Thursday, August 30, 2018

Research shows Good Behaviour Game is constructivist nonsense

The Good Behaviour Game was touted for years by social constructivists as yet another silver bullet for classroom behaviour. Yet a large, well funded trial, across 77 schools with 3084 pupils, at the cost of £4000 per school, has shown that it’s a dud. The researchers (EIF) literally showed that it was a waste of time and money.
Of course, it had that word ‘Game’ in its brand, and ‘gamification’ being de rigeur, gave it momentum, along with some outrageous claims about its efficacy. And being a non-interventionist approach (teachers were not allowed to interfere) it also played to the Ken Robinson/Rousseau myth that if we only let children be themselves, they will thrive. It also had that vital component, the social group, where children were expected to use and pick up those vital 21stcentury skills, such as collaboration, communication and teamwork. So its premises: 1) Gamification, 2) Natural development and 3) Social – were found wanting.
Its creators claim that it is underpinned by theory that emerged in the 1960s; ‘life course’ and ‘social field theory’. Life Course theory is right out of the social constructivist playbook, specifically codified through the book Constructing Life Course by Gubrium and Holstein (2000), the idea that one should ignore specific measures, and implement practice and evaluate this practice holistically at the social level. Social Field Theory is another constructivist theory, taken from sociology, that looks at social actors’ and how these actors construct social fields, and how they are affected by such fields.
Claims for GBGs efficacy were nothing if not bold: improving behaviour, reducing mental health problems, crime, violence, anti-social behaviour, even substance abuse. Each game took 10-45 minutes and was supposed to result in better social behaviour and the game teams were balanced for gender and temperament. In truth, it was almost wholly a waste of time. The EIF summary is worth quoting in full:
“EEF Summary
Behaviour is a major concern for both teachers and students. EEF funded this project because GBG is an established programme, and previous evidence suggests it can improve behaviour, and may have a longer-term impact on attainment.
This trial found no evidence that GBG improves pupils’ reading skills or their behaviour (concentration, disruptive behaviour and pro-social behaviour) on average. There was also no effect found on teacher outcomes such as stress and teacher retention. However, there was some tentative evidence that boys at-risk of developing conduct problems showed improvements in behaviour. 
Most classes in the trial played the game less often and for shorter time periods than recommended, and a quarter of schools stopped before the end of the trial. However, classes who followed the programme closely did not get better results.
GBG is strictly manualised and this raised some challenges. In particular, some teachers felt the rule that they should not interact with students during the game was difficult for students with additional needs, and while some found that students got used to the challenge and thrived, others found the removal of their support counter-productive. The EEF will continue to look for effective programmes which support classroom management.”
Pretty conclusive results and further reason for my long-held belief that the orthodoxy of social coonstructivism needs to be challenged, before it causes even more damage in teacher training and our schools.
More importantly, it skewers the whole idea that children are naturally self-regulating and that all teachers and parents have to do is create the right social environment and they will progress.
It’s all to easy to think that real learning is taking place in collaborative groups, ignoring the research on social loafing and the possibility that the weakest learners may suffer badly from this sort of non-guided collaboration, when all that’s happening is slow and inefficient learning, illusory learning. This trial showed that this was indeed the case, with weaker students floundered. Even at the level of actual teacher practice, the approach failed, with both teachers and pupils getting wary, with shorter and shorter sessions and many just giving up.
In evidence based education negative results are just as important as positive results, as they can stop wasted time and effort in the classroom. I’d say this was conclusive and stops some of the crazier constructivist practice in its tracks. It is in line with the negative constructivist results around whole word theory, the last destructive theory that took root in education and then found to be destructive, through evidence.

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