RESEARCH ON PEER-ASSISTED LEARNING
STRATEGIES: THE PROMISE AND LIMITATIONS
OF PEER-MEDIATED INSTRUCTION
Kristen L. McMaster
University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Lynn S. Fuchs
Peabody College of Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee, USA
This paper reviews research evaluating the effectiveness of Peer-Assisted
Learning Strategies (PALS) for reading. Nearly fifteen years of research
has demonstrated the effectiveness of this classwide peer tutoring pro-
gram in improving the reading performance of high-, average-, and
low-performing students, including students with disabilities, from kin-
dergarten through high school. PALS activities and procedures for
grades two through six, high school, kindergarten, and first grade are
reviewed, as well as research indicating its effectiveness and feasibility
for classroom implementation. Research exploring student unresponsive-
ness to PALS is also reviewed. The implications and recommendations
for practice are discussed.
The 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education
Act (IDEA) (U.S. Department of Education, 1997) stipulated that all
students with disabilities should have access to the general education
curriculum. Since then, policymakers have placed an increasing
emphasis on the need for all students, including those with disabilities,
For more information about PALS research, training workshops, and access to materials,
visit the PALS website at http:==www.peerassistedlearningstrategies.net.
Address correspondence to Kristen L. McMaster, University of Minnesota, 233 Burton
Hall, 178 Pillsbury, Dr. SE, Minneapolis, MN 55455. E-mail: email@example.com
Reading & Writing Quarterly, 22: 5–25, 2006
Copyright # Taylor & Francis Inc.
ISSN: 1057-3569 print=1521-0693 online
to meet rigorous standards of knowledge and skill, and for teachers
to be held accountable for academic outcomes of students with and
without disabilities (Yell & Shriner, 1997). For example, the Reading
First Initiative of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (U.S.
Department of Education, 2002) emphasizes that all children should
be able to read well by third grade. More recently, the President’s
Commission on Excellence in Special Education (2002) released a
report proposing to do away with the current ‘‘wait to fail’’ model
of special education, embracing instead a model of prevention and
early intervention. The report emphasizes the need to implement
evidence-based instruction that has been demonstrated to meet the
needs of diverse groups of students in general education classrooms
and treat students with disabilities first and foremost as a part of
the general education system.
Few would dispute the importance of early intervention or of
implementing evidence-based instruction that promises to benefit
many students. However, many teachers continue to feel unequipped
to accommodate the diverse instructional needs of students with and
without disabilities in their classrooms (Mastropieri & Scruggs, 1997;
Vaughn et al., 2000). This is not necessarily due to the unavailability
of effective interventions; indeed, a substantial research base docu-
ments the effectiveness of instructional strategies addressing a variety
of academic areas, including reading (e.g., Ball & Blachman, 1991;
Blachman et al., 1994; Byrne & Fielding-Barnsley, 1991; Fuchs
et al., 2001a; Torgesen et al., 1997), math (e.g., Engelmann &
Carnine, 1982; Marsh & Cooke, 1996; Peterson et al., 1988; Slavin
et al., 1984), writing (e.g., Graham et al., 1991; Vaughn et al., 2000),
and the content areas (e.g., Good & Brophy, 1994; Pearson &
Johnson, 1978). The problem, perhaps, lies more in the inaccessibility
of these strategies. That is, teachers have insufficient opportunity for
training and on-site assistance to become proficient in using them,
and many are not easy to implement, especially with large groups
of students with a wide range of academic needs (e.g., Fuchs & Fuchs,
1998; Marston et al., 2003; Vaughn & Schumm, 1995; Vaughn et al.,
Moreover, among the scientifically validated, academic interven-
tions, relatively few instructional approaches have been determined
successful for students with disabilities in the context of general edu-
cation classroom implementation. Such research is not easy to
implement because it must be conducted on a large scale, requiring
substantial resources and school support. Moreover, the logistics of
randomized field trials can be unwieldy and are often seen as unethi-
cal by schools and districts that strive to ensure equal student access
6 K. L. McMaster et al.
to promising interventions. Thus, only a handful of instructional
approaches have been demonstrated—through rigorous experimental
research—to have positive academic outcomes for students with a
broad range of instructional needs and show promise as effective
for use in general classrooms. One such approach, Peer-Assisted
Learning Strategies for Reading (PALS), is the focus of this article.
Nearly fifteen years of pilot studies, component analyses, and large-
scale experiments conducted in classrooms have demonstrated that
PALS improves the reading achievement of low-, average-, and
high-achieving students, including students with disabilities (e.g.,
Fuchs et al., 1997; Fuchs et al., 2001a; Simmons et al., 1994). Of
particular importance to PALS research has been the close involve-
ment of classroom teachers in its development and implementation
(e.g., Fuchs & Fuchs, 1998; Fuchs et al., 2000; Fuchs et al., 2001a).
Teachers’ collaboration with PALS researchers has led to a set of pro-
grams that are not only effective for many students but are also
efficient and feasible for classroom use. Because of this, PALS has
earned ‘‘Best Practice’’ status from the U. S. Department of Education
Program Effectiveness Panel, and many schools and districts have
adopted PALS as part of their reading curricula. Of course, PALS
is not without limitations. PALS researchers are currently identifying
the kinds of students for whom PALS is not beneficial and finding
ways to increase its effectiveness for them. In addition, researchers
are continuing to examine how to maximize the accessibility of PALS
to teachers who struggle to find ways to implement evidence-based
instruction amid all of the other challenges they face.
The purpose of this article is to provide an overview of PALS and
the research base that addresses its effectiveness in improving the
reading performance of many students with and without disabilities
in general education. First, the original PALS program that was
developed for readers in grades two through six and the evidence
of its effectiveness are discussed. Second, the research that has
extended PALS upward to high school and downward to kindergar-
ten and first grade is examined. Third, the limitations of PALS are
identified. Finally, the implications for practice and recommenda-
tions for PALS implementation in general education classrooms, as
well as ways to acquire PALS materials, are highlighted.
PALS FOR GRADES TWO THROUGH SIX
The PALS program in reading was originally developed by Douglas
and Lynn Fuchs and their colleagues at Vanderbilt University for stu-
dents in grades two through six (see Fuchs et al., 1997). PALS was
Research on PALS 7
modeled after the classwide peer tutoring program (CWPT) developed
by Delquadri and his associates (e.g., Delquadri et al., 1986) at the
Juniper Gardens Children’s Project at the University of Kansas.
CWPT pairs all students in a classroom to work simultaneously on
academic tasks. It was intended to ‘‘increase the proportion of instruc-
tional time that all students engage in academic behaviors and to
provide pacing, feedback, immediate error correction, high mastery
levels, and content coverage’’ (Greenwood et al., 1989, p. 372).
Researchers have demonstrated that students participating in CWPT
classrooms outperform students in control classrooms in reading,
spelling, and math (e.g., Fantuzzo et al., 1992; Greenwood et al.,
1989) and at both the elementary (e.g., Greenwood et al., 1989;
Maheady & Harper, 1987) and secondary (Maheady et al., 1988)
levels. The Vanderbilt group (e.g., Fuchs et al., 1997) was interested
in extending this research by conducting large-scale studies (across
multiple schools and classrooms) to evaluate the effects of PALS on
low-performing students with and without disabilities and average-
performing students. They were also interested in exploring how
PALS fit into the context of teachers’ reading instruction (Fuchs
et al., 1997). In this section, the PALS program in grades two through
six is described and the research findings are summarized.
PALS in grades two through six involves pairing high-performing
and low-performing readers to conduct a series of activities to pro-
mote reading fluency and comprehension. PALS incorporates several
important features. First, all students in a class are paired. Second,
students are trained to use specific prompts, corrections, and feed-
back. Third, PALS incorporates frequent verbal interactions between
tutors and tutees, increasing students’ opportunities to respond
(Delquadri et al., 1986; Greenwood et al., 1989). Fourth, roles are
reciprocal, so that both students in a pair serve as tutor and tutee dur-
ing each session. Fifth, PALS consists of a set of structured activities,
and students are trained to implement them independently. These
activities include Partner Reading with Retell, Paragraph Shrinking,
and Prediction Relay. Teachers use a set of brief scripted lessons to
train all students. The training lessons for each activity last thirty
to sixty minutes per session and take two to three sessions to
implement. These lessons include scripted teacher presentations,
student practice, and teacher feedback. Following training, students
in grades two through six participate in PALS three times each week,
35 minutes per session.
8 K. L. McMaster et al.
As indicated, every student in the class is paired with another stu-
dent, and each pair consists of a higher- and a lower-performing stu-
dent. The teacher determines the pairs by first rank-ordering all the
students from the strongest to the weakest reader. The teacher then
divides the rank-ordered list in half, pairs the strongest reader from
the top half with the strongest reader from the bottom half, and so
on until all students are paired. Although the tutoring roles are
reciprocal during each tutoring session, the higher-performing
student always reads aloud first to serve as a model for the lower-
Each pair is assigned to one of two teams for which they earn
points during PALS. These points are awarded for correct responses
during the activities. Each pair marks their points by slashing
through numbers on a score card. Teachers also circulate among
the pairs during PALS to monitor performance and award bonus
points for cooperative behavior and for following the PALS proce-
dures. At the end of each week, the pairs report the number of points
they earned for their teams, and the teacher adds them up to deter-
mine the winning team. The teacher creates new pairs and teams
every four weeks.
PALS consists of a set of structured activities that students are
trained to implement independently in the classroom. During each
PALS session, the first activity is Partner Reading with Retell. Each
student reads aloud from connected text for five minutes each. This
text comes from the literature selected by the teacher and should be
at an appropriate level for the lower-performing student in each pair.
The higher-performer reads first, then the lower-performer reads the
same text. Whenever the reader makes an error, the tutor says, ‘‘Stop,
you missed that word. Can you figure it out?’’ If the reader does not
figure out the word in four seconds, the tutor says, ‘‘That word is
What word?’’ The reader says the word and continues reading. After
both students have read, the lower-performing student retells the
sequence of events just read for two minutes. Students earn one point
for each sentence read correctly, and ten points for the retell.
The second PALS activity is Paragraph Shrinking. This activity is
designed to develop comprehension through summarization and
main idea identification. Students use a questioning strategy to direct
their attention to the important ideas or events they are reading about
(e.g., Jenkins et al., 1987). During Paragraph Shrinking, the students
continue reading orally, but they stop at the end of each paragraph to
Research on PALS 9
identify the main idea. The tutor asks the reader to identify who or
what the paragraph is mainly about, and the most important thing
about the ‘‘who’’ or ‘‘what.’’ The reader must condense, or ‘‘shrink,’’
this information into ten words or fewer. If the tutor determines that
the reader’s answer is incorrect, she says, ‘‘That’s not quite right.
Skim the paragraph and try again.’’ After the reader provides a
new answer, the tutor decides whether the answer is correct. If so,
she gives one point each for correctly identifying the ‘‘who’’ or
‘‘what,’’ stating the most important thing, and using ten words or
fewer to state the main idea. If the tutor determines that the answer
is incorrect, she provides a correct answer, and the pair continues
reading. After five minutes, the partners switch roles.
The last activity, Prediction Relay, requires students to make pre-
dictions and then confirm or disconfirm them. This activity is
included in PALS because making predictions is a strategy associated
with improvements in reading comprehension (Palincsar & Brown,
1984). Prediction Relay consists of four steps: the reader makes a pre-
diction about what will happen on the next half page to be read, reads
the half page aloud, confirms or disconfirms the prediction, and sum-
marizes the main idea. If the tutor disagrees with the prediction, she
says, ‘‘I don’t agree. Think of a better prediction.’’ Students earn
points for each reasonable prediction, for reading each half page,
for accurately confirming or disconfirming the prediction, and for
identifying the main idea in ten words or fewer. Again, the students
switch roles after five minutes.
Researchers have reported positive academic and social outcomes of
PALS. In a large-scale, experimental field trial (Fuchs et al., 1997),
twelve schools in an urban and two suburban districts were stratified
by student achievement and socioeconomic status and selected
randomly to either implement PALS or to serve as no-treatment
controls. PALS was implemented for fifteen weeks in twenty class-
rooms as part of the reading curriculum, while twenty classrooms
continued with their regular reading programs. At the beginning of
the study, the PALS and control classrooms did not differ signifi-
cantly in terms of demographics, teacher experience, or student read-
ing achievement. After fifteen weeks, however, students in PALS
classrooms significantly outperformed their control counterparts
in terms of growth on the Comprehensive Reading Assessment
Battery (CRAB; Fuchs et al., 1989), a measure of reading fluency
and comprehension. These effects held true for average and
10 K. L. McMaster et al.
low-achievers, including students with learning disabilities who had
been mainstreamed in general education classrooms. In another study
(Fuchs et al., 2002a), results indicated that students with learning dis-
abilities in PALS classes enjoyed greater social acceptance than those
with learning disabilities in non-PALS classes, suggesting that PALS
has social, as well as academic, benefits.
UPWARD AND DOWNWARD EXTENSIONS OF PALS
In light of the effectiveness of PALS for grades two through six, and
because reading problems typically begin early and persist well
beyond the elementary school years, PALS researchers extended
PALS to other grade levels, first upward to high school (Fuchs
et al., 1999), then downward to kindergarten and first grade (Fuchs
et al., 2001b). These programs retain many of the basic features
included in the original PALS programs, such as reciprocal tutoring
roles, structured activities, and frequent opportunities to respond and
receive feedback. The newer programs were altered in other ways,
however, to accommodate the specific needs of students at upper
and lower grade levels.
High School PALS
High School PALS is similar to PALS for grades two through six, in
that students work reciprocally in pairs, earn points for their teams,
and work on the same three activities (Partner Reading, Paragraph
Shrinking, and Prediction Relay). However, High School PALS dif-
fers from PALS for grades two through six in three ways. First, stu-
dents switch partners every day instead of every four weeks. This
accommodates the more frequent absences of high school students,
which makes partner consistency difficult. High school students also
seem to prefer interacting with different classmates. Second, the moti-
vational system is based on a ‘‘work’’ theme. Pairs earn PALS dol-
lars, which they deposit into checking accounts. They maintain
these accounts and write checks to order items from a PALS catalog,
such as CDs, fast-food coupons, and sports apparel that have been
donated by local businesses. Third, High School PALS students
typically read from expository, rather than narrative, text selected
to address issues pertinent to their lives, such as work and social
High School PALS has been demonstrated to be a promising strat-
egy to promote literacy among seriously reading-delayed adolescents
(Fuchs et al., 1999). High school students who have participated in
Research on PALS 11
PALS have significantly improved their reading comprehension
scores in comparison to similar students in non-PALS programs. In
addition, PALS students have reported working harder with their
peers and working harder to improve their reading.
Kindergarten and First Grade PALS
Much of the reading research over the past two decades has empha-
sized the serious consequences of reading failure, and points to the
difficulty in remediating deficits in reading beyond the early grades
(e.g., Juel, 1988). Thus, the most recently developed PALS activities
have focused on beginning reading skills critical for early literacy
acquisition (Fuchs et al., 2001b). Specifically, Kindergarten PALS
(K-PALS) and First Grade PALS activities address phonological
awareness, beginning decoding, and word recognition, all skills
that researchers have demonstrated to be important for successful
beginning reading programs (e.g., Adams, 1990; Ball & Blachman,
1991; Blachman et al., 1994; Blachman et al., 1999; Byrne &
Fielding-Barnsley, 1991; Hatcher, Hulme, & Ellis, 1994; O’Connor
et al., 1996; Torgesen et al., 1997; Vellutino et al., 1996).
In this section, the features and activities of these two programs are
described. Next, the research findings—first for K-PALS, and then
for First Grade PALS—are summarized.
As in the original PALS program, K-PALS students work in pairs.
Teachers use a Rapid Letter Naming test, a good predictor of future
reading performance (e.g., Torgesen et al., 1997) to rank-order stu-
dents in the class. The highest-scoring student is paired with the
lowest-scoring student, the second-highest scoring student is paired
with the second-lowest student, and so on. Pairs change every four
Teachers prepare their children for PALS by modeling the activi-
ties in a whole-class format. The teacher acts as the ‘‘Coach’’ and
the students are the ‘‘Readers’’ during eight introductory lessons.
Gradually, individual students take turns assuming the role of Coach
for the whole class. Then, the students tutor each other, alternating as
Coach and Reader. The higher-performing student is always the
Coach first. The teacher circulates among the student pairs, monitor-
ing their progress and providing corrective feedback. K-PALS is
conducted three times per week, twenty minutes per session.
Two types of activities are incorporated into PALS: Sound Play
and Sounds and Words. Sound Play includes five phonological
12 K. L. McMaster et al.
awareness ‘‘games’’ that address rhyming, isolating first sounds,
isolating ending sounds, blending sounds into words, and segmenting
words into sounds. Each lesson sheet shows pictures of common ani-
mals and objects. Children are trained to use a standard coaching for-
mat for each type of lesson. For example, as illustrated in Fig. 1, the
‘‘First Sound’’ game shows rows of four pictures (e.g., seal, turtle,
kite, saw). Two of the pictures begin with the same sound. In this
lesson, the Coach would point to the first picture and say, ‘‘Seal,
=sss=.’’ Then she would point to the other three pictures and say,
‘‘Which one starts with =sss=, turtle, kite, or saw?’’ The Reader
should reply, ‘‘Saw, =sss=.’’
Sounds and Words is made up of four activities. All activities are
printed on one side of a lesson sheet (see Fig. 2). After the Reader has
completed an activity one time, the Coach marks one of four happy
faces printed at the end of the activity. The students then switch jobs
and complete the activity again. The first activity, called ‘‘What
Sound?,’’ displays rows of letters that the students read from left to
right. A new letter sound is introduced in every other lesson. This
new letter is in a box along with a picture of an animal or object that
starts with that sound. The new letter sound is introduced by the
Figure 1. Sample Sound Play lesson sheet for Kindergarten PALS.
Research on PALS 13
teacher. Then the Coach points to each letter and asks, ‘‘What
sound?’’ The Reader says each sound. Stars are interspersed among
the letters to prompt the Coach to praise the Reader (e.g., ‘‘Great
job!’’ ). When the Reader makes an error, the Coach says, ‘‘Stop, that
. What sound?’’ The Reader says the sound, and the
Coach says, ‘‘Start the line again.’’
The second activity, ‘‘What Word?,’’ displays common sight words
in rows on the lesson sheet. A new sight word is introduced in every
other lesson, and the words build cumulatively across lessons. The
teacher introduces the new sight word to the class at the beginning
of the lesson. The Coach points to each sight word and asks, ‘‘What
Figure 2. Sample Sounds and Words lesson sheet for Kindergarten PALS.
14 K. L. McMaster et al.
word?’’ The reader reads the words, and the Coach corrects errors,
just as in the ‘‘What Sound?’’ activity.
The third activity is called ‘‘Sound Boxes.’’ Students read decodable
words comprised of letter sounds practiced in earlier lessons. The
words in each lesson are presented in word families, such as ‘‘at,’’
‘‘mat,’’ and ‘‘sat.’’ Again, words build cumulatively across the lessons.
Each letter of a word is in a ‘‘sound box.’’ The Coach says, ‘‘Read it
slowly,’’ and the Reader sounds out the word, pointing to each box.
Then the Coach says, ‘‘Sing it and read it.’’ This prompts the Reader
to blend the sounds together, and then read the word. The Coach
corrects errors and praises the Reader for appropriate responses.
Finally, the students read sentences comprised of sight words and
decodable words practiced in earlier lessons. The Coach says, ‘‘Read
the sentences,’’ and provides corrective feedback for any errors as
the Reader reads. At the end of the lesson, the students count up the
happy faces they have marked, and record this number on point sheets.
Research Findings for K-PALS
Results of large-scale experimental research show that K-PALS can
have a substantial positive impact on the beginning reading skills
of many children, and that the K-PALS decoding activities provide
an added value over phonological awareness training alone. Fuchs
et al. (2001a) reported a study in which 33 classrooms were assigned
randomly to three groups: control, phonological awareness training,
and phonological awareness training with the K-PALS decoding
activities. After approximately twenty weeks of intervention, the
phonological awareness group and the phonological awareness with
K-PALS group statistically significantly outperformed controls on
measures of phonological awareness. Moreover, the K-PALS group
statistically significantly outperformed the other two groups on mea-
sures of beginning reading skill. Fuchs et al. (2001a) also showed
K-PALS to be effective in schools with a large percentage of minority
children and children living in poverty, as well as in schools with
predominantly white, middle-class student populations. Further-
more, Fuchs et al. (2002b) demonstrated that as a group, kindergart-
ners with disabilities who participated in K-PALS outperformed
kindergartners with disabilities in control classrooms. However, a
number of kindergartners with disabilities who have participated in
K-PALS have not improved their reading skills, a point to which
we will return.
First Grade PALS Activities
The First Grade PALS program was developed based on the work
of Mathes et al. (1998). As in K-PALS, the First Grade activities
Research on PALS 15
emphasize beginning decoding skills and word recognition. In
addition, First Grade PALS includes a fluency component, designed
to include the speed and accuracy with which students read. For the
first two weeks, teachers train students to follow PALS rules and work
cooperatively to complete the PALS activities. Following training,
PALS is conducted three times per week, 35–40 minutes per session.
Teachers use the Rapid Letter Naming test to rank order their
students. The rank-ordered list is divided in half, and the strongest
reader from the top half is paired with the strongest reader from
the bottom half, and so on, until all students are paired. The
higher-performing student in each pair is the Coach first, and the
lower-performing student is the Reader first. New partners are
assigned every four weeks.
Each PALS lesson begins with a brief teacher-led introduction.
The teacher introduces new letter sounds and sight words, and then
leads the students in segmenting and blending words that they will
later decode in the lesson. The teacher says a word, and the students
say the sounds in the word, holding up a finger for each sound. The
teacher then shows them the word, and they blend the sounds
together and read the word.
First Grade PALS activities are comprised of two main parts:
Sounds and Words and Partner Reading. Sounds and Words is made
up of four activities (see Fig. 3). The first activity, ‘‘Saying Sounds,’’
is similar to the ‘‘What Sound?’’ activity in K-PALS. The Coach
points to each letter on the lesson sheet and says, ‘‘What sound?,’’
and the Reader says each sound. The Coach praises the Reader
and provides corrective feedback. When the Reader has said all of
the sounds, the Coach marks a happy face and five points on a point
sheet. The students then switch roles.
The second activity is a blending task using the words the teacher
presented at the beginning of the lesson. An arrow is printed under
each word and small dots are printed under each phoneme. The
Coach points to the first word and says, ‘‘Sound it out.’’ The Reader
points to each dot and says the sounds. Then the Coach says, ‘‘Read
it fast.’’ The Reader slides her finger along the arrow and reads the
word fast. If the Reader makes an error, the Coach models sounding
out the word and reading it fast; the Reader repeats the word and
starts the line over. Again, the Coach marks a happy face and points,
and the students switch roles.
The third activity is called ‘‘Read the Words.’’ Common sight
words are presented in rows on the lesson sheet. The Coach says,
‘‘Read the words,’’ and the Reader points to each word and reads
them. In the fluency version of PALS, many of the sight words are
16 K. L. McMaster et al.
grouped into phrases. This prompts the Reader to read words as
chunks rather than in isolation. Also, for the first half of the fluency
version, students read the sight words in a ‘‘Speed Game’’ format.
During the Speed Game, the teacher times the Readers for one
minute as they read the sight words. The Readers then have two
chances to try to read more words in one minute than they did the
first time. Then the Coaches play the Speed Game. When students
beat their times, they mark a star on a ‘‘Star Chart’’ which, when
completed, can be exchanged for small prizes, such as bookmarks
Next, students read short stories composed of the sight words and
decodable words they have already practiced. Before the students
Figure 3. Sample Sounds and Words lesson sheet for First Grade PALS.
Research on PALS 17
read the story, the teacher introduces ‘‘rocket words’’ that have been
added to make the stories more interesting. The teacher reads the
story, providing a fluent model, and the Readers then read the story.
If the Reader makes a mistake, or hesitates on a word for three sec-
onds, the Coach says the correct word, and the Reader repeats it and
continues reading. Happy faces and points are marked, and the stu-
dents switch roles. In the fluency version, the Speed Game format is
used with the story for the second half of the program. In the regular
version, students mark stars on Star Charts when they have earned at
least four happy faces for reading the story. The Star Charts are
exchanged for prizes when completed.
Figure 3. Continued.
18 K. L. McMaster et al.
After First Grade PALS has been conducted for 4–6 weeks, Part-
ner Reading is introduced. This activity is conducted for ten minutes
in each PALS session, immediately following the Sounds and Words
activities. During Partner Reading, students use the decoding and
word recognition skills that they have practiced during PALS to read
books. Teachers select books that are appropriate to the reading
level of the lower-performing student in each pair. The Coach reads
the title of the book, pointing to the words, and then the Reader
reads the title. The Coach then reads a page, pointing to the words, and
the Reader repeats the same page. When the partners finish the book,
they mark five points, switch roles, and read the book again. Each
book is read four times before the pair receives a new book to read.
Research Findings for First Grade PALS
A major focus of PALS research at the first-grade level has been the
exploration of the importance of including fluency-building skills in a
beginning reading program. This is in light of increasing concern that
reading fluency does not develop naturally in all students
(see National Reading Panel, 2000) and is critical for reading
comprehension (e.g., LaBerge & Samuels, 1974; Schreiber, 1987;
Stanovich, 1980). Fuchs et al. (2001b) reported preliminary results
of a study in which 33 first-grade classrooms were assigned randomly
to one of three groups: First Grade PALS without fluency activities,
First Grade PALS with fluency activities, and control. After approxi-
mately twenty weeks of intervention, students in both PALS groups
statistically significantly outperformed controls on phonological
awareness and alphabetic measures. Only the students who partici-
pated in the PALS fluency activities outperformed controls on mea-
sures of fluency and comprehension. As in previous PALS research,
the benefits of First Grade PALS appear not to be mediated by
student learner type (low-, average-, or high-performing), disability,
or type of school (Title I vs. non-Title I).
Whereas PALS appears to benefit many students, including students
with disabilities, some children do not make adequate achievement
gains despite participating in the program. An estimated 20% of
low-achieving nondisabled students (Mathes et al., 1998) and more
than 50% of students with disabilities (Fuchs et al., 2002b) have not
responded to PALS, as measured by growth on tests of phonological
awareness, decoding, and word recognition. Al Otaiba & Fuchs (2002)
attempted to identify characteristics of children predictive of their
Research on PALS 19
responsiveness to PALS. They found nonresponders to have rela-
tively weak phonological awareness, attention and behavioral con-
trol, and cognitive development, or to be students in high-poverty
Title I schools.
In an attempt to address such unresponsiveness, McMaster, Fuchs,
Fuchs, and Compton (2005) explored ways to identify and provide
further intervention to students unresponsive to PALS. The primary
purpose of the study was to determine the level of service delivery
that was most beneficial to students whose reading difficulties were
difficult to remediate. To do this, McMaster et al. compared the
effects of PALS, a modified version of PALS, and one-to-one pull-
out tutoring provided by an adult on the reading achievement of stu-
dents who were not responding to PALS.
McMaster et al. (2005) first identified students ‘‘at-risk’’ for unre-
sponsiveness to First Grade PALS based on teacher judgment and
poor letter naming performance in the fall of first grade. These stu-
dents’ progress was then monitored during seven weeks of PALS
implementation using weekly word-level, curriculum-based measures
and compared to the progress of average-performing PALS parti-
cipants. Next, students were identified as unresponsive based on
performance levels and growth rates significantly below those of
average-performing peers. These nonresponders represented about
16% of the total PALS participants. Finally, the nonresponders were
assigned randomly to either continue with the PALS intervention,
receive a modified version of PALS, or receive one-to-one tutoring
from a trained adult outside of the regular classroom. After seven
additional weeks of these interventions, the rate of student unrespon-
siveness was reduced to 9%. However, neither the modified version of
PALS nor the tutoring treatment proved to be more beneficial than
the regular PALS treatment. This suggests that PALS is not ben-
eficial for all students, and that we do not yet know all of the compo-
nents that need to be in place for all students to respond to early
IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE AND RECOMMENDATIONS
FOR PALS IMPLEMENTATION
Teachers and researchers have worked hard to develop PALS into an
effective program that is practical for classroom use (e.g., Fuchs &
Fuchs, 1998; Fuchs et al., 2000; Fuchs et al., 2001b). A particular
strength of this research is that classroom teachers, rather than
research staff, implemented the PALS programs with their students.
Results of the large-scale studies reviewed in this article demonstrate
20 K. L. McMaster et al.
that PALS can be used with success by teachers. A key to this success
is that teachers have implemented the program with fidelity; that is,
that they have conducted the activities accurately according to the
procedures established during PALS development. We should note
several features that were in place that likely contributed to teachers’
fidelity of PALS implementation. First, teachers collaborating in
PALS research participated in day-long training workshops. This
training provided teachers with the opportunity to see demonstra-
tions of PALS, practice the activities with guidance and support,
and ask questions before implementing the program in their class-
rooms. Although PALS can be conducted using information from
the PALS manuals, it is recommended that teachers who wish to
use the program participate in a training workshop.
Second, teachers were provided with on-site technical support
from research staff who made weekly classroom visits to observe,
answer questions, and trouble-shoot problems that arose. Such sup-
port is not typically available to classroom teachers. Teachers using
PALS may wish to periodically videotape the activities or have a peer
trained in PALS observe their implementation to determine whether
they are following the procedures. Third, PALS must be implemented
at least three times per week for fifteen to twenty weeks (and four
times per week in K-PALS classrooms in Title I schools). Whereas
this may represent a significant time commitment, teachers have
reported that PALS is practical, efficient, and fits well with their
existing instructional programs (Fuchs et al., 2000), and many have
implemented PALS during regularly-scheduled independent reading
time (Fuchs et al., 1997).
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, teachers should know that
PALS will not necessarily benefit all students. As with any instruc-
tional approach, it is critical to frequently monitor students’ progress
to determine whether they are making sufficient progress in reading.
Ongoing progress measures such as Curriculum-Based Measurement
(e.g., Deno, 1985) are very useful for this, as are other informal mea-
sures that teachers typically use in their classrooms. When progress
monitoring results indicate that a student is not making progress,
the teacher should consider modifying the activities or attempting
alternative instructional strategies that address the student’s
PALS has shown great promise as an effective supplement to
conventional teaching methods to promote critical reading skills
Research on PALS 21
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of one of the greatest resources in our schools, the students them-
selves. When empirically validated peer tutoring programs are imple-
mented carefully and accurately, teachers can help many of their
students make great strides toward literacy and success in school.
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