Analysis of Research



Doctoral researchers must be able to analyze research studies to determine their significance and contribution to the body of knowledge. This assignment will allow you to practice your skills in analyzing research studies.

General Requirements:

  • Use the following information to ensure successful completion of the assignment:
  • Read the following sections of “Using Teacher-Written Praise Notes to Promote a Positive Environment in a Middle School”: the Abstract, Introduction, Participants and Setting, Procedure, Measures (paragraph 1 only), Data Analysis (paragraph 1 only), Results (paragraph 1 only), and Discussion (paragraphs 1 and 2 only).
  • This assignment uses a rubric. Please review the rubric prior to beginning the assignment to become familiar with the expectations for successful completion.
  • Doctoral learners are required to use APA style for their writing assignments.
  • This assignment requires that at least two additional scholarly research sources related to this topic, and at least one in-text citation from each source be included.


In an essay (300-500 words), use the scenario presented above to answer the following questions:

  1. What statistical test was used in “Using Teacher-Written Praise Notes to Promote a Positive Environment in a Middle School?”
  2. Did the authors use the correct statistical test? In other words, what was their rationale for using this test (i.e., were the variables discrete or continuous and was the test appropriate for this type of data?)
  3. What was the research question? How did the statistical test address and answer the research question?
  4. How did the authors interpret the results of this study?

Using Teacher-Written Praise Notes
to Promote a Positive Environment
in a Middle School
Julie A. Peterson Nelson, Benjamin J. Young, Ellie L. Young, and Gregory Cox
ABSTRACT: Teachers in 1 middle school learned about the positive
school adults intentionally seek opportunities to build and
strengthen adult–youth relationships, they may actually be
decreasing the likelihood that students will act out in the
future (Young, Black, Marchant, Mitchem, & West, 2000).
To meet educational goals, educators must do more than
merely prevent antisocial behaviors; they must increase prosocial behaviors (Winette & Winkler, 1972). Unfortunately,
schools in the United States continue to encourage punishment for problem behaviors (Noguera, 2003), which, in the
absence of a positive schoolwide system of support, has been
associated with increased aggression, vandalism, tardiness,
truancy, and dropouts (Mayer & Sulzer-Azeroff, 1991). Other
researchers have suggested that reinforcing positive behaviors
rather than punishing inappropriate behaviors is an effective
behavior-management system (Walker, Colvin, & Ramsey,
1995). Hence, creating a positive school environment requires
emphasizing preventive and positive measures rather than
punitive procedures (Mitchem, Young, & West, 2000).
Research has empirically shown that one effective positive
behavior-management strategy is teacher praise (Lewis &
Bullock, 2004). Other research has identified a functional
relation between teacher praise and student behavior. Specifically, when teachers praise appropriate behavior, disruptive behavior decreases (Madsen, Becker, & Thomas,
1968). Further research has shown that praise delivered appropriately increases students’ on-task behavior
(Ferguson & Houghton, 1992), classroom motivation
(Thomas, 1991), and academic success (Sutherland &
effects of writing praise notes to students, which is 1 component
of a positive behavior support. The authors intended for this procedure to promote a positive school environment and reinforce
the appropriate use of social skills. Also, the authors instructed
the teachers to use a direct instruction model to teach social skills
lessons during 1st-period classes and praise students when they
effectively demonstrated these skills. The authors analyzed the
data to determine whether students receiving praise notes were
less likely to receive an office discipline referral (ODR). The data
revealed a significant negative correlation between the number of
praise notes and number of ODRs that students received, indicating that as praise notes increased, the rate of ODRs decreased. The
authors provide several hypotheses for this relation.
KEYWORDS: positive behavior support, praise, schoolwide intervention, teacher-written praise
EFFECTIVE SCHOOLWIDE MANAGEMENT of disruptive behaviors is an ongoing national concern (Lewis &
Sugai, 1999; Scott, 2001; Turnbull et al., 2002). School violence, discipline, and safety have been among the top concerns for U.S. educators (American Federation of Teachers,
1995–1996; Elam, Rose, & Gallup, 1998; U.S. Department
of Education, 1995, 2005). When addressing students with
problem behaviors, many schools continue to rely on punitive strategies (e.g., office or administrative disciplinary
interventions, suspensions, expulsions) that do little to create a safe and positive educational environment (Lewis &
Garrison-Harrell, 1999). These types of interventions tend
to be reactionary rather than preventive and proactive.
In addition, these types of responses do little to teach
new behaviors or to increase the likelihood that positive
replacement behaviors would be used in the future (Knoff,
2003). Punitive disciplinary measures can certainly be one
approach to behavior management, but if punishment is
the only approach used, student behaviors are unlikely to
change over the long term. When administrators and other
This study was funded in part by U.S. Office of Special Education
Programs Grant No. H324C030124. Benjamin J. Young and Ellie
L. Young contributed equally to this article.
Address correspondence to Julie A. Peterson Nelson, Psychology Department, 1030 SWKT Brigham Young University, Provo,
UT 84602, Copyright © 2010 Heldref
Preventing School Failure
Wehby, 2001). In addition, praise has been widely recommended as effective in providing encouragement to the
student, building self-esteem, and promoting closer relationships between teachers and students (Brophy, 1981).
Teacher praise appears to have several meaningful outcomes that contribute to increased positive behaviors. However, few researchers have explored the use of written
praise, especially as it relates to students’ use of social
skills. In addition, the connection between written praise
and a decrease in negative behaviors that lead to office
disciplinary action has not been explored, especially among
early adolescent youth. Hence, this article addresses how
a specific positive behavioral intervention (i.e., written
teacher praise) can be a useful strategy for junior high or
middle school teachers and administrators to improve the
school climate, possibly influencing problem behaviors and
lowering rates of office disciplinary referrals (ODRs).
Positive Behavior Support (PBS)
PBS has been widely adopted to create positive behavioral expectations, teach appropriate behaviors, and manage problem behaviors (Scott, 2001), and its use for
affecting students’ behaviors and school climate is well
documented (Sugai, 1998; Sugai & Horner, 1994; Walker
et al., 1996). PBS is a team-based system designed to
facilitate student success by using evidence-based interventions and preventive strategies at a schoolwide, classroom, or individual level. The PBS model creates positive
behavioral expectations for students, makes these positive
expectations explicit, and communicates them widely. For
example, students recognize and can articulate the expectation that, while at school, they must behave in a respectful,
safe, and caring way. This positive expectation is emphasized in schoolwide efforts rather than on the behaviors
that students should not do. The behaviors are explicitly
taught through direct instruction of social skills (Lewis &
Sugai, 1999).
Direct instruction of social skills teaches students the
behavioral expectations of the school community. Just as
a student could be expected to successfully complete a
long division math problem only after specific and directed
instruction in long division, students who have had direct
instruction in social skills are more likely to enact those
skills, thereby meeting the expectations of the adults in the
school. When the student displays the newly learned social
skill, peers and adults should respond positively, thereby
reinforcing the desirable behavior (Gresham, 1998; Lewis,
Chard, & Scott, 1994; Lewis & Sugai, 1996; Lipsey, 1991;
Mayer, 1995; Peacock Hill Working Group, 1991; Sugai &
Horner, 1994; Sugai & Lewis, 1996; Walker et al., 1996).
Teacher praise should be coupled with social skills training
to reinforce such skills by specifically praising the students
for their positive behavior, thus increasing the possibility
Vol. 54, No. 2
of the students’ using the skill in the future. Understanding
how written praise notes may influence disruptive behaviors, as measured by ODR, would add to the understanding
of effective components of the PBS model.
ODRs have historically been used as an index of student
behavior for guiding and developing schoolwide programs
and interventions (Skiba, Peterson, & Williams, 1997;
Sugai, Sprague, Homer, & Walker, 2000; Tobin & Sugai,
1999; Tobin, Sugai, & Colvin, 1996, 2000). The following
three purposes for using ODR data have been identified:
(a) as a guide in the development or selection of specific
environmentally appropriate interventions (e.g., if a significant number of ODRs are being written for disruptive
lunchroom behavior, interventions need to focus on teaching positive behaviors in the lunchroom), (b) as an outcome
measure to evaluate the effectiveness of programs, and
(c) as a screening procedure to identify students who may
benefit from targeted interventions (Nelson, Benner, Reid,
Epstein, & Currin, 2002).
ODR data continue to have practical and empirical
uses. On a practical level, ODRs are used to manage and
monitor students with problematic behaviors. These data
are easily obtained and monitored in most schools. ODRs
can also be used to consider progress toward solving
situational concerns (e.g., disruptive lunchroom behavior). On an empirical level, ODRs have been related to
poor student outcomes such as school failure and juvenile
delinquency (Shinn, Ramsey, Walker, Stieber, & O’Neill,
1987; Sprague et al., 2001; Tobin & Sugai, 1999; Walker,
Shinn, O’Neill, & Ramsey, 1987; Walker & Stieber, 1998;
Walker, Stieber, Ramsey, & O’Neill, 1990). However,
other research has indicated that ODR data for individual
students have been much less predictive of poor outcomes
than teacher ratings or direct observation (Walker et al.,
1990) and that a teacher’s use of such data may be influenced by a variety of variables such as classroom management, discipline policies, and teacher tolerance (Sugai
et al., 2000; Wright & Dusek, 1998). Additional research
has compared ODR data with teachers’ ratings on the
Teacher Report Form (Auchenbach, 1991) and found that
the use of ODR records failed to identify many students
whom teachers rated as meeting borderline or clinical cutoff scores for students at risk for emotional and behavioral
disorders (Nelson et al., 2002).
Although the use of ODR records is one way of measuring outcomes of schoolwide PBS interventions, these
records measure negative and ineffective behaviors rather
than positive replacement behaviors that are being taught
and reinforced. Creating a way to measure the socially
appropriate behaviors of youth as they demonstrate their
mastery of social skills and other positive behaviors could
Vol. 54, No. 2
be a meaningful and important component of evaluating
intervention outcomes. In addition, carefully reviewing
praise note data (e.g., frequency, content, distribution) may
be an alternative means of documenting progress toward
PBS goals.
This descriptive research considered the use of praise
notes to evaluate PBS-focused objectives. Specifically,
we considered how instructing teachers about praise and
then reinforcing teachers’ use of praise notes to students
demonstrating competency with social skills would influence ODRs. The use of written praise notes has not been
adequately explored in the research literature, especially in
the middle or junior high school setting.
Participants and Setting
Participants were 70 teachers (48 women, 22 men) and
1,809 sixth- and seventh-grade students (927 boys [51%],
882 girls [49%]; 86% Caucasian, 11% Hispanic, 1% Native
American, and 1% Pacific Islander, African American,
or Asian) at secondary schools in the western part of the
United States. Approximately 39% of these students qualified for free or reduced-price lunch.
This school was in the 3rd year of implementing a schoolwide PBS model. A school planning committee—comprising
school administration, selected teachers, and representatives
from a local university—discussed concerns and developed schoolwide goals. School faculty and staff members
addressed these goals by providing social skills lessons,
instructing students on expectations for their behavior, and
agreeing to increase positive feedback to students.
We instructed the teachers that during this study, which
was conducted across 2 consecutive school years, they were
to write praise notes to students whose behavior exemplified schoolwide PBS goals. At the beginning of the school
year, as a part of a 2-day PBS training sequence, teachers
were taught how to effectively praise students. Teachers
were given blank praise notes with instructions on how to
fill them out.
Praise notes were printed in triplicate on no-carbonrequired paper. Students were given the original copy.
Teachers turned in a copy for drawings and prizes; we used
this copy for data analysis. Last, the third copy was given
to parents during parent–teacher conferences. Praise note
data (e.g., name of student, name of teacher, date, behavior for which the student was praised) were entered into
Peterson Nelson, Young, Young, & Cox
a database. Fewer than 1% of notes were incomplete and
therefore eliminated from the analyses.
The names of students who had received praise notes
were entered into a weekly drawing for a candy bar, and
winners were recognized during morning announcements.
Teachers were given neither incentives to write praise notes
nor feedback regarding the notes they had written. During
the first 7 months of the intervention, rates of notes written were somewhat low (0–2 praise notes per 100 students
per day). To increase praise note rates, teachers were given
reinforcements during the final 2 months of the school year
and throughout the 9 months of the following school year.
Teachers received gift certificates to local restaurants when
they reached benchmark numbers of notes written (e.g.,
25, 60, 100, 150). The requirements to earn gift certificates
increased slightly during the 2nd year of the study because
teachers exceeded goals from the previous year. The number of praise notes written was reported to teachers, and
praise notes were placed in a box for drawings for prizes
during faculty meetings. Teachers were also given a list of
students who had not received a praise note that year.
Data Analysis
We tracked students’ ODRs using a district-maintained
database and collected teacher-written praise notes for the
2005–2006 and 2006–2007 school years. Praise note and
ODR data were analyzed quantitatively using SPSS statistical analysis software (Version 15.0). The unit of analysis
was number of praise notes written per day per 100 students. This measure allowed for all months to be compared
equally despite differences in number of days per month. It
was also consistent in the event of changes in student body
size. The unit of analysis for ODRs was also number of
ODRs written per 100 students per day. We used bivariate
correlations to examine the relation between total praise
notes written and number of ODRs for each month.
In addition, data were analyzed separately for a subgroup
of students who had received one or more ODRs to determine whether students with ODRs received praise notes at
the same rate as students without ODRs and to determine
whether receiving praise notes influenced ODRs to students
who had previously received one or more ODR. For these
analyses, we divided the student body into two groups: (a)
students who received at least one ODR during the study,
and (b) students who did not receive any ODRs. Students
who received praise were categorized similarly. Again, we
used bivariate correlations to examine the relation between
praise notes received and ODRs received among students in
this subgroup. To test whether students who did not receive
ODRs were praised more frequently than were students
who received at least one ODR, we used a test for difference between independent correlations. This procedure
examines whether two correlations significantly differ. For
Preventing School Failure
this analysis, we converted each correlation coefficient into
a Fischer’s z and ran a z test. Figure 1 shows the number of
praise notes written per 100 students per day, and Figure 2
shows the number of ODRs written per day.
Over the course of this 2-year study, 14,527 praise notes
were written, and 2,143 ODRs were recorded (see Figures 1
and 2). There was a significant negative correlation between
the total number of praise notes written to the student body
and the number of ODRs for the student body (r ⫽ ⫺.551,
p ⬍ .05), indicating that, as praise notes increased, ODR
rates decreased. In addition, for the subgroup of students who
received at least one ODR, there was a significant negative correlation between praise notes received and number of ODRs:
As praise notes increased among students with at least one
ODR, their rates of ODR decreased (r ⫽ ⫺.553, p ⬍ .05).
Teachers wrote an average of 0.88 notes per day per 100
students during the first 7 months of the study. Praise notes
written increased 672% to an average of 5.91 notes per day
per 100 students for the remaining 2 months of the 1st year
and the entire 9 months of the 2nd school year when incentives were given to teachers for writing praise notes.
Further examination of the data revealed that 28.4% of
all students received one or more ODRs during the study.
Students with ODRs received 5.2 praise notes per day per
100 students, whereas students with no ODRs received 7.5
praise notes per day per 100 students. Although students
with ODRs were praised slightly less than the rest of the
student body, praise trends for students with ODRs were
significantly correlated with praise trends for the rest of the
student body, r ⫽ .94, p ⬍ .001. A test for difference between
independent correlations indicated no statistical differences
Vol. 54, No. 2
between praise trends for students with ODRs and praise
trends for the rest of the student body, indicating that all students were praised at similar rates: z ⫽ .02, p ⬎ .05.
The general aim of this study was to explore how teachers’ use of praise notes to students demonstrating competency with social skills would influence ODRs. The results
showed that praise notes and ODRs had a significant negative correlation: As praise notes increased, rates of ODR
decreased. Hence, the data provide some evidence that
increasing teacher praise notes may have been influencing
the decrease in ODRs. However, more closely controlled
research is needed.
As with any descriptive research, the results of this study
should be considered as correlational—not causal—relations. There are several variables that could have contributed to a decrease in ODRs: Social skill instruction may
have been a sufficient intervention to decrease ODRs. Also,
ODRs may have decreased as administrators and teachers
became more skilled in responding to behaviors that led
to ODRs. It is also possible that in noticing and praising
positive student behavior, teachers may have overlooked or
become less focused on inappropriate behaviors. Although
the cause of lower ODR rates cannot be determined by this
descriptive study, it appears that teacher praise contingent
upon the use of social skills had positive outcomes for students and for the overall school climate—reinforcing positive behaviors and decreasing rates of ODR.
Recommendations for Principals and Administrators
We implemented this intervention to reach PBS goals
and encourage the use of social skills. When several
FIGURE 1. Average number of praise notes per day per 100 students, by month.
Vol. 54, No. 2
Peterson Nelson, Young, Young, & Cox
FIGURE 2. Average number of office disciplinary referrals per day for 100 students, by month.
important strategies were in place, teachers’ use of praise
notes increased. Teachers received specific and targeted
instruction about praise at the beginning of the school
year, including reminders that praise should be delivered
sincerely and that praise notes should reinforce specific
and directly communicated behavioral expectations. The
effectiveness of praise notes would probably have more
meaning and focus when integrated into a comprehensive
PBS model.
Toward the end of the school year, we reviewed the data
with teachers and administrators, who were then encouraged and reinforced for writing praise notes. Periodically, teachers who had written praise notes had their names
placed in a lottery for prizes to be given during faculty
meetings. In addition, when teachers had written 25 praise
notes, they were given a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
Certificates to higher quality restaurants were given when
the teacher had written 60, 100, and 150 praise notes. This
monitoring and public reporting seems to have been vital to
motivating and reinforcing teachers.
Teachers were made aware of those students who had not
yet received a praise note and were encouraged to watch for
positive behaviors of students who had not been recognized.
Some teachers expressed concerns that they were being
encouraged to write notes to students with behavior problems, whereas a few students with appropriate behaviors
may have been overlooked. Other teachers opined that only
exemplary students deserved the recognition. Additional
training, combined with data, addressed these concerns
and reminded teachers that the purpose of praise notes was
to reinforce the use of social skills that were being taught
weekly in the classrooms. Even students with behavior
problems showed appropriate social skills at times, and it
was appropriate to recognize their efforts. It is possible that
the praise notes written to students with a history of behavior problems contributed to the decrease in the number of
ODRs. Hence, encouraging teachers to recognize specific,
positive behaviors of all students was an important component of this project.
It was not until data on praise notes were summarized and
feedback was given to teachers that they began to recognize
and understand the effect of praise notes on student behavior
and ODRs. Summarizing the data on praise notes took a fair
amount of time and resources for counting notes, as did determining those students who had or had not received them and
monitoring which teachers had or had not been writing notes.
However, it appears that these resources were appropriately
spent because fewer ODRs were given, meaning that more
students were in the classroom and receiving instruction.
Processes for recording data were funded as part of a major
research project; however, in schools without such funding,
teachers could assign students or parent volunteers to assist or
make data gathering and analysis a project for mathematics or
statistics courses or service-learning classes if the information
was not considered confidential. In addition, teachers need to
be informed that the number of praise notes they write would
become public information in the school. Depending on factors such as administrators’ style or school culture, identifying
information about teachers’ rates of praise notes written may
need to remain confidential, although we found that providing
intermittent feedback, which included specific data regarding
the effectiveness of praise notes, increased teachers’ motivation to praise students.
Lessons Learned
Teachers and administrators implementing praise notes
as a schoolwide intervention can benefit from the lessons
learned by following these recommendations:
Preventing School Failure
Vol. 54, No. 2
1. Provide teachers with ongoing, specific instruction on
effective praise.1 Consistently encourage teachers to
write praise notes; our intervention was discussed in
faculty meetings, and teachers were reminded to deliver
praise to students using the social skills that were being
taught schoolwide. Teachers’ personal stories of how
praise notes made a positive difference were shared in
faculty meetings or in e-mails.
2. Give teachers specific feedback regarding the number of
notes written and the names of students who had and had
not received praise notes. This feedback increased teachers’ awareness of their progress toward a schoolwide goal
and facilitated data-based decision making.
3. Review praise notes and ODR data with teachers to demonstrate the possible effect of written praise on student
behavior and ODRs.
4. Most important, reinforce teachers for writing praise
notes. When teachers had an opportunity to earn gift certificates for praising students, the total number of praise
notes written dramatically increased.
5. This intervention seemed to be most effective and easily implemented as a component of an integrated PBS
model designed to increase students’ social skill use. The
combination of these strategies appeared to significantly
influence rates of praise notes.
ODRs decreased. This approach—which emphasizes positive and preventive measures rather than punitive and reactionary measures—appears to be beneficial in creating a
more positive school environment.
Limitations and Future Research
As with any descriptive research, the findings of this
study are correlational, and causal relations should not
be assumed. Several variables may have influenced the
decrease in ODRs, such as teachers’ skills in responding
to students’ inappropriate behavior, administrators’ skills
at teaching more positive behaviors to students sent to the
office for discipline purposes, and effects of reporting data
to faculty. Moreover, teachers and administrators were
making concentrated efforts to decrease rates of ODR by
responding more positively to students as part of the PBS
model. In addition, this post hoc analysis lacked a priori
awareness of other confounding factors not controlled for
or identified before or during the research that may have
influenced the outcomes.
The results of this study may have limited generalizability to other schools. Administrators and teachers at this
school were responsive to innovative methods implemented
to achieve PBS goals. In addition, this school had limited
ethnic diversity. These contextual factors should be considered in future applications. Moreover, other PBS goals and
objectives were being implemented at this school that could
have influenced the results.
Regardless of limitations, the findings of this study are
encouraging. When teachers and administrators attended
to positive behaviors, praising students for demonstrating
social skills, students’ problem behaviors and, consequently,
1. One Web-based article that could be used to educate teachers
and administrators about the steps for delivering praise is titled
High Rates of Positive Responses, available from http://www.usu
Julie A. Peterson Nelson is a visiting assistant professor in
the psychology department at Brigham Young University. Her
research interests include gender issues in social development,
praise, and sexual harassment. Ellie L. Young is an associate
professor and coordinator of the school psychology program at
Brigham Young University. Her research interests include gender and educational issues, as well as working with youth with
behavioral and emotional concerns. Benjamin J. Young is in
mental health counseling and is a data and technology specialist at
Brigham Young University’s Positive Behavior Support Initiative.
His research interests include positive psychology, early intervention and screening, and technology in schools. Gregory Cox is a
public school superintendent currently working in a school district
on the Wind River Indian Reservation in Wyoming. His research
interests include the practical application of educational and
behavioral research to ongoing student and school improvement.
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