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Teachers' beliefs and behaviour regarding help-seeking in group-learning-situations in science

Wosnitza, M. and Woods-McConney, A. (2012) Teachers' beliefs and behaviour regarding help-seeking in group-learning-situations in science. In: AARE-APERA 2012, 2 - 6 December 2012, University of Sydney, Sydney


While extensive research is available on students' help-seeking and teachers' help-giving behaviour in teacher-centred classroom as well as self-directed learning environments, not much is yet known regarding help-seeking in group-learning-situations. Consequently, there is a lack of studies that have systematically investigated teachers' beliefs and behaviour regarding help-seeking in group-learning-situations. This study investigated primary school teachers' self-reports of their help-giving behaviour in small group settings. Specifically, this study examined what help-seeking strategies teachers usually encourage in group-learning-settings, how they respond to specific student requests for help, and their self-described role in a group-learning situation.


In a questionnaire with open-ended questions teachers were asked to respond to a hypothetical situation in which a class of 24 students is organized into groups. Three main areas of questions were included with reference to help-giving strategies typically used in group-learning-situations, responses to students help-seeking, and the teacher's role in group-learning-situations.


83 science teachers from 47 primary schools in Western Australia.

Results and Discussion

Half of the teachers promoted student help-seeking, while the other half preferred their students to stay within their groups to sort out their problems. However, the help-seeking behaviour teachers encourage is not what they retain when students actually ask for help. All teachers, regardless of whether they encouraged or discouraged help-seeking, reported that they helped their students if they actually ask for help.

The reasons reported for encouraging or discouraging help-seeking were manifold and ranged from the development of students' self-directedness, collaboration and problem solving skills to issues of classroom management. Interestingly, the reasons for the implementation of one of these two strategies are similar. This similarity of reasons for teachers' decision to encourage or discourage help-seeking might reflect the contradicting message teachers could be getting from the literature or teacher education on why to use and how to implement group work. This may be an explanation for their inconsistent behavior. On the one hand, teachers want to give their students room to develop self-direction. On the other hand, learning processes also rely on teachers who help students when they get stuck. The artistry of effective teaching is met when teachers provide students with an environment in which students know that they may ask the teacher for help but learn to recognize and identify situations when they really need help.

Item Type: Conference Paper
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Education
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