The Role of Teachers and Peers on Academic Success in Middle School

The transition from elementary school to middle school can be one of the most challenging events in a child’s life. Maintaining academic success amid the expectations of social and emotional adjustment can be quite difficult for many students. Understanding how peer and teacher interactions affect academic achievement can help teachers and parents better prepare children for these tasks. One of the key factors that can affect academic performance is the type of help-seeking behavior that adolescents use. When they ask for guidance, explanations, and tips with homework, that is considered an adaptive form of help seeking that encourages learning. However, when students just want the answers to an assignment, it is termed expedient help seeking and robs students of the opportunity to solve the problems and find the answers themselves, thus curtailing learning.

To explore if these types of help-seeking behaviors affect academic achievement, Allison M. Ryan of the Combined Program in Education and Psychology at the University of Michigan recently led a study that analyzed help-seeking behaviors among 655 students. The participants were evaluated at three separate times from the middle of their last year in elementary school through the end of their first year of middle school. Ryan also examined how expectations of success from teachers affected academic success. Specifically, she looked at whether teachers who gauged success by individual performance had students with better help-seeking behaviors and higher academic performance than teachers who measured success only by grade-point average.

The results revealed that all of the students engaged in less adaptive help seeking as they made the transition from elementary to middle school. Ryan also found that students who increased their use of expedient help-seeking behaviors had decreases in academic performance. However, decreases in adaptive help seeking, absent of increases in expedient help seeking, did not affect achievement. Interestingly, Ryan discovered that girls used more adaptive help seeking than boys. This could be due to the fact girls tend to be more social and value relationships more than boys during this developmental stage. Also, girls had more self-doubt and could be more fearful of being seen as academically challenged. Another finding that should be explored in future work is the fact African-American participants sought less help in general than did white participants. However, when they did seek help, African-Americans were more likely to seek adaptive help. Teachers who focused more on individual effort than final grades had students who were more likely to seek adaptive help. Ryan believes that parents and teachers can help bolster academic performance in students as they enter middle school. “Our results suggest that by early adolescence, an issue for teachers is to minimize expedient help seeking with peers,” she said.

Ryan, Allison M., and Sungok Serena Shim. Changes in help seeking from peers during early adolescence: Associations with changes in achievement and perceptions of teachers. Journal of Educational Psychology 104.4 (2012): 1122-134. Print.

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • alisa


    November 22nd, 2012 at 6:05 PM

    always best to encourage children to seek adaptive help.its never great to spoon-feed children, rather show them how to do it not surprised by the findings of the study because those that seek direction are always going to end up doing better than those that ask for help with the finished them but do not do their work yourself should be the tip.

  • Morgan


    November 23rd, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    There is so much pressure on all of our kids today that I sometimes wonder of I would have been able to make it as successfully through my middle school years had I been faced with the same challen ges that or children are up against today.
    There are things that they are having to deal with and cope with as teems that I did not even know about until I was much older, and hopefully a little more mature to handle the situation.
    This is something that not only do parents need to know about but teachers too.

  • georgina


    November 23rd, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    oh teachers have such an important role to is they who show the pupil the direction to learn and do things.and peers can have quite an influence too.hence the importance of having the right friends.this combination of teacher and peers can make or break things for an individual as most things we follow throughout our lives are learnt when we are in school.

    not easy but its not impossible either.taking help is fine but inducing the habit of working on your own assignment or homework with as little help as possible is something that will teach the pupil to be self reliant and independent.this will go beyond the books and assignment and may well become the template for all things for the individual in later life.

  • Nate Richardson

    Nate Richardson

    November 23rd, 2012 at 5:40 PM

    Teachers can have such an influence.For me personally,it was my teacher from the sixth grade who just instilled this sense of self-reliance in me.Before that I pretty much used to treat academics with disdain.But after him it was only my march towards my goal and he brought this feeling of wanting to work towards what I wanted.

    He had a wonderful influence on me I can say that with confidence.And I completely agree that young minds need to be shown the right way and they are set on that path. Show them another path and they will take that.Its no wonder young minds are thought of as clay that can be molded any way you want to.

  • jake d

    jake d

    November 24th, 2012 at 9:11 AM

    We sure are putting a whole lot of pressure on teachers when in reality a lot of the coping skills that children need should come from the home, moms and dads.
    I am not the only one who believes this or sees this am I?
    Personally I think that we put too much of what we should actually be doing as parents off on the teachers.
    And learning from our peers?
    While at a certain age this isn’t a bad thing, when we are younger this is generally the group who is leading us all wrong. We are too concerned with what they think over whether they are showing us the way that is the truth.
    It really is time for parents to take it up a notch.

  • harriet


    November 24th, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    schooling definitely sets the path up for an individual.what we learn in school often stays with us throughout our lives.

    I was an impatient child and preferred seeking answers rather than having to work for them.I’m sure that would have made me an individual who would do the same for the rest of her life.but one of my teachers just showed me how much better it is to seek help but work yourself for the answers.she showed me that it is more of a fruit that can be had after a little toiling and in fact the toiling was enjoyable because it was no more boring get the answer directly anymore!I think that changed my view of work and rewards.

    I shall forever remain thankful to her and I still see her at times when I go to the town I grew up in.these are the kind of teachers any child would be lucky to have and I hope there are many more teachers like that.

  • Lonnie


    November 25th, 2012 at 11:42 AM

    To think that peers do not play a role in academic success would be a dumb rule set for us to follow. They most definitely have an impact and I would argue that they could end up being more influential for many students than any teacher or parent will ever be. That is just how strongly some kids connect with their peers and are influenced by their opinions and actions. As a parent you need to be aware of this role that friends cold be playing in the overall academic success or failure of your children, because if you are looking for the problem in the classroom you may find that this is not where it is at all.



    November 25th, 2012 at 4:53 PM

    ^^ Oh,peers can have an influence,surely.While for some kids peers can affect in a way that they become similar to their peers in action and habits,for some others peers can be a reason for rebellion.I remember when I was in middle school I was quite the rebel.Whatever the other kids did was what I wouldn’t do and what they didn’t is what I did.I thought that was my way of being different and hence cool.

    Its silly when I think of it now but it sure can put a child on the wrong track if left unchecked.Peers can be a positive and a negative influence.What happens is what we let happen.

  • marvin


    November 25th, 2012 at 8:40 PM

    some teachers just have that great vibe about them.they never seem to put a step wrong and are often spot-on with their methods to deal with the extra-naughty kids.they encourage adaptive learning and help shape the path for kids to walk on for the rest of their lives.I’m sure many of us here would remember that one great teacher from school who was so different from all the others :)

  • Charlotte


    November 26th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    I have always encouraged my children to ask for help in an adaptive way instead of just asking for the answer.

    As a parent and a teacher, though, there have been times when it has been hard for me to refrian and give the guidance that the kids need without just giving them the information. We all know that sometimes this is the fastest thing to do but that’s when you have to take a small step back and ask if that is really doing anything good for the child in the long run.

    Giving them the information will not help them to figure things out on their own and seek out the information, and this is something that could serve them well in life. I am not willing to send so many of them out unprepared just because I have been lazy.

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