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Managing Classroom Behaviors: Tools to Facilitate Behavior Interventions in the General Education Setting (page 2)

By — Autism Society
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

Token Economy

A token economy is a system for reinforcement delivery that entails identifying behaviors and reinforcers (Heron & Heward, 1987). When a child engages in a positive behavior, he is given a token, such as a ticket, to be traded later for the reinforcer. The system can be used with an entire class or with an individual.

Classwide System

As a group, students earn the tokens toward a common goal for individual behaviors (e.g., raising hand or answering questions) or for classroom behaviors (e.g., following class instructions or being compliant for a substitute). The behaviors should be well defined. It may be helpful to develop a list of behaviors with the class and then post them in a visible place for reference.

When the teacher observes the student or class engaging in one of the targeted behaviors, she delivers a class token. The token can be a bead in a jar, a number on the board, a colored square on a chart, etc. When delivering the token, the teacher also should deliver praise, such as, “I like the way Tommy is working quietly,” or “Class — thank you for being quiet while I talked to our visitor. Here are two tokens!” The token should be delivered based on the student’s behavior. Therefore, if the behavior is exceptional, the teacher should give more tokens.

Individual Token System for a Child with a Specific Behavior

When a student has an individual behavioral need, it may be necessary for her to have an individualized token board. A student with a special need, such as autism, typically needs more specific reinforcement and may not be motivated by a classroom- based token system. Following are steps for developing an individualized token board:

1. Identify the behavior: The behavior expectations should be well defined.

2. Take data: It is crucial to the success of the token board for the teacher to keep track of the behaviors. This can be done with a simple behavior tally. Taking data allows the teacher to recognize gradual decreases in behavior. For example, consider a student who throws objects an average of 10 times a day and then is provided with a token system. The teacher can see the system working when the data indicates the behavior now is occurring nine times a day.

3. Token board: The token board should be individualized for the child. If the child is interested in Elmo, then Elmo tokens can be provided. Token boards can be very simple or very elaborate. A simple board can consist of smiley faces drawn on a piece of paper each time the child engages in the desired behavior.

4. Number of tokens: The number of tokens on the board depends on the amount of time the board will be used (e.g., all day or for 10 minutes) and the number of times the child needs to be reinforced during that time period. For example, a child who has a high frequency of calling out may need to use the token board during each class period, having an opportunity to earn all of his tokens within 45 minutes and therefore earning his reinforcer at the end of the period. The token board then would be cleared and restarted the next period. Once the behavior begins to decrease, the teacher may be able to use one token board across two periods and then three. The idea is to fade the frequency of the reinforcement as the behavior decreases. Though reinforcement should not be faded completely, once the behavior is gone, it should be randomized so that the child does not know when to expect it. Essentially, the child has to behave all of the time since she cannot predict when reinforcement is coming.

Guidelines for Getting Started

1. Identify the behavior to be changed (increased or decreased).

2. Identify reinforcers.

3. Develop the reinforcement schedule.

4. Monitor the student’s progress.

5. Fade the levels of reinforcement or increase the criteria for losing tokens.

Response Cost

A response-cost system is similar to the token economy but with an additional procedure in which an individual loses a previously earned reinforcer due to an inappropriate behavior. The response-cost protocol is concise and simplistic to use. Although some teachers are hesitant to use a punishment procedure, Reynolds and Kelley (1997) identified the procedure as having little disruption to the classroom routine while requiring minimal teacher time or effort. Because implementation is relatively simplistic, prolonged usage is increased (Reynolds & Kelley, 1997).

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