Effectiveness of a school-based group mentoring program promoting students’ engagement, self-regulation, and goal setting

Martins, J., Rosário, P., Cunha, J., Núñez, J. C., Vallejo, G., & Moreira, T. (2024). How to help students in their transition to middle school? Effectiveness of a school-based group mentoring program promoting students’ engagement, self-regulation, and goal setting. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 76, 102230. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cedpsych.2023.102230


The transition from elementary to middle school represents a critical period that can negatively impact students’ development and school engagement (Eccles et al., 1993; Wang & Amemiya, 2019). Prior research indicates students often experience a mismatch between their developmental needs and the opportunities provided in the new school environment during this transition (Eccles et al., 1993; Schenk et al., 2021). School-based mentoring programs have emerged as a preventive approach to support students by providing developmental (e.g., building supportive relationships) and instrumental (e.g., developing self-regulated learning [SRL] skills) factors (DuBois & Karcher, 2005; Lyons et al., 2019).

The current study assessed the effectiveness of a 12-session group mentoring program called “Compass” in promoting fifth-grade students’ SRL strategies, school engagement (SE; behavioral, emotional, cognitive), and goal setting (GS) during their transition to middle school. The program used narratives and activities aligned with best practices for effective skills training (Durlak et al., 2010). Four hypotheses were tested:

  • Students in the experimental group would show higher SRL, SE, and GS than the control group, with a moderate effect size expected.
  • Differences between groups would persist at the 3-month follow-up.
  • The effect at 6 weeks would be similar to the full 12-week program.
  • Program effectiveness would differ based on students’ prior math knowledge (PMK), with larger improvements for lower PMK.

Participants were 330 fifth-grade students from 16 classes across 4 schools in Portugal, randomly assigned to experimental (n=162) or control (n=168) conditions. The experimental group received the 12 biweekly 45-minute Compass mentoring sessions led by trained teacher mentors. Data on SRL strategies, SE, GS, and PMK were collected at pretest, midpoint, posttest, and 3-month follow-up.

A multivariate mixed-effects model for repeated measures (MMRM) analysis was used, incorporating age and gender as time-invariant covariates. Effect sizes were calculated using Cohen’s d.

Multivariate MMRM analyses showed statistically significant differences between experimental and control groups when considering all variables together at posttest (p<.001, d=0.79) and follow-up (p<.001), supporting H1 and partially supporting H2.

Univariate analyses indicated significant group differences at posttest for SRL strategies (p<.01, d=0.27), emotional engagement (p<.001, d=0.62), cognitive engagement (p<.01, d=0.51), and GS (p<.01, d=0.23). At follow-up, differences persisted for SRL and emotional engagement but not cognitive engagement or GS.

Contrary to H3, the effect was larger after 12 sessions than 6 sessions when considering all variables together (d=0.44 at midpoint vs 0.79 at posttest). However, effects did not increase from midpoint to posttest for SRL and GS individually.

Contrary to H4, program effectiveness did not differ based on students’ PMK level.


The Compass mentoring program was effective in promoting SRL, SE, and GS for fifth-grade students transitioning to middle school, with a large effect when considering all variables together. Individual effects ranged from small to medium. Differences persisted at follow-up for some variables, potentially due to opportunities to apply learned skills. More sessions led to larger effects overall, but not for SRL and GS individually, suggesting potential limits on continued growth from extended training.

Overall, the study highlights the promise of group mentoring for easing the middle school transition by promoting key learning processes like engagement and self-regulation.