Implications for Students with Learning Disabilities, Reading Disabilities, and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder

In this chapter we discuss the application of social cognitive theory (SCT)—and especially the role of self-efficacy—to students with disabilities. SCT is a major psychological theory that has been widely applied in education and offers principles highly
relevant to educational psychology. Situated within this theoretical framework, selfefficacy is a construct that often has been researched in studies of students with disabilities. Bandura’s (1986) SCT presents an agentic view of the learner, one who can
exert a large degree of control over important events in his or her life. By helping
students develop a sense of personal agency, educators can positively influence their
motivation, learning, and achievement in- and out-of-school.
The central focus of this chapter is the role of self-efficacy, a key component of
agency. Self-efficacy is defined as one’s perceived capabilities for learning or performing actions at designated levels (Bandura, 1997). Self-efficacy is predicted to affect
various achievement-related outcomes such as choices, effort, persistence, motivation,
learning, and self-regulation. Researchers have empirically substantiated these predictions, confirming the vital role of self-efficacy in students’ academic development
(Fast et al., 2010; Schunk, 2012; Schunk & DiBenedetto, 2016).
This chapter’s purpose—to consider self-efficacy among students with disabilities—is
important because many students with disabilities hold a low sense of self-efficacy for
learning and performing well in educational contexts, which can negatively affect their
motivation and learning (Klassen & Lynch, 2007). Although self-efficacy has been applied
to students with different types of disability, we concentrate on students with neurodevelopmental needs; specifically, we discuss research on students with learning disabilities,
reading disabilities, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD; sometimes
herein described in terms of executive function disability/disorder; for related discussions, see, in this volume: Bergin & Prewitt, Chapter 14; Follmer & Sperling, Chapter 5;
244 • Dale H. Schunk and Maria K. DiBenedetto
Graham & Harris, Chapter 20; Hall, Capin, Vaughn, & Cannon, Chapter 7; Martin,
Chapter 16; Perry, Mazabel, & Yee, Chapter 13; Strnadová, Chapter 4; Swanson, Chapter
2; Tricot, Vandenbroucke, & Sweller, Chapter 15). Our aim is to demonstrate the relevance of self-efficacy to students with these disabilities, but also, where appropriate, to
make observations about self-efficacy and students with disabilities more broadly.
We initially review some key principles of SCT and show how self-efficacy fits in
this framework. We also distinguish self-efficacy from other similar constructs and
different types of self-efficacy, including self-efficacy for performing, for learning, and
for self-regulation. We then summarize some representative self-efficacy research that
addresses various aspects of self-efficacy, including its role in learning, motivation,
and self-regulation, as well as the influences on it. We also cover calibration, or how
well self-efficacy corresponds to actual performances, as we see this as especially relevant to students with disabilities. Implications of the theory and research findings for
educational practitioners are discussed, and the chapter concludes with recommendations for future research.
Conceptual Framework of SCT and Self-Efficacy
Self-efficacy is situated in SCT (Bandura, 1986), which postulates that individuals’
functioning involves reciprocal interactions between personal (e.g., cognitions, feelings, skills), behavioral (e.g., strategy use, help-seeking actions), and environmental
(e.g., classrooms, homes, gyms) factors (Usher & Schunk, 2018). Researchers have
shown that self-efficacy beliefs influence such behaviors as choice of tasks, persistence,
effort, and achievement (Schunk & DiBenedetto, 2016). In turn, students’ behaviors
can modify their self-efficacy. As students work on tasks, they observe their progress
towards their learning goals. Progress indicators such as assignments completed convey to them that they are capable of performing well, which enhances self-efficacy for
continued learning (Schunk & DiBenedetto, 2016).
The hypothesized reciprocal influences between self-efficacy and environmental
variables have been demonstrated in research on students with learning, reading,
and executive function disabilities, many of whom hold low self-efficacy for learning
(Licht & Kistner, 1986). Persons in their environments may react to them based on
(sometimes stereotyped) attributes associated with them rather than based on their
actual behaviors or their potential. For example, a teacher may judge students as less
capable than other learners and hold lower academic expectations for them, even in
areas where such students with learning disabilities are performing adequately. In
turn, teacher feedback can affect self-efficacy, resulting in these students demonstrating lower self-efficacy over time. Positive persuasive statements, such as “I know that
you can do this,” can raise self-efficacy (for related discussion, see Tracey, Merom,
Morin, & Maïano, Chapter 24, this volume).
Under SCT, learners’ behaviors and environments can influence one another. For
example, when teachers present information, they may ask students to direct their
attention to a slide projected on the board. Environmental influence on behaviors
occurs when students attend to the visual without much conscious deliberation. In
addition, under SCT, students’ behaviors are proposed to alter the instructional envi-
Self-Efficacy and Students with Disabilities • 245
ronment. For example, during small group reading instruction, if a teacher asks a
question and a student with a reading disability gives an incorrect answer, the teacher
may reteach rather than continue with the lesson.
SCT stresses the idea that, through these processes, people strive to develop a sense
of agency (Bandura, 1997), or the belief that they can exert a large degree of control over important events in their lives. Developing self-efficacy is an integral means
for experiencing a sense of agency. Students who feel efficacious about learning and
performing well are apt to choose to engage in learning, expend effort, and persist
(Schunk, 2012). In turn, their successes bolster their agency beliefs. But students with
learning and related disabilities may not feel efficacious about learning, given their
history of academic difficulties. Improving their self-efficacy for learning is a critical
educational goal.
Effects and Sources of Self-Efficacy
Researchers have shown that self-efficacy can affect choices, effort, persistence, and
achievement (Schunk & DiBenedetto, 2016). Compared with less-efficacious students, those with a strong sense of self-efficacy for learning and performing well tend
to better engage in learning tasks, expend effort to succeed, persist when they encounter difficulties, and achieve at higher levels. Notably, students with verbal and cognitive functioning disabilities are more likely to report lower levels of self-efficacy than
students without disabilities, possibly because of an internalized history of repeated
academic failures (Heward, Alber-Morgan, & Konrad, 2017; Lackaye, Margalit, Ziv,
& Ziman, 2006). Studies have shown for example, that students with reading and
writing disabilities may attribute repeated academic failures to internal causes such
as anxiety, nervousness, an inability to comprehend what one is reading, low effort,
and feelings of hopelessness and shame, which in turn affect their self-efficacy beliefs
(Klassen & Lynch, 2007). In a qualitative study conducted by Klassen and Lynch
(2007), specialist teachers and 28 students enrolled in Grades 8 and 9 who were diagnosed with severe learning disabilities participated in focus groups and interviews
to examine self-efficacy and motivational beliefs. Findings revealed that teachers
believed students with learning disabilities had lower levels of metacognition and selfefficacy and that academic failures were due to an inability that was a result of their
disability. Students, on the other hand, while also reporting having lower self-efficacy
beliefs than their peers, believed academic failures were due to putting in less effort.
They also expressed the importance of teachers’ beliefs in them. For example, one student reported: “Well, if the teacher’s like, ‘I know you can do better, you just have to
try harder, and like not get lazy,’ then I know I could do better” (p. 498). These findings imply that one important source for students’ self-efficacy beliefs is the beliefs
teachers have about them.
Bandura (1997) hypothesized that self-efficacy beliefs are formed based on four
sources of information: enactive mastery accomplishments, vicarious experiences,
forms of social persuasion, and physiological and affective indexes. Enactive mastery
accomplishments constitute the most reliable source because they provide learners
with authentic evidence of their capability to succeed. Accomplishments require learn-
246 • Dale H. Schunk and Maria K. DiBenedetto
ers to adapt and adjust to different circumstances, and repeated successes in doing so
can enhance self-efficacy. Teachers who provide students with opportunities to learn
and perform successfully likely build students’ self-efficacy for future similar tasks
(Zimmerman & DiBenedetto, 2008). Thus, for example, as students with reading disabilities acquire reading skills, they perceive they are reading better. This perception
of progress helps build self-efficacy for continued learning (Schunk & Bursuck, 2013).
Vicarious experiences occur through observing models (Bandura, 1997). In general, observing others succeed raises observers’ self-efficacy, whereas observed failures
can lower it; however, perceived similarity between model and observer is a key variable. Observers are more swayed when they perceive themselves similar to models in
important ways. Students with ADHD who observe similar peers working productively
are apt to believe that they can as well, which should build self-efficacy for succeeding
in class (Schunk & Bursuck, 2013). It is important, however, that enhanced vicarious self-efficacy be substantiated by subsequent successful performance by observers,
because performance difficulties can negate vicarious boosts in self-efficacy.
Forms of social persuasion also can raise self-efficacy, including for students with
learning, reading, and other related disabilities (Klassen & Lynch, 2007). Teachers
telling students that they can do something is apt to raise the students’ self-efficacy
for succeeding. However, the effects of persuasive information can be outweighed by
actual performances. Even learners told that they are capable will not feel efficacious
if they subsequently attempt the task and perform poorly. Simply telling learners with
such disabilities that they can learn and perform well may not raise their self-efficacy
beliefs unless they subsequently perform well.
Finally, physiological and affective symptoms constitute sources of self-efficacy that
may be bidirectional or cyclical (Bandura, 1997). Students who experience anxiety or
sweating when taking an exam may have low self-efficacy for success, whereas those
who feel calm and anticipate performing well are likely to have higher self-efficacy.
Physiological and affective indicators provide information to learners, who monitor
these reactions. Students who feel anxious can attempt to gain control over the situation, thereby increasing their sense of agency. It is important that they do so to prevent
mild anxiety from developing into a more serious emotional disorder.
Teacher’s Belief
Under SCT, self-efficacy applies to teachers as well as students. Teacher self-efficacy
is the teacher’s belief that they can help promote student learning (Klassen, Tze, Betts,
& Gordon, 2011). Teachers with higher self-efficacy should be more likely to develop
challenging activities, help students succeed, and persist with students who have difficulties. Self-efficacy is important for teachers who work with students who have disabilities. Teachers with higher self-efficacy are more likely to persist, for example, with
students who have ADHD and help them develop strategies to use on academic tasks
(for related discussion, see Martin, Chapter 16, this volume).
Higher teacher self-efficacy also is associated with creating a positive classroom climate, supporting students’ ideas, and meeting the learning needs of all students (Klassen
et al., 2011). Research supports the importance of professional development to build
self-efficacy for teachers who work with students who have learning and reading disabilities and ADHD (Bernadowski, 2017; Latouche & Gascoigne, 2017). In one study
Self-Efficacy and Students with Disabilities • 247
(Bernadowski, 2017), 15 teachers who taught students with dyslexia were provided
training on the implementation of specific strategies for phonetic instruction. Post-test
findings revealed that these teachers felt more knowledgeable about students with dyslexia, had increased self-efficacy, and developed more effective instructional planning
techniques that they believed would benefit all students in their classes. Training for
the teachers included providing them opportunities to work one-on-one with students
who have reading disabilities to differentiate instruction for these struggling readers
in the classroom. Latouche and Gascoigne (2017) provided in-service training to ten
teachers to help increase their knowledge and self-efficacy for teaching students with
ADHD. The intervention consisted of a brief training workshop for teachers about
ADHD, such as the etiology and neuropsychological and executive functioning impairments, followed by classroom management strategies on making accommodations for
students with ADHD, making referrals, talking with parents, and being a liaison with
others focused on the students’ success. Findings revealed that teachers’ knowledge
and self-efficacy for teaching students with ADHD significantly increased after the
workshop (for related discussion, see Martin, Chapter 16, this volume).
In addition to professional development of teachers, other strategies that may
foster self-efficacy in teachers and students with disabilities include providing opportunities for mastery by having instructional tasks that are moderately challenging,
using peer models to demonstrate coping skills, teaching specific learning strategies
for completing tasks, providing students with disabilities with choices to optimize
interest and engagement, and reinforcing effort and correct strategy use (Margolis &
McCabe, 2006).
Collective Self-Efficacy
Many educational situations are structured so that people work in groups. Collective
self-efficacy refers to perceived capabilities of the group, team, or larger social entity
(Bandura, 1997). Collective self-efficacy is not the average of individuals’ self-efficacy, but rather members’ perceived capabilities to attain a common goal by working
together. Sometimes, students may feel that the presence of a student with disabilities
may negatively affect the group’s performance. It is important that teachers be aware
of this possibility and reinforce the group’s success to build its collective self-efficacy.
Collective Teacher Self-Efficacy
Collective teacher self-efficacy is the belief that, by working together, teachers can
enhance students’ achievement-related outcomes in the school (Klassen et al., 2011).
Collective teacher self-efficacy can be developed when teachers in the school work
together to achieve common goals (performance accomplishments), learn from one
another and from mentors (vicarious experiences), receive encouragement and support from administrators (forms of persuasion), and work collectively to cope with
difficulties and alleviate stress (physiological indexes). Cantrell and Hughes (2008), for
example, found that sixth- and ninth-grade teachers’ collective self-efficacy improved
after a year-long professional development program involving a team approach to
teaching literacy. Such an approach may help promote self-efficacy of teachers in
inclusive classes for improving students’ learning.
248 • Dale H. Schunk and Maria K. DiBenedetto
An important area of self-efficacy research is its calibration, or consistency with performance. Researchers have investigated students’ calibration by examining their
responses to questions about self-efficacy and comparing these responses to their
performance scores. For example, DiBenedetto and Zimmerman (2010) examined
ethnically diverse high school juniors’ self-efficacy for learning and performance by
having students study a passage on tornados and then take a test. Participants were
either at-risk, average, or high-achieving science students. Findings revealed that
high-achieving students underestimated their self-efficacy for learning and performing well on the tornado knowledge test, whereas at-risk students overestimated their
self-efficacy. Research suggests that weaker students may overestimate their capabilities owing to a lack of self-understanding, poor metacognition, and/or a misunderstanding of the task requirements, whereas high-achieving students may invest effort
in study because of their more accurate estimates of the effectiveness of studying
(DiBenedetto & Zimmerman, 2010; Klassen, 2002).
The consequences of inaccurate self-appraisals can affect behavior. Students who
underestimate their capabilities may be less motivated to achieve, believing that they
will perform poorly. Conversely, students who overestimate their capability to perform
well are likely to encounter subsequent failures, which could lower their self-efficacy.
Inaccurate assessments of capabilities, which often are found among students with
reading and mathematical disabilities (Licht & Kistner, 1986), can hinder the quality
and quantity of academic motivation and achievement. Students with learning disabilities may not fully understand task demands, which may lead them to make overly
high self-efficacy estimates (Klassen, 2002). These estimates can prove discouraging
over time, as students feel they are not capable of learning and become unmotivated
to try. In addition, parental perceptions of their children’s abilities have also been
shown to affect learners’ self-appraisals (Phillips, 1987). In a study of 81 third-grade
children, 57 fathers, and 71 mothers, children who had low self-appraisals about their
competency on general, math, and verbal aptitudes estimated that their parents also
held lower perceptions of their capabilities than children who perceived themselves as
having average or high competencies. This evidence is concerning, particularly when
children with disabilities may experience challenges beyond those experienced by typical learners.
Self-Efficacy Research among
Students with Disabilities
In this chapter, we present self-efficacy research evidence on students with learning disabilities, reading disabilities, and ADHD (for related discussion, see, in this
volume: Bergin & Prewitt, Chapter 14; Follmer & Sperling, Chapter 5; Graham &
Harris, Chapter 20; Hall et al., Chapter 7; Martin, Chapter 16; Perry et al., Chapter 13;
Strnadová, Chapter 4; Swanson, Chapter 2; Tricot et al., Chapter 15). We focus on these
categories of neurodevelopmental disorders because research on learners in these categories shows that many of these students suffer from a history of failures resulting in
lower academic self-efficacy beliefs (Klassen & Lynch, 2007). We then discuss research
Self-Efficacy and Students with Disabilities • 249
on sources of self-efficacy and findings on self-efficacy calibration with achievement
for these students who often struggle and are at risk for failure.
Students with Learning Disabilities
According to the U.S. federal guidelines for identifying students with learning disabilities, students must meet three criteria: (1) they demonstrate a severe discrepancy
between intellectual ability and achievement, (2) the difficulties experienced are not
the result of any other known condition, and (3) they demonstrate a need for special
education services (Heward et al., 2017). These criteria are important because they are
indicative of the learning differences found between students with and without learning disabilities—differences that hold implications for their self-efficacy.
According to SCT, students who are self-efficacious are likely to set high goals,
persist, and expend effort when faced with challenges (Schunk & DiBenedetto, 2016).
Conversely, students who have not had successful experiences are likely to hold lower
self-efficacy beliefs about similar learning experiences (Bandura, 1997; Lackaye et al.,
2006; Schunk & DiBenedetto, 2016). These results highlight the challenges faced by
students with learning disabilities. Not surprisingly, then, students who are diagnosed
with a specific learning disorder typically perform poorly in reading, writing, and
mathematics, which are subjects considered critical for school success. They also tend
to have lower levels of self-efficacy and lower levels of hopeful feelings, suggesting they
are struggling with disappointment and distress (Lackaye et al., 2006). Indeed when
compared with peers without learning disabilities, students with learning disabilities
are more likely to report lower self-efficacy beliefs, likely a consequence of internalizing a history of repeated failures, frustrations, poor social interactions, and lower
levels of performance (Heward et al., 2017; Major, Martinussen & Wiener, 2013).
Lackaye et al. (2006) conducted a study comparing 123 Israeli adolescents with
verbal and cognitive functioning disabilities with an equal number of peers without
learning disabilities. Students were matched by school results, grade level, and gender.
Variables such as academic self-efficacy, effort (self-perception of how much effort
is used), hope (beliefs about one’s ability to alter strategy use to achieve goals), and
mood (students’ views of their affect) were assessed using various survey instruments.
Mood, for example, was assessed using a 5-point Likert scale ranging from 1 (not at all
appropriate) to 5 (very appropriate) to assess positive affect (e.g., happy) and negative
affect (e.g., sad). Results showed that students with learning disabilities reported lower
levels of academic self-efficacy, which suggested that these students had fewer successful academic experiences than their peers. Students with learning disabilities also were
found to have lower levels of effort, hope, and mood. In addition to surveys, Lackaye et
al. interviewed students with learning disabilities. They reported being aware of their
difficulties and feeling stressed over having to study many more hours than others to
obtain passing grades and were less hopeful, with depressive tendencies.
Klassen and Lynch (2007) examined self-efficacy from the perspective of students
with reading and writing disabilities and their teachers. Eighth- and ninth-grade students with learning disabilities participated in focus-group interviews; teachers who
were specialists in teaching students with learning disabilities were also individually interviewed. Students and teachers acknowledged the role of self-efficacy beliefs
250 • Dale H. Schunk and Maria K. DiBenedetto
in achievement, specifically indicating that lower levels of self-efficacy can hinder
learning and achievement. Of particular interest is that the teachers noted the “fragility
of the academic beliefs of their students” (p. 498), indicating teachers’ recognition of
the need to put effort into helping students with learning disabilities build and sustain
stable self-efficacy beliefs.
Interventions for building academic self-efficacy for students with learning disabilities are essential to foster academic success. Butler (1998) conducted case studies on
students with learning disabilities in postsecondary education programs. Participants
ranged in age from 19 to 48 and were diagnosed with disabilities in mathematics, reading,
short-term auditory memory, abstract reasoning, and ADHD. The intervention consisted of need-based tutoring of 2–3 hours per week for two semesters. Tutoring
sessions, which included cognitive coaching and modeling, focused on self-regulated
learning by helping students become more metacognitively aware of: task demands
and performance criteria; strategy selection, use, and modifications; self-monitoring
of performance; and self-evaluations and self-judgments. Results showed that the
intervention raised students’ performances, as well as their metacognition and taskspecific self-efficacy beliefs. Supplemental tutoring may be beneficial for students with
learning disabilities.
Teachers often use processes found within self-regulated learning to build
self-efficacy and foster academic success (DiBenedetto, 2018). In a series of case
studies, Laud, Patel, Cavanaugh, and Lerman (2018) examined three teachers’ use of
self-regulated learning processes (i.e., modeling, self-monitoring, goal-setting, selfinstruction) to foster learning among high school students with disabilities. In their
lessons, teachers worked with students to build mastery and self-directed learning. For
example, in one lesson, students set up their own mini-rewards so that they could selfreinforce for work completion. Other examples included helping students to set up
personal goals, which included both process (strategies to use to carry out a task) and
product goals (the outcomes of what students were trying to achieve) to help students
remain focused, sustain motivation, and build self-efficacy. Research supports that
when students set their own process and product goals, there is an increase in selfefficacy and self-awareness of strengths and weaknesses, and thus calibration becomes
more accurate (Patel & Laud, 2009).
Students with Reading Disabilities
Many students with learning disabilities struggle with reading, which can include difficulties in comprehension, spelling, writing, and fluency (for related discussion, see,
in this volume: Dockrell & Lindsay, Chapter 6; Graham & Harris, Chapter 20; Hall et
al., Chapter 7; Tricot et al., Chapter 15). Dyslexia constitutes 3–10% of reading disabilities (Snowling, 2013). Students who have dyslexia experience difficulties in accurate
or fluent word recognition, decoding, and spelling (Snowling, 2013). These students
face other academic challenges including sustaining motivation to learn. Reading disabilities also include students who struggle with phonological awareness (an understanding that sounds and words represent symbols) and with phonemic awareness (an
understanding that words consist of sounds; Heward et al., 2017). Reading is essential
for academic success, and difficulties can impact learners’ motivation and achievement across multiple academic content areas. Findings on students with learning
Self-Efficacy and Students with Disabilities • 251
disabilities show that most of these students have difficulties in reading comprehension (Gajria, Jitendra, Sood, & Sacks, 2007).
Schunk and Rice (1991, 1992, 1993) conducted numerous studies on children with
reading disabilities, demonstrating that, through modeling, goal-setting, self-directed
practice, and feedback on the value of applying strategies, students’ self-efficacy for
reading comprehension and their performances can be increased. Recent studies
have focused on specific self-regulated learning strategies such as self-monitoring to
improve self-efficacy for students with reading disabilities such as dyslexia (Kanani,
Adibsereshki, & Haghgoo, 2017; for related discussion, see Perry et al., Chapter 13,
this volume). Self-monitoring involves keeping track of whether one’s targeted behavior has occurred. It is one of the most important and heavily researched strategies for
self-regulated learners with disabilities (Mason & Reid, 2018).
Kanani et al. (2017) conducted a study on students with dyslexia who were randomly assigned to an experimental condition that involved self-monitoring training
or a control condition where they received small-group instruction. Students in both
conditions were pre- and post-tested on self-efficacy and achievement, and an additional assessment was obtained 2 months after the intervention occurred. Results
indicated that students who participated in the self-monitoring training had increased
self-efficacy scores and higher achievement scores compared with students in the control group. It seems, then, that keeping track of one’s performance can have a positive
impact on reading achievement and self-efficacy among students with dyslexia.
In addition, there is research that has focused on struggling readers who also have
writing disabilities (for related discussion, see Graham & Harris, Chapter 20, this volume). One line of work has used the Self-Regulated Strategy Development (SRSD)
program (for related discussion, see Perry et al., Chapter 13, this volume). Mason
(2013), for example, conducted writing intervention for these students’ comprehension of expository texts. She examined an integrated approach that included teaching
SRSD strategies for writing along with specific reading strategies to improve reading
comprehension. The SRSD involved six steps including processes such as self-monitoring, self-instruction, goal-setting, and self-reinforcement. The TWA strategy (think
before reading, while reading, after reading) provided students with the framework
for better reading comprehension. Teaching struggling readers strategies for writing
and reading expository texts can lead to better understanding of what often can be
difficult to comprehend. Students who are able to read informative texts and monitor
their understanding are more likely to feel self-efficacious to do so. Providing specific
strategies to students with reading disabilities enhances their cognitive judgments of
personal capability to comprehend when reading and reduces the likelihood of feelings of diminished self-worth as a result of repeated frustrated and failed reading
attempts (Mason, 2013; Zimmerman, Schunk, & DiBenedetto, 2017).
Students with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
ADHD is a neurobehavioral disorder that appears early on in life (for related discussion, see, in this volume: Follmer & Sperling, Chapter 5; Martin, Chapter 16). In
a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9% of the children were found to be diagnosed with ADHD (Walkup, Stossel, & Rendleman,
2014). Children with ADHD have difficulty focusing and staying attentive, sustaining
252 • Dale H. Schunk and Maria K. DiBenedetto
mental energy, and concentrating. They tend to be disorganized, perform poorly on
assessments, and can have difficulty remaining still and staying on task (Capelatto,
Ciasca, Lima, & Salgado-Azoni, 2014). According to the Diagnostic and Statistical
Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5; American Psychiatric Association, 2013), children with ADHD are categorized in terms of presenting predominantly inattentive
or predominantly hyperactive/impulsive behaviors, or a combination of the two.
Students with ADHD may appear to be daydreaming, fidgety, and restless, and as a
result may have been repeatedly exposed to reprimands from teachers and parents to
focus, sit still, and pay attention. Their difficulties in executive functioning have been
linked to problems in self-regulation (Barkley, 2012), and in many children ADHD
is comorbid with another functional impairment such as a reading disability (Mayes
& Calhoun, 2006). There is a strong likelihood that students with ADHD have lower
levels of self-efficacy.
A study conducted on adolescents with and without ADHD compared their selfefficacy beliefs for self-regulated learning (Major et al., 2013). This study also examined
internalizing problems, attention problems, and gender differences. Findings suggested that female students with ADHD had lower self-efficacy beliefs about being able
to regulate their learning than did female students without ADHD and male students
with and without ADHD. Students with greater self-reported difficulties with attention and greater internalizing difficulties reported lower self-efficacy beliefs. These
results suggest that the impact of ADHD on self-efficacy may be particularly troubling
for female students’ beliefs about their capability to regulate learning.
Tabassam and Grainger (2016) examined self-efficacy belief differences among
elementary students with ADHD, with comorbidity (ADHD and a learning disability), and without any disabilities. Students were administered measures of
self-efficacy and attributions (beliefs about perceived causes of outcomes). Students
with learning disabilities had been previously shown to attribute failures to internal causes such as ability and effort and successes to external causes such as luck
and chance. These students experience repeated failures and high levels of frustration. Comparing themselves with other classmates who do not seem to struggle in
the same way as they do can lead to their making negative internal attributions for
poorer performances (e.g., low ability). This internalization of feelings contributes
to their attributing their performance inward, towards themselves. Findings from
this study revealed that both groups of students with disabilities experienced lower
self-efficacy and attributional beliefs directed towards themselves than their peers
without disabilities.
Harris, Friedlander, Saddler, Frizzelle, and Graham (2005) studied self-monitoring
of attention and self-monitoring of performance among third-, fourth-, and fifth-grade
students with ADHD enrolled in regular classrooms. Dependent variables of being on
task and academic performance in spelling were examined. Students received training on self-monitoring for both staying on task and performance. Upon completion
of the study, they were interviewed about what they learned from training. Students’
spelling grades improved after both forms of training, but self-monitoring for attention resulted in substantially higher gains in spelling for most students. These findings
emphasize the importance of self-regulated learning strategies such as self-monitoring
for student success. Enactive mastery is a powerful source of self-efficacy that suggests that, when students with ADHD are being taught, their being helped to monitor
Self-Efficacy and Students with Disabilities • 253
their attention and performance is likely to lead to task success and higher self-efficacy
beliefs. Self-monitoring, in particular, seems beneficial for students with ADHD.
Sources of Self-Efficacy for Students with Learning and Related Disabilities
Students with learning, reading, and executive function disabilities often struggle academically and, owing to low self-efficacy beliefs, are less likely to set high goals, persist when faced with difficulties, or attribute failure to effort and strategy (Schunk &
Bursuck, 2013; for related discussion, see, in this volume: Follmer & Sperling, Chapter 5;
Graham & Harris, Chapter 20; Hall et al., Chapter 7; Martin, Chapter 16). The sources
of self-efficacy can provide them with information to feel more self-efficacious and
calibrate more accurately with performance. Teachers who give these students opportunities for success (enactive mastery) can build self-efficacy by assigning moderately
challenging tasks that the students can succeed at with moderate effort (Klassen &
Lynch, 2007; Margolis & McCabe, 2006). Students with learning and related disabilities tend to experience anxiety and nervousness, which can contribute to lower levels
of confidence.
These students are also often acutely aware of the learning challenges they face.
Importantly, teachers can provide models (vicarious learning) such as peers or others
who can demonstrate skills and strategies to complete the targeted task. Teachers can
also take advantage of access to the Internet by using YouTube videos or other video
models (for related discussion, see Okolo & Ferretti, Chapter 26, this volume). Videos
give learners opportunities to repeatedly watch the model because they can stop and
restart the video as often as needed. This can provide specific information about how
to approximate the desired behavior and may be especially important for students
with ADHD who have difficulty concentrating for extended periods.
Social or verbal persuasion can help sustain learners’ motivation (Bandura,
1997). Teachers can use verbal persuasion by reminding students of what needs
to be done as they encourage them to perform the activity (Margolis & McCabe,
2006). Indeed, it seems helpful to give reminders to students with executive function disorders (e.g., ADHD), because they are inclined to forget instructions and
schedules (Barkley, 2012). Verbal persuasion must be genuine and credible and followed by constructive feedback upon task completion for students to capitalize on
this important resource. Research shows the opposite can happen as well. Students
with reading, writing, and cognitive processing deficits who report feeling that their
teacher did not acknowledge how hard they worked or who made comments that
suggested their work was not up to par were likely to feel lower levels of self-efficacy
(Klassen & Lynch, 2007).
Students with learning and related disabilities may also experience physiological and
affective reactions to tasks. A history of repeated failures and frustrations can result in
high levels of anxiety, frustration, distress, and learned hopelessness (Bandura, 1997;
for related discussion, see, in this volume: Cassady & Thomas, Chapter 3; Pekrun &
Loderer, Chapter 18; Wigfield & Ponnock, Chapter 17). When learners experience
these negative feelings and thoughts, it can trigger additional stress and agitation
(Zimmerman et al., 2017). Teachers can provide these students with relaxation training and refer them to counseling to help them work through feelings of anxiety.
Teachers and counselors can also teach them strategies for coping with irrational or
254 • Dale H. Schunk and Maria K. DiBenedetto
fear-of-failure thoughts. These can help reduce the negative physiological and affective
reactions that can lower self-efficacy beliefs (Margolis & McCabe, 2006). In addition,
providing students with learning disabilities opportunities to practice and emulate
tasks to be done with constructive feedback from the teacher may help reduce anxiety
when the tasks are ready to be carried out for a grade (Schunk & DiBenedetto, 2016).
Practice also gives students the chance to observe their performances and thus may
lead to better calibration. If anxiety is unchecked at lower levels, it runs the risk of escalating to a potentially clinical level that can negatively impact academic development
(Bandura, 1997; Major et al., 2013). Students who continually and/or excessively feel
anxious may develop feelings of helplessness and low self-efficacy beliefs for learning.
Self-Efficacy Calibration Studies on Students with
Learning and Related Disabilities
Students who can accurately estimate their skill for performance on a task are considered accurate calibrators (Cleary, 2009). Students with disabilities often overestimate
their capability to perform well (Klassen, 2002). The problem with overestimating is
that it can result in less effort being exerted in preparing for a task and potentially
more disappointment in the event of poor performance. On the other hand, struggling students may mis-calibrate their self-efficacy for learning and performance
because they underestimate the task demands and struggle with self-knowledge
(Klassen, 2002). DiBenedetto and Zimmerman (2010) found that students who were
at risk for learning in science overestimated their capability to perform well on a
designated test.
Crane, Zusho, Ding, and Cancelli (2017) examined calibration accuracy among
students with disabilities using academic (vocabulary words) and nonacademic
(arranging six tiles to tell a story) tasks. Results indicated that, even though students
performed comparably on the academic and nonacademic tasks, their self-efficacy
was much higher for the nonacademic tasks. In addition, when tested on a completely
new task, their calibration for completing the task worsened. In other words, they
continued to report high self-efficacy beliefs even when they did not get any answers
correct. These findings suggest that teaching metacognitive strategies—helping students determine when they know something and when they do not—might improve
self-efficacy calibration because, if a student is self-aware, they are more likely to have
accurate beliefs about their capabilities (Zimmerman et al., 2017).
In a study mentioned earlier (Klassen & Lynch, 2007), adolescents with learning
disabilities rated their self-efficacy beliefs higher than would be expected given their
low performance. Each of the teachers who was interviewed indicated that the students with learning disabilities lacked an awareness of their strengths and weaknesses,
and that this lack of self-knowledge influenced students’ self-efficacy judgments. The
teachers suggested that many students overestimated their self-efficacy as a means
of self-protection. Students with learning disabilities may have poor metacognitive
awareness and feel they have personal limitations. These beliefs may lead them to
overestimate self-efficacy to protect their self-images and self-worth (Klassen, 2006;
Zimmerman et al., 2017).
Self-Efficacy and Students with Disabilities • 255
Klassen (2002) reviewed 22 studies conducted on students with disabilities and selfefficacy. Of the 22 studies, 8 showed that students mis-calibrated their self-efficacy.
In 7 out of the 8 studies, students overestimated their capability to perform well on
typical academic tasks such as writing, spelling, mathematics, and reading. In 1 of
the 7 studies, students underestimated their self-efficacy for spelling, although they
overestimated their capability of performing well in a mathematics task. Although
the remaining 14 studies did not comment on the calibration, Klassen suggests that
students with learning disabilities tend to be overly optimistic about their capability to perform well. The important implication from these findings is that students
who tend to overestimate their self-efficacy may not have an accurate understanding
of the task demands as well as the self-regulation skills (i.e., strategic planning, selfmonitoring) needed to perform well.
Implications of Theory and Research
for Educational Practice
Review of SCT theory and research suggests some implications for educational
practice for students with disabilities, as well as for their teachers and parents
(for related discussion, see, in this volume: Bergin & Prewitt, Chapter 14; Graham
& Harris, Chapter 20; Hall et al., Chapter 7; Perry et al., Chapter 13; Strnadová,
Chapter 4; Swanson, Chapter 2; Tricot et al., Chapter 15). It is evident that students
with learning disabilities, reading disabilities, and ADHD may hold inaccurate selfefficacy beliefs. They may judge their learning capabilities lower than they actually
are, or, conversely, they may feel overly optimistic about what they can learn. Either
situation can be problematic for motivation and learning.
A clear implication is that ways to convey information to students about their
capabilities should be integrated into instructional approaches. Giving students
practice accompanied by feedback conveys information that can boost capacity and
enactive mastery that, in turn, can boost self-efficacy. It is also possible for vicarious information to be conveyed through live or video models. Teachers can also
encourage students with verbal persuasion, and negative emotions (which may
lower self-efficacy) can be addressed by showing students what they have accomplished. In all these examples, teachers help struggling students to feel and perceive
a sense of efficacy.
Research also suggests several mechanisms whereby self-efficacy can be developed. As noted in this review, various instructional methods that are beneficial for
self-efficacy development include having learners set realistic and short-term goals,
teaching them strategies to use and having them practice applying these, and having
them monitor their learning progress (for related discussion, see Bergin & Prewitt,
Chapter 14, this volume). Although students with learning, reading, and executive
function disabilities often need skill remediation, they also need information that conveys to them that they are capable of learning and performing well. For example, in
self-contained classrooms, self-monitoring strategies have been taught to elementary
school students who have ADHD and emotional disorders to help them stay on task
(Mathes & Bender, 1997). The results indicated that students’ on-task behavior greatly
256 • Dale H. Schunk and Maria K. DiBenedetto
improved, and the strategies taught were maintained over time. Providing students
with strategies they can use to regulate their behavior will likely lead to improving academic performance and, ultimately, self-efficacy (Schunk & Bursuck, 2013; for related
discussion, see Perry et al., Chapter 13, this volume).
A sense of collective self-efficacy can be developed when students work in groups.
It is important that students with learning, reading, and executive function disabilities contribute productively to the group. Teachers should structure group tasks
such that all members have responsibilities and can demonstrate learning and performance accomplishments. However, it is possible that some students in inclusive
environments may see students with disabilities in their class/group as holding them
back or as disrupting classroom processes. Realistically, then, teachers will also need
to guard against narrow, stereotyped, and/or prejudiced views among some students.
Future Research Directions
Existing research documents the importance of self-efficacy for academic performance
and achievement among learners with learning and related disabilities. In the remainder of this chapter, we address recommendations for future self-efficacy research:
sociocultural influences on self-efficacy; technology uses to build self-efficacy; and
self-efficacy in out-of-school contexts.
Sociocultural Influences on Self-Efficacy
An important area for future research is to determine how sociocultural variables may
influence the way that disabilities are perceived and the extent to which this impacts
the self-efficacy of students with these disabilities. Culture refers to beliefs and value
systems that can influence motivation and learning (McInerney, 2008; for related discussion, see, in this volume: Hall et al., Chapter 7; Macfarlane, Macfarlane, & Mataiti,
Chapter 25). Although self-efficacy beliefs are hypothesized to be generic and apply
across cultures, research has shown that cultural variables can affect individuals’
beliefs, and these can have implications for students’ self-efficacy (McInerney & King,
2018). Individuals from different cultures may have different beliefs about the causes
and treatments for learning, reading, and executive function disabilities (Heward et
al., 2017). People may erroneously attribute disabilities to persons based on the pace
and rate of their learning of the mainstream language and curriculum. In both of these
instances, there will be implications for self-efficacy.
These issues are becoming more pronounced as schools become increasingly
diverse. Today, it is, thus, more important to study self-efficacy development among
students from different cultures. McInerney and King (2018) discuss the challenge
with finding studies that examine cultural influences on core theoretical constructs
that have been primarily established in the United Sates. This challenge is amplified
when students with disabilities are also considered.
Cultural dimensions that have been explored widely in self-efficacy research are
individualism and collectivism. Individualistic cultures tend to stress independence
and individual initiative, whereas collectivist cultures emphasize group identity and
Self-Efficacy and Students with Disabilities • 257
“we” consciousness (Klassen, 2004). The United States and Western European countries are high in individualism, whereas Asian cultures tend to be more collectivist
(Klassen, 2004). Researchers comparing these cultures typically find that individuals
from collectivist cultures judge self-efficacy lower than do those from more individualistic cultures, including when performances are equivalent or higher. Further,
the lower self-efficacy beliefs are typically better calibrated or correlated with actual
performance outcomes (Klassen, 2004). These results suggest that collectivist cultures may promote modesty in self-efficacy judgments. They also raise the issue of
whether collective self-efficacy may be a better predictor of performance in these
cultures than individual self-efficacy (Klassen, 2004). How individualism and collectivism interact with the self-efficacy of students with disabilities has not received
much empirical attention.
Classrooms have students from myriad cultural backgrounds. Although self-efficacy
beliefs may be universal, the challenge for educators is to understand that students’ values, beliefs, and sociocultural experiences can affect self-efficacy. Researchers have not
examined in depth the roles of cultural variables in self-efficacy among students with
learning and related disabilities. More cross-cultural studies are needed examining the
potential culturally specific influences on learning, performance, and self-regulation.
Using Technology to Build Self-Efficacy
Technology, including computers and mobile devices, is a major presence in the classroom. Forms of technology have great potential to assist the learning and motivation of students with disabilities (Hasselbring & Glaser, 2000; for related discussion,
see Okolo & Ferretti, Chapter 26, this volume). Much research related to technology
and self-efficacy has focused on measuring students’ self-efficacy for using computers
(Joo, Bong, & Choi, 2000). A literature review of computer-based learning environments (CBLEs) examined relationships between computer self-efficacy, self-regulated
learning processes, and performance outcomes and found three significant outcomes
(Moos & Azevedo, 2009). The first is that there are both behavioral factors (e.g.,
familiarity with being in a CBLE) and psychological factors (e.g., positive attitude and
curiosity about being in a CBLE) that are positively related to computer self-efficacy.
Second, computer self-efficacy is positively related to self-regulated processes such as
navigational strategies and metacognition. Third, computer self-efficacy is related to
learning outcomes.
A new area of inquiry is game-based learning. Video gaming can be used to increase
and sustain motivation and interest and help students make connections to real-life
situations (Foster, 2008). Video games capture learners’ attention, are fun and exciting to play, often involve cognitive flexibility and the ability to strategize, are familiar
to many learners, and can be developed to target learning goals. Good instructional
games can take advantage of learners’ attention by allowing them to identify with avatars that represent the players or other characters (e.g., a marine biologist), which
helps boost intrinsic interest in the learning (Nietfeld, 2018).
The role that technology may play in the development of self-efficacy in various
settings (e.g., CBLEs, gaming, online social media) should be investigated among
students with disabilities. The motivational inducements afforded by technology may
258 • Dale H. Schunk and Maria K. DiBenedetto
have the desirable effect of gaining and holding learners’ attention on the learning
situation, which has potential to enhance their self-efficacy as they experience success.
In addition, cell phones and other electronic devices may help students with disabilities self-monitor by setting alarms for due dates for assignments or reminders to
be working on school assignments. But, conversely, the extra features (audio, video)
of technology may prove distracting and raise cognitive load on students’ working
memories, which would have the opposite effect (Kalyuga, 2007). Added research is
needed that explores variables associated with technology to determine how instructional conditions can be ideally structured for students with disabilities and the effects
of these interventions on these students’ self-efficacy.
Self-Efficacy in Out-of-School Settings
Most self-efficacy research has been conducted with learners in formal academic settings (e.g., classrooms). But much learning occurs outside of these settings, such as
in homes, during volunteer activities, and in the context of mentoring interactions.
Students with learning and related disabilities often engage in out-of-school support
activities (e.g., tutoring, therapy, etc.), which may be another site/context for selfefficacy intervention.
To test the generality of self-efficacy as a predictor of motivation and learning among
students with learning, reading, and executive function disabilities, more research is
needed in nonacademic settings where students learn, and how that relates to self-efficacy development in nonformal settings. For example, mentoring relationships can
enhance mentees’ self-efficacy (Schunk & Mullen, 2013). Mentors are models who
show how tasks are completed and what proficiency levels are required for successful
completion of tasks. They demonstrate self-regulation and how to cope in challenging situations. Through the development of self-regulated competency, mentors can
foster mentees’ self-efficacy and help them become independent, adaptable, and selfdirected (DiBenedetto & White, 2013), but further research is needed on mentoring
variables that may impact self-efficacy among students with disabilities, such as the
types of individual who may make good mentors and good instructional strategies to
be used by these mentors.
As a counterpoint, it is also important to recognize that self-efficacy sources outside of school may conflict with those experienced in school. For example, students
may develop self-efficacy beliefs in school through performance accomplishments,
exposure to competent models, and teacher encouragement, but those same positive
sources may not be present outside of school. Thus, an important research question
is how students reconcile discrepant self-efficacy information. It may be valuable to
provide instruction to parents and others outside of school who work with students
with learning, reading, and executive function disabilities on how to inculcate positive
self-efficacy beliefs to foster motivation and learning.
The theoretical framework of SCT is highly relevant to students with disabilities.
Situated within this framework, self-efficacy has been shown to affect the academic
development and outcomes of students with ADHD and students with learning and
Self-Efficacy and Students with Disabilities • 259
reading disabilities. The research findings suggest that educational practices should
be evaluated on both how well they help students learn and how well they raise learners’ self-efficacy for learning and achieving. Future research on self-efficacy among
students with ADHD and students with learning and reading disabilities will further
elucidate the operation of self-efficacy and the opportunities for its development in
educational contexts.