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The ERIC/OSEP Special Project

OSEP, Ideas that Work

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Development funded by the U.S. Office of Special Education Programs


Peer Tutoring Can Bolster Social and Academic Life of Students with Learning Disabilities

Students with learning disabilities (LD) frequently have a lower social standing in the classroom than their nondisabled peers. A recent study conducted at Vanderbilt University focused on how a classwide peer tutoring program, Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS), benefited the social skills of a group of elementary-school students with LD during language arts in the regular classroom.

The design of the PALS program incorporates a classwide pairing of students who take turns acting as tutors during reading activities and give each other immediate corrective feedback. Each of the pairs included a higher- and a lower-performing student, with the higher-performing student reading first from material keyed to the lower reader's level. The research was carried out in a comparatively large number of classrooms (39) and examined 156 children, ranked at four levels: learning disabled, low achieving, average achieving, and high achieving. The sample was divided between 22 classrooms that used PALS and 17 that did not.

The study incorporated a group sociometric measure known as How I Feel Toward Others (HIFTO) that assesses the social status and attitudes of nondisabled students and students with learning disabilities, behavior disorders, and mild mental retardation in both regular and special education elementary-level classrooms. Findings indicated, on average, that

  • Students with LD in PALS classes enjoy the same social standing as most nondisabled children, and
  • Students with LD in No-PALS classes have lower social standings than their peer group.

This indicates that the cooperative methods used in PALS and other peer-tutoring programs may be an important means by which teachers can successfully integrate students with LD into the academic and social life of mainstream classrooms. As the researchers report, studies have shown that social integration in the classroom "appears to be promoted by (1) the intelligent use of valued activities that (2) require the involvement of all students who (3) interact more or less as co-equals." They note that, "to ensure an appropriate education for students with LD, we need empirically validated, practical programs that advance both academic and social performance."

Though the study was specifically involved in the social benefits of PALS, the research suggests a connection between improvement in academic areas and improvement in social skills: the increased reading skills may have positively affected how the students viewed themselves and how their peers and teachers viewed them.

To learn more about this study and its implications for practice, refer to Fuchs, Douglas, Fuchs, Lynn S., Mathes, Patricia G., and Martinez, Elizabeth A. "Preliminary Evidence on the Social Standing of Students with Learning Disabilities in PALS and No-PALS Classrooms," Learning Disabilities Research and Practice, 17, no. 4 (November 2002): 205-215.

The study was funded in part by the Office of Special Education Programs, US Department of Education, Grant #H023E90020, and by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Core Grant #HD15052, Douglas Fuchs, Project Director.

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Last updated: November 26, 2002

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