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Peer Assisted Learning Strategies

Blueprints Program Rating: Promising

A class-wide peer tutoring program for elementary school students to improve reading and mathematics skills of students through guided peer-assisted learning strategies.

Program Outcomes

  • Academic Performance

Program Type

  • Early Childhood Education
  • Peer Counseling and Mediation
  • School - Individual Strategies

Program Setting

  • School

Continuum of Intervention

  • Universal Prevention (Entire Population)


  • Late Childhood (5-11) - K/Elementary
  • Early Adolescence (12-14) - Middle School


  • Male and Female


  • All Race/Ethnicity, Hispanic or Latino


  • Blueprints: Promising

Program Information Contact

Douglas Fuchs and Lynn Fuchs
Peabody College, Vanderbilt University
Peabody Box 328
230 Appleton Place
Nashville, TN 37203-5701
Phone 615-343-4782

Program Developer/Owner

  • Douglas Fuchs
  • Peabody College, Vanderbilt University

Brief Description of the Program

Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS) for children in kindergarten through sixth grade is a type of class-wide peer tutoring that is used to improve reading and math skills. Teachers pair low and high performing students, and the partners work on different activities that address the skills that are causing problems. The pairs are changed regularly, giving all students the opportunity to act as coaches and players. PALS enables teachers to address individual student needs, as well as observe students and develop individual remedial lessons. It is a complementary strategy that teachers can use to augment their existing reading and math curricula. PALS is composed of 25-35 minute activities that are implemented 2-4 times a week for 14 to 31 weeks.

See: Full Description


Primary findings:

  • Compared to a control group, PALS (or its hybrid versions) significantly improved reading and mathematical skills of school age (including kindergarten) students.
  • PALS was most effective among low achieving and average achieving students.

Secondary findings:

  • Improved versions of PALS (PALS-HG, PMI-Elaborated + Conceptual) and hybrid programs that combine PALS with other educational interventions (e.g., Ladders+PALS, LST+PALS) significantly enhanced reading and mathematic skills.
  • PALS effectively improved reading skills among Hispanic children of varying degrees of English proficiency.
  • PALS significantly improved reading and math skills among students with identified learning disabilities.

Race/Ethnicity/Gender Details

Usually program effectiveness was assessed among students regardless of gender or racial composition of the classroom. However, program effectiveness was demonstrated also among Hispanic students enrolled in English only and dual language educational programs (Calhoon et al. 2006, Calhoon et al. 2007).

Risk and Protective Factors

Risk Factors
  • School: Poor academic performance
Protective Factors
  • School: Instructional Practice, Opportunities for prosocial involvement in education

Training and Technical Assistance

PALS Workshop Audience: Teachers, special educators, curriculum instruction specialists, school psychologists, teacher trainers, principals.

PALS Workshop Cost: The presenter's fee is estimated at $1500 plus travel expenses for a 1-day, 6-hour workshop. All workshop participants will need to purchase a PALS teacher's manual prior to the training workshop (price range $40-$45).

Sample PALS Workshop Agenda:

  1. PALS Background: Research and Development
  2. Learning About PALS
  3. Demonstration of PALS Activities
  4. Practice in PALS Activities
  5. Putting It All Together
  6. Implementation Issues

PALS Reading Workshop

Time: One-Day PALS Reading workshops are scheduled from 8:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m.


K-PALS and First-Grade PALS promote phonological awareness, letter-sound correspondence, decoding, and fluency for beginning readers. PALS Reading for Grades 2-6 promotes reading fluency and use of comprehension strategies. In the PALS Reading workshop, participants learn how to conduct peer-mediated reading instruction. They learn how to pair students and prepare them to work together constructively on strategic reading tasks that accelerate reading performance.

Following a brief summary of research findings, presenters provide hands-on practice of all PALS activities including a simulation of a PALS classroom during training, teacher-directed lessons, and peer-mediated practice. Participants receive student practice materials that include samples of the activity worksheets. Presenters role-play as PALS teachers, and participants practice PALS as classroom students.

PALS Math Workshop

Time: 6 Hours (K-1 is 3 hours; 2-6 is 3 hours)


Participants learn how to implement PALS Math, an activity that blends the components of effective group work into a structured peer-mediated approach. PALS Math helps teachers meet the needs of diverse students and allows students to assume an active role in their own learning.

Following a brief presentation summarizing research findings, presenters provide hands-on practice of all PALS activities. Participants learn how to pair students and prepare them to work together constructively on appropriate mathematics tasks. Participants receive an introduction to the various mathematics concepts for PALS Math, and they learn the roles of coach and player for each PALS Math lesson. Participants receive a sample PALS Math folder that will enable them to confidently conduct PALS in their own classrooms.

Brief Evaluation Methodology

The majority of studies employed a randomized control trial procedure in which teachers (classrooms) were randomly assigned to treatment and control groups (e.g., Fuchs et al., 1999; Fuchs, Fuchs & Karns, 2001; Fuchs, Fuchs, Karns et al., 2001; Fuchs, Fuchs, Thompson et al., 2001; Fuchs et al., 2002; Mathes & Babyak, 2001; Calhoon & Fuchs, 2003; Calhoon, 2005; Calhoon et al., 2006, 2007; Stein et al., 2008). However, three additional studies employed a quasi-experimental design in which a non-random procedure was used to match control and intervention group participants (e.g., Mathes et al., 1998; Mathes, Torgesen & Allor, 2001; Mathes et al., 2003). The selection of the students for assessment was based on results from standardized test-scores and/or teacher's judgment (e.g., Fuchs et al., 1999; Fuchs, Fuchs, Karns et al., 2001; Fuchs, Fuchs, Thompson et al., 2001; Mathes & Babyak, 2001; Mathes, Torgesen & Allor, 2001; Stein et al., 2008). Studies investigated the effect of variations of PALS, including program enhancements (e.g., PALS with elaborated helping strategies, Fuchs et al., 1999), “hybrid” programs such as Ladders + PALS (Fuchs et al., 2001) and Linguistic Skills Training (LST) + PALS (Calhoon, 2005), skill-based mini-lessons (ML) + PALS (Mathes and Babyak, 2001), increasingly individualized treatments for program nonresponders (McMaster et al., 2005), as well as mediator effects such as differing levels of teacher assistance (Stein et al., 2008). In addition, a number of studies used PALS to improve student's mathematical achievments (Fuchs, Fuchs, Phillips et al., 1995; Fuchs, Fuchs & Karns 2001, Fuchs et al., 2002; Calhoon & Fuchs, 2003). Sample sizes varied widely and included between 4 and 140 teachers from 2 to 49 different schools. In most studies only a subset of students from each classroom was assessed (for each category [LA, AA, HA] 1 to 6 children) (see Calhoon & Fuchs, 2003; Fuchs et al., 2002; Calhoon et al., 2006, 2007 for exceptions). Studies assessed program effects only at posttest, between 15 and 20 weeks after pretest. One laudable exception is Fuchs et al. (2001) who assessed changes in treatment effects 5 months after posttest. The program has been implemented in geographically (e.g., Nashville, Tennessee [majority of studies], Minnesota, Southern Texas) and socio-economically diverse school settings (Title 1 and non-Title 1 schools).

Peer Implementation Sites

Hugh Cole Elementary School
50 Asylum Rd, Warren, RI 02885
(401) 245-1460
Contact email:

Nicola (Nikki) Scheib
Math Curriculum Coordinator
Alan Shawn Feinstein Middle School of Coventry
15 Foster Drive
Coventry, RI 02816
(401) 822-9426


Calhoon, M. (2005). Effects of a peer-mediated phonological skill and reading comprehension program on reading skill acquisition for middle school students with reading disabilities. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 38(5), 424-433.

Calhoon, M., & Fuchs, L. S. (2003). The effects of peer-assisted learning strategies and curriculum-based measurement on the mathematics performance of secondary students with disabilities. Remedial and Special Education, 24(4), 235-245.

Calhoon, M., Al Otaiba, S., Cihak, D., King, A., & Avalos, A. (2007). Effects of a peer-mediated program on reading skill acquisition for two-way bilingual first-grade classrooms. Learning Disabilities Quarterly, 30(3), 169-184.

Calhoon, M., Al Otaiba, S., Greenberg, D., King, A., & Avalos, A. (2006). Improving reading skills in predominantly Hispanic Title 1 first-grade classrooms: The promise of peer-assisted learning strategies. Learning Disabilities & Practice, 21(4), 261-272.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Hamlett, C. L., Phillips, N. B., & Bentz, J. (1994). Classwide curriculum-based measurement: Helping general educators meet the challenge of student diversity. Exceptional Children, 60(6), 518-537.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Hamlett, C. L., Phillips, N. B., & Karns, K. (1995). General educators' specialized adaptation for students with learning disabilities. Exceptional Children, 61(5), 440-459.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Hamlett, C. L., Phillips, N. B., Karns, K., & Dutka, S. (1997). Enhancing students' helping behavior during peer-mediated instruction with conceptual mathematical explanations. Elementary School Journal, 97, 223-250.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., & Karns, K. (2001). Enhancing kindergartners' mathematical development: Effects of peer-assisted learning strategies. The Elementary School Journal, 101(5), 495-510.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Karns, K., Yazdian, L., & Powell, S. (2001). Creating a strong foundation for mathematics learning with Kindergarten Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies. Teaching Exceptional Children, 33(3), 84-87.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Kazdan, S., & Allen, S. (1999). Effects of peer-assisted learning strategies in reading with and without training in elaborated help giving. The Elementary School Journal, 99(3), 201-219.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Phillips, N. B., Hamlett, C. L., & Karns, K. (1995). Acquisition and transfer effects of classwide peer-assisted learning strategies in mathematics for students with varying learning histories. School Psychology Review, 24, 604-620.

Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L. S., Thompson, A., Al Otaiba, S., Yen, L., Yang, N., Braun, M., & O’Connor, R. (2001). Is reading important in reading-readiness programs? A randomized field trial with teachers as program implementers. Journal of Education Psychology, 93(2), 251-267.

Fuchs, L. S., Fuchs, D., Yazdian, L., & Powell, S. R. (2002). Enhancing first-grade children’s mathematical development with peer-assisted learning strategies. School Psychology Review, 31(4), 569-583.

Mathes, P., & Babyak, A. (2001). The effects of Peer-Assisted Literacy Strategies for first-grade readers with and without additional mini-skills lesson. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 16(1), 28-44.

Mathes, P. G., Howard, J. K., Allen, S. H., & Fuchs, D. (1998). Peer-assisted learning strategies for first-grade readers: Responding to the needs of diverse learners. Reading Research Quarterly, 33(1), 62-94.

Mathes, P., Torgesen, J. K., & Allor, J. H. (2001). The effects of Peer Assisted Literacy Strategies for first-grade readers with and without additional computer-assisted instruction in phonological awareness. American Educational Research Journal, 38(2), 371-410.

Mathes, P., Torgesen, J. K., Clancy-Menchetti, J., Santi, K., Nicholas, K., Robinson, C., & Grek, M. (2003). A comparison of teacher-directed versus peer-assisted instruction to struggling first-grade readers. The Elementary School Journal, 103(5), 459-479.

McMaster, K. L., Fuchs, D., Fuchs, L. S., & Compton, D. L. (2005). Responding to nonresponders: An experimental field trial of identification and intervention methods. Exceptional Children, 71(4), 445-463.

Phillips, N. B., Fuchs, L.S., & Fuchs, D. (1994). Effects of classwide curriculum-based measurement and peer tutoring: A collaborative researcher-practitioner interview study. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 27(7), 420-435.

Phillips, N. B., Hamlett, C. L., Fuchs, L. S., & Fuchs, D. (1993). Combining classwide curriculum-based measurement and peer tutoring to help general educators provide adaptive education. Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 8(3), 148-156.

Stein, M. L., Berends, M., Fuchs, D., McMaster, K., Saenz, L., Fuchs, L. S., & Compton, D. L. (2008). Scaling up an early reading program: Relationships among teacher support, fidelity of implementation, and student performance across different sites and years. Education Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 30(4), 368-388.