January 4, 2012; Source: Chicago Tribune | A recent University of Pennsylvania study reveals that economic and social class plays a role in elementary school students’ ability to ask for help from teachers. In a paper published last month in the American Sociological Review titled “‘I Need Help!’ Social Class and Children’s Help-Seeking in Elementary School,” Ph.D. candidate Jessica McCrory Calarco relays findings from a three-year study of students between third and fifth grades that shows that middle-class students most often “walked in the door knowing how to get their questions answered,” whereas students from less financially secure backgrounds more often learned those skills (if they learned them at all) in class.

For nonprofits and education organizations, Calarco’s findings underscore the fundamental importance of teachers, after school directors and others, in helping elementary school students to develop the skills necessary to advocate for their own learning. “We tend to assume that once you put kids in school, what they get there will help them overcome any differences they bring with them,” Calarco told the Tribune. Referring to her research, she added, “But what this shows is . . . children have a meaningful impact on the way schooling is happening and what they are able to get out of it.” As an example, Barbara Radner, director of DePaul University’s Center for Urban Education, told the Tribune that teachers are now increasingly using hand signals and color-coded flash cards in classes as a subtle means of tracking student comprehension. Highlighting the challenge for students, Roger Weissberg, a professor of psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago, explained, “You have to know where you need help and where you can go to get help.” He added, “Increasingly, people feel it’s worthwhile to teach that.”

As a way to get students’ perspective on the issue, the Tribune talked with some students at Chicago’s Evergreen Elementary about the importance of addressing questions when they emerge. Nine-year-old Mariah Mendoza acknowledged her own discovery that speaking up “kind of helps you learn more” and so, “sometimes you just have to do it.”—Anne Eigeman