Views on the best ways to include all students in the national educational program of their respective countries have improved significantly in the past century with several governments seeking a way to develop a system that is wholesome to learners. Since then, legislators have placed emphasis on the importance of all students, including those with disabilities, to attain the set standards of education with emphasis being put on the role of the teacher in ensuring set educational goals are achieved. In the United States, the government passed a Reading First Initiative to ensure that all children can read well by the time they are in the third grade. Similarly, many other countries have established regulations that support need to have an education system that promotes early intervention instead of correcting a failure. Besides, teachers are equipped adequately to ensure that learners in a particular level show positive outcomes in their academics as stipulated by the curriculum developers. One approach that they use is the Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS), which is designed to assist students with diverse academic needs, especially the struggling ones, enhance their academic outcomes.
Notably, “PALS is a supplemental peer-tutoring program where student pairs perform structured activities in reading or math” Boud, Cohen, & Sampson, 2014). During its sessions, students take turns coaching each other and correcting their mistakes. Teachers and curriculum developers continue to work hard to develop the strategy into an effective program that can be used in future teaching and learning. In this arrangement, the instructor monitors students and provides assistance while the learners earn points for completion of a task. The awarding of points acts as motivation to the pupils, which encourages them to do more. In their arrangements, high achieving learners are paired with the average students, while the average performing students are paired with the struggling learners.
The focus and strategies applied by the instructor vary at different stages of the student’s academics. When the program was incepted, it mainly targeted learners between the second and sixth grades; however, in recent years, it has extended to many other levels, from kindergarten to high school and institutions of higher learning. The inception of PALS in undergraduate courses has gained popularity in recent years as the developers of curriculum strive to “encourage graduates to become lifelong learners as well as to enable them to develop reflective practice and critical self-awareness” (Boud et al., 2014).
In Bould et al.’s study, the majority of students who were exposed to PALS reported positive academic outcomes when compared to those who did not apply the strategy in their learning. When it was incepted, the researchers selected students and presented them to the use of PALS for fifteen weeks. At the beginning of the study, PALS and control classrooms did not show a large difference in their performance, but by the end of the fifteen weeks, the PALS class performed better than the control level concerning reading assessments. Based on the ideas of Boud et al. (2014), PALS is an effective instructional method since most students “benefit more from peer learning rather than individualistic teaching and learning.” Students with reading disabilities and low performers also showed substantial improvements when compared to the control class; lastly, they also enjoyed social acceptance than their counterparts.
Thus, the study results indicate that the Peer Assisted Strategy not only improved the learners’ academic performance, but it also developed their social interaction and acceptance, more so concerning low performing learners and those with reading disabilities. In addition to improved academic performance, the method achieved other outcomes that would not have been accomplished through other teaching methods, for instance, the students developed teamwork skills, a sense of responsibility for their own and others’ learning, and enhanced self-esteem (Boud et al., 2014). The students also developed skills in critical inquiry and reflection, communication, articulation of knowledge and understanding, self and peer assessment, and management (Boud et al., 2014).
Today, educators struggle to provide learners with supplemental reading instructions to address the diverse reading needs and disabilities among students. PALS is one of the most practical supplementary reading interventions that have successfully helped educators meet the wide range of learners’ needs in the classroom. The program earned the Best Practice recognition award from the U.S. Department of Education Program Effectiveness Panel after it was tested and confirmed to be efficient in helping students improve their reading abilities. Markedly, its primary purpose is to ensure that children develop good reading skills, fluency, and comprehension. Research shows that PALS students improved their performance in different measures compared to those who did not use the program (Boud et al., 2014). Besides, interaction in peer groups develops confidence in learners who come from cultural backgrounds that practice traditional forms of discrimination since the groups encourage respect for various backgrounds and academic abilities of each student (Boud et al., 2014).
On the other hand, despite the significant achievements observed in most of the PALS case studies, the approach has experienced some limitations since some learners become unresponsive to the program while the institutions also highlighted the strenuous preparations that they have to make for successful implementation of the strategy. Similarly, while the Peer Assisted Learning Strategies program has benefitted a variety of students, especially those with disabilities, the researchers found that some students did not make significant changes even after they participated in it (Boud et al., 2014).
The primary purpose of conducting the study was to provide further interventions to learners that were not responding to the Peer Assisted Learning Strategy. However, after it was conducted, a significant percentage of students had not shown any improvement in their performance. Besides, the method did not assess the attention behaviors and cognitive development of learners. It is also important to note that the program is not a single project, but a broad range of activities that are combined to suit needs of students (Boud et al., 2014). In trying to achieve an efficient system, the developers explored different ways to identify and provide targeted intervention to learners that did not respond to the new regime as well as their peers did. To achieve this, the team identified learners that they believed were potentially unresponsive based on their teachers’ judgments and their performance in the previous levels.
The researchers observed the students’ performance for seven weeks while implementing the PALS using weekly curriculum-based measures and later comparing the performance of average performing students in the PALS project. After seven weeks, the unresponsive students’ performance was still low when compared to that of their peers. Later, the learners were presented with a modified version of PALS, which led to a significant reduction in the rate of unresponsiveness in some of the learners, who were also willing to continue with the project. In this regard, it is evident that the project is not wholesome to students despite the fact that it has produced positive results in most of those with reading challenges. However, since the first test was conducted, PALS has continually born more positive results in subsequent years and has promoted critical reading skills and accommodated a broad range of students regardless of their academic capabilities.
Teachers and curriculum developers are equipped with knowledge and resources to ensure that students of a particular level show positive outcomes in their academics. In this regard, several approaches have been designed to achieve these objectives. One such measure is the Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS), which was initially intended to assist learners with reading challenges. The program was developed as a supplemental peer-tutoring program in which students worked in pairs to perform structured activities in reading or math; then, during their sessions, they were expected to take turns coaching each other and correcting their mistakes in particular subjects. The focus and strategies applied by the instructor in directing the learners vary at different stages of their academics. At first, the program was developed for students between the second and sixth grade; however, in subsequent years, it has been extended to the undergraduate level.
Boud D., Cohen R., & Sampson J. (2014). Peer learning in higher education: Learning from and with each other. London, U.K.: Routledge.