Middle-class children are more likely than their working-class peers to ask for help in the classroom, according to a study published this month in the American Sociological Review.
Jessica McCrory Calarco, a doctoral student in sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, spent three years observing 56 middle- and working-class white students as they moved from 3rd to 5th grade in a suburban public school. She found that students from middle-class backgrounds were more likely to ask teachers for help and were more assertive in their requests.
The author used surveys, interviews, and observations to determine students’ social class, academic performance, and behavior in the classroom. During the final six months of the study, she counted the number of requests for attention made by middle-class and working-class students and documented differences in their strategies and results received.
Ms. Calarco writes that her research indicates that the different strategies used by students resulted in stratified educational opportunities even within the same classroom. Middle-class students’ behavior yielded more help from teachers than working-class students’ and enabled them to complete their assignments faster.
“Teachers want kids to ask for help if they are struggling, but they rarely make those expectations explicit,” Ms. Calarco said in a statement on the study. “That leaves kids to figure out when and how to ask for help.”
A version of this article appeared in the December 15, 2011 edition of Education Week as Middle-Class Students Seek and Get More Help