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Study: For Dual Language Learners, Grit Matters


College of Education

Study: For Dual Language Learners, Peer Grit Matters More than Individual Grit

COLLEGE PARK, MD (July, 2017) – A new University of Maryland study found that for dual language learners in elementary school, the grit of classroom peers, not that of an individual student, predicted an individual’s literacy achievement.

Led by Colleen O’Neal, assistant professor in the University of Maryland College of Education, the study of this largely Latina/o population found that the grit of a student’s peers was twice as influential as individual grit in predicting achievement on literacy tasks over a four-month period. Published in School Psychology Quarterly, the study is one of few to examine grit, or one’s perseverance towards long-term goals, among younger students and the first to examine the relationship between grit and literacy achievement in an ethnic minority population. The study is the first to examine the competing role of peer grit, in comparison to individual grit, in prediction of achievement.

“A large achievement gap exists between white and Latino/a students in literacy,” Dr. O’Neal said. “Our study suggests that the literacy progress of dual language learners in elementary school may depend more on the classroom context than on individual character.”

In 2015, only 21 percent of Latina/o fourth grade students read at a proficient level, versus 46 percent proficiency for white students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

“Past research assumed that it was the individual’s grit that influenced achievement. By testing how the average grit of one’s classmates affects success on a literacy task over time, this study sheds light on the importance of the classroom social environment for a dual language learning student,” Dr. O’Neal said.

The study’s 142 participants were 3rd-5th grade students from a suburban elementary school that served low-income students, with 95 percent of students receiving free or reduced price meals. The participation rate represented a 55 percent recruitment rate, with participation levels varying across classrooms. All of the study participants were dual language learners, who spoke a language other than English with at least one parent.

Student data was collected at three time points. At the start of the study, students completed grit questionnaires and reading performance tasks, which they repeated twice more over a roughly four-month time period to gauge progress on literacy achievement.

Dr. O’Neal’s research focuses on emotions, stress, and resilience among U.S. ethnic minority students, as well as educational systems for international refugee students.



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