In my last post, I shared a lengthy list of academic initiatives my colleagues and I will be working on this year. However, reflecting on behavioral interventions is equally important.
At Hillsboro, we have a pretty amazing new Dean of Students who has developed a strong restorative practice system for our students with sequences of both rewards and consequences called 3RT (Respectful, Responsible, Ready to Learn, and Team Players). It’s thrilling to have a consistent, school-wide effort, particularly because it melds very well with my own classroom behavior system honed over years of working with a challenging population of high school students: a token economy.
I was turned on to token economies about 8 years ago after my husband wrote a research paper on them. Over the years, I have used various techniques to inspire students to make good choices. One technique was rewarding students with tickets for positive behaviors partnered with a drawing once a week for a prize. However, I was always troubled by my lack of consistency and the randomness of the drawing. I wanted something that students could count on and that I could reliably implement.
So, when my husband shared this Token Economy Guide with me, I was elated by the possibility of finally having a consistent system. I’ve had so much success with using a token economy, I thought others may benefit from my experiences.
Token Economy Overview:
Token economies are systems of individual reinforcement of target behaviors in which tokens are administered and exchanged later for reinforcers. There are many different ways to implement token economies, but it is imperative that teachers have a defined and manageable implementation plan that all students understand.
- Target Behaviors:
- Teachers must first identify which behaviors they want to target for improvement. For example, I have always been most concerned with students a) being on time, b) being on task, and c) being respectful.
- Tokens are the reward given to students for displaying the appropriate behaviors. These can take many forms. Read below for more details on my virtual tokens called “Stoogsters.”
- Students need a way to store their tokens, whether they are physical or virtual. Teachers should consider student age and responsibility, as well as classroom space and security.
- Reinforcers are the prizes or rewards students can “buy” with their tokens. Think of an arcade where students win tickets in exchange for small trinkets and toys. Reinforcers should vary and reflect student interests.
- Business Hours:
- Teachers need to set specific times for students to exchange their tokens for reinforcers. This can be daily, weekly, or even monthly.
How A Token Economy Looks in My Class:
As mentioned above, I have three target behaviors for my students every day:
- Being in class before it begins (Being on Time).
- Completing all assignments and directives as expected (Being on Task).
- Exhibiting behavior that enables others and yourself to learn (Being Respectful).
Students are made aware of these expectations on the first day of class followed by consistent reinforcement.
For me, maintaining physical tokens would be way too much to keep up with and since I work with high schoolers, more capable of understanding abstract concepts, I decided to implement a virtual economy. Also, I tend to be very playful as a teacher and long ago accepted the teacher name “Stoogie” (lovingly bestowed upon me by my students). So, I decided to name my virtual tokens, “Stoogsters.”
To keep my tracking process even simpler, students automatically earn 3 Stoogsters every single day they are in class. So, the minute they walk through the door on time, it is assumed they will exhibit all the target behaviors. Students really like this!
However, when a student is tardy, or off task, or being disrespectful, they lose that Stoogster. I track these subtractions on a class clipboard. For the first few weeks, when I take away Stoogsters, I let students know what I am doing so they associate the loss with the failure to exhibit the target behavior. Later, as students become familiar with the process, all I need to do is wave my clipboard and students will check themselves. As students learn the expectations, fewer disruptions for behavior management are necessary.
Beyond earning Stoogsters for target behaviors, I have expanded opportunities to earn through classroom jobs. This. changed. my. life.
- Ambassador (opens door, answers phone, greets guests – earns $1/day)
- Custodian (ensures the floor and desks are clean after each class period – earns $2/day)
- Desk Organizer (DO; ensures desks have been returned after each class period – earns $2/day)
- Paper Collector (PC; collects papers/assignments when needed – earns $1/day)
- Paper Passer Outer (PPO; distributes papers/assignments when needed – earns $1/day)
- Pencil Lender (PL; maintains collection of class pencils for students – earns $2/day)
- Materials Manager (assists in the distribution and oversight of classroom materials – earns $1/day)
- Media Specialist (assists in the distribution and oversight of classroom technology – earns $1/day)
Students delight in these jobs and must apply for them. Through their contributions, students develop a sense of ownership in the class and love the fact that they get tangible rewards for their efforts. Beyond developing community, student aides allow me to focus on instruction and cut down on lost time during transitions.
While I track students’ daily earnings on class clipboards, I maintain a digital “Bank of Stoogie-Doo” on a Google spreadsheet. I share this with students on Stoogie Store day (see “Business Hours” section below) to help them monitor their earnings and spending.
In the example below from a former class, you can see that I have separate tabs for each block with student names pre-loaded. The final column has a formula that automatically tabulates students’ “Balance” after each Stoogie Store day.
Finding appropriate (and inexpensive) reinforcers can be tricky. I have learned that most high school students want treats (i.e. sodas, chips, and candy), so I always have those available for purchase.
It’s also important to have a variety of items at different price levels so every student, regardless of behavior, can get a reward. Students who are consistently off task or tardy will have little incentive to start exhibiting target behaviors if the rewards seem impossible to obtain. For these students, I buy variety packs of mini-candy and toys (like finger cuffs and noise makers). Students do actually buy and delight in these toys!
Be aware that you will also encounter hoarders. Many students, especially those that consistently exhibit target behaviors, like to watch their savings accumulate. This phenomenon is common with token economies because students feel proud of their rewards. I learned early on that you should plan on having a larger item for these few students to enjoy at the end of each semester, such as a pizza party.
Tip: Anything can be a reinforcer! I have trained my eye to look for free/cheap items that students may find value in: makeup, jewelry, craft supplies, backpacks, binders, t-shirts…It’s always nice to have a few non-standard items for students to buy to keep it interesting for the whole year.
Sample Stoogie Swag
|AIRHEADS/FRUIT ROLL UPS||$20|
|VARIED SCHOOL SUPPLIES||$10-$20|
|PIZZA PARTY||2 SLICES, SODA, & MOVIE FOR $250|
As previously mentioned, students can spend their Stoogsters, or tokens, on Stoogie Store day, which takes place in the last 5-10 minutes of class every 2-3 weeks. This time frame makes sense for my students because I only have them every other day on block schedules and they need time to build up their banks in order to value the experience of trading in tokens for reinforcers.
To put this in perspective: if students do everything they are supposed to for 10 days, they can earn 30 Stoogsters (the price I charge for a bag of chips or a soda). So, in theory, every 2-3 weeks, all students have the potential for one of these treats. In reality, only about a third of students do everything perfectly. Before each Stoogie Store day, I update my banks and take stock of how many reinforcers I should plan to have.
The dates for Stoogie Stores are preset so students know when they’re coming up. Students LOVE Stoogie Store – even seniors. I have found that Stoogie Store even helps students with chronic absences get inspired to be at school.
Extrinsic vs. Intrinsic Rewards:
Some may also argue that token economies put too much emphasis on extrinsic rewards and fail to teach students the intrinsic value of making good choices. Therefore, it is important to ask students to reflect on the benefits of exhibiting target behaviors beyond the tangible rewards. Make clear connections between student choices and academic performance to enhance the impact of your system on students.
Specifically, for students who make dramatic improvements in building their Stoogster balance, I make a point to have side conversations to encourage students to reflect upon the changes they see in developing mastery of academic standards.
Token Economies have provided me with a consistent system for monitoring student behavior, building routine and community, and protecting instructional time. Students enjoy not just being rewarded for exhibiting target behaviors, but having a system for understanding specific behavioral expectations. To be clear, my token economy has not eliminated poor behavioral choices in my classes, but it has improved students’ consistency in making positive behavioral choices.
Here are a couple of resources to help you get started: