What the resource is:
These articles were originally published as part of the Spotlights series of publications for practitioners by the Scottish Council for Research in Education (SCRE). they are provided as free downloads, by Practical Research for Education (PRE), the practitioner journal of the National Foundation for Educational Research (NFER). The articles offer an overview of evidence on the effectiveness of parent- or peer-assisted learning (PAL), focusing on the areas of literacy and related thinking skills in one article, and mathematics and science in the other.
The aims of the resource:
The resources aim to encourage the use of peer- and parent-assisted learning, by clarifying the meaning of these terms, and by sharing the outcomes of research in this area. They also aim to introduce readers to particular definitions of Paired Reading, and paired learning in mathematics and science in the context of PAL.
Key findings or focus:
Peer-assisted learning emphasises the importance of "active helping and supporting among companions who are matched or equal in status". The focus is specifically on helping each other's learning, rather than on jointly achieving a specific goal. Parent-assisted learning with younger children may not operate on the same basis, in terms of equality of status, but as children become older this balance will change. The article argues that involving peers and parents is not a substitute for direct teaching, but an additional and effective approach that needs to be deployed with professional understanding of its strengths and weaknesses, although only the benefits are discussed in the remainder of the resource.
Peer- and Parent-Assisted Learning in Reading, Writing, Spelling and Thinking Skills considers evidence for the effectiveness of structured programmes of paired learning in reading, thinking and spelling. The area of paired writing is also briefly considered.
- It suggests that ‘Paired Reading', as a specific and structured approach (not as the more generalised use of the term) is highly effective, on the basis of evaluations conducted by the author of the article. No details of the approach are given in the resource, however, which focuses on evidence of effectiveness rather than teaching content.
- In the context of the resource, ‘thinking' is related to Paired Reading, and involves training tutors and tutees in a Paired Reading situation to "ask increasingly intelligent questions" about the text. These are supported by (but not reliant on) prompt sheets of four levels of complexity which can be applied to any selected text.
- As with the Paired Reading approach, paired learning in spelling relies on a structured and consistent approach, referred to as 'Cued Spelling'. Claims are made for the effectiveness of this approach compared with 'traditional spelling homework'.
Peer- and Parent-Assisted Learning in Maths, Science and ICT considers evidence for the effectiveness of structured programmes of paired learning in mathematics and science. The area of ICT is also briefly considered, although not specifically in relation to science or mathematics.
- The advantages of using games to support peer- or parent-assisted learning in mathematics are discussed: games are motivating and engaging in themselves, structured rules provide scaffolding and the games are self-correcting in terms of outcomes. They also consolidate understanding through repetition. It is suggested that these activities may challenge negative or stereotypical attitudes towards mathematics, that may be held by some parents.
- The Paired Science activities consist of activity sheets, related to National Curriculum Programmes of Study, outlining investigations that can be conducted with simple equipment, and providing basic background information for the adult or peer tutor if required. In both the Paired Maths and Science activities, emphasis is placed on the role of language to support learning, through the use of questions and introduction of relevant subject vocabulary.
- The article suggests that the use of specific Paired Maths games and Paired Science activities, designed by the author and his colleagues, can improve pupils' results in test situations compared with a control group. Evidence from evaluations with different groups of primary aged pupils is cited to support this claim. There is a brief discussion of the use of ICT to support Paired Reading, although this is not explored in any detail. The authors also refer to work in progress, in which pupils act as ICT tutors to peers and also adults in the local community, as another example of PAL.
A significant theme in both articles is that of is that of peer-assisted learning (PAL). Although it is not always explicit, the central argument is that these approaches can be used in pupil-pupil interaction in both primary and secondary schools, as well as in parent-child interactions. Where terms such as 'tutor' and 'tutee' are used, these relate to the interchangeable roles occupied within the paired learning context, rather than necessarily to an adult-child, or expert-novice relationship.
In the case of the Paired Science activities, it is suggested that older pupils (up to 11) could tutor younger pupils of 5-8 years, and consolidate their own understanding in so doing.
The quality, authority and credibility of the resource in relation to ITE:
The resources seek to offer evidence to support the use of a structured and consistent approach to paired learning as defined by the author. All the evidence provided appears to be based on research and evaluation conducted by the author and colleagues, and this may raise questions concerning the independence of the evidence presented. The resources also present a particular view of the teaching of the subject areas concerned, and readers will need to consider how far they feel this represents their own views, and those of others, on effective teaching and learning in these areas.
However, the author, Keith Topping, is a recognised writer and researcher in the area of paired learning, and the resource has credibility in this regard.
The implications for ITE tutors/mentors - when and how it could have best impact:
These resources could be used to support discussion around the use of PAL. While they do not provide specific guidance on how teachers can establish effective paired learning, they provide an argument for taking such approaches seriously. Reference to a supporting website with practical materials and resources is given in both articles.
Tutors may wish to discuss the particular approaches taken to the teaching of reading and spelling, and to the structured use of thinking prompts about the text that are implicit in the article on paired reading.
The article focusing on mathematics and science could also be used to stimulate discussion around some of the issues concerning parents' attitudes towards mathematics, and to consider a range of approaches to increasing parental involvement in mathematics learning. However, there is insufficient information about the specific approaches used within the articles themselves, and further reading would be required to develop this understanding.
Tutors might also wish to use both articles to help develop ITE students' critical reading skills, in terms of evaluating the evidence presented, as discussed above. Additionally, at times claims are made which are not supported by evidence. As one such example, in the discussion on Cued Spelling, it is asserted that "studies of the impact of peer-tutored Cued Spelling have found improvements in spelling test scores and in self-esteem as a speller", but no references to these studies are provided.
As the resource is an article in a publication aimed at practitioners rather than an academic journal, discussion with ITE students about how research is presented to a wider audience might also be relevant.
The relevance to ITE students - how and why it has importance:
The areas of peer- and parent-assisted learning both have importance for ITE students. Students should give serious consideration to the broader benefits of peer-assisted learning, as suggested in the resource, regardless of whether the specific approaches suggested are adopted. Similarly, both articles would encourage students to reflect on opportunities to support and engage parents with their children's out-of-school learning, and how best this might be achieved.