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Classwide peer tutoring with mildly handicapped high school students.

Classwide Peer Tutoring With Mildly Handicapped High School Students

The academic and social difficulties of secondary mildly handicapped (i.e., learning disabled, behavior disordered, and educable mentally retarded) students are well documented (see, e.g., Deshler, Schumaker, Alley, Warner, & Clark, 1982; Gregory, Shanaham, & Walberg, 1985). Significant among these problems are the following:

1. Severe deficits in basic academic skills such as reading, spelling, and math (Deshler, Schumaker, & Lenz, 1984).

2. Generalized failure and below average performance in content area courses such as science, social studies, and health (Donahoe & Zigmond, 1986; Gregory et al., 1985; Zigmond & Kerr, 1985).

3. Deficient work-related skills, such as listening well in class, note taking, study and test-taking skills (Carlson & Alley, 1981; Schumaker, Sheldon-Wilgren, & Sherman, 1980).

4. Passive academic involvement and a pervasive lack of motivation (see Deshler, 1978; Henker, Whalen, & Hinshaw, 1980; Torgeson, 1982; Zigmond, Kerr, & Schaeffer, 1986).

5. Poor interpersonal relationships (Gregory et al., 1985).

These studies portray students who posses neither the basic academic skills to succeed in content area courses nor the requisite work-related habits to compensate for their academic skill deficits.

Student deficiencies alone, however, cannot account for the chronic, inferior academic performance of mildly handicapped (MH) adolescents. As observational studies (Schumaker, Sheldon-Wilgren, & Sherman, 1980; Zigmond, Kerr, & Shaeffer, 1986) have indicated, the instructional environments to which many of these students are exposed may also be less than satisfactory. For example, Schumaker et al. (1980) found that mainstream teachers made infrequent use of explicit instructional directives and advance organizers while teaching. Essentially, students were expected to "know how" to listen attentively, take good notes, and follow textbook instructions. Similarly, Zigmond et al. (1986) found that regular classroom teachers made few demands on mainstreamed MH students. On average, these pupils were asked to do something (i.e., procedural requests) about twice per period. Academic-related requests occurred approximately eight times per period, but almost every one of these requests was allowed to go unanswered.

In light of these findings, it is not surprising that so many secondary mildly handicapped students possess such dismal academic records in regular classrooms. For example, Donahoe and Zigmond (1986) reported that almost 80% of all 9th-grade learning disabled students in nine urban high schools studied received grades of "D" or below in social studies. Approximately 70% earned a "D" or below in science, and 63% earned comparable grades in health. If the goal of regular class integration extends beyond simply increasing MH students' opportunity for socialization with nondisabled peers and encompasses learning something valuable about science and social studies, then the current state of affairs is unacceptable.

The questions facing teachers and educational researchers alike, are as follows: How do we get low-achieving students actively involved with academic tasks? How do we ensure academic success when many of these students have such pervasive deficiencies? We believe that one possible solution lies in the development of a systematic, peer-mediated, instructional intervention such as classwide peer tutoring (CWPT) (see Delquadri, Greenwood, Whorton, Carta, & Hall, 1986, for a more complete discussion). The CWPT system was developed at the Juniper Gardens Children's project. It was designed to improve the basic skills performance of low-achieving minority, disadvantaged, or mildly handicapped students (Delquadri et al., 1986).

The effectiveness of CWPT has been examined extensively by the Juniper Gardens staff, as well as by independent evaluators (Cook, Heron, & Heward, 1983; Maheady & Harper, 1987; Nielson, Buechin, Slaughter, & Westling, 1984). Data from these investigations have consistently demonstrated the powerful effects of CWPT on (a) mildly handicapped (MH) students' reading performance (Whorton et al., in press); (b) Chapter I students' performance in math, spelling and vocabulary (Delquardi, Greenwood, Stretton, & Hall, 1983; Greenwood et al., 1984); and (c) low-achieving, minority students' weekly spelling test grades (Maheady & Harper, 1987). Additional evidence suggests that CWPT is a socially acceptable classroom intervention for both teachers and students (Greenwood et al., 1987; Maheady & Harper, 1987).

Given this impressive record of success with low-achieving, elementary-aged youngsters, we decided to see if CWPT would be equally effective with older, perhaps more academically deficient learners. The purpose of this study, therefore, was to "extend" the CWPT program to the secondary level, and to evaluate its effectiveness in improving the academic performance of mildly handicapped students mainstreamed into regular social studies classrooms.


Subjects and Setting

Fifty students (27 males and 23 females) enrolled in three 10th-grade social studies classrooms in a large urban high school in Buffalo, New York, served as subjects. All students were enrolled in a special districtwide program entitled Project PASS (Pupils Achieving Scholastic Success). Project PASS was an experimental program in which regular "content area" teachers were given relatively smaller class sizes (15-20 students) and consultative services from special educators while accepting 3 to 6 mildly handicapped students in their classrooms. The participating teachers (one regular and one resource room) were recruited following a 6-hour inservice training session on peer-tutoring instructional procedures. Neither teacher had previous experience with classwide peer tutoring programs nor extensive training in applied behavior analysis. The 10th-grade social studies instructor had been teaching for 35 years, and the special educator for 9 years. The study was carried out in mainstream classrooms during regularly scheduled instructional sessions. Both teachers participated in implementation.

The 50 student participants ranged in age from 15 years to 17 years, 11 months (X = 16-1). Date of birth information was available for only 37 of the 50 student participants in this study. Twenty-ix students (52%) were Caucasian, twenty-two (44%) were Black, while the remaining two students were Native American. Fourteen students (7 males, 7 females) were identified previously as mildly handicapped (learning disabled or behavior disordered) according to New York State Special Education eligibility standards. The MH students ranged in age from 15-0 to 17-4 with a mean chronological age of 16-9. Mildly handicapped students were recommended for Project PASS by their previous self-contained classroom teacher, whereas nondisabled participants were randomly asigned from the general 10th-grade population. The most recent achievement test results (Woodcock Reading Mastery Test, Form B; Key Math administered in March 1986) on MH students indicated the following:

1. Total Reading (Grade Equivalent X = 6.13; range 5.0 to 7.7).

2. Mathematics (GE X = 7.62; range: 6.8 to 10.5).

No recent standardized achievement data were available on nondisabled students.


A key concept in CWPT is the selection of functional academic targets. This implies that selected academic behaviors should be those that teachers deem to be important. For this reason, the classroom teachers in this study became the curriculum "experts" identifying critical social studies contend and developing weekly study guides and quizzes.

Weekly study guides. Each week, the regular and special education teachers collaboratively developed 30-item study guides, consisting of a series of questions--typically fact and detail with corresponding solutions--taken from 1 week's content in the existing social studies text (Men and Nations: A World History, by Mazour & Peoples; 1975). Topics covered included: (a) Egyptians, beginnings of civilization, (b) Greek and Roman civilizations, (c) Middle Ages, (d) the American and French Revolutions, and (e) World War I.

Weekly study guides were developed using a three-stage process. First, teachers examined the assigned weekly content during 40-minute consultation sessions and then generated lists of important instructional objectives. Second, the teachers developed a series of questions assessing comprehension of these objectives and provided correct/appropriate answers. Finally, study guides were reviewed by an independent rater (remedial reading specialist) for both accuracy and clarity.

To assist in material development, five 4-hour training sessions were held before the study began. Teachers were presented with "sample" practice sheets that had been developed and field tested previously by the staff at the Center for Social Organization of Schools, johns Hopkins University (Slavin, 1982; 1983). Teachers were instructed to use these materials as guides in developing their own curriculum-specific practice sheets. Approximately 6 weeks of material was prepared before implementation of the study.

Weekly quizzes. Once the weekly practice sheets were developed, 20-item quizzes assessing students' knowledge of this content were constructed. Occasionally, items on the quizzes were the same as those on the practice sheet, e.g., "What does imperialism mean?" In other instances, the items differed, but similar skills and concepts were being assessed (e.g., concept: governmental structure of Communist Party; item: Name and compare the major branches of the Yugoslavian and Soviet Union governments).

Experimental Design and Procedure

The effects of CWPT on students' weekly social studies quiz performance were assessed via a multiple baseline design across settings (Tawney & Gast, 1984). The mean test scores for both mildly handicapped and nondisabled students were the primary units of analysis. In two classrooms (Classrooms 1 and 3), CWPT was withdrawn for 1 week, resulting in an ABAB design.

Baseline. The study began by having the social studies teacher instruct his class using his "traditional" classroom routine. This typically included teacher-led lecture and discussion, media presentation, and daily homework review. Two changes in normal routine were instituted. First, following 2 days of instruction, the teacher distributed practice sheets/study guides to each student, telling them that these sheets could be used in school or at home "to help prepare" for the weekly quiz.

The second instructional modification involved the use of weekly tests. Each Friday students took 20-item quizzes individually. Students were required to read each item and write the correct response. If they were unable to read test questions, the classroom teacher provided the necessary assistance. The teacher graded the student quizzes for accuracy and reported the scores during the next class period. The teacher recorded student scores in his grade book and on experimenter-provided data collection forms. The special education teacher conducted independent reliability on 25% of the administered exams. No points were deducted for student spelling errors.

Intervention. Classwide peer tutoring was introduced sequentially into each classroom. New classroom material was introduced each week via 1 to 2 days of teacher lecture/discussion followed by assigned readings and homework. For the next 2 or 3 days, CWPT was implemented for 30 minutes per day. With the exception of 2 weeks, tutoring sessions occurred twice per week for 30 minutes per day. When CWPT sessions were conducted for 3 days per week, tutoring lasted only 20 minutes per day.

The program operated as follows. The classroom was divided into two teams by having students draw colored squares (red or blue) from a covered box. Team membership (Red team vs. Blue team) stayed the same for 2 weeks. These teams compted for the highest point totals in social studies. Following the selection of teams, the teacher randomly paired students within each team to make up tutoring dyads. Throughout the next 2 weeks, these pairs worked together on designated days, using the previously described 30-item study guides.

In order to implement the tutoring procedure, the students and teachers were trained by the second investigatos through two 30-minute role-pay sessions. Initial, in-class supervision was also provided during the early stages of this study. After training, the ongoing tutoring procedures were initiated by the social studies teacher setting a timer for 15 minutes.

During tutoring, the tutor dictated study guide questions to the respective tutee, who was then required to write and say the correct answer. Tutors were instructed to say "that's right" or "correct," and provide 3 points for each accurate response. However, if tutees responded incorrectly, tutors said "that's wrong" and provided them with the correct answer. Tutees were then required to write the correct response three times. Two points were then awarded by the tutor for correcting the answer. Students were instructed to continue through their 30-question list as many times as possible before the 15-minute time period elapsed. At the end of the first 15-minute session, tutoring pairs reversed roles and followed the same tutoring procedures for the next 15 minutes.

Bonus points were awarded to tutors on a daily basis contingent upon their display of "good tutoring" behaviors. During tutoring sessions, teachers moved about the classroom and awarded points, up to 10 points her student, to tutors displaying the following behaviors: (a) clear and accurate dictation of questions, (b) appropriate use of the error correction procedure, (c) contingent and accurate delivery of points, and (d) use of praise and support statements.

At the end of each 30-minute CWPT session, students totaled the number of points they had earned, including bonus points, and recorded the number at the top of the paper. Student scores were then posted on a laminated chart in front of the class, and daily team totals were calculated. Peer-tutoring procedures were in effect for at least 2 days prior to the weekly quiz. Quizzes were then administered using the standard format, i.e., students read questions silently and wrote their answers. However, students were informed that they could earn 5 points for their team for each correct answer.

Following the weekly quiz, team totals were calculated and the winning team was announced. Weekly results, as well as outstanding individual efforts, were then printed in the school's weekly bulletin. On occasion, the teacher also awarded bonus points to an individual's cumulative average or provided students with "outstanding performance certificates." Every 2 weeks, new competing teams were formed.


The primary dependent variable in this study was the percentage correct on weekly social studies quizzes. Means were calculated for both the entire class and the mildly handicapped students enrolled within each section. These data are presented in Figure 1.

During baseline, the mean percentage correct for each class ranged from 55 to 70, with an average of 65.9%. Classroom 2 students earned the lowest weekly scores (X = 61.33%), and student means in Classrooms 1 and 3 approached 70% (68.22% and 68.76%, respectively). It is interesting to note that the weekly mean test scores of mildly handicapped students did not differ much from the total class average. In fact, in two instances, MH students' performance exceeded than of their nondisabled peers.

The implementation of CWPT resulted in an immediate and dramatic increase in the weekly test scores of both mildly handicapped and nondisabled students. These gains ranged from 19 to 27 percentage points for the total class and averaged 21.66 percentage points over the course of the investigation. Mildly handicapped student's gains were slightly higher (X = 23.15 points), and their weekly scores frequently exceeded those of their nondisabled peers. To demonstrate further experimental control, the teacher was asked to withdraw CWPT for 1 week in two sections (teacher's choice), and to return to baseline conditions. The return to baseline resulted in a substantial drop in student performance (approximately 22 percentage points in Classroom 1 and 20 percentage points in Classroom 3). Because of ethical concerns and student complaints, CWPT was reintroduced the following week. Again, test scores rose dramatically and exceeded baseline performance in all instances.

To examine the practical significance of our findings and to determine the effects of CWPT on individual student performance, the percentage of students earning "A" and "E" grades was calculated. These data are shown in Figure 2.

During baseline conditions, very few students earned grades above 90% correct ("A"). Approximately 13% of all students (1 to 2 students per section) received "As", whereas the average failure rate (below 60%) was about 33%. In all but three instances, the percentage of students failing weekly quizzes exceeded those earning "A" grades. When CWPT was implemented, the percentage of "A" grades rose dramatically, and "Es" were virtually eliminated. The percentage of students earning test scores of 90% and above was approximately 58%. On five occasions, over 90% of an entire class earned an "A". Failing grades, on the other hand, diminished substantially. During 16 of 33 quiz administrations, no one taking the quiz received a failing grade. In only two instances during intervention did failing grades exceed the number of "As". A withdrawal of treatment in two classrooms resulted in substantially higher failure rates, and fewer "A" grades. This trend was reversed again with CWPT was reinstituted in each section.

An analysis of individual student performance revealed that only five students in the entire population (10%) failed more than one quiz while the intervention was in effect. None of these students were mildly handicapped. An analysis of MH students' final report cards revealed that no students earned grades below "C" in social studies, and that their social studies grades were consistently the highest on their cards. Finally, informal interviews with the classroom teachers indicated high degrees of satisfaction (both teacher and student) with the tutoring procedures and outcomes.


Results of the present investigation clearly indicate that: (a) CWPT procedures resulted in immediate and systematic increases in the weekly social studies test performance of mildly handicapped and nondisabled 10th graders, and (b) the intervention increased substantially the percentage of students earning "A" grades, while simultaneously decreasing the number of failing grades. Anecdotal student and teacher comments suggested further that the tutoring procedures and outcomes were both acceptable and beneficial.

The present results essentially replicated earlier findings attesting to the powerful effects of classwide peer tutoring (see Delquadri et al., 1986 for complete review). The present study, however, extended these effects to a new population (mildly handicapped adolescents) and to a different content area (social studies). Furthermore, this intervention was applied within a demanding instructional environment (regular classroom) in a subject area that has traditionally posed substantial difficulties for MH learners.

Data obtained from this investigation are significant in a number of other respects. First, they were obtained using a 35-year teaching veteran as the primary implementor. This individual had no prior training in the proposed methodology and did not regard himself as a major innovation implementor. The present findings are also significant in that they required neither major content modifications nor individualization of instruction. The procedure used existing classroom materials. Many MH students performed well even though materials were not "individualized"; thus, the necessity of an adequate student-materials match may be less crucial in the context of an instructional procedure that provides frequent opportunities to respond and systematic feedback procedures.

The present findings are also significant in that CWPT was equally effective for both mildly handicapped and nondisabled students. This suggests that incrememts in the performance of low-achieving students need not occur at the expense of their nondisabled peers. Finally, the current findings are significant because they impacted on important ecological measures, that is, weekly test scores and report card grades. Weekly test scores rose by approximately 20 points. This translated into an increase of two grade levels, for example, "D" to "B". No mildly handicapped students received a grade below "C". These changes were readily apparent to both teachers and students on a weekly basis, and the appearance of above-average social studies grades on final transcripts provided a socially valid measure of this study's impact.

Conceptual Questions

Though the present study was successful in extending the effectiveness of CWPT procedures, it also raised a number of interesting questions that warrant further empirical pursuit. Such questions appear to be both conceptual and procedural. Conceptually, one may ask under what conditions does the "opportunity to respond" construct hold true. To date, empirical evidence indicates that student performance can be enhanced significantly in basic skills, such as reading, spelling, and math, as well as in the acquisition of "fact and detail" social studies content. Whether similar findings would occur with so-called higher order cognitive skills, such as analysis and synthesis of instructional content, must still be examined.

A second conceptual issue is concerned with the efficacy of "normal" classroom instruction and the need for differentiated teaching procedures for handicapped learners. The present study found that following 4 days of traditional teacher instruction, student quiz scores were barely passing (65%). No substantial differences existed between the performance of MH and nondisabled students. Almost everyone performed equally poorly. Though the present findings are restricted to one teacher and three classrooms, similar results have been reported elsewhere (Maheady, Sacca, & Harper, 1986; Zigmond et al., 1986). The implication of these findings is that improving the overall effectiveness of regular class instruction may take precedence over the development of procedures to help MH learners compensate for the lack of quality instruction in the first place.

Procedural Questions

Procedurally, a number of issues and avenues for future empirical inquiry exist. First, additional replications of the present investigation are clearly warranted. Such analyses should include additional mildly handicapped populations, larger class sizes, and other curricular areas. Second, a more careful examination of the CWPT process must be undertaken. Questions concerning the relative contributions of specific tutoring procedures (e.g., use of points, public posting of scores, error correction procedures, etc.) to overall program effectiveness must still be addressed.

Although CWPT seemed to "work," we are unable to explain which facets of the intervention were critical to this success. Direct observations of CWPT are also essential to examine the fidelity (accuracy) with which the program was implemented. Previous research has indicated that elementary-aged students use CWPT with a high degree of accuracy over time (see, e.g., Greenwood et al., 1987; Maheady & Harper, 1987). Whether secondary students follow prescribed procedures as well must still be determined.

Problems with Implementation

The routine implementation of CWPT also possesses some potential difficulties that warrant discussion. First, the material-development demands inherent in the construction of weekly study guides and quizzes were quite substantial. In attempting to replicate this study, it is recommended that a number of practice sheets and quizzes be developed before the investigation begins.

A second potential problem in the CWPT system involves the accuracy of student point totaling. The social studies teacher reported that occasionally students would miscalculate their point totals, usually erring in their own favor. This problem was handled efficiently by having the teacher randomly schedule "surprise days," when he would check student papers and award 10 bonus points for each team member correctly totaling the points. One final concern involved occasional student complaints about having to rewrite corrections three times and having to take weekly exams. Some students also complained about team members. Typically, these complaints were ignored. Instead, the classroom teacher informed students that they must learn to work out their problems themselves. The teacher also intervened directly by assigning bonus points to team members not engaging in these behaviors.

In summary, the present investigation described a 30- to 40-minute classwide peer tutoring program that systematically increased the social studies test performance of 10th-grade, mildly handicapped and nondisabled students. The intervention proved to be not only academically beneficial, but socially acceptable as well. As such. CWPT appears to be a viable instructional alternative for secondary classroom teachers attempting to meet the needs of a diversity of students within the confines of regular, content-area classrooms.


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LARRY MAHEADY is Assistant Professor, Department of Counseling, Educational Psychology, and Special Education, Michigan State University, East Lansing. M. KATHERINE SACCA is Director, Pupil Personnel Services, Lewiston-Porter School District, Youngstown, New York. GREGORY F. HARPER is Associate Professor, Department of Education, State University of New York, College at Fredonia.
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Author:Maheady, Larry; Sacca, M. Katherine; Harper, Gregory F.
Publication:Exceptional Children
Date:Sep 1, 1988
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