Kindergarten Peer-Assisted Learning benefits English learners as much as native speakers

KindergartenEnglish learners (ELs) in kindergarten benefit just as much from Kindergarten Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies (K-PALS) as their native English-speaking peers, reports a study published in Exceptional Children.

Although the study is based on a small number of children, the University of Minnesota researchers say it supplies evidence that classroom-based instruction by a general classroom teacher could raise the beginning reading achievement of ELs and that K-PALS could serve as a “Tier 1” approach for ELs in a response-to-intervention (RTI) model. This would allow schools to reserve increasingly intensive interventions for more severely struggling beginning readers.

“Disproportionate numbers of ELs are referred to special education, with many either over- or under-identified as having LD (learning disabilities),” write the University of Minnesota researchers.

“There is an especially urgent call for effective early intervention approaches targeting ELS, with the view that inappropriate special education referral, school failure, and other negative academic outcomes could be prevented if strong, evidence-based practices are in place early on.

In K-PALS, higher performing readers are paired with lower performing readers to practice skills identified as critical for beginning reading, including phonemic awareness, letter-sound recognition, decoding and fluency.

The study was part of a large-scale randomized trial that examined how different levels of support impacted teachers’ implementation of K-PALS and students’ beginning reading achievement.

The large-scale study included approximately 1,800 kindergartners attending 46 public elementary schools in Tennessee, Texas and Minnesota.

The study of K-PALS and ELs included 60 kindergartners in Minnesota: 20 K-PALS ELs, 20 control ELS and 20 K-PALS non-ELs. Control ELs were matched to K-PALS ELs and K-PALS non-ELs based on two pretest measures: Rapid Letter Naming
(RLN) and Rapid Letter Sound identification (RLS).

In this study, K-PALS ELs reliably outperformed Control ELs on phonemic awareness (blending and segmenting) and letter-sound recognition. However, there were no statistically significant differences between K-PALS ELs and Control ELs on the WRMT-R Word ID and Word Attack subtests, the WIAT spelling test or Oral Reading.

The researchers say this could be attributed to lack of sensitivity of the measures or it could indicate that K-PALS was not intensive enough to effect greater performance on those measures.

ELs more responsive to intervention K-PALS

ELs were more responsive to the intervention than K-PALS non-ELs. For example 5% of K-PALS ELs were unresponsive based on RLS scores, compared with 35% of Control ELs and 30% of non-ELs.

The researchers note that the non-ELs were lower-performing students based on the pretest measures used to match participants in the three groups. The ELs in the study (both K-PALS and Controls) also received more outside reading help
than K-PALS non-ELs, they add.

“It is possible that the ELs were more responsive because their primary difficulties were related to language proficiency, which improved over time, whereas some of the non-ELs’ difficulties were related to true reading deficits,” the researchers write.

Participants in the study all had teachers who were identified as high-fidelity in their use of K-PALs in classroom in the larger study. Teachers implemented K-PALS for 18 weeks, four times per week, for 20 to 30 minutes each session. All K-PALS teachers attended a one-day K-PALS workshop conducted by one of the researchers.

In future research on ELs and K-PALS, one issue that could be investigated is whether ELs should be paired with other more English-proficient ELs who speak their language or with English-speaking students.

K-PALS is not effective for all students, the researchers note, so it is critical that teachers monitor students’ progress and make instructional changes when students are not sufficiently responsive.

“Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies: A ‘Tier 1’Approach to Promoting English Learners’ Response to Intervention,” by Kristen McMaster, Shu-Hsuan Kung, et al. Exceptional Children, Winter 2008, Volume 74, Number 2, pp. 194-214.

Published in ERN March 2008 Volume 21 Number 3

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