I base my classroom management on a token economy system that involves points and rewards. A token economy is the most-recommended form of classroom management strategy in practice today. I say that because when I research other options, I can’t find any!
I recently went to a consortium in which we were presented with a system that uses points and levels and rewards. The system seemed nice but had significant downfalls in my opinion, which is what I want to explore this post: How do you effectively blend PBIS and a token economy to maximize positive student behavior?
I have been taught and advised that in a token economy, what a student earns is to never be taken away. The prevailing idea is that they do not yet understand consequences and that by mimicking the real world, I run the risk of losing the child to defiance for the remainder of the year.
This is one of my two biggest problems with the system presented to me at the consortium. Many economies are based on negative reinforcement, such as losing points or levels earned. However, I do subscribe to the above philosophy that many students with EBD simply will not respond appropriately to losing what they have earned; after all, not understanding consequences is part of the reason they are with me.
So I struggle with finding an appropriate and effective punitive system for my students. A purely positive reinforcement economy is good, but my students do not view the inability to earn points for a given time or the absence of points for a time as motivation to behave appropriately. I have thought of transforming my system to more of a banking system, with credits and debits; however, I still run into the problem of removing what was earned. How do you incorporate negative reinforcement, if any, in your economy?
I also have questions about determining the most appropriate quantity of points. I view the world in a very economically conservative/Ayn Randian perspective, which greatly influences how I build and run my classroom’s token economy. I currently offer one point per class period, or per 60-min. segment. I do this because I typically have two to three different classes going at once and it is hard to monitor individual behavior in smaller increments.
My students have tried to reject the system and refuse to tally their own points, yet they look forward to the rewards, so I put the points on the board. So far, making them visible to the class has had a positive effect. The points area works as a wonderful external locus of control for them to exhibit the desired behaviors.
I also want my system to be as realistic as possible. The one presented to me used 50-100 points per 30-min. segment and had totals in the thousands for a single week. In my opinion, this is far too abstract for students to apply in the real world. (I also admit I may be a bit too conservative in my point system.)
So I’ll end with this: How do you distribute your points in your token economy, and how well do students react to it?