How can a game change behaviour?
Some schools buy into behaviour programmes with the wishful thinking that they will make a difference. This shouldn’t be fingers crossed and let’s just hope it works but in many cases it is because the programme isn’t proven or supported by research.
In an independent evaluation conducted by the Education Endowment Foundation, Professor Neil Humphrey et al (2018) looked at the the Good Behaviour Game (GBG), a classroom management intervention approach designed to improve pupil behaviour and build confidence and resilience.
Previous research has been glowing and numerous studies outside of the UK have indicated that the GBG consistently improves students’ disruptive and impulsive behaviors across diverse settings, cultures, socioeconomic groups, grade levels, and countries (Embry, 2002; Nolan, Houlihan, Wanzek, & Jenson, 2014).
Bowman-Perrott’s 2015 meta-analysis concluded,
Findings suggest that the GBG is most effective in reducing disruptive and off-task behaviors, and that students with or at risk for EBD benefit most from the intervention.
But does GBG really work repeatedly, in multiple school settings, over time in in different countries? In the UK, GBG research has been thin on the ground and the EEF report hasn’t been as positive saying that
The analysis indicated that, on average, GBG had no significant impact on pupils’ reading skills (effect size = +0.03) or their behaviour (concentration, disruptive behaviour and pro-social behaviour) when compared to the control group pupils. However, there was some tentative evidence that boys at risk of developing conduct problems showed improvements in behaviour.
What is the Good Behavior Game?
The GBG is a classroom management game used to provide explicit behaviour criteria, clearly communicate rules, immediate feedback, positive peer pressure as reinforcement, and group-based differential reinforcement to reduce class-wide disruptive behaviour.
The Good Behavior Game (GBG) is a classroom management strategy that uses an interdependent group-oriented contingency to promote prosocial behavior and decrease problem behaviour.
Students are divided into teams and compete to be the best behaving team where the best behaved team earns special rewards. It was first developed in 1069 by Barrish, Saunders, and Wolf to investigate the effects of a classroom behaviour management technique that consisted of students competing in a game for natural classroom reinforcers or privileges rather than teacher attention.
Barrish and colleagues (1969) found significant and reliable reductions in disruptive behavior after the implementation of the game, specifically for out-of-seat and talking-out behavior. Since then, the Good Behavior Game has been regarded as a best practice technique. How to implement the GBG can be found here.
In the EEF evaluation, more than 3,000 Year 3 pupils from 77 UK schools took part in a randomised controlled trial of GBG over two years. Around a quarter of the pupils in the schools were eligible for free school meals, around a fifth were pupils with special educational needs, and 23% had English as an additional language. This is the largest randomised control trial of the GBG conducted worldwide to date where the researchers are confident that “the principal (impact) findings are secure.”
Children have an inherent need for a safe and secure environment and in general, react well to routines and boundaries.
Do we need a game to help us achieve positive behaviour? I’d say if it helps then why not but the the key to success of any system is that the procedures are fully discussed, understood and agreed by all staff. What ‘works’ isn’t universal but positive relationships based on trust and respect are crucial.