A search for the “Good Behavior Game” on the Internet will bring up videos showing a range of approaches, some of which exhibit a more authoritarian nature than others—with rules created only by the adults. Some videos show the strategy being used only while the students are doing seatwork. And in some videos, the game is described as occurring far less frequently than in the PAX Game—for only 30 minutes a week, for example. The types of prizes awarded the winning teams are another important variable in a successful outcome.
Determining the Rules
Graduate students at the University of Kansas—including Dr. Dennis Embry—studied different ways of formulating rules, including having the participants devise them. Many children’s play groups do this often in the context of group activities. Both early Good Behavior Game studies and PAXIS Institute’s randomized trial of PAX GBG used a model in which the students helped design the rules.
Why this broader approach? Generating shared rules teaches self-efficacy, self-regulation and critical thinking in context. The practice allows students to begin to identify, individually and collectively, what is “good for them” in everyday life, rather than having an authority figure hand down the law. PAX GBG teaches self-regulation to benefit self and others, rather than just to avoid “punishment” from the current authority figure—and students continue to use these skills when the adults are out of sight. This approach also allows flexibility for students with special needs, and is respectful of diverse cultures, values, and backgrounds.
PAXIS has also used findings and lessons learned from a CDC-sponsored study of PeaceBuilders, an earlier youth violence prevention program developed by Dr. Embry. This study showed that when staff engage students as active agents of change in their schools, they can dramatically increase prosocial behavior and reduce antisocial behavior without resorting to coercion, fear, or punishment.
When and How Often to Play
PAXIS suggests that the game be played three or four times a day during all types of activities—in very active learning, cooperative groups and during transitions between activities or locations. Transitions are often times when unsafe or unwanted behaviors emerge and escalate. Keeping children focused allows teachers to shorten transition times and thereby increases the amount of instruction time available.
Rather than candy and stickers , the PAXIS version of the Good Behavior Game suggests that other, intrinsic rewards can be much more effective. Brief activity-based rewards can refresh children and increase their attentiveness, while teaching them how to calm themselves when excited. You can see all sorts of rewards that adults and children devise at PAX GBG sites: a 10-second giggle fest, a 30-second nap, playing dead fish on the floor for 20 seconds, walking backwards down the hall, and popping bubble wrap are just a few.
Relentless seatwork, worksheets, following narrow rules, giving stickers as rewards, and playing the game for a small amount of time are not active ingredients in the success of the GBG intervention. The success of the game comes from the children’s learning self-regulation, self-management, and cooperation with many different peers for group rewards in diverse school activities. The benefits are easily measured by the decreased levels of disturbing, distracting, and problematic behavior, and the increased levels of active, engaged learning.