Good Behaviour Game (GBG) - group-contingent positive reinforcement of children's prosocial behaviour

At a glance

Country of origin
USA
Last reviewed 
04.11.2021
Age group
6-10 years
Target group 
Children in Elementary school (6-10 years)
Programme setting(s)
School
Level(s) of intervention
Environmental prevention
Universal prevention

The Good Behaviour Game (GBG) is a classroom-based behaviour management strategy for elementary school that teachers use along with a school’s standard instructional curriculum. GBG uses a classroom-wide game format, with teams and rewards, to socialise children to the role of student and reduce aggressive, disruptive classroom behaviour, which is a risk factor for adolescent and adult illicit drug abuse, alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking, antisocial personality disorder, and violent and criminal behaviour.
In GBG classrooms, the teacher assigns all children to teams that are balanced with regard to gender; aggressive, disruptive behaviour; and shy, socially isolated behaviour. Basic rules of student behaviour in the classroom are displayed and reviewed. When GBG is played, each team is rewarded if team members commit a total of four or fewer infractions of the classroom rules during a game period.

During the first weeks of the intervention, GBG is played three times a week for 10 minutes each time, during periods of the day when the classroom environment is less structured and the students are working independently of the teacher. Game periods are increased in length and frequency at regular intervals; by mid-year, the game may be played every day. Initially, the teacher announces the start of a game period and gives rewards at the conclusion of the game. Later, the teacher defers rewards until the end of the school day or week. Over time, GBG is played at different times of the day, during different activities and in different locations; the game evolves from being highly predictable in timing and occurrence with immediate reinforcement to being unpredictable with delayed reinforcement, so that children learn that good behaviour is expected at all times and in all places.

In addition to the original classroom-based game where students are reinforced for their mutual success in withholding inappropriate behaviour, the PAX Good Behaviour Game (PAX GBG) is another manualised GBG version. In PAX GBG, evidence-based kernels (e.g., PAX Quiet, PAX Voices, Timer, PAX Stix, Granny’s Wacky Prizes, PAX Tootle Notes) are added and the game is played daily within the school curriculum. There are four categories of kernels based on their effect: antecedent, relational, physiological and reinforcement. The teachers in the PAX GBG schools received 3 days of training and are regularly supported by mentors over a 1-year period.

Keywords

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Contact details 

AIR version of GBG
Kellam Sheppard
Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
United States of America
Phone: +1 (410) 614-0680
Email: kellam[a]jhsph.edu
Website: www.air.org/focus-area/education/?id=127


PAX version of GBG
Dennis Embry
PAXIS Institute
United States of America
Phone: +1 (520) 299-6770
Email: dde[a]paxis.org or info[a]paxis.org
Website: goodbehaviorgame.org/

Overview of results from the European studies

Last reviewed 
04.11.2021
Evidence rating  
Beneficial

Studies overview

The programme has been evaluated in one cluster randomised controlled trial (RCT) in Belgium, three cluster RCTs in the Netherlands (one of which was conducted with children with psychiatric disorders), one mixed methods study in Ireland, one RCT in United Kingdom, and one RCT in Estonia.

The RCT in Belgium, involving children aged 7.4 years on average, found statistically significant positive effects at post-test on observed teacher behaviour management and some peer-rated and observed child classroom behaviours.

The Dutch RCT that involved children aged 5-13 years with psychiatric disorders found statistically significant effects favouring the intervention at post-test on teacher-reported child emotional and behavioural problems, but no effect on most measures of teacher self-reported outcomes.

One of the other Dutch RCTs, involving children with a mean age of 6 years, found a statistically significant positive effect at post-test on teacher-reported externalising behaviour and peer relations.

The final study in the Netherlands, also an RCT, involved children aged 6.9 years on average. It found a statistically significant effect favouring the intervention on teacher-reported child ADHD, bullying, victimisation and anxiety/depression, but not on anti-social or aggressive behaviours at post-test. From age 10 to 13 years, young people who had participated in the programme had a lower probability of starting to use tobacco and reduced growth in alcohol weekly use, but there was no statistically significant effect on weekly tobacco use and past year or month of alcohol use.

An Irish study (O'Donnell 2016) employed a mixed methods approach to evaluate the GBG PAX version, using both quantitative (classroom observations recording the number of SPLEEMS (i.e. disturbing, disruptive, inattentive and unengaged behaviours) and qualitative data (Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire).  It was conducted among 420 pupils aged between 7 and 8 years, and 21 teachers and 2 mentors in primary schools. The results of the study showed significant improvements among pupils’ self-regulation, self-control, and self-management. Moreover, it showed significantly reduced disruptive behaviour instances, and increased attentiveness and focus.

In a British RCT, 77 schools were randomly allocated to implement the GBG AIR for two years. The target cohort was form of 3084 pupils from between 7 and 8 years old. The study found no evidence of improvement of pupils’ behaviour (specifically, concentration problems, disruptive behaviour, and pro-social behaviour) but the implementation varied considerably (frequency and duration). Higher  levels  of  pupil  engagement  with  the game were  associated  with  improved  reading,  concentration, and disruptive behaviour scores at follow. Moreover, there was tentative evidence that boys identified as at-risk of developing conduct problems at the beginning of the project benefitted from the GBG. For these children, small reductions in concentration problems and disruptive behaviour were observed.

Streimann et al. 2020: this Estonian RCT (matched-pair, cluster-randomized, waitlist controlled, open-label trial) studied child mental health rated by teachers, whether the effects of the intervention on child mental health extended to the home context, teacher self-efficacy and overall classroom behaviour. Intervention adherence and children’s exposure to the intervention were also measured. The trial included 42 Estonian elementary schools with 708 first-grade students. The intervention had positive effects on teacher-rated children’s mental health at the end of the first academic year, which lasted and strengthened during the second academic year. Moderation analysis demonstrated positive effects on mental health and prosocial behaviour for high-risk students during the first year (but not the second year). The intervention also had a positive lasting effect on teacher’s self-efficacy and overall classroom behaviour. A few intervention effects (prosocial behaviour, emotional well-being) were evident in the home environment during the second academic year (as reported by parents), but there were no effects on parent-rated child ADHD symptoms.

Humprey et al. 2021: this large cluster randomized controlled trial tested whether implementation variability and participant cumulative risk status (e.g. young relative age, begin male, identified as having a special education need, eligible for free schools meals, speaking English as an additional language etc.) were examined as predictors of disruptive behaviour. Seventy-seven English primary schools (N = 3,084 children, aged 6–7) were randomly assigned to deliver the GBG or continue their usual practice over 2 years. Intent-to-treat analysis found no discernible impact of the intervention on children’s disruptive behaviour. Subgroup analyses revealed no differential gains among children at low, moderate or high levels of cumulative risk exposure (CRE). CRE holds that individual risk factors at baseline (e.g. male, eligible for free schools meals, living in deprived neighbourhood etc.) are considered in the outcome analysis. However, dosage as a compliance marker identified a large, statistically significant intervention effect (d = −1.35) among compliers (>1,030 min of cumulative intervention exposure). Furthermore, children at high and low levels of exposure experienced significantly greater and lesser reductions in disruptive behaviour. These findings highlight the importance of optimizing implementation and demonstrate the utility of CRE as a theoretically informed approach to subgroup moderator analysis.

Troncoso et al. 2021: this cluster randomized controlled trial (RCT) examined the impact of the Good Behaviour Game (GBG) on children's developmental trajectories of disruptive behaviour, concentration problems, and pro-social behaviour from middle childhood (ages 6–7 years) to early adolescence (ages 10–11 years). Seventy-seven schools in England were randomly assigned to intervention and control groups. During the 2-year main trial period, teachers of this cohort in intervention schools implemented the GBG, whereas their counterparts in the control group continued their usual practice. A multivariate multilevel non-linear growth curve model indicated that the GBG reduced concentration problems over time. In addition, the model also revealed that the intervention improved prosocial behaviour among at-risk children (e.g., those with elevated symptoms of conduct problems at Time 1, n = 485). No intervention effects were unequivocally found in relation to disruptive behaviour.

Ashworth et al. 2020: this study examined the efficacy of the Good Behaviour Game (GBG) in improving children’s reading attainment, and the extent to which this varies as a function of dosage and timing of outcome measurement by means of a 2-year cluster randomized controlled trial. Seventy-seven primary schools from three regions in England were randomly assigned to intervention and control groups. Children (N = 3084) aged 6-7 at baseline were the target cohort. Reading attainment was assessed via national teacher assessment scores at baseline, and the Hodder Group Reading Test at post-test and 1-year post intervention follow-up. At post-test, no effects of the GBG on children’s reading attainment were found. At 1-year follow-up, results demonstrated that GBG can produce measurable improvements in children’s academic attainment, but these effects may take time to become apparent and are contingent upon implementation dosage falling within an optimal range.

In a small exploratory cluster randomised controlled trial (O’Keeffe et al. 2021) of the PAX Good Behaviour Game in Northern Ireland a total of 15 schools (19 classes) were randomised to intervention and control groups. The analysis focused specifically on the outcome of self‐regulation with 355 elementary school pupils in year 3 (age M = 7.40, SD = 0.30). Participating schools in the trial were located in areas with socio‐economic disadvantage. After 12 weeks of implementation, the trial provided some evidence that the PAX GBG may help improve self‐regulation in participating pupils, while the findings suggest that it may offer a feasible mental health prevention and early intervention approach for Northern Ireland classrooms.

The programme has been rated as Promising by Blueprints for Healthy Youth Development based on a review of studies conducted world-wide.

References of studies

Countries where evaluated

Belgium
Netherlands
Ireland
United Kingdom
Estonia
USA

Characteristics

Protective factor(s) addressed
Individual and peers: clear morals and standards of behaviour
Individual and peers: interaction with prosocial peers
Individual and peers: opportunities and rewards for prosocial peers involvement
Individual and peers: prosocial behaviour
Individual and peers: academic self-efficacy
School and work: opportunities for prosocial involvement in education
School and work: rewards and disincentives in school
Risk factor(s) addressed
Individual and peers: anti-social behaviour
Individual and peers: early initiation of drug/alcohol use
Outcomes targeted
Academic performance
Depression or anxiety
Suicidal ideation
Alcohol use
Use of illicit drugs
Smoking (tobacco)
Other behaviour outcomes

Description of programme

The Good Behaviour Game (GBG) is a classroom-based behaviour management strategy for elementary school that teachers use along with a school’s standard instructional curriculum. GBG uses a classroom-wide game format, with teams and rewards, to socialise children to the role of student and reduce aggressive, disruptive classroom behaviour, which is a risk factor for adolescent and adult illicit drug abuse, alcohol abuse, cigarette smoking, antisocial personality disorder, and violent and criminal behaviour.

In GBG classrooms, the teacher assigns all children to teams, usually three, that are balanced with regard to gender; aggressive, disruptive behaviour; and shy, socially isolated behaviour. The teacher assigns a team leader, usually a shy child, to organise activities and pass out rewards. Next, the teacher explains the rules of the game, describing what behaviours will not be allowed during the period in which the GBG is played (which are usually verbal disruption, physical disruption, being out of one’s seat without permission and non-compliance), and the rules are posted on the wall of the classroom.


During the game, the teacher notes the occurrence of problem behaviours by placing ticks next to the name of a team whenever one of its members displays a targeted prohibited behaviour. The teacher neutrally states the behaviour that was displayed, identifies the child who displayed it and praises the other teams for behaving well. A team wins the game if the number of ticks does not exceed four at the end of the game period, and more than one team can win. Initially, members of the winning team receive tangible rewards (stickers, rubbers) and activities (extra break time, class privileges). In addition, any team that wins a game during the week receives a special reward on Friday (such as a party or an outdoor activity). Non-winners engage in quiet seat-work during this time, and they receive no special attention from the teacher.


During the first weeks of the intervention, GBG is played three times a week for 10 minutes each time during periods of the day when the classroom environment is less structured and the students are working independently of the teacher. Game periods are increased in length and frequency at regular intervals; by mid-year, the game may be played every day. Initially, the teacher announces the start of a game period and gives rewards at the conclusion of the game.

Later, the teacher defers rewards until the end of the school day or week. Over time, GBG is played at different times of the day, during different activities and in different locations; the game evolves from being highly predictable in timing and occurrence with immediate reinforcement to being unpredictable with delayed reinforcement, so that children learn that good behaviour is expected at all times and in all places.

GBG originates from work developed in the late 60ies in the US; and that original GBG work was not copyrighted. Therefore, two versions (with variations between them) currently exist, the one by AIR and the one by PAX (see contact information). In the implementation experiences below, we identify the version that was used. The longitudinal studies that established the evidence for the effectiveness of GBG in the US can be connected to both versions, but evaluations of the European PAX version are still in process.

 

 

 

Implementation Experiences

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