Examples Of Individual Reinforcement Systems
Individual token boards are commonly used with very young students or students with limited cognitive abilities (Figure 11.5). Many teachers use poker chips, pennies, or star tokens on Velcro that are then attached to a strip that visually shows progress toward a picture of a reinforcer or a general picture that represents their reinforcement menu. Tokens are given at frequent intervals paired with behavior-specific praise, and when all the tokens are earned, the student gets a short break when he or she has access to a reinforcer of his or her choice. This type of system can easily travel with the student to various environments and provides a consistent way of providing reinforcement for all adults who work with him or her.
Contracts are an effective way to negotiate with students in a way that mirrors real life. A contract in the adult world is a written agreement between two or more parties that stipulates the responsibilities of each party. Contracting with students is much the same in that it clearly communicates exactly what both the teacher and the student are expected to do. It combines operationally defining and directly teaching the desired target behavior and outlining the consequences (both positive and negative) for choosing or not choosing this behavior.
One way to make contracts more effective is to have the students write their own contract, choosing the behaviors to work on, criteria, and consequences contingent on the stipulations of the contract and then negotiate the fine points with them to develop the final product (Figure 11.6). This is yet another way of embedding choices and giving the student some appropriate control, automatically leading to student buy-in that you may not have gotten if you had outlined the entire contract. Students can work on their self-management skills by helping to choose their criteria for success with teacher guidance, starting by examining their current level of functioning. This can be done by showing them their target behavior sheet graph (which we discuss in detail in Chapter Fifteen) that visually depicts at what percentage they are performing now and asking them what they think would be a reasonable goal.
Contracts should outline both the positive reinforcement students will experience by choosing to perform the goal at the set criteria and undesirable consequences they will experience if they choose not to. This mirrors real life: adult contracts have positive and negative ramifications for abiding or not abiding by the contract. They also leave no room for arguments or power struggles. Letting students know exactly what will happen if they choose the desired behavior or not is another way to communicate that they are charge of the things that happen to them, and consequences, both positive and negative, are not something handed out by teachers to make their life difficult.
The contract itself can act as a visual prompt. Many times we let the student choose a place to post the contract. Some want the contract in a place visible to all, and some like to post it in a private place like inside their desk or in their binder. It is helpful to include a task record on the contract itself by including a mini-calendar on the contract with the days it covers. At the end of the day, the student consults with the teacher and marks whether the criteria were met. Depending on the age and preferences of the student, this can be done with a sticker, smiley face, star, stamp, or a simple check mark. An example of this is provided in Figure 11.7.