Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies for English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities

Article excerpt

American schools of the 21st century face the challenge of educating the world's most diverse student body (McLeod, 1994; Sprangenberg, Urbaschat & Pritchard, 1994). This diversity is reflected in variations in achievement, socioeconomic status, cultural background, and linguistic background (Fletcher, Bos, & Johnson, 1999; Pallas, Natriello, & McDill, 1989). With respect to differences in linguistic background, current estimates indicate that more than 2 million students come from non-English-speaking backgrounds (Fleischman & Hopstock, 1993) and that by the year 2020, this number will reach 6 million (Pallas et al., 1989). Although this group comprises students from many linguistic backgrounds, the largest subgroup is Spanish speakers. Specifically, in American schools, native Spanish speakers make up approximately 75% of English language learner (ELL) student population, and the numbers continue to increase (Special Issues Analysis Center, 1995, as cited in Baca & de Valenzuela, 1998).

For the field of learning disabilities, the increasing number of native-Spanish speakers has led to increasing concerns over the identification of appropriate assessment practices and effective instructional strategies for ELL. Nevertheless, minimal research has focused on examining effective teaching strategies for ELL with learning disabilities (LD) when compared to the amount of research dedicated to issues related to the identification of appropriate assessment practices. Minimizing this gap in the literature is important given the low educational attainment of ELL and the increasing emphasis on selecting strategies that are scientifically based (ED., 2002). Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS; Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes, & Simmons, 1997) is one strategy previously established as effective for native English-speaking students with LD in general education classrooms (Fuchs et al., 1997) that may also have potential for ELL with LD.

PEER-ASSISTED LEARNING STRATEGIES

PALS is a reciprocal classwide peer-tutoring strategy with different grade level versions that extends the Juniper Gardens Children's project work on Classwide Peer Tutoring (Delquadri, Greenwood, Whorton, Carta, & Hall, 1986). The Grades 2-6 version of PALS includes three main activities: partner reading with retell, paragraph shrinking, and prediction relay. The purpose of the Grades 2-6 PALS activities is to increase strategic reading behavior, reading fluency, and comprehension. The strategies included in these activities are cumulatively reviewing information read, sequencing information, summarizing paragraphs and pages, stating main ideas in as few words as possible, and predicting and checking outcomes (Mathes, Fuchs, Fuchs, Henley, & Sanders, 1994). Kindergarten and Grade 1 versions of PALS have also been developed that address skills such as phonological awareness, letter-sound correspondence, and sight-word recognition (Fuchs, Fuchs, Al Otaiba et al., 2001; Mathes, Howard, Allen, & Fuchs, 1998). In this study, we examined the effects of the Grades 2-6 version of PALS on the reading performance of ELL with and without LD.

PRIOR WORK ON PALS FOR NATIVE LANGUAGE SPEAKERS OF ENGLISH WITH LEARNING DISABILITIES

The Grades 2-6 version of PALS has proven effective for increasing the reading performance of English proficient students with LD in general education classrooms (Fuchs et al., 1997; Simmons, Fuchs, Fuchs, Hodge, & Mathes, 1994; Simmons, Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes, & Hodge, 1995). Gains for oral reading fluency have been educationally relevant with small to moderate effect sizes of .20 to .41 (Fuchs et al., 1997; Simmons et al., 1994, 1995). This finding is consonant with those in a related review of the literature conducted by Elbaum, Vaughn, Hughes, and Moody (1999) indicating that across different grouping formats (e.g., peer tutoring, cross-age tutoring, cooperative learning, small group work, etc. …