The Development of Students' Helping Behavior and Learning in Peer-Directed Small Groups

Noreen M. Webb, Ann M. Mastergeorge

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

119 Scopus citations


This study examined the behaviors and experiences of students who needed assistance while working in peer-directed small groups on mathematics problems and the processes that helped or hindered their learning. Students in 4 seventh-grade classes worked in heterogeneous small groups throughout a 3-week unit on operations with decimal numbers. Analyses of the transcripts of audiotapes of students' verbal interaction and their posttest performance confirmed previous research showing that students who learned how to solve the problems received high-level help during group work and, subsequently, correctly solved group-work problems without further assistance. Extending previous findings, this study also showed that the following help-seeking behaviors were important determinants of successful posttest performance: asking for specific explanations instead of calculations or answers or general admissions of confusion, persistence in seeking explanations and modification of help-seeking strategies, and application of the help received to the problem at hand. Important help-giving behaviors included providing explanations with verbally labeled numbers and continued explaining instead of resorting to descriptions of numerical procedures. This article discusses possible reasons for the patterns of help seeking and help giving found here and makes suggestions for further research to improve the quality of helping behavior in collaborative groups.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)361-428
Number of pages68
JournalCognition and Instruction
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • General Psychology


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