The Good Behavior Game

[ intro ] If you’ve ever been either a student or
a teacher — and that covers most of us — you’ve probably been in a classroom that
was out of control. Education researchers have come up with a
lot of ways to handle rowdy classes and misbehaving kids. Many of those methods are published in peer-reviewed
journals. But there’s a problem: not a lot of those studies have been replicated
by other researchers. In 2014, one team analyzed the complete publication
history of the top one hundred education journals and found that only 0.13% of published articles
were replications. So when any education study’s results are
replicated dozens of times, it’s a big deal. That’s the case for research into the Good
Behavior Game, which has been studied repeatedly since it
was first published in 1969. And it’s been shown time and again to be
an effective way to keep the peace in classrooms, and even boost student well-being years down
the road. That is, for some kids. Here’s how it worked in the original study: a fourth grade teacher divided her classroom
of twenty-four students into two teams. The students were told that they were going
to play a game every day during their math and reading lessons. Whichever team won would get certain privileges, like the chance to line up first for lunch or get a half-hour of free time at the end
of the day. But in order to win, they had to follow certain
rules. No one was allowed to talk or leave their
desk without permission. Whenever the teacher saw someone break a rule, that student’s team would get a mark on
the blackboard. At the end of the lesson, the winners were
chosen. That would either be the team with the least
marks, or both teams if neither team got more than
a certain number of marks. The Good Behavior Game worked like gangbusters. It significantly reduced talking and out-of-seat
behavior and was popular with both the teachers and
the students. Since then, other researchers have put their
own spin on the game, with positive results. Some studies tried only rewarding good behavior. A 1973 study turned it into “The Astronaut
Game,” where the goal was to move a spaceship closer
to the moon. “Good astronaut behavior” like having
good manners and doing classwork earned children tokens
and got them closer to their final goal. In fairness, that’s good behavior in both
astronauts and people. In a 1993 study, preschoolers received positive
reinforcement from a puppet for following the rules. Whenever they followed the rules, they got
a felt token like a smiley face or a dinosaur. At the end of the day, they could trade those tokens in for animal
crackers. Both of these studies focused on rewarding
positive behavior, which led to significant improvements in classroom
behavior. That suggests that positive reinforcement
may be all you need for the Good Behavior Game to be effective. So why does this work so well? At its most basic, the Good Behavior Game
teaches something called rule-governed behavior. That’s exactly what it sounds like: behavior
that’s controlled by rules. Specifically, it’s a type of operant behavior, or a type of learning that relies on rewards or punishments for certain behaviors. Operant behavior relies on three parts: a stimulus, a response, and a reinforcer or
punisher, which works to reinforce good behavior or
punish bad behavior. In the Good Behavior Game, the stimulus is
the existence of rules, like “only speak when the teacher calls
on you.” A student could choose to respond to that
stimulus by following the rule, or by breaking the rule and chatting with
a classmate. What’s the reinforcer, then? The simple answer is that it’s those privileges, like early lunch or free time at the end of
the day. But in the Good Behavior Game, the reinforcers
go way beyond that. One less obvious reinforcer in the game is
peer approval. After all, if you really want your team to
win, you’re going to be pretty mad at any teammate
who breaks the rules and ruins your chances. Some research has suggested that the most
disruptive kids may respond better to feedback from their peers than their teachers, in which case enlisting the help of those
peers could be valuable. There are some caveats, though. Some have cautioned that this strategy might
put too much pressure on certain kids, or single others out. Whatever the reasons for why it works, the Good Behavior Game can have a big impact. It appears to improve academic performance,
for one thing. Kids in the Astronaut Game completed more
of their work, and other studies have found improved performance
in math class as well as more creativity in their writing. It also may lead to behavior improvement in
other classes. A 1994 study used the Good Behavior Game with
students in first and second grade, then followed them through sixth grade. Of those students, boys who were particularly aggressive in those
early years had lower aggression ratings in subsequent grades. That’s even though they didn’t /keep/
playing the game. The Good Behavior Game may have impacts outside
of the classroom, too. Studies have found that boys exposed to the
Good Behavior Game early on in their education were less likely to start smoking or have
substance abuse problems in their teen years. Children’s perception of their social acceptance
is directly linked with their levels of depressive symptoms, and research suggests that aggression is a
surefire way to make a child’s peers dislike them. Because the Good Behavior Game reduces aggressive
behavior and encourages peers to cooperate, it seems to help the class troublemakers avoid
the behavior problems and peer issues that can lead to bigger problems
down the road. But there’s one major caveat to all this. You might have noticed we’ve been talking
about boys. The Good Behavior Game seems to benefit disruptive
students the most, and those students are disproportionately
male. And nearly all studies of the Good Behavior
Game have found more dramatic results for boys
than girls — in fact, few have shown any long-term benefits
for students who aren’t boys at all. So while these results seem great for about
half the classroom population, more research may be needed to see what we
can do for the other half. That said, students of all genders do benefit
when more disruptive students are… disrupting class less, so there are some indirect
advantages. But in spite of all the evidence, it’s strangely rare to find the Good Behavior
Game being used in a classroom. Statistics on this are hard to find, but one
teacher writing for the National Council for Teacher Quality, or NCTQ, found that very few teaching textbooks mention
the Good Behavior Game. This might be because, as an NCTQ report found, most teacher preparation programs don’t
draw on peer-reviewed research when deciding which classroom management strategies
are most effective and worth teaching. The fact is, the GBG is one of the most strongly
evidence-based classroom behavior strategies out there. Some researchers strongly advocate for its
use in every classroom, saying that both students and teachers benefit. At least, one group of students in particular. But honestly if it’s making life easier
for teachers, it’s a win. Thanks for watching this episode of SciShow
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