Token economies are systems devised and implemented by the teacher to provide students with rewards for targeted desirable behaviours. Rewards come in the form of tokens (stickers, points, money in the ‘bank’, poker chips etc.) and are collected in order to purchase one or more desirable items. These items can be zero-cost (such as additional technology time) or products (such as books, hats etc.). One option is to have every student bring in an item to donate to the ‘shop’. At the end of the term, the shop holds an auction and students bid on the items they want. In other systems, the teacher ‘opens the shop’ at specified times and students purchase items or vouchers for zero-cost rewards.
Hint: An alternative to the token economy is the Good Behaviour Game that research suggests is very effective (Bowman-Perrott et al., 2015). In fact, it has been researched almost continuously since the 1960s. A class is divided into teams (usually 2) and the teams win or lose points for behaviour (the traditional method is to actually apply a penalty point for undesirable behaviour). This strategy can be used in general classes as well as to support students with hyperactive and oppositional behaviours (Leflot et al., 2010).
A best practice feature of high-quality token economies is the use of a systematic (as opposed to subjective or random) process to reward and deduct tokens. This allows the teacher to target specific behaviours and activities or subjects. For example, the teacher may award 1 token if homework is completed and occasionally offer a double token for challenging or extended homework activities. Students may also receive 2 tokens for scoring more than 60% in a test, and 3 for 75% or more.
The entire class may receive a bonus token if they are well-behaved for the temporary teacher. Tokens can also be awarded for specific behaviours such as staying seated and not calling out. In addition, teachers can set daily targets for behaviour and corresponding token rewards. For example, if there are issues with talking and staying on-task, the teacher might rank each student and provide 0, 1, 2, or 3 tokens at the end of the day. Another possibility is to allow points to be transferred under certain conditions. Students can also vote or be chosen to award points (such as for the best science project).
Hint: A feature of token economies that encourages participation and buy-in from students is a visual reminder (a cue) somewhere in the room. This can be a score chart, a shop, a list of top-earners for the week and so forth. Use colours, pictures and crafts to make a centrepiece item that is attractive and exciting.
Bowman-Perrott, L., Burke, M. D., Zaini, S., Zhang, N., & Vannest, K. (2015). Promoting positive behavior using the good behavior game: A meta-analysis of single-case research. Journal of Positive Behavior Interventions, 18(3), 180-190. https://doi:10.1177/1098300715592355
Leflot, G., van Lier, Pol A. C, Onghena, P., & Colpin, H. (2010). The role of teacher behavior management in the development of disruptive behaviors: An intervention study with the good behavior game. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 38(6), 869-882. https://doi:10.1007/s10802-010-9411-4
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of ITAC, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
Source: Behaviour Management Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners.
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