I Don't Need Your Help!

Peer Status, Race, and Gender During Peer Writing

Dr. Mary Christianakis

Dr. Christianakis is an assistant professor of language, literacy, and culture at Occidental College in California. She completed her teacher training at UCLA and went on to teach in Washington D.C. She now works in Berkeley, CA were she completed research involving peer status, race and gender during peer writing instruction.

How Her Research Began

While working in a diverse classroom, Dr. Christianakis observed students partake in a writing workshop. In this writing workshop, students were editing each other's work. During this activity, Dr. Christianakis noticed that some peers tended to have more power than other students. The students who tended to be the most "powerful" were the students labeled "gifted." She said that other students were willing to concede to the changes made by these particular students because it was well known that they were pulled out of class for gifted activities. Other powerful students included popular kids and students who come from a higher social class. On the other hand, the students with the least "power" tended to be students who were pulled from the classroom because of difficulties they have in school. These students lose their voice in group settings.

How can teachers make group work beneficial?

Dr. Christianakis says that many teachers are led to believe that group work is the most effective way for students to learn to collaborate with others. She says that this can be an effective strategy, but teachers need to be careful.

Dr. Christianakis gives the following advice:

  • pay attention to how students work together

  • note hierarchies in your classroom

  • remember that students face inequalities outside of school/in the larger society

  • create equitable learning relationships among students

How can everyone get involved?


  • listen to your children
  • advocate for equal opportunities for participation
  • encourage kids to ask for what they need


  • provide teachers with opportunity to discuss data much deeper than test scores
  • encourage teachers to discuss children as social individuals
  • think about identification systems for gifted students

Policy Makers

  • move past test scores to determine effective teaching
  • bring social life of children to the floor


Baker, E. A. & Christianakis, M. (2011, February 21). “I Don’t Need Your Help!” Peer Status, Race, and Gender during Peer Writing Interactions. Voice of Literacy. Podcast retrieved from http://voiceofliteracy.org