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There's not a lot of tried and true ways to get a rowdy classroom in control, with the exception of the Good Behavior Game. But there's one big caveat as to who it helps.

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If you've ever been either a student or a teacher -- and that covers most of us -- you've probably been in a classroom that was out of control. Education researchers have come up with a lot of ways to handle rowdy classes and misbehaving kids.

Many of those methods are published in peer-reviewed journals. But there's a problem: not a lot of those studies have been replicated by other researchers. In 2014, one team analyzed the complete publication history of the top one hundred education journals and found that only 0.13% of published articles were replications.

So when any education study's results are replicated dozens of times, it's a big deal. That's the case for research into the Good Behavior Game, which has been studied repeatedly since it was first published in 1969. And it's been shown time and again to be an effective way to keep the peace in classrooms, and even boost student well-being years down the road.

That is, for some kids. Here's how it worked in the original study: a fourth grade teacher divided her classroom of twenty-four students into two teams. The students were told that they were going to play a game every day during their math and reading lessons.

Whichever team won would get certain privileges, like the chance to line up first for lunch or get a half-hour of free time at the end of the day. But in order to win, they had to follow certain rules. No one was allowed to talk or leave their desk without permission.

Whenever the teacher saw someone break a rule, that student's team would get a mark on the blackboard. At the end of the lesson, the winners were chosen. That would either be the team with the least marks, or both teams if neither team got more than a certain number of marks.

The Good Behavior Game worked like gangbusters. It significantly reduced talking and out-of-seat behavior and was popular with both the teachers and the students. Since then, other researchers have put their own spin on the game, with positive results.

Some studies tried only rewarding good behavior. A 1973 study turned it into “The Astronaut Game,” where the goal was to move a spaceship closer to the moon. “Good astronaut behavior” like having good manners and doing classwork earned children tokens and got them closer to their final goal. In fairness, that's good behavior in both astronauts and people.

In a 1993 study, preschoolers received positive reinforcement from a puppet for following the rules. Whenever they followed the rules, they got a felt token like a smiley face or a dinosaur. At the end of the day, they could trade those tokens in for animal crackers.

Both of these studies focused on rewarding positive behavior, which led to significant improvements in classroom behavior. That suggests that positive reinforcement may be all you need for the Good Behavior. Game to be effective.

So why does this work so well? At its most basic, the Good Behavior Game teaches something called rule-governed behavior. That's exactly what it sounds like: behavior that's controlled by rules.

Specifically, it's a type of operant behavior, or a type of learning that relies on rewards or punishments for certain behaviors. Operant behavior relies on three parts: a stimulus, a response, and a reinforcer or punisher, which works to reinforce good behavior or punish bad behavior. In the Good Behavior Game, the stimulus is the existence of rules, like “only speak when the teacher calls on you.” A student could choose to respond to that stimulus by following the rule, or by breaking the rule and chatting with a classmate.

What's the reinforcer, then? The simple answer is that it's those privileges, like early lunch or free time at the end of the day. But in the Good Behavior Game, the reinforcers go way beyond that.

One less obvious reinforcer in the game is peer approval. After all, if you really want your team to win, you're going to be pretty mad at any teammate who breaks the rules and ruins your chances. Some research has suggested that the most disruptive kids may respond better to feedback from their peers than their teachers, in which case enlisting the help of those peers could be valuable.

There are some caveats, though. Some have cautioned that this strategy might put too much pressure on certain kids, or single others out. Whatever the reasons for why it works, the Good Behavior Game can have a big impact.

It appears to improve academic performance, for one thing. Kids in the Astronaut Game completed more of their work, and other studies have found improved performance in math class as well as more creativity in their writing. It also may lead to behavior improvement in other classes.

A 1994 study used the Good Behavior Game with students in first and second grade, then followed them through sixth grade. Of those students, boys who were particularly aggressive in those early years had lower aggression ratings in subsequent grades. That's even though they didn't /keep/ playing the game.

The Good Behavior Game may have impacts outside of the classroom, too. Studies have found that boys exposed to the Good Behavior Game early on in their education were less likely to start smoking or have substance abuse problems in their teen years. Children's perception of their social acceptance is directly linked with their levels of depressive symptoms, and research suggests that aggression is a surefire way to make a child's peers dislike them.

Because the Good Behavior Game reduces aggressive behavior and encourages peers to cooperate, it seems to help the class troublemakers avoid the behavior problems and peer issues that can lead to bigger problems down the road. But there's one major caveat to all this. You might have noticed we've been talking about boys.

The Good Behavior Game seems to benefit disruptive students the most, and those students are disproportionately male. And nearly all studies of the Good Behavior Game have found more dramatic results for boys than girls -- in fact, few have shown any long-term benefits for students who aren't boys at all. So while these results seem great for about half the classroom population, more research may be needed to see what we can do for the other half.

That said, students of all genders do benefit when more disruptive students are… disrupting class less, so there are some indirect advantages. But in spite of all the evidence, it's strangely rare to find the Good Behavior Game being used in a classroom. Statistics on this are hard to find, but one teacher writing for the National Council for.

Teacher Quality, or NCTQ, found that very few teaching textbooks mention the Good Behavior Game. This might be because, as an NCTQ report found, most teacher preparation programs don't draw on peer-reviewed research when deciding which classroom management strategies are most effective and worth teaching. The fact is, the GBG is one of the most strongly evidence-based classroom behavior strategies out there.

Some researchers strongly advocate for its use in every classroom, saying that both students and teachers benefit. At least, one group of students in particular. But honestly if it's making life easier for teachers, it's a win.

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