Good Behavior Game

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Not to be confused with good behaviour.

The Good Behavior Game was first used in 1967 in Baldwin City, Kansas by Muriel Saunders, who was then a new teacher in a fourth-grade classroom. Muriel Saunders, Harriet Barrish (a graduate student at the University of Kansas), and the professor and co-founder of applied-behavior analysis, the late Montrose Wolfe, co-created the Good Behavior Game in 1969.[1] Today, this study is among the most cited behavior change studies in the world.[2] In 2009, the Institute of Medicine Report on the Prevention of Mental, Emotional and Behavioral Disorders reviewed multiple prevention strategies, and cited the Good Behavior Game as one of the most powerful prevention strategies that classroom teachers can use.[3] A 2012 review of published experiments also concluded that the Good Behavior Game was a useful tool across cultural, linguistic, socio-economic traditions, with long lasting positive longitudinal behavior change.[4] In 2015, a leading psychiatry journal, Psychiatric Clinics, named the PAX Good Behavior Game (the widely used commercial version in the US, Canada and Europe) as the next big thing in psychiatry, as a universal strategy to prevent psychiatric disorders.

The Good Behavior Game has been extensively evaluated for long-term effects at Johns Hopkins Center fro Prevention and Early Intervention. Based on the long-term randomized trial studies and the replications of the real world version called the PAX Good Behavior Game, it is possible to estimate the long-term benefits per 1,000 young children getting GBG one or two years in elementary school. The estimate of benefits, using the Washington State Institute for Public Policy, include the following outcomes:

86 Fewer young people will need any form of special education services

56 More boys will likely graduate from high school.

67 More boys will likely enter university

89 More girls will likely graduate from high school (less teen pregnancy)

69 More girls will likely enter university

10 Fewer young people will commit and be convicted of serious violent crimes

96 Fewer young people will likely develop serious drug addictions

66 Fewer young people will likely become regular smokers

35 Fewer young people will likely develop serious alcohol addictions

49 Fewer young women will likely contemplate suicide

66 Fewer young men will likely attempt suicide

$13,020,000 Predicted financial net savings to students, families, schools, communities, state/federal governments

$23.67 Estimated Cost of PAX GBG Materials Per Child for Lifetime Protection

$22.00 Estimated Cost of External Training & Technical Supports Per Teacher Prorated per Child's Lifetime

$26.80 Estimated Cost of Internal Supports for Implementation and Maintenance by Teachers Prorated per Child's Lifetime

Because of the name of the strategy, many assume the game is a classroom control or management procedure. That is technically not correct; the Game actually reinforces voluntary control over attention and reduces the susceptibility to accidental negative reinforcement from peers in the classroom.[5] The Game has multiple active ingredients or evidence-based kernels.[6] The Game has been scientifically proven to work for preschool-age children[7] all the way through 12th grade students.[8]

The Game works by positive peer pressure of 2-to-5 classroom teams, who work together reduce inattentive, disturbing, disruptive, and destructive behaviors that interfere with learning and success. When the teams succeed, all the "winners" earn brief intrinsic activity rewards based on Premack's principle.[9] While the teacher can define the behaviors to be reduced, the game can be just as effective when students define the behaviors to be reduced to make a better learning environment.[10] A scientific major proponent of the benefits of GBG, Dennis Embry argues that the game is more likely to be acceptable, adopted, and sustained by teachers and students, when students actively participate in setting up the "rules" of the game.[5]

Videos and interviews of teachers using the real-world version GBG, the PAX Good Behavior Game, can be viewed online. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) funded a video of 186 teachers using PAX GBG. Manitoba's Cabinet Office of Healthy Child has videos of english speaking teachers, french speaking teachers and First Nations teachers. Teacher reports of the impact of the strategy in the Republic of Ireland can be viewed online. Teachers' reactions in Estonia can be viewed at the National Institute for Health Development.

Students teams win the game by having very low rates of disturbing, disruptive, destructive, or inattentive behaviors. The teacher must respond to such problematic behaviors neutrally and unemotionally, and the person who committed the breach is not called out or given "consequences." Rather, the team has a point against it, not the individual.[11] Teams who have less than a criterion of low points, win—typically less than 4 per team.[12]

The game is used during normal instruction—such as during lectures, seat-work, cooperative leaning, and even during transitions. When children and their teacher are first learning to play the game, it is important to play during simple activities so that the teacher can watch closely and the students have fewer distractions. As the students succeed, the times and activities that the game are typically expanded .

Research on implementation of the Good Behavior Game is clear that it requires appropriate materials, training and supports.

Summary of Literature[edit]

Barrish, Saunders, and Wolf (1969) evaluated the effectiveness of the Good Behavior Game on reducing out-of-seat behavior and talking-out behavior with 24 fourth-grade students. Seven of the students had been referred by the teacher to the principal for a number of disruptive behaviors. It was also noted that the classroom was lacking a general behavior management plan. Prior to implementation, the teacher presented a short overview of the game to explain the instructional times when the game would be in effect (i.e., math period), rules, and rewards. When the experimental conditions were altered, the teacher provided a new explanation of the change(s). The researchers used a reversal and multiple baseline experimental design with four phases: (1) math baseline and reading baseline, (2) math game and reading baseline, (3) math reversal and reading game, and (4) math game and reading game. The results indicate a significant decrease in disruptive behavior during both math and reading class when the Good Behavior Game was in effect. Talking-out behavior decreased from 96% during baseline to 19% when the game was applied during the math period. Similarly, the students' out-of-seat behavior was reduced from 82% of the scored intervals to 9% during the intervention. Both teams won on all but three occasions. Evidence of generalization and maintenance was not reported.

Harris and Sherman (1973) replicated the Barrish, Saunders, and Wolf (1969) study and examined the effectiveness of the Good Behavior Game with one fifth-grade classroom and one sixth-grade classroom. Each teacher attended a 15-minute meeting prior to implementing the procedures in his or her classroom. During the meeting, the researchers defined disruptive behavior, explained the recording system, and reviewed the procedures of the Good Behavior Game. After baseline data was collected, the teachers divided the students into two teams, discussed the rules of the game, and outlined the contingencies. The reward was a 10-minute early dismissal at the end of the school day. Again, the researchers recorded talking and out-of-seat behavior during 30-minute observation sessions. Each session was divided into 30 one-minute intervals. If one or more of the children exhibited the disruptive behavior, the interval was scored as containing disruptive behavior. In addition to collecting data on disruptive behavior, the researchers evaluated the students' academic performance during two math periods in the fifth-grade classroom. In the sixth-grade classroom, several experimental manipulations (i.e., eliminating the consequences, changing the maximum number of marks needed to win, eliminating feedback, and keeping the class intact) were performed to identify which components of the game were the most effective in reducing disruptive behavior. The findings show that implementing the Good Behavior Game successfully reduced disruptive out-of-seat and talking behavior. Each of the following procedural components contributed to its effectiveness: permission to leave school early, the number of marks chosen as a criterion, and the division of students into teams. Furthermore, a reduction in problem behavior resulted in slightly higher accuracy rates on the independent math tasks.

In 2007, Lannie and McCurdy extended the research on the Good Behavior Game by evaluating its impact in an urban classroom serving a population of students characterized by a high level of poverty and also evaluating the effects of the game on teacher behavior, especially teacher praise. The study was conducted in a first-grade classroom with 22 students and examined the effects of the Good Behavior Game on on-task and disruptive behaviors, as well as teacher response statements. The study used similar procedures as detailed in the prior studies but employed an ABAB withdrawal design. Each observation session was a 30-minute math period. Results show that students’ on-task behavior increased while disruptive behavior decreased. The number of teacher praise statements remained at near zero levels across conditions.

Strengths and Limitations[edit]

Classroom management is an important component of effective teaching. The Good Behavior Game is an empirically-based group behavior management strategy. Multiple studies have highlighted the effectiveness of the Good Behavior Game on reducing distracting and disruptive student behavior in a variety of school settings, including regular and special education classrooms, the school library, and with a wide-range of grade levels. However, in each study, one or more students discontinued their participation in the group-contingency. This prompted the researchers to create a third group for the students that no longer wanted to participate. Over time, if the rewards and consequences were altered to be more motivating, these students requested to be placed back in their original teams. Additionally, while providing visual feedback did not impact the effectiveness of the Game when used in the no-team condition (Harris & Sherman, 1973), it may be sufficient for maintaining low levels of disruptive behavior in the team condition because the last mark before criterion was reached led to high rates of disruptive behavior.

Alternative Suggestions[edit]

Rather than focusing on choosing a small number of undesirable behaviors, have the students select several desirable behaviors instead. This way they practice, observe and report the behaviors the teacher has deemed important Every time the teacher "catches" a student engaging in one of the predetermined appropriate behaviors, a tally or token is added to the students bank. Simultaneously the teacher can then "earn points" for catching the students engaging in predetermined undesired behaviors. The goal here is to have the students tally more points for their desirable behavior than the teacher will tally for undesirable behavior. You can even allow the students to catch each other engaging in those predetermined behaviors to earn points. This gets them looking for and modeling desired behavior. Don't be overly concerned in the beginning if this distracts from learning, especially if behavior change is needed immediately and sorely in the classroom. Be sure to shape course of the game as time progresses over a few days and weeks. Allowing them to win and setting them up for success is key in the beginning so that they associate this game with rewards. Ultimately, if the students are able to tally more points than the teachers, a simple contingency is set up (i.e. An extra 5 minutes of recess). If the teacher happens to win (this should not be all that frequent) then the students owe their teacher an undesirable course of action (i.e. an extra five minutes of math problems).


  1. ^ Barrish, Harriet H.; Saunders, Muriel; Wolf, Montrose M. (1969). "Good behavior game: Effects of individual contingencies for group consequences on disruptive behavior in a classroom1". Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 2 (2): 119–24. doi:10.1901/jaba.1969.2-119. PMC 1311049Freely accessible. PMID 16795208. [non-primary source needed]
  2. ^ Barrish, Harriet (1982). "Citation Classic - Good Behavior Game - Effects Of Individual Contingencies For Group Consequences On Disruptive Behavior In A Classroom". Citation Classics. 16: 16. 
  3. ^ National Research Council and Institute of Medicine. Preventing Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Disorders Among Young People: Progress and Possibilities. O’Connell ME, Boat T, & Warner KE (Eds). Committee on Prevention of Mental Disorders and Substance Abuse Among Children, Youth, and Young Adults: Research Advances and Promising Interventions (William R. Beardslee, Carl C. Bell, Anthony Biglan, C. Hendricks Brown, E. Jane Costello, Teresa D. LaFromboise, Ricardo F. Muñoz, Peter J. Pecora, Bradley S. Peterson, Linda A. Randolph, and Irwin Sandler). Board on Children, Youth, and Families, Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Education. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2009.>
  4. ^ Nolan, Julene; Houlihan, Daniel; Wanzek, Megan; Jenson, William (2013). "The Good Behavior Game: A classroom-behavior intervention effective across cultures". School Psychology International. 35 (2): 191–205. doi:10.1177/0143034312471473. 
  5. ^ a b Embry, Dennis D. (2002). "The Good Behavior Game: A best practice candidate as a universal behavioral vaccine". Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review. 5 (4): 273–97. doi:10.1023/A:1020977107086. PMID 12495270. 
  6. ^ Embry, Dennis D.; Biglan, Anthony (2008). "Evidence-based Kernels: Fundamental Units of Behavioral Influence". Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review. 11 (3): 75–113. doi:10.1007/s10567-008-0036-x. PMC 2526125Freely accessible. PMID 18712600. 
  7. ^ Swiezy, Naomi B.; Matson, Johnny L.; Box, Peggy (1993). "The Good Behavior Game". Child & Family Behavior Therapy. 14 (3): 21–32. doi:10.1300/J019v14n03_02. 
  8. ^ Kleinman, K. E.; Saigh, P. A. (2010). "The Effects of the Good Behavior Game on the Conduct of Regular Education New York City High School Students". Behavior Modification. 35 (1): 95–105. doi:10.1177/0145445510392213. PMID 21177520. 
  9. ^ "Behaviour game produces positive classroom results". CBC News. [full citation needed]
  10. ^ Fishbein, Jill E.; Wasik, Barbara H. (1981). "Effect of the good behavior game on disruptive library behavior". Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis. 14 (1): 89–93. doi:10.1901/jaba.1981.14-89. PMC 1308189Freely accessible. PMID 16795642. 
  11. ^[full citation needed][unreliable medical source?]
  12. ^ Embry, Dennis (2002). "The Good Behavior Game: a best practice candidate as a universal behavioral vaccine". Clinical Child & Family Psychology Review. 5 (4): 273–97. doi:10.1023/A:1020977107086. PMID 12495270. 

NIDA Notes. “Behavior Game Played in Primary Grades Reduces Later Drug-Related Problems.” Volume 23, Number 1, April 2010. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Further reading[edit]