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Adaptive help seeking: A strategy of self-regulated learners and an opportunity for interactive formative assessment

Craig Steed and Jenny Poskitt

This article provides a synthesis of the literature on formative assessment, self-regulated learning and adaptive help seeking. We do this by developing a classroom model of adaptive help seeking. The model focuses on self-regulated learning, within which the processes of adaptive help seeking and interactive formative assessment are theoretically integrated. The learner is central to this model, and the help-seeking behaviours of the learner during learning  activities are not only influenced by the nature of the task and the characteristics of the learner, but also by the classroom environment, and in particular their teacher, peers and classroom culture and context. Help-seeking episodes allow for formative interactions that can support further self-regulated learning.

Adaptive help seeking: A strategy of self-regulated learners and an opportunity for interactive formative assessment

Craig Steed and Jenny Poskitt


This article provides a synthesis of the literature on formative assessment, self-regulated learning and adaptive help seeking. We do this by developing a classroom model of adaptive help seeking. The model focuses on self-regulated learning, within which the processes of adaptive help seeking and interactive formative assessment are theoretically integrated. The learner is central to this model, and the help-seeking behaviours of the learner during learning activities are not only influenced by the nature of the task and the characteristics of the learner, but also by the classroom environment, and in particular their teacher, peers and classroom culture and context. Help-seeking episodes allow for formative interactions that can support further self-regulated learning.


Many writers in the field of formative assessment emphasise the importance of improving teacher questioning to support formative assessment in the classroom. However, research continues to show that teachers dominate classroom discussion, and that the majority of questions they intuitively ask of their students are closed and offer little opportunity for dialogue (Lefstein, 2006). Most classroom interactions follow an initiation–response–evaluation pattern, where teachers initiate a question, students offer a brief response and the teacher evaluates the quality of the response. In this situation, students become focused on guessing the response the teacher is seeking from their question rather than engaging in deeper levels of thinking or having opportunity to direct the dialogue (Lefstein, 2006). Recent research by Steed, Poskitt, and Kearney (2007b) suggests that student questions are more likely to result in formative interactions than teacher questions. This finding implies that more attention should be given to student-generated questions in supporting formative assessment.

Research on help seeking is not often linked to formative assessment practice; instead, the focus is on adaptive help seeking as a strategy of self-regulated learners (Newman, 1991). This article provides a theoretical integration of some of the principles of formative assessment, with a specific focus on interactive formative assessment, and explores how adaptive help seeking provides rich opportunities for interactive formative assessment to occur. Both adaptive help seeking and interactive formative assessment support students as self-regulated learners.

The article first provides definitions of the key concepts, namely formative assessment, interactive formative assessment, self-regulated learning (SRL) and adaptive help seeking. We establish links between the concepts, draw them together as a theoretical integration and then present a model of adaptive help seeking in the classroom: a strategy of self-regulated learners, and an opportunity for interactive formative assessment to further support SRL. This model is then examined in more detail.

Formative assessment

Educational assessment judgements can be used for many purposes, including formative, diagnostic, qualification, selection and comparability purposes, among others (see Newton, 2007). Formative assessment has a formative purpose and emphasises the importance of both the teacher and learner in the assessment process. Both teachers and learners can monitor activities, gather and interpret information, provide feedback and alter teaching and learning as appropriate. Within this definition, feedback is interpreted as any information provided from a source, self or other, that gives information regarding one’s performance or understanding, or the provision of information to assist the next steps in learning—sometimes referred to as feedforward (see Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Acting on this feedback to shape improvements is a distinguishing element of formative assessment (Black & Harrison, 2000; Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, 2005).

In a report based on over 250 studies into formative assessment, Black and Wiliam (1998) concluded that innovations incorporating formative assessment produce significant and often substantial learning gains. Formative assessment is one of the most effective strategies to promote high student performance, for improving the equity of student outcomes and for developing students’ metacognitive skills (Carr et al., 2005; Centre for Educational Research and Innovation, 2005).

Formative assessment can occur as a result of planned teacher activities, or spontaneously through teacher–student interactions (Bell & Cowie, 2001). Planned formative assessment activities typically aim to elicit information from every student in a class, and the elicited information informs the teacher about the progress of each student’s learning. This information can then be interpreted by the teacher to provide insight into student understanding and the basis for further action. This process is largely teacher driven and is not the focus of this article. Interactive formative assessment, in contrast, is initiated by the student through verbal or nonverbal expressions. The key processes of interactive formative assessment involve the student expressing confusion or asking questions that are noticed by the teacher, who then recognises the significance of this information and responds appropriately to it (Bell & Cowie, 2001). We define formative interaction as the verbal or nonverbal information presented by students, and the subsequent feedback given by the teacher to support student learning.

Through formative interactions, information is gathered that can be used by the teacher and student to ascertain how successfully a student has progressed towards learning goals or reference levels. Students can then be informed, through effective feedback, about the actions they need to take to close the gap between actual and reference levels of achievement (Sadler, 1989). Ultimately, Sadler argues, self-assessment is essential if a learner is to use feedback to close this gap. The teacher’s role in assisting the student involves communicating appropriate goals, promoting self-assessment and providing the necessary scaffolding and feedback. In this process, feedback should operate both from teacher to students (where teachers provide appropriate scaffolding) and from students to teacher (where students give feedback on the usefulness of teaching strategies) (Black & Wiliam, 2006). Effective formative interactions depend on learners carrying out self-assessment and becoming aware of situations in which they can identify gaps in their understanding. These students then determine that, as self-regulated learners, adaptive help seeking might be an effective strategy to enhance their understanding.

Self-regulation and help seeking

Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) strongly argue that formative assessment and feedback should be used to empower students as self-regulated learners. Self-regulated learners regulate behaviours, cognitions and motivational states, adapting these as required, as they work towards the attainment of their goals: in other words, they take responsibility for their own learning (Zimmerman, 2000). Zimmerman (2000, 2008) has conceptualised self-regulation within a social cognitive framework consisting of three phases: forethought, performance and self-reflection. Teachers can facilitate this process by shifting the responsibility of the learning process to students. Under these conditions, students with a range of self-motivational beliefs (such as self-efficacy, outcome expectations, intrinsic interest or valuing, and goal orientation), set goals and select strategies to achieve them (forethought). They monitor their own progress towards their goals, self-evaluate their methods and self-adjust to refine their self-regulatory strategies (performance). The final phase (self -reflection) involves the learner evaluating their progress against the desired goals and attributing their performance to the strategies they have used. Self-regulation is a cyclical process that applies not only to cognition but also to motivational beliefs and overt behaviour, guided and constrained by a student’s goals and environment (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Pintrich, 2000).

Through self-monitoring during learning, a student generates internal feedback from a comparison of current progress against desired goals (Butler & Winne, 1995). This comparison enables learners to determine whether they should continue with their current modes of engagement or implement some form of change. Change might involve a reinterpretation of the task, adjustment to goals, management of motivation or the employment of new strategies (Butler & Winne, 1995; Pintrich, 2000). Self-regulated learners carry out this self-monitoring process, and, importantly, they know how and when to seek and receive feedback by requesting assistance or asking a question of a teacher or peer (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). If external feedback is provided, this additional information might confirm, add to or conflict with the learner’s interpretations of the task and path of learning (Butler & Winne, 1995). Active, engaged and self-regulating learners employ a range of cognitive, metacognitive and resource management strategies and are more likely to seek help than learners who use fewer strategies (Karabenick & Sharma, 1994). A distinguishing characteristic of self-regulated learners is their ability to seek academic assistance in an adaptive way, one that does not provide a short-term solution or immediate answer but is useful for future learning (Newman, 1991). Help seeking, therefore, is an important self-regulatory strategy (Newman, 1991, 2006a; Ryan, Gheen, & Midgley, 1998).

Self-regulated learners can effectively seek adaptive help when they assess task difficulty, determine the necessity of help, formulate the content of a request for assistance, select and approach a target person and process the information obtained by the interaction (Newman, 2006b, 2008). The notion of students effectively assessing task difficulty links closely with the ideas of Black, Harrison, Lee, Marshall, and Wiliam (2004) when they indicate that self-assessment by students is a critical component of formative assessment. To be able to self-assess, students need to be able to understand a learning goal and determine what they need to do to reach it (Davies, 2007). The knowledge of this goal is one of three critical steps in being able to self-assess learning. For self-assessment to occur, Sadler (1989) states that:

the learner has to (a) possess a concept of the standard (or goal, or reference level) being aimed for, (b) compare the actual (or current) level of performance with the standard, and (c) engage in appropriate action which leads to some closure of the gap. (p. 121)

To generate internal feedback, the learner can ask three key questions, which broadly model the above steps: (a) Where am I going? (b) How am I going? and (c) Where to next? (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Clearly, knowledge of the standard, and the criteria by which it is assessed, enables learners to self-monitor and self-assess their current state of performance. Students then need to be able to select from a range of appropriate moves or strategies to bring their performances closer to the goal (Sadler, 1989). One such strategy may be to seek external feedback from a target such as a teacher.

Help seeking might arise when students encounter difficulties and recognise they need support in the next step of solving a problem and can provide opportunities for formative interactions to occur. Help-seeking strategies can be nonverbal or verbal (Nelson-Le Gall, 1981). Nonverbal strategies include students placing themselves in the proximity of the helper, attempting to establish eye contact, watching others in the class for visual cues of performance, or the use of physical gestures and facial expressions to indicate exasperation or confusion. Verbal help-seeking strategies can include the learner asking for help directly or indirectly, soliciting information about the problem at hand, making statements about their own competence and reminding the helper of some obligation to help (Nelson-Le Gall, 1981).

Adaptive help seeking fosters learning and understanding when requests for help are limited to the amount and type necessary to allow the learner to solve the problem independently (Newman, 1991). Adaptive help seekers look for hints to support their learning, whereas those exhibiting nonadaptive behaviours seek answers.

Adaptive help seeking, interactive formative assessment and SRL: A classroom model

Drawing from the review of the literature in the fields of formative assessment and SRL, we have developed a model that illustrates the links between help seeking, interactive formative assessment and SRL within the classroom environment (see Figure 1). The model also shows the key factors influencing these connections: the learner and the learner’s peers, the teacher and the classroom culture and context. The discussion now turns to an explanation of the components of the model and its implications for classroom learning and teaching.


An overview of the model

Central in the model is the learner, engaged in a classroom learning activity. The central placement of the learner establishes them as pivotal to the processes involved in adaptive help seeking, interactive formative assessment and SRL, each represented by the circles surrounding the learner. The personal attributes of the learner, such as goal orientation, are key factors influencing the learner’s involvement in each of the three processes. The outer circle representing SRL includes the array of strategies and personal attributes that are recognised hallmarks of self-regulated learners. These strategies and attributes include adaptive help seeking, along with academic time management, practice, mastery of learning methods, goal directedness, a sense of self-efficacy (Zimmerman, 1994) and the ability to adapt behaviour, cognition and motivational states (Winne & Hadwin, 2008).

Drawing on the work of Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006), the model places interactive formative assessment within SRL, supporting their argument that formative assessment, including feedback, should be used to empower students as self-regulated learners. If the desired positive outcomes of assessment on students include greater responsibility, sustained effort, awareness about learning and personalised mastery goals, then assessment can help to develop the characteristics of SRL (Paris & Paris, 2001).

The inner circle is adaptive help seeking, defined as a type of interactive formative assessment. Adaptive help seeking provides an opportunity for a teacher (or other target) to provide feedback that helps to scaffold student learning. Adaptive help seeking becomes a form of interactive formative assessment when the learner, judging the distance between the current position and the desired goal, determines that help is necessary. At this point the student formulates a request for assistance and selects and approaches a target person. The target, often a teacher, needs to notice the request, recognise the significance of it and respond appropriately to it. The response may often be the provision of feedback to the student. The responsibility then goes back onto the student to process the feedback obtained from the interaction. This feedback should be used by the learner to help in making progress towards achieving their desired goal (Karabenick, 1998; Newman, 1994, 2006a). This process reflects both Bell and Cowie’s (2001) description of interactive formative assessment and the key components of Newman’s (2006b, 2008) description of adaptive help seeking.

The learner

As we have seen, the learner is central to the model in Figure 1. Learners who are effective at self-assessing their work, and who are aware of their learning goals and the extent of their understanding, generate internal feedback as they monitor their progress towards these goals (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). When, through this process, students recognise limits to their understanding, they may instigate adaptive help seeking, which in turn allows the opportunity for feedback from a target and provides an opportunity for formative interactions.

Unfortunately, many students fail to seek the help they need to overcome the often surmountable problems that arise during their learning experiences (Newman, 1990, 1998). Studies also indicate that students who need help the most are less likely to seek it. This includes students who have typically poor performance (Karabenick, 2004), low self-esteem (Newman, 1994), low perceived competence (Newman, 1990), low perceived social competence (Ryan & Pintrich, 1997) and low self-efficacy (Ryan et al., 1998; Schunk, 1991).

Goal orientation has a significant influence on the nature of help sought by learners (Butler & Neuman, 1995). Two contrasting goal orientations have received the most attention in the research literature. Learners possessing learning goals seek to increase their competence and to understand or master something new. Learners with performance goals seek to gain favourable judgements of their competence or avoid negative judgements of their competence (Dweck, 1986). The terms mastery and ability goals have been used to describe similar orientations (Butler, 2000). Specifically, a mastery goal orientation involves a focus on gaining understanding or skills through effortful learning; competence then becomes defined relative to task demands and outcomes are attributed to effort. Learners with a mastery goal orientation might attribute difficulty to the need for further learning and respond to this difficulty by adaptively seeking help (Butler, 2007). In contrast, ability goals orient learners to demonstrate high ability, through minimal effort, in comparison with peers (Butler, 2000). Competence is defined relative to others and attributed to ability. Difficulties encountered are usually attributed to low ability, and help seeking is avoided in an effort to mask inadequacies (Butler, 2007).

Butler (1998) reported that students are more likely to engage in autonomous help seeking when they pursue mastery goals. Autonomous help seeking refers to help-seeking behaviour that arises after a student spends time trying to solve a problem independently, requests hints that clarify strategies and uses the support received to improve their capacity to solve subsequent problems independently.

More recently, approach and avoidance forms of both mastery and performance goals have received attention (see Schunk, Pintrich, & Meece, 2008, for a summary). After studying these orientations, Ryan, Patrick, and Shim (2005) found that students with avoidant help-seeking tendencies were less likely to have mastery goals. Similarly, Butler (1998, 2006, 2007) posits that ability-avoidance goals invite avoidant help-seeking behaviours, mastery goals support autonomous help-seeking patterns and work-avoidance goals invite expedient forms of help seeking. Therefore, the research evidence suggests that a mastery goal orientation can lead to students showing adaptive help-seeking behaviours. (Conditions that foster a mastery focus environment are covered in the later sections on “The teacher” and “The classroom culture and context”.) The responses students receive to their requests for help influence not only their current learning but also their future help-seeking behaviour.

The nature of the feedback students receive is important in determining the extent to which they are able to undertake the required next steps in their learning (Clarke, 2005). However, the feedback generated from teachers can depend on the quality of the student request. Receiving elaborated help to questions is contingent on deeper-level requests, ones that are explicit, precise and direct (Kempler & Linnenbrink, 2006; Webb, Ing, Kersting, & Nemer, 2006). Requests that are vague often convey confusion or a lack of understanding and make it harder for potential helpers to reply with explanations. Such requests tend to elicit low-level help, which can discourage further help seeking because they can be perceived by the learner as a criticism (Webb et al., 2006). General requests might also elicit help that is nonelaborated and harsh in tone, or lead to the teacher simply taking over the task (Kempler & Linnenbrink, 2006).

The model also acknowledges that the activity the learner is participating in can have some initial influence over a student’s willingness to engage with the forethought and planning phase of SRL, because interest and value beliefs are critical motivational factors at this point (Pintrich & Zusho, 2002).

The teacher

The teacher is placed within the learning environment of the model in Figure 1. The teacher can have positive or negative influences on the learner, and can further affect the environment by influencing the learner’s peers and the classroom culture and context. The teacher’s own goal orientations influence the classroom environment they create. Adaptive help seeking can be supported by teachers who emphasise mastery goals and focus on individual competence development rather than promoting competitive classrooms that have a focus on interpersonal comparisons (Butler & Neuman, 1995; Karabenick, 2004; Newman, 1998). Furthermore, classrooms with a mastery emphasis show less help avoidance (Arbreton, 1998; Ryan et al., 1998; Turner et al., 2002). Such environments might help to buffer students with a performance orientation to seek help (Ryan & Pintrich, 1997). Help seeking can also be promoted in classrooms where teachers indicate that help seeking is an important part of the learning process (Arbreton, 1998). In a supportive classroom environment, adaptive help seeking and question asking should be viewed by all parties as important components of the learning process. Also, the likelihood that students will ask for help can be strongly influenced by the ways in which the teacher responds to student difficulty and requests for help (Karabenick, 2004; Karabenick & Sharma, 1994). Teachers who provide direct instructions and solutions, rather than engaging students in dialogue about the difficulties they are having, might convey low-ability cues to students that could deter them from asking for help. Students might then resort to covert copying or cheating, or executive help seeking instead (Butler, 2006). In fact Butler (1994) found that students’ beliefs in the desirability and efficacy of effort were undermined when teachers responded to failure in an expedient manner, but were enhanced when teachers responded with attempts to scaffold student understanding by providing adaptive help. Teachers’ offers of constructive help have been shown to encourage students to engage in adaptive help seeking, whereas teachers who find it easier to give the answer encourage executive help seeking and overdependence on the teacher (Butler, 2006).

Teachers’ goal orientations influence their styles of helping students and the degree to which they create mastery, ability or work-avoidant classroom structures (Butler, 2006). Teachers who emphasise mastery goals and have a reduced focus on interpersonal comparisons facilitate the tendency of students to seek help that is adaptive (Karabenick, 2004; Newman, 1998). In classrooms where the emphasis is on understanding and mastery rather than on competition and normative comparisons, help avoidance is lessened (Arbreton, 1998; Turner et al., 2002). Teachers can create classroom cultures that support help seeking in students of all ability levels and goal orientations by promoting learning in mastery settings, where individual competence development and evaluation are emphasised (Butler & Neuman, 1995; Newman, 1991). The teacher can further support the development of a mastery environment by fostering meaningful learning and stressing the importance of conceptual understanding, minimising social comparisons, adapting instruction to the developmental levels and personal interests of the students, establishing learning structures supportive of student autonomy, decision making and peer collaboration, and emphasising the intrinsic value of learning (Meece, 1991).

The feedback that is provided by the teacher following the help seeking of the student is critical for learning. For feedback to be effective it must close the gap between actual and reference levels of the learner and be understood and internalised by students. Students also need to be given time to respond to the feedback they receive (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). Within the context of formative interactions, it is important to consider feedback as dialogue rather than transmission. This means that the student not only receives initial feedback, but also has the opportunity to engage the teacher in discussion about the feedback (Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick, 2006). Dialogue between a teacher and a learner is a kind of formative assessment (Bell & Cowie, 2001; Walsh & Sattes, 2005). Although discussions with teachers help students to develop their understanding of expectations and standards, they also enable teachers to gather further information, check out and correct students’ misunderstandings and expedite immediate responses to their difficulties (Nicol & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006).

The nature of feedback can also depend on the teacher’s pedagogical content knowledge, which is an important factor in effective formative interactions (Hodgen & Marshall, 2005; Jones & Moreland, 2005). Pedagogical content knowledge is essential if teachers are to interpret what students are saying during classroom dialogue (Black et al., 2004). Teachers are unable to move student learning forward by building conversations with students around key ideas if they have insufficient pedagogical content knowledge (Jones & Moreland, 2005).

The classroom culture and context

Within the learning environment of the model in Figure 1 is the learner’s perceived classroom culture and context. This culture and context is strongly influenced by the teacher, but also by the learner’s peers. Students’ perceptions of a classroom environment can influence their approach to the classroom and general learning (Pintrich, 2000).

Students’ attempts at self-regulation are situated and influenced by the social context (Boekaerts & Niemivirta, 2000). Holistic aspects of the mastery classroom environment include an emphasis on understanding and supporting students cognitively as learners, fostering their motivation and encouraging mastery goal structures while supporting effort, evoking humour, giving personal attention and encouragement and providing a context of peer support (Turner et al., 2002). Classes that perceive their teacher to be more supportive generate more questions (Karabenick & Sharma, 1994). In fact, Roeser, Midgely, and Urdan (1996) found that middle school students’ perception of an emphasis on mastery in the learning environment was positively correlated with their perception of caring, respectful teachers. Significantly, a teacher’s concern about social-emotional nurturing, demonstrated through warm supportive relationships, has been shown to lessen the association between low self-efficacy and help avoidance (Ryan et al., 1998). Furthermore, this sort of responsive school environment will usually enable even motivated students to achieve better than they would in a less responsive environment (Schunk et al., 2008).

Students who feel there are benefits in help seeking are more likely to seek assistance, whereas students who feel threatened about asking for help are more likely to avoid seeking help (Ryan & Pintrich, 1997). Teachers can create a climate in which help seeking is encouraged by indicating that they are willing to help, by: setting aside time for questions, being patient, listening to students’ requests for assistance, not rushing to give an answer, encouraging students to explain their work, homing in on what they need, giving hints and scaffolds to move learning forward and valuing errors as diagnostic information that can be translated into good instruction (Butler, 1998, 2000; Butler & Neuman, 1995; Karabenick, 2004; Karabenick & Sharma, 1994; Newman, 2006b).

The importance of learning from mistakes and errors is an important component of formative assessment. Teachers can create an expectation that all learners should think of answers to questions, and that, after an appropriate period of thinking time, they might be called on to contribute to the discussion. All answers, right or wrong, can then be used to develop understanding because the emphasis they suggest should be on thoughtful improvement rather than getting it right the first time. Furthermore, in a classroom climate in which students’ difficulties and uncertainties are perceived as opportunities for learning, students might realise it is normal to not always be able to solve problems independently. Within a climate of this sort, help seeking can be perceived as a valuable means of assisting with the problem-solving process (Newman, 2008).


A classroom environment can support or constrain learning depending on the culture for learning and the interactions that arise between teacher and students, and among the students (Cameron, 2002). When students seek help, they balance the perceived benefits of help seeking (such as understanding, leaming new strategies) against perceived costs (for example, embarrassment arising from appearing either too knowledgeable or lacking knowledge in front of their peers) (Newman, 2008). In this balance of costs and benefits, the learner’s peers can influence the perception the learner has about their own comprehension and of help-seeking episodes. For example, a learner’s awareness of their co-learners’ questions about the material being studied can affect judgements of their own level of comprehension (Karabenick, 1996). Also, observing peers succeed can raise a student’s self-efficacy and motivation (Schunk et al., 2008).

Although the greater part of this article has focused on formative interactions between the learner and the teacher, the model does not exclude formative interactions occurring between peers. Learners might choose to seek help from peers for a variety of reasons, such as the unavailability of the teacher. Black et al. (2004) recommend supporting peer and self-assessment as one of four key practices to improve formative assessment in the classroom. Peer and self-assessment can be seen as supporting SRL because students assess their efforts against a set of goals or criteria.

Help seeking from peers can be influenced by classroom structures. In a case study of Year 13 chemistry students, Steed, Poskitt, and Kearney (2007a) found that students preferred to conduct dialogue with a teacher during small-group or individual activities rather than in whole-class situations, because this allowed them to ask more specific questions of the teacher, enabling the teacher to clarify specific areas of uncertainty. Students also appreciated the way in which small groups provided opportunities for peers to be involved in answering questions, and that often other students in the group were able to offer explanations in a more accessible language than a teacher might offer. Kempler and Linnenbrink (2006) differentiate between co-operative and collaborative group interactions and have found that during collaborative interactions unique helping behaviours occur. Within collaborative groups, learners engage in greater amounts of implicit help seeking. This type of help seeking did not involve a question being asked aloud; rather, questions and helping were integrated within a group’s discussion. Such implicit forms of help seeking were reported to encourage a greater frequency and higher quality of helping behaviours.

Other research shows that peer responses can also be a negative influence on help seeking within co-operative group structures. Negative responses from peers serve to suppress students’ tendencies to seek help in co-operative learning groups (Webb et al., 2006). These researchers found that within co-operative groups of four students, general requests for help could elicit negative socio-emotional responses from other members of the groups, and that these responses could serve to suppress students’ further attempts to seek help. In contrast, specific questions did not elicit negative peer responses. Negative socio-emotional behaviour affected the nature of group interactions in that it reduced the persistence of question asking from the help seeker and reduced the likelihood of helpful responses provided by a help giver.

However, positive peer interactions can support student learning and self-regulation. Nicol and Macfarlane-Dick (2006) summarise the five key ways in which this occurs:

• Students can often explain something they have learnt to their classmates in more accessible language.

• Through peer discussion, learners become aware of alternative perspectives on problems and alternative strategies and techniques to solve them.

• By carrying out peer assessment and commenting on a peer’s work, students are required to use criteria for making judgements, which can then be transferred to the assessment of their own work.

• Peer discussion can be motivational.

• It is sometimes easier for a learner to accept criticism of their work from peers rather than from a teacher.

Educational implications

Educators have an important role in supporting the help-seeking behaviours of their students so that these behaviours ultimately support their long-term learning. As part of this role, educators need to view adaptive help seeking as an important strategy of self-regulated learners. Even this seemingly simple change in perspective enables a help-seeking request to be viewed as an opportunity to scaffold student learning through the provision of hints, rather than an opportunity to give a direct answer. Educators can support adaptive help seeking in the class by encouraging students to view adaptive help seeking as an important part of the learning process and encouraging students to seek adaptive help, by using hints and suggestions. Specifically, teaching adaptive help seeking as a strategy for SRL could be considered, particularly as this might also positively affect students’ self-efficacy (Bembenutty, 2007). In light of the evidence that specific questions generate higher levels of feedback, students should be encouraged by their teachers to formulate specific requests for help. Through asking a question, a student offers insight into their current state of thinking, which, if recognised by the teacher as interactive formative assessment can be used as information to guide appropriate responses to enhance student learning. Teachers’ development of their pedagogical content knowledge enables them to assist students when they seek help because of a sound understanding of the process of learning in that particular subject area.

Teachers can develop climates in the classroom that support help-seeking behaviour by encouraging a mastery classroom climate that emphasises the importance of understanding and personal learning goals and deemphasises competitive classrooms with interpersonal comparisons. This climate can be nurtured by teachers developing effective learning relationships with their students. Structuring classrooms with collaborative groups might also facilitate question asking between students and the teacher, and between students and their peers.

Conclusion and limitations

The model presented in this article posits that adaptive help seeking is a form of interactive formative assessment, and that both adaptive help seeking and interactive formative assessment can be viewed as opportunities to support self-regulated learning. Future research into formative assessment, specifically with respect to classroom dialogue, would benefit from considering literature in the field of SRL, and adaptive help seeking in particular. Likewise, work in the area of adaptive help seeking could be enhanced by considering adaptive help seeking as an opportunity for formative interactions.

The model does have its limitations, though, which invite further consideration. For one thing, the model focuses on the classroom environment and does not explore all the sociocultural influences, such as the home environment and the impact of parents, community and wider cultural influences (see Schunk et al., 2008, for further discussion). In addition, aspects of planned formative assessment are not included in the model. These teacher-directed forms of formative assessment, such as class quizzes or tests, can also provide an opportunity to support students as self-regulated learners. However, the focus here has been on interactive formative assessment rather than planned formative assessment due to the teacher-directed nature of the latter. The model also leaves open for future investigation the role of adaptive help seeking as a motivator for teachers’ own self-regulation (see Newman, 2008).


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Craig Steed is Deputy Principal at Freyberg High School, Palmerston North, New Zealand. This article arose from his studies towards a Master of Education through Massey University.


Jenny Poskitt is Director of the Graduate School of Education, Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand.