Teachers looking to reinforce positive behavior may try several different classroom management techniques before they come across something that works for them and their students. A classroom token economy is one positive reinforcement system that works for many teachers and students alike. Classroom token economies can be personalized and individualized for every situation, making them excellent classroom management systems for students of all ages and classes of all sizes.
What Is a Token Economy in the Classroom?
A classroom token economy is a system of positive behavior reinforcement. A token is given as a reward for a target behavior and the tokens can be exchanged for something the student or class wants. Token economies in the classroom can be established to support academic learning, social behavior, communication skills or even more individualized targets like self-help or life skills.
Examples of Classroom Token Economy Systems
Token economies in the classroom will look different for every teacher. A lot goes into managing and facilitating a classroom token economy, so teachers should be sure to implement a tracking and rewards system that works best for them. More personalized token systems may be necessary to use with some students, while some teachers find a classroom system helps develop positive behaviors among a greater number of students.
A token board is a physical reminder of a student’s progress toward earning a preferred item or activity. This physical reminder can help students who have difficulty working for longer periods remember that completing their assignments will help them get what they want. It also shows students how much more work there is to be done before a reward. This gives students direction without constantly having to use verbal cues and can build internal motivation and focus.
With a token board system, all students can have the same board, or a personalized token board, to reflect a different number of tokens needed to reach a reward or a different visual reminder. Some teachers use a white board for their token board, while others may download templates to print out or create their own.
One classroom token economy system that makes a lot of sense for some teachers and students is classroom cash. Teachers might use fake money from board games or print out their own “dollars” from templates they find or create. Students get paid in classroom money for things like attendance, homework, completing classroom jobs and good citizenship. Each task might have a different value depending on which habits the teacher is trying to encourage.
Teachers using a classroom cash economy can create a class store that includes many options for redeeming the tokens. Each reward has a different value and teachers should work with students to understand which rewards they feel are worth working toward. Remember, the classroom token economy does not work as positive behavior reinforcement if the tokens cannot be exchanged for something the students value.
Token jars can be used to help reinforce positive behavior or habits for individual students or with an entire class. With this token economy, a clear jar is visible to the student or class. When desired behaviors are met, the teacher adds a token of some kind to the jar. Some teachers use marbles, others might use pom poms, pencils or wooden discs.
Token jars are often used for bigger or high-value rewards, such as a class party or a trip. When the jar is full, the class or student earns the big reward. This provides a visual system of motivation and gives the class the chance to work toward a common reward. This system may not be motivating to all students, especially if the final reward is not something they all value. Be sure to work with students to determine what the best reward might be.
Establishing a Token Economy in the Classroom
Token economies can be set up in whatever way best suits the teacher and the students using it. Setting up most classroom token economies will include some combination of the following steps.
1. Choose Tokens
The first step in setting up the classroom token economy is to determine the tokens you will use. You might use classroom cash as a token. Or you might use stickers, checkmarks, cards, smiley faces, erasers or marbles. Your token should be interesting and motivating to students.
2. Determine Tracking
Tokens will have to be tracked somehow to determine when a student meets a goal. You can use a designated tracking board or use a white board to track points or checkmarks. When using classroom cash, students will collect their dollars and save them depending on what they plan to purchase. When using a marble jar, decide if you will tier the rewards.
3. Assign Values
Tokens will be given out to reward target behaviors. With a token board, this might mean that every time that behavior is demonstrated, one card or token is given. In a classroom cash token economy, certain behaviors may equal certain dollar amounts. Completing homework might be worth $5 while standing in line quietly might be worth $2. The number of marbles dropped into a jar might also correspond with certain expected behaviors.
4. Determine Rewards
Token economies allow students to exchange a certain number of tokens for a reward or experience. Token boards might lead to smaller, more frequent rewards, while a marble jar might be a larger goal that takes longer to achieve. Classroom cash economies might have many tiers of rewards so that students can get smaller items more frequently or save their cash to exchange for something of more value. Teachers should understand what is motivating to their students and use those experiences as high-value rewards.
5. Teach Students
Once you have the token economy planned, you need to teach students how it works. Students should understand the behavior they must demonstrate to earn a token. They must also understand that the tokens add up to a reward, but that the behavior must be displayed over time to reach that goal. Classroom cash economies might need more direction, such as when students can earn money and when they can spend it.
6. Reward Frequently and Consistently
Begin the token economy classroom experience by rewarding with tokens frequently and reexplain the tokens as you hand them out. You can relax the frequency of token distribution once the desired behaviors are well-established.
Once the classroom token economy is set up, be sure to stay consistent. Reevaluate the program frequently. Are students still focused on demonstrating desired behaviors? If so, keep going. If their motivation is waning, work together to determine new tokens or rewards that will engage them again. The hard work of setting up and running a classroom token economy can pay off with improved classroom behaviors.
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1Retrieved from National Association of Special Education Teachers, Token Economy Systems to Increase Appropriate Behaviors in March 2022
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.