Six points for a touchdown, one additional for a kick through the uprights or two for a run or throw across the goal line. Two points for a basket, one for a free throw. The list could continue in other sports, or music, dance or drama competitions, but it's not very often there are points awarded for behaving correctly or turning in your school assignments on time.
A recent study has moved momentum in that direction, however.
During an eight-week period, some fifth-grade classes in Wasatch and Timpanogos elementary schools in the Provo School District competed against each other in a trial of a program designed to give students positive peer reinforcement for prosocial behavior.
Each of the classrooms had four teams and the names of those teams corresponded with ones in the other classes. The teams could earn points for behaving well and turning in their homework. Each week began a new competition, and the students were encouraged to go for the platinum designation for the highest number of points.
Students were not penalized for causing a disruption, but they did lose points for reacting to someone who was a disrupter.
Greg Strong, the director of DVAR Institute, which conducted the research, said the goal was not to punish the disrupter, but to remove his or her peer status by removing the reactions.
"In every class when the reactors quit, that was when everything calmed down," Strong said.
There was one instance when even he had a hard time not reacting to a disruption.
"I had to turn my head to keep from laughing," he said. He told the students he would let a disrupter say whatever he wanted and gave a couple of "freebies." When the kids laughed it would take about 15 minutes to get them focused back on their school work, but they learned to not react. Strong called the disrupters "alphas."
"In all but one case, the alpha would give up," he said. He told the story of the holdout. "He started dancing in front of the room and nobody said a thing. Finally one student said, 'sit down.' His peers motivated that."
The eight-week pilot program was considered successful.
"Every team had at the end maintained platinum level for at least four weeks," Strong said. The students responded to a survey and indicated their feelings about teamwork and the program for peer recognition.
Of 10 questions they answered, the responses ranged from 60 to more than 80 percent positive. They generally said they felt motivated to help their team and they enjoyed the team competition idea against other schools. They said they felt accepted and that they were helping. They said they enjoyed school more. The highest positive response was, "I liked helping my team get points." The highest unfavorable response was, "I would like our team results printed in the newspaper."
Ben Reaves, the program director for the DVAR Institute, said the results were significant. He said he has been doing research for more than 12 years and it is rare to see such a change in attitude.
"If we move the needle 2 percent in three years that is amazing," he said. "Here, in some cases there was a 60 percent change for these children. It is really amazing."
"This program allows the kids to bond in a positive environment, to develop skills and to recognize them," he said. "If you use those in any aspect of society you can find success."
Strong said the institute members hope to get their program in more schools and will make presentations during the summer to demonstrate the success.
DVAR in the institute's name stands for diversity, value, accomplishment and recognition. In addition to the recent testing, the firm has been involved in researching and designing social environments for more than seven years. For one project, they have done research in more than 1,500 classes in a three-year period with the goal of finding the best way to motivate student effort in academics.
They have identified two methods a school may use to encourage students. One is authority figure-motivated; the other is peer-motivated. With the authority figure, rewards such as candy are used to motivate the students. Punishment is a key component to try to discourage negative behavior. First there is a warning, then a call home, then a contract signed, then detention. That plan has not worked, according to the DVAR website.
"The adolescents who are the perpetrators have shown little, or no, improvement by these enticements," it says. "In fact, in many cases, students learn the game that underachieving has its rewards."
With the students providing peer support, it gives the teachers more time to cover the curriculum and he or she does not have to always be the bad guy.
"Disruptive behavior decreases and the proper sense of belonging can take place," the website says.
The peer-support program places the responsibility for learning in the hands of students. That satisfies their needs of acceptance, identity and meaningful self-esteem, the site says. They estimate that about one-third of students will do their work and behave correctly no matter what plan the school uses.