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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

English Learners

April 2017

Questions:

What does the research say about the effectiveness of classroom strategies where students are working in pairs, particularly those that support English language learners?



Response:

Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports, descriptive studies and policy briefs on the effectiveness of classroom strategies where students are working in pairs. In particular, we focused on identifying resources related to strategies that support English language learners. For details on the databases and sources, key words and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the resources on this topic. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. We have not evaluated the quality of references and resources provided in this response, but offer this list to you for your information only.

Research References

Alanis, I. (2011). Learning from each other: Bilingual pairs in dual-language classrooms. Dimensions of Early Childhood, 39(1), 21–28. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ945689. Full text available at http://www.southernearlychildhood.org/upload/pdf/Learning_From_Each_Other_1.pdf

From the abstract: "Early education programs in the United States are experiencing an increase in the number of English learners and, consequently, an increase in dual-language programs that best serve the needs of these children. Dual-language programs enable children to communicate orally and in written forms in both their native languages and in English. This article describes one effective approach that can be implemented by teachers with a range of language skills. Teachers who speak one language, or teachers of children who speak a language unfamiliar to them, are urged to find multilingual family members or teacher assistants who can assist with implementing the communication strategies outlined in this article. All teachers are encouraged to learn at least a few key words and phrases in children's home languages to facilitate children's daily learning experiences."

Alanis, I. (2013). Where's your partner? Pairing bilingual learners in preschool and primary grade dual language classrooms. Young Children, 68(1), 42-46.

From the abstract: "Children working alone is a common instructional strategy in some early childhood classrooms. According to foundational work by Johnson and Johnson (1986), however, cooperative teams employ higher levels of thought and retain information longer than children who work individually. Children engage in discussion, take responsibility for their learning, and become critical thinkers when they work and learn together. Teachers of dual language learners can pair children throughout the day in a variety of cooperative learning strategies. The bilingual pairing strategies provided in this article are easy to implement on a regular basis and can be adapted to any classroom setting. They allow children to express themselves in meaningful and nonthreatening contexts and challenge each other's ideas as they engage in conversations about abstract concepts found in the academic curriculum."

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Arreguin-Anderson, M. G., & Esquierdo, J. J. (2011). Overcoming difficulties. Science and Children, 48(7), 68–71. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ921127

From the abstract: "Learning science for bilingual students involves much more than mastering concepts and science process skills. Although classroom investigations and hands-on activities promote comprehension, bilingual learners still experience specific language difficulties related to unfamiliar discourse structures and grammatical forms that must be used while speaking, reading, writing, and listening to science content. To overcome such difficulties, science teachers can infuse their lessons with opportunities to practice academic language. In this article, the authors propose that such opportunities can be embedded in daily instruction with cooperative learning in dyads, or pairs. The following cooperative dyad strategies (including 'Think-Pair-Share'), described within the context of a second-grade lesson on leaves, can help teachers plan science instruction that adequately supports academic and linguistic development in their elementary science classrooms."

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Teo, A. (2007). SWELL: A writing method to help English language learners. English Teaching Forum, 45(4), 18-25. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1099410

From the abstract: "Social-interactive Writing for English Language Learners (SWELL) is collaborative writing based on Topping's Paired Writing Method. The method was changed to meet the needs of English language learners. In both methods, pairs are formed according to proficiency, pairing a more advanced student (a Helper) with a less advanced one (a Writer). The author describes the steps of generating ideas, drafting, reading, editing, best copy, and evaluating. Features of SWELL include using students' linguistic knowledge (L1), balancing fluency with mechanics, and promoting explicit teacher instruction."

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2012, January). Adolescent Literacy intervention report: Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED528940

From the abstract: "'Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies' (PALS) is a peer-tutoring instructional program that supplements the primary reading curriculum. Pairs of students work together on reading activities intended to improve reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. Students in the pairs-who alternately take on the roles of tutor and tutee-read aloud, listen to their partner read, and provide feedback during various structured activities. This report focuses on 'Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies' reading programs for grades 2-6 and high school. Ninety-seven studies reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) Adolescent Literacy topic area investigated the effects of Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies. One study (Fuchs, Fuchs, Mathes, & Simmons, 1997) is a randomized controlled trial with randomization problems that meets WWC evidence standards with reservations. The remaining 96 studies do not meet either WWC evidence standards or eligibility screens."

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2012, May). Beginning Reading intervention report: Peer-Assisted Learning/Literacy Strategies. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED531596

From the abstract: "'Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies' and a similar program known as 'Peer-Assisted Literacy Strategies' are peer-tutoring programs that supplement the primary reading curriculum (Fuchs, Fuchs, Kazdan, & Allen, 1999; Mathes & Babyak, 2001). This review uses the acronym 'PALS' to encompass both programs and their respective full names when referring to a specific program. Students in 'PALS' classrooms work in pairs on reading activities intended to improve reading accuracy, fluency, and comprehension. Students in the pairs-who alternately take on the role of tutor and tutee-read aloud, listen to their partner read, and provide feedback during various structured activities. Teachers train students to use the following learning strategies: passage reading with partners, paragraph 'shrinking' (or describing the main idea), and prediction relay (predicting what is likely to happen next in the passage). 'PALS' includes separate versions for kindergarten and grade 1. 'Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies' also includes versions for grades 2-3 (which are part of a larger set produced for grades 2-6). Forty-five studies reviewed by the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) investigated the effects of 'PALS' on beginning readers. Two studies (McMaster, Fuchs, Fuchs, & Compton, 2005; Stein, Berends, Fuchs, McMaster, Saenz, Yen, & Compton, 2008) are randomized controlled trials that meet WWC evidence standards. One study (Mathes & Babyak, 2001) is a randomized controlled trial that meets WWC evidence standards with reservations. These three studies are summarized in this report. The remaining 42 studies do not meet either WWC eligibility screens or evidence standards."

U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, What Works Clearinghouse. (2013, January). Elementary School Mathematics intervention report: Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ED539064

From the abstract: "'Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies' is a peer-tutoring program for grades K-6 that aims to improve student proficiency in math and other disciplines. This report focuses on 'Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies' for math. The math program supplements students' existing math curriculum and is based on peer-mediated instruction, a process whereby students work in pairs or small groups to tutor each other. During tutoring sessions, students work together on worksheets that target specific math skills, with one student designated to correct his or her partner's errors, award points for correct responses, and provide consistent encouragement and feedback. The program uses videos and teacher-provided scripted instruction to train students to engage in peer tutoring. Developers recommend that students participate in peer-tutoring sessions two to three times a week for approximately 30 minutes per session. The What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) identified 13 studies that investigated the effects of 'Peer-Assisted Learning Strategies' on the math performance of elementary school students. The WWC reviewed all of those studies against group design evidence standards. One study (Fuchs, Fuchs, Yazdian, & Powell, 2002) is a randomized controlled trial that meets WWC evidence standards without reservations. The study is summarized in this report. Four studies do not meet WWC evidence standards. The remaining eight studies do not meet WWC eligibility screens for review in this topic area."

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center on Innovations in Learning – http://www.centeril.org/

From the website: "The Center on Innovations in Learning is one of seven nationalcontent centers funded by the United States Department of Education. The Center on Innovations in Learning's mission is to (a) increase the capacity of state education agencies (SEAs) to stimulate, select, implement, and scale up learning innovations in local education agencies (LEAs) and schools to improve learning outcomes for all students; and (b) increase the capacity of regional comprehensive centers (RCCs) to provide technical assistance to SEAs relative to the Center’s scope of responsibility."

Center on Instruction – http://www.centeroninstruction.org/

From the website: "From October 2005 to September 2012, the Center on Instruction (COI) was one of five national content centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education to support the 16 Regional Comprehensive Centers as they helped state education leaders raise student achievement, close achievement gaps, and improve teaching and learning for all students in their state. While COI's primary clients were the Regional Comprehensive Centers and state departments of education, our resources may be useful for a much broader audience that includes school and district educators as well as technical assistance providers. We encourage educators working to turn around the lowest performing schools such as School Improvement Grants (SIG) grantees and/or those implementing College and Career Ready Standards, including the Common Core State Standards, to explore our collection of resources; effective instruction is one of the key elements of school improvement strategies."

Colorín Colorado – http://www.colorincolorado.org

From the website: "Colorín Colorado is the premier national website serving educators and families of English language learners (ELLs) in Grades PreK-12. Colorín Colorado has been providing free research-based information, activities, and advice to parents, schools, and communities around the country for more than a decade. Colorín Colorado is an educational service of WETA, the flagship public broadcasting station in the nation's capital, and receives major funding from the American Federation of Teachers and National Education Association."

Methods

Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • Pair

  • Pair work

  • Pair "English language learner" Pair classroom strategy

  • Peer assisted learning

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were include in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Region) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.