What characteristics might the teachers at Washington Elementary look for in a reading approach?
Page 1: Overview of PALS
As they search for an approach capable of both meeting the needs of diverse learners and strengthening the instruction in the general education classroom (i.e., Tier 1 instruction), the kindergarten and first-grade teachers at Washington Elementary discover Peer Assisted Learning Strategies for reading (PALS-R or PALS). PALS, modeled after ClassWide Peer Tutoring (CWPT), is an approach to teaching children important reading skills. It complements the existing reading curriculum by providing research-validated learning strategies through peer-mediated instruction (i.e., peer pairing, peer tutoring). In the PALS approach, teachers pair a high-performing reader with a low-performing one in order to complete activities designed to promote the development of reading skills. PALS also incorporates:
ClassWide Peer Tutoring
Instructional program in which pairs of students take turns acting as the tutor; originally designed to address developmental goals among students, with or without disabilities, from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Highly structured activities that have been demonstrated to improve students’ learning
A method of instruction in which students take turns acting as tutor. In PALS, the student in the role of tutor is referred to as the Coach, while the student being tutored is referred to as the Reader. Typically, the Coach provides constructive feedback (i.e., corrective feedback) to the Reader on his or her performance.
Frequent verbal interaction and corrective feedback between the Coach and Reader
The use of scripted prompts
PALS combines peer-mediated instruction with effective reading activities. Listen now as Lynn Fuchs discusses the peer mediation component and Doug Fuchs highlights some of the reading activities and the skills they address.
Lynn Fuchs, PhD Nicholas Hobbs Endowed Chair in Special Education and Human Development Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN
We realized early on in our work that we needed to find methods that teachers could incorporate easily. And peer mediation—where all the students in the class are paired to do activities that the teacher orchestrates with the classroom—is one way that teachers can feasibly incorporate innovative methods to their time and their retraining in a low-cost kind of way. Clearly the most unique component of PALS, especially at kindergarten and first grade, is that young children are working with each other. They’re conducting activities with each other, providing feedback to each other when errors are made, so that children can become better at the activities. So the peer mediation is the most unique feature of PALS. I think most people assumed that children couldn’t be very effective tutors to their classroom peers at the ages of five and six, but we have found that, in fact, they can be very effective in working productively and constructively with each other, and, in fact, kids’ reading and math outcomes can be substantially enhanced when children work on very structured activities with each other.
Transcript: Doug Fuchs, PhD
There’s really two aspects to PALS. One is the organizational part of it that brings kids together to work in a cooperative, supportive way. The other part—the more substantive part—are the activities. I’ll give you an example. In early reading, the activities that children are trained to engage in require them to practice phonological awareness—that is, to become very sensitive to the sounds in words and the fact that sounds in words are represented by the letters in our alphabet. A second activity would be decoding activities that give kids lots of opportunities to blend and segment words. Another activity is fluency building, where kids practice reading, quickly and accurately, connected text. And a fourth activity is comprehension. So from phonological awareness through beginning decoding, fluency building, comprehension, these are sub-areas of early reading that are known by many, many people to be necessary building blocks to get to the point where you’ve got a capable reader.
For Your Information
A major component of the response to intervention (RTI) approach is high-quality instruction. In RTI, the instruction provided in the general education classroom is referred to as Tier 1 instruction. Research on PALS indicates that most of the students who engage in this strategy demonstrate improved reading performance. As a result, PALS is now promoted as a promising Tier 1 instructional strategy, and in some schools is also being implemented as a Tier 2 intervention.
Though PALS was originally developed for use with students in grades two through six, it was later expanded to include versions for kindergarten and first-grade students. Because Washington Elementary is interested in approaches appropriate for younger students, this module highlights PALS for kindergarten and first grade. If you would like to learn more about PALS for other grade levels, we encourage you to take a look at these IRIS Modules: