PALS-UK

Peer Assisted Learning Strategies (PALS-UK) is a whole-class, structured, paired-reading intervention. Pupils work together in pairs and take turns to act as coach and reader. The aim is to improve reading comprehension and reading fluency.

In each session, partners engage in four activities: partner reading, re-tell, paragraph shrinking and prediction relay. Pupils undertake the activities for around 30-35 minutes three times per week. The intervention runs for 20 weeks, including an initial 4 weeks of training for the class in how to be an effective reading pair, followed by a further 16 weeks of reading in pairs. 

Students will be split into their reading pairs based on reading ability, as judged by the teacher, with each pair consisting of one higher-attaining and one lower-attaining reader. Pairs are swapped every 4 weeks after the initial training phase.

Teachers will have one day of face-to-face training and a half day of top-up training, and will then be offered additional support on an ad hoc basis. The teachers will also receive a PALS-UK manual (which is well codified owing to the programme’s extensive use in the USA). The project team will conduct an update of the manual to ensure that the resources are appropriately Anglicised. Schools will also be given a set of books, chosen by the developer, to ensure there is suitable reading material for different ability levels.

Why are we funding it?

The EEF's Teaching and Learning Toolkit is very positive about peer tutoring, yet the peer tutoring studies commissioned by the EEF (cross-age peer tutoring in primary maths, and cross-age paired reading in secondary schools) have not found positive effects. 

There is, therefore, a compelling case for a further evaluation to identify a programmatic vehicle for getting the benefits of peer tutoring into classrooms. PALS-UK is a strong candidate as it mitigates some of the perceived limitations of the previous evaluations, such as insufficient structure to ensure high-quality interactions. The available evidence for PALS, and the wider evidence on peer tutoring, suggests that it is particularly beneficial for pupils with low prior attainment.

Our literacy guidance reports (in Key Stages 1 and Key Stage 2) highlight reading fluency as an area that is often overlooked and would benefit from focused attention, particularly for students in upper Key Stage 2. Therefore, PALS-UK’s combined focus on reading fluency and reading comprehension is likely to be desirable to schools.

How are we evaluating it?

RAND has been selected as the independent evaluator for this trial. The trial will be a two-armed cluster randomised controlled trial across 80 schools in the North East and the Midlands. The primary outcome will be reading, using the PIRA measure at pre- and post-test (this test has also been used in other EEF trials, such as ABRA). As well as looking at free school meal (FSM) students as a sub-group, RAND will also potentially look at high- and low-attainers at baseline, given the relevance this may have for peer tutoring.

The secondary outcomes will be reading fluency and reading comprehension, measured using the WIAT III test, and will aim to capture the intermediate constructs relevant to the intervention. The trial will also look at the impact of the intervention on reading self-efficacy.

When will the evaluation report be due?

The evaluation report will be published in Autumn 2020.