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Positive Peer Reporting (PPR) is a behaviour modification technique that has been used in both a residential care setting and in an educational setting to reduce the number of anti social behaviours displayed and to encourage the acceptance of social rejected children. PPR typically involves peers earning a reward for publically praising a target pupil's pro social behaviour during a specified reporting session. The target child receives reinforcement for engaging in the pro social behaviour and is therefore likely to repeat that behaviour. In turn the child's peers earn reinforcement, usually in the form of points that can be accumulated to receive a whole class reward (Libster, 2004). This differs from more traditional interventions to improve children's social skills as the social skills pupils lack are not actually taught but instead it focuses on and reinforces the behaviours that children are already displaying (Skinner, Neddenriep, Robinson, Ervin & Jones, 2002).
As PPR involves pupils praising their peers for displaying pro social behaviour the debate over the positive and negative impacts of praise needs to be addressed. There is extensive literature on this topic as it has always been believed, on the whole that praise has a positive effect on children but the research literature is not as clear as we would assume ( Henderlong and Lepper, 2002). It has been claimed that one of the major benefits of praise is that it increases pupil motivation. A study by Zentall and Morris (2010) claims that as the amount of non generic (specific) praise increases, children are more likely to demonstrate positive self - evaluations and persistence after experiencing failure. As this study is more concerned with investigating the effect different types of praise (generic and non generic) have on motivation it does not include a non praise control group. This is the case with many of the studies focusing on praise as it would be unethical. Not including a non praise control group makes it difficult to claim that the increase in motivation is caused by praise alone.
This claim has been argued by many researchers. Swann et al (as cited in McLean, 2003) suggests that some students do not respond well to praise. Students with low self esteem and self worth may be distressed by receiving positive comments as it threatens their own view of themselves. Teachers assume that praising these students would increase their self esteem and self worth and therefore motivation but Swann suggests that offering students to self evaluate and then discussing this evaluation would be more beneficial.
Another positive impact that praise is pupil's having an increased desire to engage in the praised task or behaviour. Sarafino et al (as cited by Henderlong and Lepper, 2002) completed a study that was concerned with fourth grade pupils creating funny endings to riddles. Those who were praised for completing the task selected more riddles to complete and spent more time on task than they did in the time before the praise was given. This benefit has influenced the formulation of PPR as a positive behaviour strategy in the classroom as it assumes that pupils receiving praise for good behaviour will increase the likelihood that they will repeat that desired behaviour.
Lam and Ng (2008) agree that praise does increase pupils desire to engage in the praised task but the type of praise, effort or ability also has an impact. The participant 28 students in this study (15 boys and 13 girls) were asked to complete a task in which they were asked to search for Chinese idioms in a 7x7 matrix of 49 Chinese symbols. All pupils received the same statement of praise on their effort no matter what percentage they found. The evaluation questionnaire revealed that pupils who felt they put in a lot of effort and received effort praise were more likely to engage in the task again rather than those who received effort praise but felt they did not put in as much effort as they should have. Pupils who receive praise that they do not feel they deserve, insincere praise, will have a decreased desire to engage in the task or behaviour they are being praised for. Although this study has a relativity small sample of children and all evidence is based on the pupils own self evaluation the arguments it presents still need to be taken into consideration.
A final benefit of praise is its use in behaviour modification. In simple terms behaviour modification is based on teachers acknowledging that behaviour that is rewarded tends to be repeated and behaviour that is ignored tends to be eliminated. It emphasises that if we want to eliminate problematic behaviour we first have to assess the way we respond to that behaviour. Skinner et al (2002) reviewed much of the previous research on PPR as a behaviour modification technique and suggest that teachers spend more time focusing on and responding to inappropriate behaviour rather then appropriate behaviour, therefore they are actually rewarding the very behaviour they are trying to eliminate. PPR encourages peers to report pro social behaviour rather then reporting social behaviour.
Brophy (1981) argues that students do not need praise to acquire appropriate classroom behaviours instead they should learn these through observation and appropriate feedback from the teacher. He argues that a lot of the praise from the teacher is inconsistent and unspecific raising the question about praise being used as method of controlling pupils. The claim that praise is way of controlling pupils is something that I will develop in greater detail later (Kohn as cited in Henderlong and Lepper 2002).
Another main theme that became apparent through my reading on PPR was the behavioural approach to learning. The behavioural approach focuses on observable behaviour rather than the reasons and motives behind why pupils are behaving the way they are. Assuming this Behaviourists claim that undesirable can be unlearned and new more desirable behaviours can be learned. This is achieved by using rewards (Standredge, M, 2002).
E. L. Thorndike is one of the originators in the Behaviourist approach to learning. His study monitored the behaviour of cats that were imprisoned in a box. Inside this box was a lever that if touched would release the cat from the box. Upon release the cat would receive some kind of reward. He recorded the time it took the cat to escape from the box and noted a gradual reduction in the time it took the cat to escape. From this he formulated several laws of learning. One of those being the law of effect, in which if a stimulus received a pleasing response the likelihood was that the response would be repeated (Phillips and Soltis, 2009). The relevance of this to PPR can be clearly seen.
Stimulus ------------------------- Response ------------------------ Reward
Inside a box -------------------- Touching lever ----------------- Receiving fish
Classroom activities ---------- Positive Behaviour ------------ Peer praise
There are several arguments against the use of the behavioural approach in the classroom. Kohn (1995) claims that rewards are controlling and are a way of getting children to do what you want them to do rather than solving a problem together. He claims that rewards make learning less appealing as it undermines pupil interest. Pupils are only completing a task for what they will receive at end of it not for the sense of achievement they will feel. The behavioural approach is concerned with changing pupil behaviour. He suggests that it may be successful in the short term but a change in behaviour does not indicate a change in attitude.
Using what Thorndike had discovered B. F. Skinner conducted more research and made the claim that behaviour does not have to be rewarded every time it occurs for the behaviour to continue. In fact more persistence is shown if rewards are given randomly. This theory can be see Morrison and Jones (2006) research into the use of PPR as a class wide positive behaviour support unlike other studies the pupil who gives and the pupil who receives the praise are choose at random at the beginning of the PPR session. Numbered note cards were distributed to each pupil and a carnival style wheel was used to select a number. The pupil with that number then choose a chance card, these cards had various statements on the back such as give praise to the person on your left receive praise from a person with a number smaller then yours. This method is unlike other PPR studies in which a target pupil is picked at the beginning of the week and that student will receive the praise statements for a selected amount of time. The results indicated a reduction in the number of weekly critical events observed both in the classrooms after the PPR intervention was implemented.
It could be argued that most research into PPR is conducted within a limited time scale (Bowers et al, 2000). This raises the question of whether or not anti social behaviour returns to the frequency it was observed before the invention was implemented. The observations in this study were complied of ten ten minute observations during unstructured free time in a residential setting. Only two observations were completed after the withdrawal of the implementation. Results indicated that after the withdrawal the number of negative interactions increased, although not to the frequency they had been observed before the intervention. This is mirrored in what Kohn (1995) claimed. He suggested that rewards (praise) are not effective in producing a lasting change in behaviours. He suggests that a child who is rewarded for acting responsibly is given no reason to continue to act in that way when a reward is no longer offered.
A solution to this is offered in a contradicting theory of learning known as the cognitive approach. This focuses instead on what is the reason behind a child's behaviour. Fontana (1994) claims that the cognitive approach is more concerned with pupil motivation and interests and the impact that has on learning and behaviour. It emphasises the importance of learning being relevant to pupils, in that it helps them make sense of their lives and the people around them. If learning is relevant pupils will be intrinsically motivated and less likely to display anti social behaviours. It is emphasised that neither theory in isolation will offer a solution to classroom behaviour issues but implementing an intervention like PPR along side a relevant, contextualised curriculum that involves pupils and takes their interests into account is the starting point in reducing anti social behaviour in the classroom.
Positives of PPR
The final theme to be discussed is the positive implications of the use of PPR in the classroom. As previously discussed a major benefit of PPR is its use in improving classroom behaviour but this is not its only benefit. Moroz and Jones (2002) carried out research on how PPR affected children's social involvement in the classroom. They suggest that social isolated pupils are of primary concern to educators as being neglected by peers' puts pupils at a higher risk of developing emotional and behavioural disorders. This study involves involved three pupils of elementary school age being observed for 30 minutes sessions during recess using the Social Withdrawal Observation Form to calculate the percentage of time spent interacting with their peers. The findings indicate that all three pupils showed a percentage increase in the number of social interactions throughout the intervention. Although it must be noted that there was significant variability across all participants. Implementing PPR to increase the number of positive interactions between pupils may have a positive impact on peer relations and classroom ethos but the limitations must be taken into consideration. As this was a brief study the impact the withdrawal off PPR needs to be further investigated, the fact that it is impossible to isolate the peer praise as the only variable and the difficulty in establishing what exactly a positive interaction consists of means the results of this study must be questioned.
It is claimed that another positive of implementing PPR in the classroom is teaching pupils to focus on pro social rather than the anti social behaviour of their peers. Morrison and Jones (2006) implemented a PPR intervention as a whole class positive behaviour support. Unlike many previous studies that focus on a target pupil(s) (Skinner et al, 2006; Grieger et al 1976; Smith et al, 2009) pupils were encouraged to monitor the behaviour of everyone in the class and report back to the class on pupils picked at random. It is suggested that pupils spend so much of their time observing and reporting the anti social behaviour of their peers that firstly incidents of pro social behaviour go unnoticed and secondly pupils are unaware of how to respond to them. A PPR script was provided for both teachers that indicated the type of things pupils should be praising their peers for and the steps required to give appropriate praise. This script was revised daily before the PPR session commenced. The intervention was implemented in two thirds grade classroom, one with 13 and the other 14 students. An adapted version of the Critical Events Index (CEI) was used by the observer (teacher) to record the number of children who displayed anti social behaviours on a daily basis. The CEI is a checklist of 33 concerning behaviours that may be observed in the classroom. Examples of these behaviours include tantrums, being physically aggressive with peers and using obscene language. Results indicated that during the implementation of PPR the number of concerning behaviours decreased. Although this study produces evidence that proves the positive impact of PPR there are several limitations that need to be taken into account. As the observations of pupil behaviour was being carried out throughout the day the reliability needs to be questioned as there is no way that the accuracy of the recordings can be determined. A percentage of the intervention being observed by an independent observed may increase the reliability of the study. Although both teachers commented on the ease of implementing the intervention the results indicate a high percentage of missing data. It is suggested that further studies do not rely only on teacher observations.
The Behaviour in Scottish School report (2008) emphasises that we as teachers should be encouraging pupils to offer support to each other and contribute as leaders and role models in daily school life. Grieger et al (1976) claimed that the most effect means of encouraging appropriate behaviour is to control the reinforcers provided by the peer group. This study, which was the first studies into effectiveness of PPR wanted to assess whether encouraging kindergarden children to report the friendly and co operative behaviour of their peers would be an effective way of naturally reinforcing appropriate behaviour. This study appears to be more reliable than the study conducted by Morrision and Jones as there were 16 trained observers who were unaware of the purpose of the study and reliability checks were completed at 2 week intervals. The study also included a reversal period when pupils were encouraged to report the unfriendly behaviour of their peers. Result indicated that the number in incidents of co operative play and friendly behaviours decreased during the reporting of positive behaviour and increased again during the reporting of negative behaviours. This reversal period meant the limitation of not having a control group did not apply to this study. The pupils themselves offering praise to their peers in a major benefit of PPR as makes pupils feel like their contribution is valued. Skinner at al (2002) claims another benefit of using peers as change agents is that it is impossible for teachers to observe all pupils behaviour at all times. This often leads to positive behaviour being ignored and negative behaviour gaining attention which is what PPR aims to avoid.
Using praise from peers to alter classroom behaviour is a simple and easily implemented intervention within the children natural environment (Smith et al, 2003) but an argument against the use of praise from peers rather than praise from the teacher is taken from research that claims that immediate and specific praise is the most beneficial. In all PPR studies the praise is not given as soon as the behaviour is observed but instead the class report back as a whole at a specified time. Lam and Ng (2008) claimed that whether pupils are receiving praise for effort or ability can have effective the positive impact it has. They suggest that is more relevant to pupils in the upper stages of the primary school as they would be more aware if they are receiving insincere praise or praise that is undeserved. This is something the teacher will have no control over.