Managing Classroom Behaviors: Tools to Facilitate Behavior Interventions in the General Education Setting (page 3)

By — Autism Society
Updated on Oct 25, 2010

Classwide Systems for Response Cost

General educators occasionally are presented with students who exhibit problem behaviors. Many teachers struggle throughout the school year with getting their entire class to quiet down, get seated and, finally, be ready to learn. This is where a wholegroup response-cost system can both diminish negative behaviors and improve the overall environment in the classroom.

A response-cost system is feasible within the context of any classroom. To begin, the teacher and students identify the behaviors that need to be reduced to enable student learning. Next, the teacher converses with students about what motivates them. A preference assessment, also known as reinforcement sampling, should be administered to the class (see Table 1). This could be creatively presented as students vote for their favorite choice. Embedding choices and rewards into a student’s school day can dramatically improve behaviors.

Once the reinforcers have been chosen, the response-cost can be implemented. Consider the word (SMILEY). In this situation, the volume and fidgeting in the classroom was so heightened that the teacher could not teach. The teacher spoke with students about the disruptions and had the class identify activities and items they would want to earn. SMILEY was placed on the board, and when students were disruptive, the teacher would simply walk to the board and remove a letter from SMILEY. The class would immediately settle down. The teacher explained exactly why she removed a letter: “When you choose to talk too loud, you start to lose your choice. If you want to earn your choice today, remain quiet.” In this example, the students would earn their choice prior to lunch and again at the end of the school day, if they had at least one letter remaining.

Considerations for Classwide System

1. Make sure the expectations are reasonable. If students are never able to earn their choice, decrease the expectations a bit. Once they are successful, begin to increase the expectation.

2. Occasionally, re-do the preference assessment to ensure the students do not get bored and lose motivation. Keep it interesting and enticing.

3. Remember to praise. Reinforce students throughout the day when they are doing what they should be doing: “I like how hard the class is working. Nice job! You are earning your choice!”

4. Be consistent and immediate when removing letters or tokens. If you only enforce the response-cost sometimes, it will take much longer to diminish disruptive behaviors. The sooner you pour energy into the behavior system, the sooner the students will behave.

Individual Response-Cost Systems

An individual response-cost system could be implemented for a student with specific behavioral needs, resulting in decreased time a teacher spends redirecting a particular child. After establishing the system and identifying rewards with the child, a teacher could simply remove a token from the board without interruption to group instruction.

Considerations for Individual Response Cost Systems

1. Make sure to be in close proximity when redirecting a child. Due to behavior problems, the child already may have a difficult time with relationships. Consider the child’s feelings and model respect.

2. Stay away from words such as “bad,” as this communicates to the child that she is a bad person. This is not the case. If you feel the need to comment on a behavior, say, “This is not okay.” This defines to the child that a specific behavior is inappropriate.

3. Give the student a replacement behavior. For example, if a student continuously walks up to you rather than raising his hand, you could say, “Raise your hand and then I’ll call on you.” This defines to the child what his behavior should be to obtain your attention.


Token economies and response-cost protocols are both effective and simplistic strategies to use when managing disruptive classroom behaviors in the general education setting. These protocols provide students with motivators to work hard, just as adults work hard for motivators such as raises. Token economies are synonymous to the pay raises adults receive; the harder the students work, the more tokens they earn. Response-cost systems also operate just as systems do in our adult lives. If you get caught speeding, you’ll be fined. While token economies and responsecost systems are beneficial to reduce disruptive classroom behaviors, the systems also are a preview for life-long success.

For more information

For more information on token economies, response-cost procedures and other commonly used behavioral approaches, please see the following websites:

About the Authors

Leah Gongola, M.Ed., is a public school special education teacher working primarily with children who have autism. Gongola is nearing completion of her doctoral degree in special education with an emphasis in autism at Kent State University.

Jennifer Sweeney, M.A., BCBA, has a master’s degree in special education with an emphasis in applied behavior analysis and is working on her doctorate in special education at Kent State University.


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Carlson, C., Mann, M., & Alexander, D. (2000). Effects of reward and response cost on the performance and motivation of children with ADHD. Cognitive Therapy and Research, 24 (1), 87-98. Cooper, J.O., Heron, T.E., & Heward, W.L. (1987). Applied behavior analysis. Upper Saddle River, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.

Crozier, S. (2006). Preparing the general education classroom for your child. In E.A. Boutot and M. Tincani (Eds.), Autism Spectrum Disorders Handouts: What Parents Need to Know (pp. 169-171). Austin, Texas: ProEd.

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Falcomata, T., Roane, H., Hovanetz, A., & Kettering, T. (2004). An evaluation of response cost in the treatment of inappropriate vocalizations maintained by automatic reinforcement. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 37, 83-87.

Filcheck, H., McNeil, C., Greco, L., & Bernard, R. (2004). Using a whole-class token economy and coaching of teacher skills in a preschool classroom to manage disruptive behavior. Psychology in the Schools, 41 (3), 351-361.

Hagopian, L., van Stone, M., & Crockett, J. (2003). Establishing schedule control over dropping to the floor. Behavioral Interventions, 18, 291-297.

Kelley, M., & McCain, A. (1995). Promoting academic performance in inattentive children. Behavior Modification, 19 (3), 357-375.

Myers, C. and Holland, K. (2000). Classroom behavioral interventions: Do teachers consider the function of the behavior? Psychology in the Schools, 37 (3), 271-280.

Pfiffner, L., O’Leary, S., Rosen, L., & Sanderson, W. (1985). A comparison of the effects of continuous and intermittent response cost and reprimands in the classroom. Journal of Clinical Child Psychology, 14 (4), 348-352.

Piazza, C., & Fisher, W. (1991). A faded bedtime with response cost protocol for treatment of multiple sleep problems in children. Journal of Applied Behavior Analysis, 24, 129-140.

Reynolds, L., & Kelley, M. (1997). The efficacy of a response costbased treatment. Package for managing aggressive behavior in preschoolers. Behavior Modification, 21 (2), 216-230.

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