Does mentoring by teachers help academically at-risk high school students ?

Larose, S., Duchesne, S., & Châteauvert, G. B. (2020). How does mentoring by teachers improve the adjustment of academically at-risk students in high school? International Journal of School & Educational Psychology, 8(1), 36–49.   

Summarized by Ariel Ervin

Notes of Interest: 

  • The study aims to better understand how to help academically at-risk students in their adjustment from elementary to high school
  • The study also examines the roles teachers play in mentoring academically at-risk high school students that are struggling to adjust academically 
  • The sample consisted of 115 academically at-risk high school freshmen that were participating in a year-long mentoring program run by teachers, called ACCES
  • Data was used from the first implementation year’s experimental group, at time 1 (September) and at time 3 (June)
  • Findings indicate that the ACES program helped alleviate adjustment problems for academically at-risk students, who are transitioning to high school (especially for those that displayed low motivation)
  • This suggests that volunteer teacher mentors can make a significant, positive impact for academically at-risk students that are entering high school

Introduction (Reprinted from the Abstract)

The aims of this study were twofold: to describe associations between mentoring relationship quality (MRQ) and student academic adjustment in a formal mentoring program involving teachers as mentors and academically at-risk students as mentees, and to explore the mediating and moderating effects of student mastery goal orientation on these associations. One hundred and fifteen academically at-risk students in their first year of high school (mean age = 13.46, SD = 0.80) participated in ACCES, a one-year academic teacher–student mentoring program. Student academic adjustment and mastery goal orientation were assessed at the beginning (September) and end (June) of the program and MRQ was measured at the last mentoring meeting (May). Multiple linear regression analysis showed that teacher–student MRQ positively predicted changes in academic adjustment, particularly when at-risk students showed weak mastery goal orientation at program entry (i.e., compensatory effect). Structural equation analysis showed no mediating effect of mastery goal orientation on associations between MRQ and academic adjustment. Implications for academic mentoring practices by teachers are discussed.

Implications (Reprinted from the Discussion)

In this study, we proposed that the quality of mentoring that mentees received under the ACCES program would predict positive changes in their academic adjustment during the transition from elementary to high school (hypothesis 1). The results largely confirm this first hypothesis. The Bonding dimension of MRQ predicted positive changes in mentee motivation and their intentions to persevere in school, and the Goal agreement dimension predicted positive changes in their feelings of academic efficacy. Bonding was also marginally associated with mentee mastery goals at program end. These results concur with a growing number of studies that have found positive associations between formal mentoring by high school teachers and academic adjustment in at-risk students (Fruiht & Wray-Lake, 2013; Gastic & Johnson, 2009; Holt et al., 2008). They also extend the premises of the main youth mentoring models to teacher–student mentoring: that a mentoring relationship with a teacher, characterized by empathy, mutuality, and trust, predicts academic success and well-being in mentored students (Larose & Tarabulsy, 2014; Rhodes, 2005).

We also proposed that changes in mentees’ mastery goals from start to end of the ACCES program would mediate the predictive association between MRQ and academic adjustment. This second hypothesis was partly motivated by one of the premises of the model of youth mentoring (Rhodes, 2005): that the quality of the mentoring relationship can enrich academic adjustment in youth through the development of certain cognitive and motivational processes. Our results show a marginal predictive association between MRQ and changes in mastery goals for our ACCES students, but no indirect effect of mentoring on academic adjustment.

We stated as a third hypothesis that the mastery goals of academically at-risk students at entry into the ACCES program would moderate the association between MRQ and academic adjustment during the transition from elementary to high school. Our results largely confirmed this hypothesis. Specifically, we found predictive associations between the bonding dimension of the mentoring relationship and motivation and between bonding and intentions to persevere in school, and these associations were stronger when mentees had weak mastery goals at program entry. This suggests that MRQ wields a compensatory effect on both dimensions of academic adjustment (motivation and perseverance intentions). Thus, the most at-risk students in terms of motivation (those with weaker mastery goal orientation at program entry) would be encouraged through mentoring to like and value school more, and hence to persevere in their learning throughout the transition. This compensatory effect is consistent with one of the premises of the sociomotivational mentoring model (Larose & Tarabulsy, 2014), whereby certain of the mentee’s cognitive and motivational characteristics can either strengthen or weaken the effects of mentoring on academic adjustment. It is also consistent with the overall aim of the initial ACCES training: to deepen teacher-mentors’ understanding of student mastery goals and how to integrate this knowledge into their mentoring practices (Boisclair Châteauvert et al., 2014).


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