Chapter 11: Peer Status

Chapter 11: Peer Status

Drew Ibendahl


The ways in which students are accepted or rejected by their social group is referred to as peer status. The text describes five categories in which students may fit based on the perceptions of their peers. Students may be classified as popular, rejected, neglected, controversial, or average (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).  The term popular, however, is not necessarily synonymous with being well liked.  When teachers or students are asked who popular students are in the classroom, they may refer to students who are controversial or rejected students, students who are “bully-leaders” or students who are “tough/popular.”  Peer status for many students remains stable, meaning students who are popular are likely to remain popular and students who are rejected are likely to continue to be rejected from kindergarten through high school (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).

Rejection may cause aggression in students, as well as disruptive classroom behavior, hyperactivity and distractibility, and lead to delinquency.  Students exhibiting these behaviors will often face more rejection, continuing the cycle.  However, students who showed aggression, but were categorized as having average peer status were more to exhibit social adjustment, similar to their nonaggressive peers (Dubow, 1988).  Because of this, it is important when working with aggressive children to understand their peer status, in order to better provide intervention targeting the social skills these children lack (Dubrow, 1988). In addition to aggression, rejected students often have lower GPA, IQ, and test scores than peers who are accepted within the classroom setting (Bergin & Bergin, 2012). In a sample of 901 students transitioning from grade school to middle school and through eighth grade, peer status and GPA were studied. The study revealed that peer rejection in fourth grade through middle school was associated with lower GPA’s and lower GPA’s predicted greater peer rejection from grade school into middle school (Bellmore, 2011).  Similar to aggression, academic achievement (GPA) and rejection have the ability to go hand-in-hand, creating a vicious cycle without intervention.

Peer acceptance or rejection is usually a result of students’ social skills or lack thereof.  Students exhibiting prosocial behaviors are often well-liked and accepted by peers. Conversely, students who are often withdrawn from the group will tend to be rejected from the group (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).  Parenting influences and SES also have an influence on peer status.  Parental negativity, abuse, marital conflict, and divorce are all risk factors of peer rejection.  In addition, parents have an influence over their child’s peer status in that they, to some extent, select the child’s “peer world” through their choice in neighborhoods, daycare and community activity and involvement (Bergin & Bergin, 2012).

How then, do we as educators help to break the vicious cycle of rejection and provide intervention for our students who lack peer acceptance when we cannot control external factors, such as parental influence or socioeconomic status? The text lists six steps for helping students improve peer relationships by focusing on behavior within the classroom(Bergin & Bergin, 2012):

-Help the student reduce aggression and increase prosocial behavior.

-Help the student better regulate emotions.

-Promote the student’s academic skills.

-Capitalize on student strengths.

-Pair the student up with a buddy.

-Arrange for the student to work or play with younger students.

In a study done consisting of 24 middle school teachers and their middleschool students, intervention strategies were introduced, consisting of cooperative, teamwork-based group activities for, both, academic instruction and non-academic activities. The purpose of the cooperative learning activities was to promote a socially accepting environment and reduce peer rejection. Through self-reporting from the this study, it was found that The results of this study indicate that interventions intended to change, both, the perception of peers, as well as the classroom climate may be effective in discouraging rejection among peers (Mikami A.Y., Boucher M.A., & Humphreys, K., 2005)

Discussion Questions:

  1. In your classroom experiences, have you seen the five categories of peer status mentioned in the text, and what effects (positive or negative) have these categories of students had on your classroom environment?
  2. What social skill intervention strategies have you used in your classroom to help students who are perceived as rejected or neglected?
  3. Do you use opportunities for Cooperative Learning, and if so, what positive influences do these opportunities have on peer relationships in the classroom?
  4. Do you feel peer status has a greater effect on students at certain grade levels? If so, what grade levels are students most affected by peer status, and why do you feel this way?


  • Bergin, C.C. & Bergin, D.A. (2012).  Child and Adolescent Development in Your Classroom.  Belmont, CA:  Wadsworth/Cengage Learning.
  • Dubow, E. (1988). Aggressive Behavior and Peer Social Status of Elementary School Children. Aggressive Behavior, 14(5), 315-324.
  • Bellmore, A (2011). Peer Rejections and Unpopularity: Associated with GPA’s Across Transition to Middle School. Journal of Educational Psychology, 103(2), 282-295.
  • Mikami, A.Y., Boucher, M.A., & Humphreys, K. (2005). Prevention of Peer Rejection Through a Classroom-Level Intervention in Middle School. The Journal of Primary Prevention, 26(1), 5-23.



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8 Responses to Chapter 11: Peer Status

  1. Mary Decker says:

    Do you use opportunities for Cooperative Learning, and if so, what positive influences do these opportunities have on peer relationships in the classroom?

    I often use cooperative learning strategies within the classroom. I was fortunate to attend a workshop that focused on the work and research of Dr. Kagan, an expert in the area. There were many suggestions for cooperative learning methods that put equal responsibility on the individuals and the group. I have observed many positive outcomes from the use of cooperative learning. First of all, these strategies allow classmates to see each other’s strengths. Since they all have distinct jobs to accomplish within the group, they have the opportunity to shine while helping the others reach the group goal. Also, through cooperative learning, students get the chance to work with a variety of students. These structured interactions with others allow less socially adept kids to work with their peers in an open, encouraging environment. They may glean positive, prosocial behaviors by observing their more socially adept peers.

  2. Michelle Peterson says:

    What social skill intervention strategies have you used in your classroom to help students who are perceived as rejected or neglected?

    I have used role playing a lot. I often work with the student who is rejecting their peer first. I have students play the role of the rejected peer and then the rejector. We work through skills that the student can use to empower their peer (s). I also work with building the skill deficit that a student is missing by giving direct instruction.
    I also use games to build peer relations. I purposefully pair up students who I think need to build a relationship of tolerance of each other. I see success with this in many situations. Of course I guide the games at first so that there is no intolerance or bullying taking place. In many situations (at the elementary level) I see that the combination of role play, direct instruction and interactive game play has been meaningful in building tolerance and stop rejection in my classroom. I believe it is alot about creating experiences where students make connections with one another. If I can create those opportunities, then rejection usually dissipates.

  3. Amanda says:

    Do you use opportunities for Cooperative Learning, and if so, what positive influences do these opportunities have on peer relationships in the classroom?

    Cooperative learning is built into to most of the curriculum within my district. During reading, students do a lot of “turn and talk” to better understand the reading lessons, and grow ideas. During independent reading, I have begun pairing up students that have the same “goals” for reading to work on their goals together. For instance, my two low readers are struggling with fluency. If I would have just turned them loose, I don’t think they would get along very well, but we have started it together and I’m slowly releasing them to work on their own. Strategy groups do the same thing, they first work with me on a reading strategy, and then work together to come up with a successful project.

    In math, the students work in a group for math workshop. These groups change with each unit depending on their math goals and needs. The students pair up during “hands on” to play a relevant game, work as a group/partners to practice their math facts and time eachother, they work as a group together with me, and then on their own or together depending on the level of difficulty and group.

    One area I am struggling to incorporate cooperative learning is Science/Social Studies. I work with all the students that are pulled during their normal classtime for reading interventions, so I have a lot of low readers. Most of the information that I have is at a 3rd grade level so we have to do everything together, and even then I see a lot of lost faces. First, I must find adaptive materials that are closer to a 2nd grade level, but still be able to teach the 3rd grade GLEs, then I must find ways to incorporate cooperative learning. My idea currently is to look at their reading levels and put a mixed variety of reading levels in each of the groups.

  4. anonymous50 says:

    1. Do you use opportunities for Cooperative Learning, and if so, what positive influences do these opportunities have on peer relationships in the classroom?

    I use Cooperative Learning in language arts, but cautiously and what I hope is judiciously, taking care to distinguish the CL projects from simple (and usually purposeless) “group work”. Having been the student who always did all the work for ‘group projects’ and then raising children of my own who wound up doing likewise, I was initially very skeptical of the Cooperative Learning model and the inconsistency with which it is sometimes implemented. However, as I grew and gained confidence professionally, I learned to appreciate the benefits, both academic and social, of utilizing carefully planned, communicated, and monitored CL in my classroom. What I found academically was that students tended to challenge themselves beyond their normal levels of productivity, as if each fed off the intellectual energy of the others in the group. Socially, I also found benefits, especially on the occasions in which I manipulated the group membership to showcase previously unrecognized talents of particular students. One year, for example, my class included a young man, new to the school, who had yet to find his niche in the well-established cliques of that small grade. I ‘randomly’ assigned groups for a project that involved ‘teaching’ the rest of the class about one of the five types of pronouns, making sure this energetic but creative young man would wind up with some socially influential students who I suspected would be receptive to and appreciate his ideas. In the end, that group’s project was entertaining, informative, and deemed the favorite by most of the class, due in large part to that young man’s unexpected talent as a beat boxer. Some of the students who had previously disregarded the new boy as ‘odd’ found that they respected his creativity and “genius” (as one student called it). He eventually found a place in the pre-existing friend circles of that grade, and I believe that the CL exercise was the catalyst, providing a platform for him to contribute to the group in a meaningful way and to be recognized and admired by his peers.

  5. Brooke says:

    Do you feel peer status has a greater effect on students at certain grade levels? If so, what grade levels are students most affected by peer status, and why do you feel this way?

    I definitely believe that peer status is a very important part of all student life. I work with 7th graders in my classroom, but I also work with students ages 3 to 18 at my dance studio. One of my favorite parts of that job is seeing the different age groups of students and how they act, talk, learn and deal with problems. I am always shocked when I hear younger students in elementary school talking about the “popular” or “nerdy” kids in class. I do not ever remember having those thoughts about peer social status when I was in school. I know I probably had them, but must have blocked it out in my old age : ) While social status may not seem like that big of an issue, I do see these younger students at the dance studio with average, neglected or rejected peer status and see that it affects them here as well. They are less likely to stand in the front row, try new steps, or perform in small groups. I would venture to say a regular classroom teacher may see the same types of behaviors in the classroom as well.

    In my experience teaching 7th grade, I can say peer status has a HUGE effect on students in this grade than 6th or 8th grades. For some reason, students in 7th grade discover and become more aware of peer status and acceptance. Students become more aware of who is popular, who is rejected and begin to worry about where they fit in. Of course, things like hormones, the changing body and social media do not always help students in this quest for social status also push the process along. I think all students and grade levels have peer status, but I think the time when students become most aware that they have the control to change their status based on social skills and acceptance is most defined in middle school.

  6. Autumn says:

    Do you use opportunities for Cooperative Learning, and if so, what positive influences do these opportunities have on peer relationships in the classroom?

    Our units of inquiry are designed to promote cooperative learning. I firmly believe that collaborative enterprise does indeed have the potential to result in positive peer relationships. I find these methods especially useful for guided, small group discussions and I take special pleasure in monitoring the creative thought processes and debate tactics, utilized by my students during these exercises. Under optimal circumstances, these exchanges are underpinned by mutual support and academic challenge, which engenders some truly amazing outcomes.

    I would respectfully like to extend the scope of this question, as I feel that it would be disingenuous not to add that I have observed some decidedly troublesome aspects of cooperative learning as well. It is worthwhile to mention that, depending on the nature of a student’s “awkwardness,” the inclusion of these methods can serve to further exacerbate the problem. I have noticed that many of my students resent being compelled to work with their socially marginal peers (and vice versa). Moreover, children who wish to be liked by the “popular” kids or students who are simply concerned about their overall grade will often shoulder an excessive burden brought on by assuming the majority of a given workload, which I absolutely and unequivocally abhor. These actions, of course, have a negative impact on student learning and emotional growth. Therefore, I would just underscore that careful consideration and knowledge of one’s students must be vigilantly applied.

    • Drew Ibendahl says:

      Thank you for including potential downfalls of cooperative learning. I did not intend to imply that CL will always have positive outcomes, and I completely agree with your perspective and have also experienced the “lack of cooperation” in what I intended to be cooperative learning in my classroom. In an ideal world, we would incorporate CL into every aspect of our classroom, however, I have found that not every lesson allows for cooperative learning, and, depending on classroom dynamics, some classes struggle to fully grasp the concept. As the text discusses, and from our experiences, we understand that we cannot simply number off students, give them their tasks, and let them go, expecting them to work cooperatively in the manner we have envisioned. As you have mentioned, it is imperative for the teacher to model CL, allow time for students to practice, then discuss areas of strength and areas which need improvement within each group. In addition, a teacher really needs to understand his/her classroom, the maturity of each student, the ability of each student, and, in regard to this chapter, the peer status of students, among other things.
      I have often found that popular does not always equate to “good leader.” It amazes me that even at the elementary levels, the number of students who understand the concept of peer status go as far as placing students within their levels in their conversations. I have had classes that do a phenomenal job working together cooperatively and truly understanding the concept of the classroom community and helping to make each other better. The popular students understood the responsibility that often accompanied being popular and rose to accept that responsibility and lead the class. I have had classes with popular students who knew they were popular and used that to every advantage they could, especially when it came to work in what I hoped to cooperative learning groups, but often did not progress as I had hoped. I feel cooperative learning has the potential to work with any class, but it definitely takes time, practice, trial/error, communication, and reflection by, both, teacher and students to find that CL combination that clicks.

  7. Karen says:

    In your classroom experiences, have you seen the five categories of peer status mentioned in the text, and what effects (positive or negative) have these categories of students had on your classroom environment?

    Since I am considered an encore class I have half of the students in the school each semester. I think if you look at any school you will see all of the different peer statuses mentioned. I have certainly seen the popular student who is liked by many and disliked by few. These students bring such a positive climate to the classroom. They are able to adapt to the multiple different groups of friends that exist. Often times the quiet confidence that these students have, along with their gentle nature, draws others to them and positively impacts them. I have also seen controversial students. Just as the text mentioned most of the students that I see as controversial are girls. I can think of one student in my homeroom who is definitely controversial. She thrives on drama. Some students think she is amazing and only wish to be her friend and others think she is mean and want nothing to do with her. If there is drama going on you can almost bet that she was involved in some way. In 8th grade we also have the rejected aggressive student. He can be aggressive to students in many different ways. Most students do not like him, but you would never know that from talking with him. He thinks that he is amazing and one of the most popular students in the school. We have been working with him to increase positive social interactions throughout the day, but it has been a slow process. His behavior can have a dramatic impact on the classroom environment in a negative way. Another student we have is rejected-withdrawn. He lacks social intelligence and therefore gets easily flustered in social situations. He does not have many true friends and shies away from group situations. He never causes trouble in class, but he does not like to work in groups. He is currently in a social skills group with other students who struggle with social situations. We also have neglected students. The few neglected students I can think of are painfully quiet. They rarely say anything in class and can often be found in the corner of the classroom trying to go unnoticed. Often times they are successful at going unnoticed. Again the students I am thinking of rarely disrupt the class environment because they are rarely noticed. The final category makes up the majority of my school, just like the textbook said it would, these students are average. Some students like them, others do not. Sometimes these students do silly things in class, but rarely are they trying to be the center of attention. Looking in any classroom I think you can find all types of students, but I think that creating a positive and structured classroom environment allows students to grow socially in a positive manner.

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