessons differ on self-efficacy scores at posttest compared to students receiving the regular classroom lessons? The authors hypothesized that when controlling for pretest scores, students receiving the set of specialized classroom lessons would experience more improvement in self-efficacy than their counterparts who received lessons from the existing core curriculum-- treatment as usual condition (TAU)--as rated by their classroom teachers on the Self-Efficacy Teacher Rating Scale (SETRS).

Four concepts identified as central to student self-efficacy were deemed particularly relevant for this preliminary study and informed the design of classroom lessons. These concepts included perseverance of effort; lack of procrastination; achievement self-efficacy; and self-confidence. Lessons reflected the ASCA domains of personal-social and academic development and key mindsets and behaviors for student success. Achievement self-efficacy and self-confidence were represented in three units each, with perseverance and lack of procrastination being represented in two units each, for a total of 10 operational self-efficacy units. The theoretical approach behind the program was based on a social-cognitive approach featuring bibliotherapy to introduce topics and activate vicarious experiences, and bibliotherapy-based discussions to explore positive real-life consequences of self-efficacy (e.g. perseverance and the benefits of that mindset for the key character). Additionally, each lesson featured a multisensory creative arts activity to further process lesson concepts through visual or performance-based means and introduce opportunities for mastery experience, such as role playing how to overcome a stressful situation in class. Targeted feedback was provided by the lead researcher during this experiential component to both utilize social persuasions, such as “You’re working very hard; you’re almost there,” and to help manage negative emotional states, such as “You can do it. Take a deep breath and try again”.  

Teachers completed the Self-Efficacy Teacher Rating Scale (SETRS) for each student as a pretest, and three months following the classroom intervention. Our findings supported the hypothesis that students receiving the classroom lessons that made up the intervention would improve in overall self-efficacy more than students who received lessons from the existing classroom curriculum (TAU). Indeed, an effect size of .58 (CI95 = .36-.80) is a medium to large effect of treatment, indicating that the average intervention group member’s self-efficacy was higher than 72% of the TAU group members when the posttest scores were collected in March, more than six months after the start of their first-grade experience.

Delivering classroom interventions that enhance student internal beliefs about personal ability aligns well with the broader elementary school counseling focus of supporting academic achievement through lesson delivery. As schools seek to close the achievement gap, school counselors can contribute by capitalizing on their specialized training and selecting effective practices for combatting achievement disparity. Especially in rural schools, where economic disparities negatively impact future educational and career attainment, and school counselors may perform non-school-counseling activities on top of appropriate duties, classroom interventions that effectively address common needs and are a practical use of the school counselor’s time are an efficient way to address the developmental and academic needs of all students on a regular basis.

The lessons used in this study can be integrated within a larger first-grade curriculum that emphasizes common social/emotional topics such as acquiring essential learning skills and problem solving, or can be deployed as a time-limited intervention in schools that would benefit from a more intensive focus on facets of self-efficacy, including achievement self-efficacy. As with our example, employing teacher perceptions of important constructs such as student self-efficacy can provide school counselors with valuable observations that can inform intervention and collaboration. Utilizing the SETRS to evaluate the effectiveness of this intervention in the classroom may provide an additional means of identifying students that may benefit from more targeted group or individual services. Finally, school counselors can build on the positive effects of this intervention by also providing teachers and parents with resources and strategies for promoting self-efficacy in multiple contexts.


Gerta Bardhoshi, Ph.D., is assistant professor of counselor education and supervision in the Rehabilitation and Counselor Education department at the University of Iowa. Kelly Duncan, Ph.D., is dean and professor of the School of Education at Northern State University. Bradley T. Erford, Ph.D., is a professor in the school counseling program in the Human and Organizational Development department in the Peabody College of Education at Vanderbilt University.


Gerta Bardhoshi, Ph.D., Kelly Duncan, Ph.D., Bradley T. Erford, Ph.D.