PALS, which stands for “Peer Assisted Learning Strategies,” is a system of student to student tutoring. When using this program, teachers are to identify which students need help and which students could assist them on various skills. According to the PALS website, the teachers pair the students based on this information, guiding them to work on the necessary skills and switching partners and roles as needed as the students progress. The system, which runs from kindergarten to high school, is intended to complement a class’s existing reading curriculum.
In the PALS reading program, teachers are to pair a dependent, or struggling, reader with one who is reading independently at that level; however, to decrease discouragement, the difference should not be extreme. The teacher gives them both a text at the target grade level that focuses on a specific skill, such as sequencing events. The independent reader acts as a coach, supporting the dependent reader. In this way, the dependent reader receives help in an area of difficulty while the independent reader gets reinforcement in the target skill.
Because students don’t necessarily start with the qualifications or skills to be effective tutors, the PALS program structures their dialogue. Initially, the teacher should explain how the student pair should interact. The dependent reader reads aloud for a set amount of time while the independent reader acts as a coach, following along and correcting his peer in a scripted manner. If the coach hears an incorrectly read word, he tells the reader to “Check it,” or review the word. If the reader still struggles, though, the coach says the word correctly. During this procedure, the teacher monitors the pairs at work. The time spent reading varies by age level. For example, a second grade child using the PALS program would read for 5 minutes.
The PALS reading program is not intended to replace a core reading program; instead, it is designed to support reading programs already in place. The program aims to reinforce essential literacy skills, such as phonemic awareness, reading fluency and comprehension. In kindergarten, for example, the students start with letter-sound correspondence and work up to reading common short words. From first grade on, the program focuses on decoding, or figuring out, new words and reading fluency. Teachers are encouraged to implement the program three to four times a week. PALS also works to reinforce academic behaviors through a points system: pairs earn points toward a reward by completing activities such as correctly retelling the events the reader read about.
Doug Fuchs, professor of special education at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, and Lynn Fuchs, also a professor of special education at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, developed the PALS reading program. Several studies conducted by Doug and Lynn Fuchs, in conjunction with other researchers, found that students using PALS outscored their peers on reading tests. In these studies, the investigators organized the students so that there were multiple ability levels within a PALS group and a control group. All ability levels within the PALS groups, including students with learning disabilities, performed better on tests than students in control groups.
- Digital Vision./Digital Vision/Getty Images