In a bivariate correlation research by Nelson, Young, Young, and Cox (2010), two variables, teachers’ praise note writing and students’ office discipline referrals (ODR), and their measurements are analyzed. In this research, 70 teachers were selected and asked to give written praise notes to students who performed positive behavior. The research sample included 1,809 students (927 boys and 882 girls) from the sixth grade and the seventh grade. The entire experimental study lasted for 2 years. The goal of the research is to identify a correlation between teacher praise and student behavior. Nelson, Young, Young, and Cox (2010) used the statistical test of correlation coefficient to investigate the relationship of the two variables.
In the literature review, Nelson, Young, Young, and Cox (2010) identified that disruptive behavior decreases when teachers praise appropriate behavior; however, there is a gap that “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” (Nelson, Young, Young, & Cox, 2010, p. 120). To address the gap and contribute new knowledge in this area, researchers chose the test of “bivariate correlations to examine the relation between total praise notes written and number of ODRs for each month” (Nelson, Young, Young, & Cox, 2010, p. 121). This is an effective statistical test for the purpose.
In the experiment, one variable, praise note writing, was measured by number of praise notes written per day per 100 students. The other variable, student behavior, was measured by number of ODRs written per 100 students per day. Both variables are continuous measures in ratio scale, thus they are appropriate for the correlational study. Researchers used SPSS statistical analysis software to analyze the data and generate results.
Research Question and Results
This study was aimed to answer a research question: are students receiving praise notes less likely to get an office discipline referral (ODR)? In other words, is there a relationship between teachers’ praise notes and students’ positive behavior? According to Gravetter and Wallnau (2013), “when there is a specific prediction about the direction of the correlation, it is possible to do a directional, or one-tailed, test” (p. 527). In this study, researchers might predict a negative correlation between teachers’ praise notes and students’ ODRs, thus for the statistical test, the null hypothesis could state that the correlation is not negative; the alternative hypothesis could state that the correlation is negative. The research question can be answered by the results of the hypothesis test.
The correlation test for the sample group resulted in r = -.551 with p = .05, which was interpreted by the authors as a statistically “significant negative correlation between the total number of praise notes written to the student body and the number of ODRs” (Nelson, Young, Young, & Cox, 2010, p. 122). A similar result, r = -.553 with p = .05, was obtained in an additional analysis for the subgroup of the sample subjects that include only students having at least one ODR. These results rejected the null hypothesis. Researchers also tested the difference between independent correlations; they found no statistical differences between praise trends for two subject groups (students with and without ODRs), which concludes that teachers did not praise students differently on the basis of their ODR status.
Researchers of this study explained that the results should be considered as correlational, but not causal relations. As stated in Huck (2013), “whether a particular variable has a causal impact on a different variable cannot be determined by measuring the two variables simultaneously and then correlating the two sets of data” (p. 62). On the other hand, although this study is not supposed to determine the cause of decreasing ODR, the strong correlation between writing praise notes and lower ODR should encourage researchers to examine the effects of praise notes and other variables which may indeed cause the change of students’ behavior measured by number of ODRs.
The cited research studied the bivariate correlations between teachers’ written praise notes and students’ ODRs. The results revealed a statistically significant negative correlation between the two variables thus rejected the null hypothesis. The results do not approve a causal relation.
Gravetter, F. J. & Wallnau, L. B. (2013). Statistics for the behavioral sciences (9th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.
Huck, S. W. (2012). Reading statistics and research (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.
Nelson, J. A. P., Young, B. J., Young, E. L., & Cox, G. (2010). Using teacher-written praise notes to promote a positive environment in a middle school. Preventing School Failure, 54(2), 119-125.