Preschoolers Learn Most Language Skills From Other Preschoolers

New research suggests we shouldn't group kids by ability, because, in that situation, children with the poorest language skills lose ground 

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Children going to preschool often learn as much from each other as they do from the teacher. This is especially true when it comes to language. A recently published study found that children who start out with the poorest language skills tended to lose ground when they were placed in the lowest ability classes but improved their language skills when they were placed in average-ability classes.

About half the children who attend preschool are in programs that are subsidized by state or federal money. Many, if not most, of these programs only enroll children with a demonstrated economic need and who often start off at increased risk for poor language skills. The programs often cluster these children together in the same classrooms. The study findings say this isn't the way to go.

The study looked at 338 children in 48 different preschool classrooms. It measured the children's grammar skills, vocabulary, and ability to discuss what was happening in a picture book. Children were tested in the fall and again in the spring, to give a picture of their improvement over the school year.

Children with poor language skills either didn't improve or showed a worsening in these skills over the course of the year when they were placed with others with poor skills but did improve when they attended a class with higher achieving children. The study also found that higher-ability students didn't suffer when there were lower-ability students in their classroom. Their scores improved regardless of student composition.

The quality of the teacher didn't seem to have any effect on this. The authors suggest that interactions between the children or teacher expectations for the students are driving it.

In either case, the study results say that grouping students by achievement or income at this early age is not the way to help them. Letting kids help each other is the better way to go.

An article on the study was published online by Child Development October 25, 2011.

Image: Anatolit Samara/Shutterstock.


This article originally appeared on TheDoctorWillSeeYouNow.com, an Atlantic partner site.

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