Using Peer Assistance to Teach Academics

What is the evidence base? A strong level of evidence based on a high quality meta-analysis of 14 intervention studies including 3 within-subjects designs, 8 single subject designs, 2 group designs, and 1 qualitative study.

With whom was it implemented?

  • A total of 165 participants were included
  • Students with
    • learning disabilities (3 studies)
    • emotional/behavioral disorders (3 studies)
    • moderate/severe disabilities including mental retardation, Down syndrome, and hearing impairments (4 studies)
  • Ages ranged from 13 – 17 years old (14 studies)
  • 10 studies included samples that were predominately male, while 4 studies had samples that were predominately female
  • Ethnicity/race information were not reported for all participants

What is the practice? Teaching using peer assistance includes strategies such as:

  • Peer tutoring is the delivery of academic instruction by another student, either older or the same age as the tutee (Scruggs et al., 1985).
  • Cooperative learning is when groups of students of different ability, sex, or ethnicity work together to achieve mutual goals (Tateyama-Sniezek, 1990).
  • Peer instruction is when students are given specific roles to assist other students in completing an activity or teaching of a lesson (Hughes, Carter, Hughes, Bradford, & Copeland, 2002).

Where is the best place to find out how to do this practice:

  • Students with disabilities worked together to complete computer-assisted mathematics lessons and recorded their scores (Bahr & Reith, 1991)
  • A classwide peer tutoring approach using the teacher assigned tutor/learner dyads based on prior performance rankings (Bell & Young, 1990)
  • Student-directed instructional procedures during pauses in teacher-delivered lectures (Hawkins, 1988; Hawkins & Brady, 1994)
  • Peer tutoring with undergraduate college students tutoring at-risk youth and students with learning disabilities in mathematics through four instructional phases including (a) student approach assessment, (b) co-construction of new approach, (c) teaching of new approach, and (d) application of new approach (Hock, Pulvers, Deshler, & Schumaker, 2001)
  • An instructional role intervention in which conversational partners were asked to assist each other in classroom assignments (Hughes, Carter, Hughes, Bradford, & Copeland, 2002)
  • An individual peer tutoring approach in which students without disabilities were trained to assist students with disabilities in academic tasks (Martella, Marchand-Martella, Young, & MacFarlane, 1995; Schloss, Kobza, & Alper, 1997; Staub, Spaulding, Peck, Gallucci, & Schwartz, 1996)
  • A classroom peer tutoring approach in combination with multi-element curriculum and accommodations (McDonnell, Mathot-Buckner, Thorson, & Fister, 2001)
  • A cooperative learning strategy was used to investigated conversational interactions between deaf/hard-of-hearing students and hearing teachers/ classroom peers (Miller, 1995)
  • Students completed, graded, and made corrections to homework assignments in heterogeneous groups during class time using the Cooperative Homework Team approach (O'Melia & Rosenberg, 1994)
  • Students with learning disabilities were taught to recruit peer assistance during cooperative learning activities in general education classrooms (Wolford, Heward, & Alber, 2001)
  • Peers served as instructional supports within a cooperative learning approach that used interactive dialogues to teach a specific writing strategy (Wong, Butler, Ficzere, & Kuperis, 1997)

For Peer Assistance Research to Lesson Plan Starters, see:

Where has it been implemented?

  • Public school
  • Community settings
  • Self-contained classroom

References used to establish this evidence base:

Winokur, M. A., Cobb, R. B., & Dugan, J. J. (2007). Effects of academic peer assistance interventions on academic outcomes for youth with disabilities: A systematic review. Ft. Collins, CO: Colorado State University, School of Education.

Additional references:

Bahr, C. M., & Rieth, H. J. (1991). Effects of cooperative, competitive, and individualistic goals on student achievement using computer-based drill-and-practice. Journal of Special Education Technology, 11(1), 33-48.

Bell, K., & Young, R. K. (1990). Facilitating mainstreaming of students with behavioral disorders using classwide peer tutoring. School Psychology Review, 19, 564-573.

Hawkins, J. (1988). Antecedent pausing as a direct instruction tactic for adolescents with severe behavioral disorders. Behavioral Disorders, 13, 263-272.

Hawkins, J., & Brady, M. P. (1994). The effects of independent and peer guided practice during instructional pauses on the academic performance of students with mild handicaps. Education & Treatment of Children, 17, 1-28.

Hock, M. F., Pulvers, K. A., Deshler, D. D., & Schumaker, J. B. (2001). The effects of an after-school tutoring program on the academic performance of at-risk students and students with LD. Remedial and Special Education, 22, 172-186.

Hughes, C., Carter, E. W., Hughes, T., Bradford, E., & Copeland, S. R. (2002). Effects of instructional versus non-instructional roles on the social interactions of high school students. Education & Training in Mental Retardation, 37, 146-162.

Martella, R., Marchand-Martella, N. E., Young, K. R., & MacFarlane, C. A. (1995). Determining the collateral effects of peer tutor training on a student with severe disabilities. Behavior Modification, 19, 170-191.

McDonnell, J., Mathot-Buckner, C., Thorson, N., & Fister, S. (2001). Supporting the inclusion of students with moderate and severe disabilities in junior high school general education classes: The effects of classwide peer tutoring, multi-element curriculum, and accommodations. Education & Treatment of Children, 24, 141-160.

Miller, K. J. (1995). Cooperative conversations. The effect of cooperative learning on conversational interaction. American Annals of the Deaf, 140, 28-37.

O'Melia, M., & Rosenberg, M. (1994). Effects of cooperative homework teams on the acquisition of mathematics skills by secondary students with mild disabilities. Exceptional Children, 60, 538-548.

Schloss, P. J., Kobza, S. A., & Alper, S. (1997). The use of peer tutoring for the acquisition of functional math skills among students with moderate retardation. Education & Treatment of Children, 20, 189-208.

Staub, D., Spaulding, M., Peck, C. A., Gallucci, C., & Schwartz, I. S. (1996). Using nondisabled peers to support the inclusion of students with disabilities at the junior high school level. Journal of the Association for Persons with Severe Handicaps, 21, 194-205.

Wolford, P. L., Heward, W. L., & Alber, S. R. (2001). Teaching middle school students with learning disabilities to recruit peer assistance during cooperative learning group activities. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 16, 161-173.

Wong, B. Y. L., Butler, D. L., Ficzere, S. A., & Kuperis, S. (1997). Teaching adolescents with learning disabilities and low achievers to plan, write, and revise compare-and-contrast essays. Learning Disabilities Research & Practice, 12, 2-15. 

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Hello, Dan!I really like the idea of uizitilng Skype to interview someone who lived through a historical event and/or can add value to a topic of study. However, after reflecting on the post for a moment I had a vision which I must share.(Disclaimer .the following thought I am about to share is not something I wish to ever become a reality but simply a capability which is possible with the use of Skype.)With art programs being cut in many school systems, I can envision music being taught within the classroom via Skype (large TV with webcam). Children would still get the experience (though not as robust) of music fundamentals and budgets could be saved by sharing music teachers with multiple schools. The conference calling feature, available within Skype, means multiple classes can be taught simultaneously. Again the capabilities are available, though I am sure not the best resolution.

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