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Access Type

WSU Access

Date of Award

January 2020

Degree Type


Degree Name



Educational Psychology

First Advisor

Stephen B. Hillman


Fundamental to students’ academic success is their engagement in the learning process. Learning necessitates assistance from peers and teacher. Although students recognize math as a difficult subject and their success is, in part, tied to help from others (Newman & Goldin, 1990), a number of factors impact a student’s approach to seeking help including affective, motivational, social, and contextual factors. Therefore, this study examined middle school students' math grades through the students' help-seeking approaches as it relates to both teachers and peers, and relevant factors. To better understand the complex process of seeking help, the following were explored: correlations between help-seeking and affective (academic efficacy, social efficacy, and math anxiety), motivational (personal achievement goals, social achievement goals), social (teacher and peer academic and personal support), and contextual factors (classroom achievement goals); grade level and gender differences; the degree to which, if at all, specific factors were predictive of help-seeking approaches; and efficacy variables as the mechanism connecting help-seeking approaches and grades. Participants were middle school students (51% females; 46% Caucasian) from a charter school outside a large, urban city in the Midwest.

Statistically significant results were found for aspects of each research question, and some of the results were anticipated, whereas others were in conflict with our current understanding. The correlations between help-seeking approaches and affective, motivational, social, and contextual factors revealed positive and negative student profiles for each type of help-seeking approaches. For example, although instrumental help-seeking was associated with higher grades, it was also associated with lower academic efficacy. In support of the overall hypothesis, the most negative profile was associated with avoidant help-seeking. Based on the grade level analyses, 6th graders reported significantly lower math grades and weaker social efficacy beliefs as it pertains to their teacher and peers. The only gender difference revealed was social efficacy beliefs as it pertained to teachers, such that female students reported stronger efficacy beliefs. Next, regression analyses were conducted to determine which variables were the most predictive of each help-seeking approach. For each type of help-seeking approach, efficacy beliefs were highly predictive; although, they were inconsistent with regard to the specific efficacy beliefs. Other factors were also predictive of help-seeking approaches. Mediation analyses results showed that academic and social efficacy beliefs mediated some of the relationships between grades and avoidant and instrumental help-seeking approaches; however, there were no significant results for executive help-seeking.

Although, efficacy variables at all levels of analysis were relevant to some degree, they could not fully explain students’ approaches to seeking help nor could they fully link help-seeking approaches and math grades. Furthermore, many findings were unexpected. Therefore, additional research is needed to corroborate and make sense of all of these findings. Based on the current findings, implications were discussed for researchers and educators who have a dedicated interest in supporting students who tend to avoid seeking help or do so in ineffective ways.

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