Olds: Tootling for positive peer relationships

Can promoting kids' acknowledgement of peer's positive behavior improve the classroom environment?

In one of my classrooms when I was teaching in the early 1970s, I used to give my students tickets, tell them to write their names on the back of each one, and give one to a classmate when the classmate did something that made them feel good. It was a slapdash effort on my part to promote positive interactions among the students and to reverse the usual complaints about what one or another student had done (“tattling”). Christopher Skinner and his colleagues took these same ideas way many steps better. In the place of “tattles” they created “tootles” by combining “tooting” one’s horn with “tattling.” 

Tootling is similar to tooting your own horn in that positive behaviors are monitored and reported. However, during tootling students report peers’ positive behaviors, not their own. Tootling is similar to tattling, only, when tootling, peers report incidental prosocial behaviors. (Skinner, Cashwell, & Skinner, 2000, p. 263),

Tootling is related to other methods of positive peer reporting which, in a review, Murphy and Zlomke (2014) reported improves students’ social interactions. Murphy and Zlomke noted that there was not a standardized protocol for positive peer reporting, but they identified tootling as a specific variant with successful outcomes. 

Although Skinner and his colleagues devoted their studies to increasing students’ tootles (Cashwell, Skinner, & Smith, 2001; Skinner et. al, 2000), identifying tootling for special consideration makes sense, because it has been the subject of specific studies showing its beneficial effects on other behaviors. Consider these for examples:

  • Cihack, Kirk, and Boon (2009) found that, in combination with a group contingency, tootling substantially decreased the number of disruptive behaviors in a third-grade classroom (Title I school) composed of 19 students, four of whom were identified as having disabilities. 

  • In the abstract for her dissertation, Shelton-Quinn (2009) reported that she examined the levels of (a) on-task behavior for target students and classrooms as a whole and (b) problem behavior for target students in kindergarten through fourth-grade classrooms, some of which were randomly assigned to a tootling-plus-group-contingencies-plus-feedback program and others of which were controls; she found significant effects on on-task behavior. 

  • McHugh’s (2014) master’s thesis (with Daniel Tingstrom as chair) reported the effects of a combination of tootling and reinforcement (an interdependent group contingency and publicly posted feedback) across three lower elementary school classrooms where she collected data on the levels of disruptive behavior and academic engagement for each classroom as a whole and for an individual target student in each. Using a combination of multiple baseline and reversal ABAB design, she found that for both the classes as a whole and the target students (a) disruptive behavior decreased and (b) engagement increased when the package including tootling was in effect. 

  • Lambert, Tingstrom, Sterling, Dufrene, and Lynne (2015) also examined the effects of a tootling-group-contingency-feedback package on classwide disruptive and appropriate behavior with fourth- and fifth-grade students. In what was actually a predecessor to McHugh’s study, they used very similar methods and had very similar findings: decreases in disruptive behavior and increases in appropriate behavior. 

It’s beginning to look as though a good case can be made for a package of procedures employing group contingencies and tootling. Professor Daniel Tingstrom and his colleagues are obviously working diligently in this problemspace. 

Worth watching. Keep on tootling!


Cashwell, T. H., Skinner, C. H., & Smith, E. S. (2001). Increasing second-grade students’ reports of peers’ prosocial behaviors via direct instruction, group reinforcement, and progress feedback: A replication and extension. Education & Treatment of Children, 24,161-175.

Lambert, A. M., Tingstrom, D. H., Sterling, H. E., Dufrene, B. A., & Lynne, S. (2015). Effects of tootling on classwide disruptive and appropriate behavior of upper-elementary students. Behavior Modification, 39,413-430. doi:10.1177/0145445514566506

McHugh, M. B. (2014). The effects of the tootling intervention using daily reinforcement. Unpublished Masters Thesis, University of Southern Mississippi, available via http://aquila.usm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1067&context=masters_theses; downloaded 4 May 2015.

Murphy, J., & Zlomke, K. (2014). Positive peer reporting in the classroom: A review of intervention procedures. Behavior Analysis in Practice, 7, 126-137. doi:10.1007/s40617-014-0025-0

Shelton-Quinn, A. (2009). Increasing positive peer reporting and on-task behavior using a peer monitoring interdependent group contingency program with public posting (Order No. 3352297). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (304942175). Abstract retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/304942175?accountid=14678

Skinner, C. H., Cashwell, T. H., & Skinner, A. L. (2000). Increasing tootling: The effects of a peer-monitored group contingency program on students’ reports of peers’ prosocial behaviors. Psychology in the Schools, 37(3), 263-270.


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Editor’s note: This post is a re-post of a message from "BehaviorMod.info,” a blog that I sustained years ago. It’s from 4 May 2016, but I think it is still relevant.