Peer Effects on Vocabulary Knowledge: A Linear Quantile Mixed-Modeling Approach


Jamie M. Quinn, Jessica Sidler Folsom, & Yaacov Petscher

Do your peers in the classroom have an effect on your vocabulary learning? According to a recently published, open-access article in the journal Education Sciences, your peers do affect your vocabulary achievement.

Quinn, Sidler Folsom, and Petscher (2018) used a methodological approach called quantile regression to investigate how various predictor variables can differentially affect outcomes variables. In this case, the predictor variables were how well a students’ peers did relative to their own achievement (called relative status), how well their peers did on average (the peer mean), and the variability of peer achievement, or how different peers were from one another (the peer standard deviation). Other important predictor variables included the percentage of students with a learning disability status and the percentage of peers who had an individualized educational program (IEP). The outcome variable of interest was a students’ vocabulary achievement.

Quinn et al. discovered that group-level peer effects were more strongly related to vocabulary achievement for students at the low end of the conditional distribution of vocabulary. This means that for students who have low vocabulary achievement, how well their peers did affected their achievement in vocabulary. Further, the difference in vocabulary achievement between children with and without an individualized education program increased as quantiles of the conditional vocabulary distribution increased. That is to say, children with an IEP become more different from students without an IEP as vocabulary scores increase – the gap widens between these students.

Children with lower relative fall scores had better spring scores when they were in homogenous classrooms (i.e., being in classrooms where their peers had similar levels of achievement). However, for students with higher relative fall scores, these students had better spring scores when they were in relatively heterogeneous classrooms – that is, being in classrooms where their peers had differing levels of achievement. Although students with learning disabilities did not perform as well as their peers, the influence of the disability was limited to the individual with the disability.

The Take-Home Message: Regardless of the level of achievement, the context of the classroom matters. The study results suggest a student with relatively lower levels of fall vocabulary knowledge would benefit from being in a class with similarly-leveled peers. However, a student with higher relative levels of fall vocabulary knowledge would benefit from being placed in a class with peers of ranging levels of vocabulary achievement. For example, while having a wide range of abilities may be beneficial for higher achieving students, planning small-group instruction with similarly achieving peers may be a way to meet the needs of lower achieving students.