• By Dartington SRU
  • Posted on Wednesday 06th July, 2011

Bring on the Good Behavior Game!

Children from low-income families have numerous hurdles to clear when it comes to boosting their literacy skills. Under-stimulation at home, low school attendance and poor teaching all increase the odds that they will struggle with reading. But perhaps the most difficult group for efforts at prevention to help are those students who have additional problems with attentiveness. So can a game which aims to improve behaviour in the classroom help overcome this particular problem? A team of researchers from Université du Québec à Montréal in Canada and Vanderbilt and Tufts Universities in the US examined whether the use of the Good Behavior Game to improve the teaching of reading in classrooms would increase students’ attention to the extent that it could boost their reading skills. The Good Behavior Game seeks to reduce classroom disruption by relying on competition to motivate better behavior. Classrooms are divided into two teams. Teams are penalized and rewarded for the behavior of any one of their members. In studies to date, students in classrooms where the Good Behavior Game is played are demonstrably less disruptive and more attentive, compared to children where the game is not played. But the evaluations do not indicate that this greater attention produces affects reading scores or achievement. One explanation is that higher levels of attentiveness may only facilitate learning when students can understand what is being taught.The Montreal study examined students in 58 first-grade classrooms across 30 schools in the city. They carried out their tests under three conditions: a control; the use of evidence-based, peer-tutoring activities to improve the teaching of reading in the classroom; and a second intervention condition that combined peer-tutoring with the Good Behavior Game.Compared with the control, both interventions were effective, with improvements in attentiveness and overall reading skills. Students who participated in peer-tutoring reading lessons made faster progress than those who did not. Students in Good Behavior Game classrooms showed greater levels of attentiveness and literacy skills. But what of the combination? “As expected, inattentive students benefited less from peer-tutoring activities than their more attentive classmates. Contrary to expectations, however, these students did not become better readers when teachers implemented the Good Behavior Game in addition to peer-tutoring,” the authors of the study suggest. Thus, although attention in the classroom is critical for learning to take place, the Good Behavior Game’s effect on students’ ability to focus and concentrate was not sufficient to improve reading outcomes for those who start out with difficulties being attentive at school.The authors offer two explanations for this. First, that the programme was not implemented intensively enough to assist the children it was aimed at helping. The study required that Good Behavior Game be implemented for 15 minutes a day; others have found it is effective when implemented for three hours a day. A second reason might be that “individual characteristics other than inattention could interfere with inattentive students’ ability to learn to read,” suggests the study. The challenge now is to pin-point those factors associated with both inattention and difficulty learning to read. This is challenging, but possible candidates could include a limited vocabulary and poor memory skills. Source:Dion, E., Roux, C., Landry, D., Fuchs, D., Wehby, J. and Dupéré, V. (2011) Improving attention and preventing reading difficulties among low-income first-graders: A randomized study, Prevention Science, Vol. 12 (1), 70-79.

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