What does a student do in class when he doesn't understand something? Does he ask for help? If so, whom does he ask? What objective does he have in mind? What cognitive prerequisites are necessary for the ability to ask for help in elementary school?
Students who ask their teacher for help tend to obtain better results at school than those who quickly ask for the answer.
These are the questions addressed by Joane Deneault, research professor in the Department of Education at Université du Québec à Rimouski. She began by assessing whether understanding the mental states "knowing" and "not knowing" contributes to the ability to ask for help.
For the purpose of the study, three- to five-year-old children were told stories in which characters knew or did not know something. The researcher discovered that the children who were the best at making the connection between the character's lack of knowledge and the usefulness of asking for help were those whom their teachers judged to be the most autonomous.
Deneault then examined the behaviour of sixth-grade students and identified three models of asking for help. Some students will first attempt to complete a given activity in an autonomous manner; if they do not succeed, they ask the teacher or another student for help. Others react more quickly: as soon as they encounter a problem, they ask for the answer directly. Finally, certain students avoid asking for help, even if they do not understand.
The study showed that some models are linked to school success, while others are not. Thus, students who ask their teacher for help tend to obtain better results at school than those who quickly ask for the answer.
These results confirm that teachers are right to encourage their students to ask for help when faced with something they don't understand, and make it possible to identify the form that these requests for help should take, and the cognitive acquisitions necessary for the development of this skill.