Every teacher everywhere has likely, at least once or twice, had their good plans for high quality instruction interrupted by disruptive student behaviors. And for those of you who sometimes feel you’re facing these challenges alone, rest assured that you’re not. Surveys indicate most teachers report feeling underprepared to handle behavioral issues in the classroom, and that classroom management is often a top concern (Greenberg, Putnam, & Walsh, 2014). Teachers are right to be concerned about disruptive student behaviors - they can result in lower academic engagement, achievement, and feelings of safety (Walker, Ramsey, & Gresham, 2003/2004), and can progress into more significant behavioral or mental health challenges without effective classroom management approaches (Oliver, Wehby, & Reschly, 2011).
So what’s going right for teachers who get to the point where their high quality instructional plans are interrupted less often than they aren’t? Multiple best practice universal behavior supports and systems are probably up and running, including those best practices outlined in each part of the Customizable Comprehensive Classroom Management Plan our team developed for use as a classroom consultation tool. Teachers may also shift from a narrow focus on individual behavior plans to a broader preventative focus on easy-to-implement, high impact, classwide behavior interventions that address trends in challenging behavior all at once. The purpose of this blog post is to give some clear guidance about implementing one such intervention.
The Good Behavior Game (GBG) is a powerful classwide intervention for reducing disruptive student behaviors. It’s one of the only behavioral interventions that come to mind that’s actually been referred to as a “behavioral vaccine” (Embry, 2002). The GBG is a classwide behavior intervention that has been extensively tested and consistently shown to be effective, and even to have some long-term positive effects on risky behavior. It’s considered “evidence-based,” and we would argue that it also passes feasibility tests that make it “gold-star-worthy,” as we sometimes describe best practice interventions that are widely accepted as effective.
Effective with a Wide Variety of Student Populations
Why it Works
How it Works, Step by Step
- Identify and operationally define target behaviors you feel are disruptive enough to warrant modification. Their inverse will become the classroom expectations you should have visibly posted and verbally review at the start of each instruction time. For example, Aggression / Physical Disruption may be operationally defined as physical contact such as hitting, pushing, making someone stumble, tapping, pinching, or destroying property. It’s inverse, phrased as a classroom expectation, might look something like “Keep Hands & Feet to Self” or “Respect for Personal Space & Property,” depending on the developmental levels of your students.
- Identify the most problematic instructional time(s) in the classroom and play the GBG during those, first; ask a 3rd party observer to record target behaviors during that time in order to figure out a realistic starting goal will be for your classroom’s GBG teams. (around 50% to 80% reduction from baseline, ideally).
- Ask students to complete a written reinforcement preference questionnaire or conduct informal interviews to decide which reinforcers to use for the game (try to limit reinforcement options to items or events that are cost-effective, and require a very modest budget). Here is an example of a list of some free / low cost reinforcer ideas.
- In preparation for roll out, plan out how you will divide your class into two teams. Try to equally distribute students who’ve had the highest propensity to engage in disruptive behavior to balance each team’s shot at succeeding. Decide on a reinforcement schedule; will your students will earn rewards immediately? Daily and/or weekly? Here are some free or low cost reinforcement ideas for your consideration.
- Before initiating the GBG, consider seating team members together for convenience or making other logical seating assignments, and announce that the class will be playing a game (or for older students, describe their “opportunity to participate in a competition”). Introduce (a) the rules of the game; simply each one of the classroom rules / expectations you identified, (b) how to win; one team can win if they have fewer points than the other team, or both teams can win if they both have fewer points than a set criterion that you identify (see step 2 above), and (c) what the winning team(s) will earn and when.
- To start the GBG during the time-limited challenging instructional period you’ve identified, you’ll need to use a poster sized paper or dry erase board (somewhere prominently visible in your classroom and in close proximity to you while you teach) and draw a two-column chart (one column for each team). Depending on the developmental levels of the students, you may consider asking students to name their teams; otherwise, you can simply name them Team 1 and Team 2. When students break one of your pre-identified rules (or violate one of your pre-identified expectations), you will pause your instruction to verbally prompt their team about the rule or expectation that was violated (e.g., “Team 1 needs to raise a hand to talk”) and add a tally to their team’s column. At the conclusion of your instructional period, you will end the GBG until next time, rewarding the winning teams according to the schedule you chose as a fit for your students (immediately / daily / weekly).
Feedback from Teachers & Students about the GBG
Interested in Trying the GBG in Your Classroom?
Donaldson, J. M., Vollmer, T. R., Krous, T., Downs, S., & Berard, K. P. (2011). An evaluation of the good behavior game in kindergarten classrooms. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 44, 605-609.
Embry, D. D. (2002). The good behavior game: A best practice candidate as a universal behavioral vaccine. Clinical Child and Family Psychology Review, 5, 273-297.
Greenberg, J., Putman, H., & Walsh, K. (2014). Training our future teachers: Classroom management. Washington, DC: National Council on Teacher Quality. (pp. 1-43).
Kleinman, K. E. & Saigh, P. A. (2011). 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.
Oliver, R. M., Wehby, J. H., & Reschly, D. J. (2011). Teacher classroom management practice: Effects on disruptive or aggressive student behavior. Campbell Systematic Reviews, 7, 1-55.
Tingstrom, D. H., Sterling-Turner, H. E., & Wilczynski, S. M. (2006). The good behavior game: 1969-2002. Behavior Modification, 30, 225-253.
Walker, H. M., Ramsey, E., & Gresham, F. M. (2003/2004). Heading off disruptive behavior: How early intervention can reduce defiant behavior and win back teaching time. American Educator, 26(4), 6-45.