How Peer Tutoring and Group Contingencies Can Improve Academic Performance

By Emily Mandel, M.S., BCBA

bSci21 Contributing Writer

A study conducted by Pigott, Fantuzzo, and Clement (1986) investigated the effects of reciprocal peer tutoring and group contingencies on the academic performance of elementary school children. Several pilot studies that preceded the Pigott study demonstrated that reciprocal peer tutoring improved arithmetic performance and decreased disruptive behaviors in an experimental setting (Wolfe, Fantuzzo, & Wolter, 1984) and classroom setting (Piggott, Fantuzzo, Heggie, & Clement, 1984).

Pigott and team decided to replicate their 1984 study across 3 different classroom settings that contained “underachieving” students. The participants were 93 children who attended one of three fifth grade classes within the same elementary school. None of the students selected to participate in the study had demonstrated fluency in arithmetic.

The experimental design was an ABAB design, and experimenters collected data on the average number of accurately completed arithmetic problems during a 7-minute arithmetic drill. Arithmetic drill sessions occurred at the same time each school day, and each class used identical procedures. An aide distributed work sheets and told students to work on them one by one. After 7 minutes, the aide allowed time for performance feedback.

In baseline, the aide collected data on the number of problems completed correctly across all participants. No prompting or reinforcement were delivered regardless of student performance.

During the intervention phase, participants were designated to one of four roles: coach, scorekeeper, referee, and manager. The coach told the group about their “goal of the day” and reminded the group of strategies to improve math performance. The coach also informed the group that they could “win” for applying these strategies. The scorekeeper counted and recorded the math problems on each participant’s sheet. The referee counted each participant’s correct math problems and recorded them on the scoreboard. The manager declared whether a team has “won” by meeting the daily goal. For every four “wins” the participants would receive group-determined reinforcers.

Before the first day of training, students in each group were trained by a principal investigator. Then group members selected team names, created pep talks, and selected backup reinforcers. A maintenance condition was implemented for 12 weeks following the cessation of the initial training period. The study found an increase in math performance for underachieving 5th grade students to the point of normalizing the participants with their peers, which was also seen 12 weeks after the intervention. Socially significant results were also maintained over time. Of the 93 students, only one student’s performance decreased.

If you want to view the full study, you can check it out here.  Also be sure to let us know about your use of ABA to increase academic performance in the comments below.  Lastly, don’t forget to subscribe to bSci21 to receive the latest articles directly to your inbox!


Pigott, H.E., Fantuzzo, J.W., & Clement, P.W. (1986). The effects of reciprocal peer tutoring and group contingencies on the academic performance of elementary school children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 19(1), 93-98.

Skinner, B.F. (1953). Science and Human Behavior. New York, NY: The Free Press.

Emily Mandel, M.S., BCBA, is a behavior clinician who works with children on the Autism Spectrum in the Greater Boston Area. She has over 3 years of experience delivering therapeutic services both in-home and in the public school system. Though she is predominantly focused on the utilization of Applied Behavior Analysis in treating individuals with disabilities, Emily enjoys examining topics such as religion, medicine, politics, and social constructs, through a behavioral lens. You can contact her at

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