Developing First-Grade Reading Fluency through Peer Mediation

Article excerpt

The goal of the Center on Accelerating Student Learning (CASL) is to identify instructional practices that accelerate the learning of children with disabilities in kindergarten through grade 3. This includes the development of effective, multicomponent instructional interventions in reading, writing, and math, which focus on basic skills and higher-- order learning and promote fluency, transfer, and maintenance. The intervention described in this column is designed to promote reading development, including fluency, among first-- grade children with and without disabilities. The intervention is conducted in general education classrooms using peer-assisted learning strategies.

Theories by LaBerge and Samuels (1974), Logan (1985), and Stanovich (1980) and research conducted by Schreiber (1987), among others, indicate that reading comprehension depends on (a) accurate word recognition and (b) reading fluency-the fast, effortless, "automatic" reading of connected text. For many years, researchers and practitioners believed that reading fluency develops naturally as children gain proficiency in reading at the word level, and that activity expressly devoted to fluency-building is unnecessary (see National Reading Panel, 2000). This is no longer the case, partly because of increasing evidence that some children do not achieve fluency despite a capacity to read at the word level (Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes, Lipsey, & Roberts, 2001); partly because there are now proven fluency-building activities (see Yang, 2001).

Repeated Reading

Probably the most frequently evaluated fluency-building strategy is repeated reading. In accordance with this approach, students are given short reading passages that contain recognizable words; and they read these passages for a predetermined number of times or for as many times as necessary to reach a specified level of reading rate. Repeated reading reflects a view shared by theorists and researchers that fluency is best developed through practice and repetition in consistent reading materials. A recent meta-analysis of the pertinent literature indicates that low achievers with and without a "learning disability" label can benefit from repeated reading, with effect sizes ranging from .30 to 1.20, depending on type of student and type of reading measure (Yang, 2001). This same meta-analysis also reveals a surprisingly small number of studies that involve first-grade children and that require teachers (rather than researchers) to implement the repeated-- reading strategy.

Because reading failure often begins early and is difficult to remediate beyond the primary grades (e.g., Juel, 1988; Stanovich, 1986), and because evidence suggests repeated reading can strengthen reading fluency, we decided to develop such an intervention for first grade. In addition, we are designing it so that children can help each other become more fluent readers, thereby making it practical for teachers to use. What follows is a description of our peer-mediated reading program at first grade. As you read it, remember it is a "work in progress," and it is meant to supplement, rather than supplant, teachers' reading/language arts curriculum. We call our program "First-Grade PALS." (The acronym stands for "Peer-- Assisted Learning Strategies.")

First-Grade PALS

As in Kindergarten PALS, Grades 2-6 PALS, and High-School PALS (for descriptions, see Fuchs, Fuchs, Thompson et al., 2001), First-Grade PALS participants work in pairs with same-age peers. Teachers introduce PALS to their students by modeling PALS activities in whole-class format. The teacher plays the role of Coach and the entire group of students responds as the Reader in choral fashion. Gradually, across a set of eight, 30-minute introductory lessons, the teacher provides individual children an opportunity to assume the role of Coach and Reader for the class sessions. Then students begin to tutor each other, as the teacher carefully monitors and provides corrective feedback to ensure students' mastery of the activities. …