As teachers, we work hard every day to ensure our students grow academically, socially, emotionally, and, of course, behaviorally. We use a plethora of strategies and systems to make our classrooms run like well-oiled machines and to create safe and inclusive learning environments for our diverse learners.
But are our systems highly effective? How do we know that the practices we are using day to day are giving us the best possible outcomes?
The truth of the matter is, not all strategies and systems are created equal. We are seeking those unique few that serve our needs as educators but also support our students as they grow into mature, self-regulated, successful individuals.
Good news, such systems do exist. Let’s explore a teacher favorite: the Token Economy.
A token economy is a structured, positive reinforcement system that is used to target behavior change. There are three main components to this system:
The simplest way to think of it would be in terms of our own global economy. We go to work, where we are expected to get specific tasks done in a certain way. We are then paid money for our time and the work we produce.
From there, we go and use our money to buy things we want and need. Similar to money, the tokens are a means to an end. Students use the tokens, or reinforcements, they earn to buy something they want. Incentivizing at its finest!
There are many advantages to a token economy for both teachers and students. Teachers will gain stronger classroom management, have a built-in approach for consistent reinforcement of the positive behaviors they expect, and most importantly, be able to spend more time focused on academics.
This system’s flexibility and structure will also support teachers as they create behavior goals for their classes or specific individuals using PBIS. For students, a token economy allows them to visualize their progress, learn self-regulation skills, and monitor both their positive and negative behaviors.
Students respond well within structured, routine-based environments. Therefore, the consistency of a token economy helps students to make the connection between their positive behaviors and earning the desired reward.
The best part about this system is it helps to combat the constant need for instant gratification. In a society where everything is at our student’s fingertips, we definitely need strategies to delay gratification in order to teach our students that some things are worth the extra time, effort, and patience.
This is a good place to start if you are new to token economies because they are simple to create and use. The chart can have as many spaces as you would like and also has room to put a picture of the prize or reward that will be earned for completing the chart. The tokens themselves should be something easy to add like stickers or paper tokens.
Teacher hack: laminate the charts and use velcro to attach the pieces so that all the materials can be reused!
Modeled off of our own global economy, this example is a little more involved than others. How it works is the teacher determines 2-3 behaviors that the class or an individual is working on. When students exhibit the behavior, they are given a token in the form of a coin, bill, or other collectible items such as a poker chip or marble.
It is the students' job to keep track of their tokens, so make sure you have a system in mind for how you would like students to keep these tokens until they have a chance to exchange them.
Similar to the token chart, a stamp or punch card is also a great place to start if you need something more tactile. Each student gets their own card that you can then stamp or punch with a hole puncher whenever they earn a token. Once the card has been filled with stamps or punches, it can then be exchanged for a reward.
For any teacher out there that needs a simple way to keep track of whole-class progress, the jar system might be the best fit for you. The only supplies you need are a jar and some sort of token to fill the jar with like marbles, poker chips, pompoms, or fake coins.
As students earn, you fill the jar with the token. It is as simple as that! Once the jar is filled, you can give a whole class reward or let students pick an individual prize.
Teacher hack: Label the jar with different rewards or prizes. As the tokens fill the jar and reach each prize, the whole class earns that reward!
Using a point system is wonderfully convenient, especially if you have an account with a platform like LiveSchool! All of your students are uploaded to the class and you can then input the behaviors you are looking for as well as assign point values.
As you observe students meeting the expectations you click their name, the behavior, and voila! Students are earning points in real-time and can see their total displayed throughout the day. From there, paychecks can be printed for their weekly total and their points can be used to buy rewards at a designated time.
Who doesn’t love stickers? This method is very commonly used in the younger grades or even by parents wanting to create their own behavior management systems at home. Each student has their own chart with the desired behavior stated at the top.
As students exhibit the specified behavior, they are given stickers to add to the chart. Once the chart is filled, they can exchange their chart for a reward of their choice.
Teacher Hack: You can get stickers in bulk from the Dollar Store, Dollar Tree, or Amazon. Get the most bang for your buck!
This system is another great choice for whole-class behavior support and reinforcement. Once you name the desired behavior, the class can work for a certain period of time to earn a letter with the goal of spelling the word.
This word can be spelled on the board in the classroom, with bulletin board letters on the wall, etc. Once the entire word has been built, students can then be rewarded with a class or individual prize.
Token economy example in the classroom
The only necessary supplies needed to make this work is a specified area of the room, an envelope for each student, and something to use as tokens such as popsicle sticks or strips of construction paper.
You could even laminate the envelopes and draw straight on them with a whiteboard marker if you’d like.
As students earn points, they place their tokens in their pockets until they reach the amount needed to cash in for a reward.
As you can see, there are many different ways to create a token economy, but the key to success is making it simple for you and your students to understand and use every day. Our focus needs to remain on its purpose; to positively reinforce student behavior until the behaviors ultimately become automatic.
Be consistent. Be flexible. Be positive.