As a math specialist and longtime math teacher, I know these are some common ways teachers check for understanding. Student reaction varies. Many times the same student asks for help. Some students never ask.

The science of students’ “help-seeking behaviors” is the focus on a study by author Sara Sparks, who shares new research on how students ask for help and the student mindset in American Educator Magazine.

Help-seeking behaviors can tell us about student perseverance, curiosity, growth, or fixed mindsets.

“Some students ask for help before they even start thinking about a problem, while others avoid seeking help even after struggling fruitlessly on their own,” said Sparks. “To get help successfully, a student has to understand the he or she has a problem; decide whether and who to ask for help; do so clearly; and process the help that’s given.”

The complexity of help-seeking behaviors grows as students mature.

“Help-seeking is both academic and social in nature,” says Sarah Kiefer of the University of South Florida, “and adolescents are looking at their classrooms as an academic and social minefield.”

Kiefer says teens can look for “expedient” help like copying a classmate’s homework in order to just get it done versus asking for help to really understand it.

“If you can take away the mindset that I don’t want to look like a loser and promote a growth mindset, that’s huge,” says Kiefer.

Although the term “help-seeking” suggests a deficit, students need to think of the process as managing resources to solve a problem, says Stuart Karabenick of the University of Michigan. His study found that when teachers gave short answers in response to complex questions, students were less likely to ask for help over time.

Starting early with students in elementary school, he says, helps them understand the protocol for asking for help: when, how and of whom.

“Make it explicit, let them practice it,” says Karabenick. “It can be very, very effective to make it transparent that this is a normal part of learning.”

One of the major skills teachers need to develop is to spot students who aren’t asking for help and figure out which unspoken message is on a student’s mind, he says:

I’m afraid to ask.

I don’t know how to ask.

I don’t know what I don’t know.

I don’t need help.

We all need help now and then. However, there’s a distinction between asking for detailed help and getting help with building our problem-solving skills.

I’d like to hear from you. How are you building the problem-solving thinkers of the next generation?

**Resource
**“Studying the Ways Students Get Help with Classwork” by Sarah Sparks in American Educator, Winter 2014-15 (Vol. 38, #4, p. 28-29), http://www.aft.org/ae/winter2014-2015/sparks

**About the Blogger:**

Nicole Shanahan is the math specialist at HCDE. A self-professed Julia Roberts of presenters, she vows to weave a bit of entertainment into each of her math workshops. As teacher, mentor, trainer and coach, Nicole serves up workshops ala carte within districts or at HCDE headquarters at 6300 Irvington, Houston, TX. The mother-of-three clocks in more volunteer hours than the average bear can handle. She often writes about her cubs in her posts. Follow Nicole on Pinterest at: Secondary Math | Elementary Math