Is Positive Feedback a Forgotten Classroom Practice?
Findings and Implications for At-Risk Students
SARUP R. MATHUR,
and GITA UPRETI
Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ, USA
The University of Texas at El Paso, El Paso, TX, USA
Although using higher rates of positive to negative feedback is one best practice often recommended to teachers, particularly when it
comes to students experiencing behavioral problems in classroom settings, research on the use of positive feedback in classroom
teaching practice has revealed inconsistent results. Research has documented ﬂuctuations in trends of teachers’use of positive
feedback strategies, justifying further inquiry into the current state of classroom practice. This study aimed to examine the current
state of classroom feedback practices among teachers of a district who were asked to rate their students’risk levels for developing
emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD). The researchers found that students identiﬁed as high risk and low risk for EBD received
teacher feedback at a signiﬁcantly different rate. Students identiﬁed as high risk for EBD received negative feedback at a higher rate
than their same-setting peers. Implications for teachers on the use of feedback for students at-risk for EBD are presented.
Keywords: at-risk, emotional and behavioral disorders, feedback, negative feedback, positive feedback
Students with challenging behavior often have educational
experiences that include ongoing problematic relationships
with peers and adults. The nature of the interaction between
a teacher and a student who is identiﬁed as being at risk for
emotional and behavioral disorders (EBD) often results in
an over reliance on negative exchanges. As a means to further
examine these atypical experiences and provide recommenda-
tions for increasing positive behavior and interactions in the
classroom, this study examined a speciﬁc aspect of teachers’
interactions with students who were rated as being at risk for
developing EBD through the analysis of feedback.
There has been considerable research dedicated to analyz-
ing delivery of approval and disapproval in teacher–student
interactions. Often, studies have suggested that teachers gen-
erally rely on negative feedback strategies to convey disap-
proval of behavior speciﬁcally to those students who exhibit
problem behaviors (Gunter & Coutinho, 1997; Kerr &
Nelson, 2006; Shores, Gunter, & Jack, 1993; Sutherland,
Lewis-Palmer, Stichter, & Morgan, 2008; Sutherland &
Wehby, 2001). Despite an abundance of research demonstrat-
ing evidence in favor of the use of positive reinforcement
strategies to teach and reinforce desired behaviors as an
instructional practice (Gable, Hendrickson, Young, Shores,
& Stowitschek, 1983; Keller, Brady, & Taylor, 2005; Myers,
Simonsen, & Sugai, 2011; Partin, Robertson, Maggin, Oliver,
& Wehby, 2009; Sutherland, Wehby, & Copeland, 2000),
such strategies have still not become the norm in classrooms.
Feedback is a critical mechanism between a teacher and a
student for building understanding, promoting healthy inter-
actions, and fostering welcoming classroom climates (Jen-
nings & Greenberg, 2009). Kerr and Nelson (2006) claimed
feedback usually occurs in response to particular behaviors
and as a result, affects the recurrence of those behaviors.
Feedback can be categorized in the research literature as
being either positive (e.g., teacher delivery of approval or
praise for a desired behavior) or negative (e.g., teacher dis-
plays of disapproval for undesired behaviors). The student-
intrinsic factors that may affect teacher use of feedback along
these two dimensions, positive and negative, are a central
focus of this study.
Feedback can also be information given to a person to
scaffold learning experiences and evaluate performance suc-
cessively toward a goal. As mentioned earlier, categories of
feedback can vary qualitatively, with the two most broadly
used deﬁnitions being positive or negative. For the purposes
of this study, positive feedback is deﬁned as verbal, nonver-
bal, or tangible feedback, which includes praise, behavior
points, awards, and/or positive acknowledgement of a
desired or appropriate behavior. For example, if a behavior
or task is demonstrated correctly, the delivery of positive
feedback may communicate the intent that a behavior should
continue. Positive feedback can be used to indicate that an
expected or desired behavior was demonstrated, or can be
used to reinforce successive steps toward a goal. In contrast,
the delivery of negative feedback suggests that a behavior or
task was not performed correctly, thus indicating that a
change of behavior is needed to demonstrate successive
behaviors toward a goal. Negative feedback in this study is
deﬁned as the delivery of a verbal or nonverbal reprimand,
Address correspondences to Katie Sprouls, Division of Educa-
tional Leadership and Innovation, Arizona State University,
500 N. Bullard Avenue, Suite #27, Tempe, AZ 85338, USA.
Preventing School Failure, 0(0), 1–8, 2015
Copyright © Taylor & Francis Group, LLC
ISSN: 1045-988X print / 1940-4387 online
consequence, ultimatum, and/or leave request to indicate the
need to terminate a behavior (Nelson & Roberts, 2000).
Researchers have noted the ameliorative effects of positive
feedback in promoting appropriate classroom behaviors
(e.g., Beaman & Wheldall, 2000; Burnett, 2002; Hattie &
Timperley, 2007; Keller et al., 2005; Sutherland et al., 2000).
Accordingly, teachers have been encouraged to use strategies
which encourage and reinforce appropriate classroom behav-
ior and which may decrease problem behavior by focusing on
building these alternative, classroom-appropriate behaviors.
Positive feedback that speciﬁcally identiﬁes the desired
behavior has been suggested to be exceptionally effective in
promoting appropriate behavior among school-age students
(Chalk & Bizo, 2004). Review of the literature on feedback
found this action to be among the strongest inﬂuences on stu-
dent achievement, along with direct instruction, reciprocal
teaching, and activating prior knowledge, with the most
effective forms of feedback identiﬁed as those that were clear,
goal-directed, and accompanied by additional reinforcement
(Chalk & Bizo, 2004; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Sutherland,
Research has suggested that teachers can initiate positive
exchanges by clearly communicating high expectations for
student success to all students, and providing frequent posi-
tive feedback to students, which allows them to recognize
their behavioral and academic success (George, Kincaid, &
Pollard-Sage, 2009; Sprick, Garrison, & Howard, 2002). Spe-
ciﬁcally, researchers recommend teachers make every effort
to have their number of positive interactions exceed the num-
ber of negative interactions by a ratio of at least three to one
(Sprick, 1981, 2006). Despite the appeal of this recommenda-
tion, positive interactions with teachers are not as frequent
among students who demonstrate long-standing problematic
behaviors in the classroom (Henricsson & Rydell, 2004) and
negative student–teacher interactions have a strong associa-
tion with long-term academic and behavioral problems
(Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Hamre & Pianta, 2005; Pianta,
Hamre, & Allen, 2012).
Beaman and Wheldall (2000) analyzed trends of teachers’
rates of delivering approval and disapproval feedback across
studies. These authors discussed the possibility of an increas-
ing trend in rates of teachers’use of approval over disap-
proval in the classroom from the mid-1980s to 2000. In their
review, they also noted that the approval statements were
delivered more frequently for academic behaviors than for
social behaviors (Beaman & Wheldall, 2000). These ﬁndings
pinpoint a shortfall in the utility of positive feedback strate-
gies to increase desired behaviors and reduce problem behav-
ior. Thus, increasing teacher rates of positive feedback
statements to students who experience behavioral difﬁculties
in the classroom may play a vital role in increasing prosocial
behavior and decreasing rates of school failure for those
Feedback and Students With EBD
The use of positive feedback is a validated universal strategy
for working with students, but more speciﬁcally, its use has
been deemed particularly effective for students who are sus-
pected to have or are identiﬁed as having EBD. Sutherland
and colleagues (2000) examined the effects of increasing posi-
tive feedback within a classroom dedicated to educating stu-
dents with EBD. They used teacher feedback as an
intervention and discovered that increases in on-task behav-
ior for the target student and the class as a whole were con-
current with increases in rates of teachers’use of positive
feedback. Research on the use of feedback practices continu-
ally reveals that students with EBD learn to behave in
socially appropriate ways when effective feedback practices
are in place (Lingo, Jolivette, & Barton-Arwood, 2009).
Unfortunately, regardless of data that suggest positive
feedback strategies are tied to increases in desired classroom
behavior for students with or at risk for developing EBD, a
long history of studies suggests teachers may tend to react
selectively, or more reactively, toward students who demon-
strate challenging behaviors. Across studies, students who
exhibit problem behavior consistently receive disproportion-
ate amounts of disapproval-focused feedback than do their
peers, and many of the ﬁndings suggest teacher rates of posi-
tive feedback strategies for students with behavioral difﬁcul-
ties were consistently low and, in some cases, nonexistent
(Kerr & Nelson, 2006; Shores et al., 1993; Sutherland et al.,
2008; Sutherland & Wehby, 2001; Wehby, Symons, Canale,
& Go, 1998).
This study originated in the Southwestern United States,
in response to a school district request for more information
about its schools’use of Positive Behavior Intervention and
Support (PBIS) practices among classroom teachers. The dis-
trict administrator, who was part of the district’s PBIS team,
asked one of the researchers to examine the actual teacher
use of positive feedback in eight elementary schools. The dis-
trict was in the process of training school-level faculty and
staff to implement classroom-level positive behavioral inter-
ventions and supports and was hearing from teachers that
they were currently already using positive feedback strategies
within recommended parameters. All eight building-level
administrators indicated interest in actual observations of the
use of this strategy. More speciﬁcally, these administrators
were interested in measuring the extent of teachers’use of
positive and negative feedback between typically developing
students and those who were identiﬁed as being at risk for
developing EBD. In addition to examining classroom teach-
ers’use of positive and negative feedback toward students
who are identiﬁed as high-risk and low-risk for EBD, this
study also explored how closely current classroom teaching
practices reﬂected the recommended ratio of three instances
of positive feedback to one instance of negative feedback
(Sprick, 1981, 2006).
The study was conducted in 56 classrooms among eight sub-
urban public K-5 elementary schools in a school district out-
side a large southwestern city. The average population of the
2Sprouls, Mathur, and Upreti
participating schools was 786 students. The student-teacher
ratio in classrooms was 21:1. Two schools in the sample qual-
iﬁed as Title I status for federal funds. Schools varied in their
rates of free and reduced-price lunch (16% to 61%), with an
average of 35% of the population across the schools. The dis-
trict’s ethnic student demographics were as follows: White,
77.1%; Hispanic, 24.9%; Black, 3.8%; Native American, .9%;
and other, 18.0%.
The English language learner population of the district
was 6.9% with Spanish as the primary home language for the
majority of English language learner students. There were
8.6% of students identiﬁed as having special needs. The sus-
pension rate of the participating schools was an average of
.04 suspensions per academic day, which was not dissimilar
to the average of the district at large. Demographics of the
district are reported in Table 1.
We recruited 56 teachers from the participating schools on
the basis of the following criteria: (a) teacher willingness to
provide class-wide behavioral screening data to systemati-
cally screen for behavioral and academic needs and (b) the
presence of two or more students in their classroom who
scored in the high- and low-risk range for EBD on the screen-
ing instrument. The majority of teachers were White women,
who earned a bachelor’s degree and held an elementary edu-
cation licensure. Demographics of the participating teachers
are reported in Table 2.
The Student Risk Screening Scale (SRSS; Drummond, 1994)
was the district-approved screening tool used to identify
high- and low-risk students in each teacher’s classroom.
Information derived from this tool was used by the district to
initiate the Behavior Support Process for students identiﬁed
as being at high risk for developing EBD. For this study, one
student from the high-risk pool and one student from the
low-risk pool were randomly selected as target students from
each participating teacher’s classroom, although teachers
were not informed about which student was chosen from
among the three they had nominated for each risk category.
Selection of one high-risk student and one low-risk student
from each classroom resulted in 112 total student participants
for the study. Demographics of the participating students are
reported in Table 3.
Student Risk Screening Scale
Each participating teacher provided their ratings on the
SRSS, a brief screening instrument designed to ﬁnd children
who are at risk for developing antisocial behaviors (Drum-
mond, 1994). The SRSS uses a 4-point Likert-type scale that
requires the classroom teacher to rate behaviors of each
Table 1. Characteristics of Participating Schools
Free and reduced-price
(% of population)
(% of population)
(% of population)
disorders rates (% of
1 908 34.8 .04 7.8 .07 21.3 No
2 670 32.9 .02 8.6 .02 19.4 No
3 639 36.4 .00 10.2 .02 24.2 No
4 824 61.2 .05 10.9 .10 21.4 Yes
5 638 16.9 .04 6.4 .04 22.4 No
6 876 39.1 .09 7.9 .01 20.7 No
7 749 39.6 .07 10.6 .03 19.3 Yes
8 987 21.7 .01 6.5 .06 22.1 No
Table 2. Demographic Characteristics of Participating Teachers
Characteristics nPercentage of sample
K 6 10.7
1 6 10.7
2 13 23.2
3 8 14.2
4 10 17.8
5 13 23.2
Teaching license type
Early childhood 5 8.9
Elementary education 51 91.1
Highest level of education
Bachelor’s degree 25 44.6
Master’s degree 19 33.9
White 50 89.2
Black 1 1.7
Hispanic 3 5.4
Native American 2 3.5
Male 3 5.4
Female 53 94.6
Positive Feedback 3
student. Teachers assign a score (0–3) to each student in the
class relative to certain behavioral criteria. Total scores on
the SRSS range from 0 to 21. Scores of 9 to 21 indicate high
risk, 4 to 8 moderate risk, and 0 to 3 low risk. Validity and
reliability studies have yielded strong correlations (rD.79),
with the Aggressive Behavior subscale of the Child Behavior
Checklist (Achenbach, 1991) and the SRSS, along with other
commonly used and psychometrically sound instruments
(Lane, Parks, Robertson, Kalberg, & Carter, 2007).
Feedback Coding System
Teacher feedback was measured using an adapted version of
a student and teacher observation system created by Nelson
and Roberts (2000). The system was originally designed to
record ongoing reciprocal behaviors between a teacher and a
student in classroom settings. Teacher behavior codes were
solely selected and adapted to include a series of ﬁve descrip-
tors of teachers’actions, which were coded as positive or neg-
ative feedback during data collection. The descriptors
selected for data collection were reprimands,ultimatums,con-
sequences,leave requests, and approvals. Nelson and Roberts
(2000) provided operational deﬁnitions of the seven codes.
Reprimands were coded when the teacher asked the target
student to stop a problem behavior (e.g., “Stop hitting”or
“Stop teasing”). Ultimatums were coded when the teacher
provided the target student a verbal choice to stop a problem
behavior or the student would encounter a response cost
(e.g., “If you don’t stop, then I will...”or “I need you to be
quiet or...”). Consequences were coded when the teacher
gave the target student a designated consequence for a prob-
lem behavior (e.g., loss of a privilege or points). A leave
request was coded when the teacher asked the target student
to leave the classroom due to problem behavior (e.g., requests
to go to the principal’sofﬁce or to the hall outside the class-
room). Approval was coded when the teacher used positive
actions to acknowledge the target student’s appropriate
behavior or reacted in a positive manner toward the target
student’s appropriate behavior (e.g., providing points for a
positive behavior program or tangible response such as a
sticker or points, social response such as a smile, “Thank
you,”“I like your behavior when you...”or “Good job”).
The coding system comprised of daily data collection
sheets with the positive and negative feedback descriptors on
rows and columns. Observers were trained in the deﬁnitions
and documentation of each descriptor. The data collection
sheets were used during every 20-min observation session.
The designated codes were placed into one of the two groups:
positive feedback toward target students and negative feed-
back toward target students. Approvals for positive actions
were counted as positive feedback; reprimands, ultimatums,
consequences, ad leave requests were added toward negative
feedback. Vibrating timers were used to alert the observers of
the end of each observation data collection session.
Description of Observers and Observer Training
Three graduate students, two school psychologists, and one
researcher with a doctoral degree in special education col-
lected data for the study. These six individuals constituted the
observer/research team. The observers received a 10-hr train-
ing on the modiﬁed version of the observational coding sys-
tem originally constructed by Nelson and Roberts (2000)
before data collection to establish interobserver reliability.
Observers worked on deﬁnitions and examples of positive
and negative feedback. Videotapes of actual and simulated
classroom situations, group discussions to clarify operational
deﬁnitions, and successful completion of mastery quizzes
were the main components of the training sessions. Observers
were required to demonstrate mastery of objectives by meet-
ing the criteria of 90% accuracy on three precoded instruc-
tional videos of classrooms. All observers reached the
mastery criterion after receiving training.
During the data collection phases, interobserver agreement
was calculated for 25% of all observation sessions. Agree-
ment for accurate observations of positive and negative feed-
back occurrences was calculated by taking the smaller
number of occurrences of each code and divided by the larger
number of occurrences of that code obtained by both observ-
ers then multiplied by 100. The principal researcher served as
an independent observer across all the observers and con-
ducted interrated reliability for 25% of the sessions. The inter-
observer agreement ranged from 90% to 100%, with an
average of 96%.
Table 3. Demographic Characteristics of Target Students (ND112)
Low risk (nD56) High risk (nD56)
Characteristic nPercentage of low-risk sample nPercentage of high-risk sample
White 33 58.9 33 58.9
Black 3 5.3 10 17.8
Hispanic 15 26.7 12 21.4
Other 5 8.9 1 1.8
Male 46 82.1 48 85.7
Female 10 17.8 8 14.3
4Sprouls, Mathur, and Upreti
Data were collected in two phases: In Phase 1, researchers
collected data on teachers’normative levels of feedback
toward all students in their general education classrooms;
and during Phase 2, researchers focused on collecting data on
teachers’positive and negative feedback toward the target
high- and low-risk students. Each participating teacher’s
classroom was observed 12 times during Fall 2011. The dura-
tion of each observation session lasted 20 min.
During Phase 1, every teacher was observed twice for
20 min per session. Each teacher’s normative use of positive
and negative feedback toward all students in the classroom
was coded. A teacher’s normative rate of feedback was
deﬁned as the rate of teacher feedback in the general educa-
tion classroom regardless of the risk level of the student. The
data obtained during this phase provided an average of each
teacher’s use of positive and negative feedback toward any
student in the general education classroom regardless of stu-
dent risk level. Data from this phase were used to generate a
baseline level of teachers’normative, rather than targeted,
use of positive and negative feedback.
Phase 2 consisted of ten 20 minute observation sessions
during which delivery of positive and negative feedback
toward identiﬁed high- and low-risk students was noted.
Each teacher was observed for 200 min during this phase.
The data collectors were instructed to vary the days and times
of their observations to contribute to a more reliable estimate
of the overall feedback delivery. The observers revisited class-
rooms on another day if either target student was absent to
meet the required observations.
Baseline Feedback Data
Phase 1 data collection was conducted before the identiﬁca-
tion of target high- and low-risk students. During the two 20-
min observation sessions, baseline data were collected for
each participating teacher on their normative and typical use
of feedback with their classroom students. The results of the
baseline data collection revealed that for all participating
teachers, the average ratio of positive to negative feedback
was 1:1, one positive to one negative, across the students in
Difference Between Feedback for High- and Low-Risk
Observers collected data for 10 observation sessions during
Phase 2, counting the occurrences of positive and negative
feedback delivered by the teacher directly toward each target
high- and low-risk student during the observation sessions
(see Table 4). Upon examination, data patterns revealed a
signiﬁcantly higher use of negative rather than positive feed-
back toward the high-risk students, which yielded an average
of two negative feedback to one positive feedback occurrence.
No signiﬁcant differences between the high- and low-risk
groups were observed with regard to positive feedback.
Ttest ﬁndings exposed signiﬁcant differences in teachers’
use of negative feedback between the target populations of
high- and low-risk students (p<.001). In terms of the deliv-
ery of negative feedback, the high-risk group received, on
average, eight negative feedback occurrences to four positive
occurrences during an observation session. A much more
restricted range was observed among teachers’use of positive
to negative feedback among the low-risk student group; for
every three positive feedback occurrences, there was one
instance of negative feedback. When compared with results
from Phase 1 data, which counted teacher feedback delivery
among the general student population, however, the low-risk
students received a signiﬁcantly higher ratio of positive feed-
back to negative feedback (3:1) than did the general student
Overall, among all the students in the study, those in the
high-risk group received signiﬁcantly more negative feedback
than positive feedback. Although the high-risk students over-
all also received more positive feedback (MD4.78) than did
the low-risk students (MD3.73), the average occurrence of
negative feedback for the high-risk group was higher (MD
8.71) than the baseline/normative rate (MD6.91) and signif-
icantly higher than the negative feedback rate for the low-risk
group (MD1.25), suggesting that although teachers may
have had more actual interactions with high-risk students,
the majority of these were negative.
Differential treatment of students at risk for EBD in educa-
tional settings has been related to a host of poor outcomes,
both academic and social. Students with EBD are more likely
to be placed in restrictive settings, experience a greater reoc-
currence of academic and social failure, and are more likely
to drop out of school (Center for Effective Collaboration and
Practice, 2001) than are students identiﬁed with any other
category of disability. It is important to examine the educa-
tional experience for these students to reduce factors that con-
tribute to these atypical experiences, and which could
potentially exacerbate existing problem behaviors in the
classroom. Thus, the present study investigated disparities in
teachers’use of positive and negative feedback among high-
and low-risk groups of students.
Table 4. Mean Occurrence of Positive and Negative Feedback,
by Risk Level and Reported Signiﬁcance Level
Low risk (nD56) High risk (nD56)
M SD M SD p
Positive feedback 3.73 4.20 4.78 5.63 .264
Negative feedback 1.25 1.56 8.71 8.40 .000*
Note. Mean represents average occurrence of feedback observed across ten
20-min observation sessions.
Positive Feedback 5
These ﬁndings highlight the need for a critical analysis of
how well various behavior modiﬁcation practices are able to
be implemented in the classroom. Despite the fact that posi-
tive feedback has been recommended as a very useful strategy
for all students, and even more speciﬁcally with students at
risk for EBD (Fedor, Davis, Maslyn, & Mathison, 2001;
Hattie & Timperely, 2007; Sutherland et al., 2000), the pres-
ent study results reveal that teachers in this district were not
routinely relying on positive feedback in their classrooms to
recognize appropriate student academic and social behaviors.
The data reveal a pronounced overreliance on negative strate-
gies toward students identiﬁed as at-risk for EBD.
Educational theorists such as Sprick have recommended
that teachers strive for at least a 3:1 ratio in their use of posi-
tive to negative feedback. Students who receive positive feed-
back are more likely to be motivated and engaged, and to
experience academic success (Illies & Judge, 2005; Pintrich &
Schunk, 2002). This study’sﬁndings indicate that participat-
ing teachers’normative rate of positive feedback toward all
students is much lower in practice than the rate recommended
by the literature (Sprick, 1981, 2006; Sprick et al., 2002).
More importantly, there is a drastic disparity in the ratios of
positive to negative feedback for students in the at-risk popu-
lation. It is interesting that only the students in the low-risk
group received positive teacher feedback at the recommended
rate of 3:1 (Sprick, 1981, 2006). Feedback comparisons by
risk groups, baseline rates of feedback, and rates recom-
mended by the literature are presented in Figure 1. Because
these ﬁndings are limited to the participating schools in this
study, it is important that more studies are conducted to
examine the actual rates of positive feedback delivered in
Prolonged overexposure to negative feedback from teach-
ers functions as part of a detrimental cycle that can result in
habitual negative interactions and relationships for students
at risk of developing EBD. Moreover, students who are sus-
pected to be at risk for EBD often have under-recognized bar-
riers embedded in their educational experience; more disputes
with peers and teachers, less supportive classrooms, and an
absence of positive feedback can all contribute to poor adap-
tive trajectories (Hamre & Pianta, 2001). The lasting effect of
these experiences on students has been related to lower
academic scores, deﬁcits in social skills, and high risk of
school failure and later adjustment problems (Kaufmann &
These ﬁndings are consistent with the studies that have
suggested that teachers tend to have negative reactions
toward students demonstrating negative behaviors (Kerr &
Nelson, 2006; Shores et al., 1993; Sutherland et al., 2008;
Sutherland & Wehby, 2001), which could cause schools to
become an aversive environment for students already at high
risk for educational failure (McEvoy & Welker, 2000).
Although the high-risk group did receive more positive feed-
back than expected, on the basis of the research literature,
the occurrences of positive feedback were considerably lower
than those of negative feedback. Thus, it could be speculated
that the effects of the positive feedback, although more ele-
vated than that of their low-risk counterparts, might be nulli-
ﬁed by the relatively high rates of negative feedback received.
Although the ﬁndings were viewed relevant by the district in
realigning their efforts for establishing positive behavior sup-
ports, several limitations were noted within the study.
The student risk population was generated from a single
behavior screening measure (SRSS; Drummond, 1994).
Teacher reports are inevitably subject to rater bias, halo
effects, practice effects, and other problems associated with
rating scales (Abikoff, Courtney, Pelham, & Koplewica,
1993). Future research using multiple or comprehensive
measures of EBD risk might allay problems resulting from
the use of a single instrument.
The ability to generalize results is the cornerstone of every
research study. Given that this study used a convenience sam-
ple of teachers among schools already in the process of imple-
menting a schoolwide PBIS model, results remain limited in
their ability to generalize to trends of positive and negative
feedback among all teachers in all schools. Replication stud-
ies would beneﬁt the research and practice communities by
highlighting more trends in feedback and identify exemplary
positive teaching practices.
Implications for Practice
The results of this study may help to highlight a true discon-
nect between theory and practice in one Southwestern U.S.
school district, and emphasize the critical need for continuous
evaluation methods that educators can use to assess their own
classroom practices. Practitioners should be made aware of
how much positive feedback is used, and how often it is used
for select student populations; they should know whether
positive feedback is missing from their own repertoire of
In a follow-up session, researchers shared these ﬁndings
with the participating schools and teachers and raised their
awareness about the need for positive feedback for high-risk
students. In the follow up sessions, the primary researcher
noted an increase in teacher awareness about positive feed-
back. Teachers in their conversations and anecdotal reports
Fig. 1. Differences between the rate of feedback recommended
by the literature and the averages of the observed rates of
6Sprouls, Mathur, and Upreti
indicated that awareness about feedback data helped them
understand the importance of reducing their reliance on nega-
tive feedback. The district administrator has used this infor-
mation to develop professional development opportunities
for establishing positive behavior supports in his district. In
more recent discussions with one of the principals of the par-
ticipating schools, the researchers found that teachers of this
school have been encouraged to use video samples to monitor
their own use of positive feedback with all students. Peer
coaching has also been identiﬁed as one of the strategies to
facilitate more positive use of feedback. The administrator
reported that greater awareness has contributed to greater
action on the part of teachers to improve their classroom
practice for all students and more importantly for those who
are at high risk of developing EBD.
Although practitioners may understand that positive feed-
back that identiﬁes the desired behavior has been shown to
be exceptionally effective in promoting appropriate behavior
(Chalk & Bizo, 2004), this study revealed that in practice,
some teachers may still tend to rely on the use of negative
feedback for all students in general, and for those students
who are identiﬁed to be at risk for developing EBD in partic-
ular. Teachers of students in the high-risk group not only
failed to deliver adequate ratios of positive to negative feed-
back when compared with feedback delivered to their low-
risk classmates, but teachers also delivered more negative
feedback to these students than they delivered to the entire
classroom population of students, and in both comparisons,
negative feedback exceeded literature-recommended rates.
Results of this study emphasize the importance of positive
feedback strategies to promote prosocial and appropriate
behaviors for the purposes of reducing educational failure,
and improving the outcomes for students who are already on
a trajectory to school failure (Center for Effective Collabora-
tion and Practice, 2001).
Katie Sprouls is the chief executive ofﬁcer of Eleutheria Spe-
cial Education Services and PBIS Arizona. Her interests are
schoolwide positive behavior interventions and supports and
implementation of positive strategies for behavior
Sarup R. Mathur is an associate professor in the Division of
Educational Leadership and Innovation at Arizona State
University. Her current research interests include emotional
and behavioral disorders, at-risk students, juvenile delin-
quency, and teacher education.
Gita Upreti is an assistant professor of special education at
The University of Texas at El Paso. Her interests are teacher
preparation, schoolwide positive behavior interventions and
supports and data-based decision making.
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8Sprouls, Mathur, and Upreti