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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