What is the Good Behavior Game?

In a nutshell:
The Good Behavior Game is a game as the name implies, but it is better thought of as a tool or strategy. In practice, the Good Behavior Game is most often used to alter behaviors in children and adolescents by dividing classrooms into teams and scoring them based on target behaviors (e.g. waiting your turn to speak).

Why bother?
Although most college students do not conduct themselves similarly to children in the classroom, the Good Behavior Game may still contribute to desirable changes in their behaviors.

I suspect many professors wish their students took on certain behaviors similar to those of children. An eagerness to speak during class, for example.

Have you ever asked a question to your students, been met with dead silence, and then wanted to clarify, perhaps jokingly, that the question was not rhetorical?

via GIPHY

An instructor’s wish for increased participation is not primarily motivated by a disdain for awkward silences or having to pry answers out of students. At least I hope not.

It is because the increased engagement and participation will lead to more learning and better grades.

The how-to guide:
There is no one best way to apply the Good Behavior Game and, unfortunately, the research on its effectiveness with college students is limited. With that said, researchers Cheatham, Ozgal, St. Peter, Mesches, and Owsiany from West Virginia University recently examined the effects of the Good Behavior Game on class participation.

For the sake of brevity, here are the Cliffnotes.

Each class (n~117) was divided into two teams who competed for points, which were awarded for raising hands to answer questions and answering questions correctly. At the beginning of a class period, the instructor notified the students if it was “competition only” or “competition plus reward.”

On reward days, the winning team members received a bonus point toward their final grades. Adding the reward to competition resulted in a greater average number of hands raised per question, but both groups improved significantly compared to the baseline or no intervention group.

raised hand silhouettes

 

Without extra assistance for tracking the number of hands raised, this form of the Good Behavior Game is best suited for class sizes closer to 30 than the 120 in the aforementioned study.

Although verbal responses are often a more desirable form of participation, scoring team points via correct clicker responses could be a more practical means of motivating and engaging students.

History lesson:
Although the research on the Good Behavior Game with college students is in its infancy, the concept has been around since 1969. A group of psychology researchers from the University of Kansas saw the need for managing student behavior with reinforcers other than a teacher’s direct attention. Their hypothesized solution was to take privileges from the losing team based on poor behavior.

One example of poor behavior is out-of-seat behavior, in which a student gets out of their seat without permission.  Another example is talking-out behavior, where a student talks out loud without permission.

The bottom line:
The Good Behavior Game may provide a means to:

  • Intrinsically and/or extrinsically motivate students.
  • Increase engagement and participation.
  • Improve learning.
  • Improve grades.

References:

  1. Barrish, H. H., Saunders, M., & Wolf, M. M. (1969). Good Behavior Game: Effects of Individual Contingencies for Group Consequences on Disruptive Behavior in a Classroom. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 2(2), 119–124.
  2. Cheatham, J. M., Ozga, J. E., St. Peter, C. C., Mesches, G. A., & Owsiany, J. M. (2017). Increasing Class Participation in College Classrooms with the Good Behavior Game. Journal of Behavioral Education, 26(3), 277–292.
  3. Good Behavior Game. (n.d.) Intervention Central.

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About the author:

Logan PittsLogan Pitts is a Ph.D. student in exercise science & nutrition and a health-promotion graduate assistant at NDSU.

Pitts, admittedly, has no formal experience teaching college courses outside of occasionally leading a lecture here and there. He is in the second year of his  program here at NDSU and looks forward to developing his teaching skills before taking on the role of a University professor.

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