Kids More Likely To Seek Help If Teachers Remove Fear Of Feeling Dumb

February 04, 1999

CHAMPAIGN, Ill. - Logic would suggest that students who struggle most in the classroom would ask most for help. Instead, they are often the most reluctant, says Allison Ryan, a professor of educational psychology at the University of Illinois.

At least in middle schools, "the very students who need help the most seek it the least," she notes, in a recent paper published in the Journal of Educational Psychology.

Although Ryan is not the first to make that connection, her research suggests some reasons why it's true -- and some things teachers can do to change it, and to raise the level of help-seeking overall.

"It has a lot to do with what does help-seeking represent [to a student]. And it seems to represent something different to low- and high-achievers," Ryan said. Lower-achievers "are more likely to perceive help-seeking as indicating they lack ability. So when a student who has lower ability needs help, they're more threatened. They think, 'If I ask a question, I'm going to look dumb.'"

Higher-achievers, however, with more confidence in their abilities, are less likely to worry about what others think, and to focus on the benefits of seeking help, she said.

Through a survey of more than 500 students and 25 teachers in 63 sixth-grade math classrooms, spread through 10 Michigan middle schools, Ryan tried to find connections between students' achievement levels, perceptions of their abilities, the role teachers saw themselves as playing, and the learning environment established in the classroom.

What she found was that teachers who were concerned with students' social and emotional needs were more successful in closing the gap in help-seeking between higher- and lower-achievers. "It suggests that in maybe warmer environments, in environments where there is this interpersonal connection between teachers and students, they don't feel the same threat in asking for help."

Ryan also found that the classroom environment established by the teacher played a significant part in encouraging help-seeking overall, by students of all abilities. When students perceived their classroom as competitive, or felt that the teacher focused too much on comparing students' abilities, they were less likely to seek assistance, she said. "When the focus is on 'who's the smartest, who's the best,' " she suggested, "it's going to make all students less willing to ask a question, or put themselves on the line publicly and ask for help."

On the contrary, Ryan said, "in classrooms where students perceived that the focus was on understanding, mastery, and self-improvement, rather than on competition and proving one's ability, students were less likely to avoid seeking help with their work when they needed it."

Co-authors on Ryan's paper were graduate student Margaret Gheen and research scientist Carol Midgley, both at the University of Michigan.

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Related Teachers Articles from Brightsurf:

AI teachers must be effective and communicate well to be accepted, new study finds
The increase in online education has allowed a new type of teacher to emerge -- an artificial one.

Future teachers more likely to view black children as angry, even when they are not
A new study of prospective teachers finds that they are more likely to interpret the facial expressions of Black boys and girls as being angry, even when the children are not angry.

Prospective teachers misperceive Black children as angry
Prospective teachers appear more likely to misperceive Black children as angry than white children, which may undermine the education of Black youth, according to new research published by the American Psychological Association.

Children who have difficult relationships with their moms are clingy towards teachers
Children who experience 'dependent' or clingy relationships with their preschool teachers tend to also have difficulties in their relationships with their mothers finds researchers at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development.

Research finds teachers just as likely to have racial bias as non-teachers
Research released today challenges the notion that teachers might be uniquely equipped to instill positive racial attitudes in children or bring about racial justice, without additional support or training from schools.

Young teachers happier but say hard work is unrewarded
Newly qualified teachers report higher levels of wellbeing and life satisfaction compared to other graduates, but are more likely to say hard work in Britain is unrewarded, according to UCL research.

Robots can learn how to support teachers in class sessions
New research conducted at the University of Plymouth shows that a robot can be programmed to progressively learn autonomous behaviour from human demonstrations and guidance.

Preschool teachers ask children too many simple questions
When preschool teachers read books in their classrooms, the questions they ask play a key role in how much children learn, research has shown.

Teachers predict pupil success just as well as exam scores
New research from King's College London finds that teacher assessments are equally as reliable as standardised exams at predicting educational success.

Teachers and Trump
Teachers felt immense pressure from school leaders and families to respond in a certain way -- or not at all -- in their classrooms following the 2016 presidential election, according to new research from Michigan State University.

Read More: Teachers News and Teachers Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to