TQB: Teacher Quality Bulletin

The Good Behavior Game

See all posts

As I think about my career plans for next year when I will begin work as a first-year high school math teacher, I am both excited and nervous about taking on teaching's many demands. Managing a classroom full of twenty students will be a challenge which I would like to prepare for as much as possible. So when I was asked to research a classroom management strategy for NCTQ, I jumped at the opportunity.

During my research, I came to learn of a classroom management strategy called the Good Behavior Game (GBG); it was developed in 1967 by a novice fourth grade teacher named Muriel Saunders. The GBG creates a functional, engaged classroom by rewarding groups that best exhibit defined behaviors, such as following classroom rules. 

Education is a field in which only one in 1,000 studies is replicated even once (Makel and Plucker). In contrast, the effects of the GBG have been replicated in over 50 studies between 1969 and 2015. Each study has proven the GBG's effectiveness in reducing disruptive behaviors in pre-K through 12th grade and in producing longer-term positive effects on academic performance.

After doing my own research on the GBG, I set off to determine how many of my future colleagues will likely have learned about the strategy as they enter classrooms around the country. The results were surprising. Of the 12 classroom management textbooks evaluated in NCTQ's classroom management report, including popular texts such as Marzano's Classroom Management that Works and Wong's The First Days of School, not a single one mentioned the Good Behavior Game.

While I didn't have ready access to a larger sample of textbooks, I was able to estimate that approximately two percent of teacher candidates are exposed to the GBG in their preparation courses. To arrive at this estimate, I looked through all of the citations of Barrish (the seminal study of the GBG) to find 16 classroom management textbooks published in the last 10 years which reference the GBG. I then developed an inventory of the textbooks used in 90 classroom management courses. Of those 90 courses, only two use one of those 16 textbooks.

Why is the GBG ignored in teacher prep when classroom management is so critically important for novice teachers? NCTQ's classroom management reportprovides a full discussion, but in short, teacher educators promote engagement as the be-all and end-all of classroom management. Approaches that rely on behaviorist principles—such as the positive reinforcement at the heart of the GBG—are belittled or ignored.

How wrong is it to deprive new teachers of an approach that can allow them to be more effective instructors and their students to be more successful learners? The Good Behavior Game is a useful, research-driven strategy that I am fortunate to have learned before beginning my future teaching career. The fact that so many of my peers will not have had the same opportunity is an embarrassment for the field of teacher prep. Perhaps more programs will benefit by adding this useful strategy in their preparation curriculum.