The Token Economy Classroom

Teachers use many different approaches to conquer discipline issues in the classroom. Calling parents, using the principal’s office, and taking away privileges are all negative ways that discipline can be modified. Positive reinforcement is when a teacher focuses on good classroom behaviors and provides rewards when the behavior is observed.

Rewards do not have to be tangible; they can be praise, extra computer time, or any other reward the child covets and the teacher feels appropriate. One positive way to reinforce behavior is with the use of tokens. The great thing about tokens and using them to set up a token economy system in the classroom is that they put the responsibility for the behavior back on the student.

Tokens and Behavior

Tokens are very tangible reward reminders that help the students to grow, plan, and save toward a reward that they want to earn. Using tokens also allows students to wait longer for rewards and learn to move away from immediate gratification.

To establish a token system for class management, it is important to plan carefully. The teacher needs to be sure that the system is easy to understand and maintain. A menu that explains to the students how they can earn tokens, and what the tokens may be used to purchase, is helpful. A large visual aid may be placed in the class and/or individual size ones may be given to each child. Praise, encouragement and other forms of social approval should go in tangent with the tokens. Praise allows the students to understand the importance of tokens.

The Token Classroom

Another important aspect of tokens systems is to keep good records. Whether checkbooks, checklist, or tally sheets, it is crucial to be consistent and fair with the tokens. They must mean something to the teacher or they will not mean anything to the class. I have found I prefer a check register to keep up with the tokens. Each student in my class has a deposit/withdrawal register in a check cover and the tokens they earn are added in each hour.

I teach high school so my students earn 10 tokens (dollars) per hour. Of course to earn their pay, they must be on time, complete all assignments and follow directions. Tokens may be taken if they use profanity, are disrespectful or are inappropriate. Because they can lose tokens, it is possible for my students to carry a negative token balance. If this happens, they lose all extra privileges until their book shows a positive balance.

I have been teaching for 27 years and the biggest drawback to the token system is keeping enough rewards for the students to purchase. I write local business, ask for teacher donations, and use my own money to keep a store stocked with prizes. But as stated earlier, tokens can also be used for other items. My students can purchase free time, computer activities, and even buy a “get out of homework” pass. The token system is not complicated and works well with all ages. I prefer the checkbook system, but with younger kids pokers chips, monopoly money, or even play coins purchased from the Dollar Store work.

Tokens System Problems

I would not recommend giving students tokens at the beginning of the day and taking them away for negative behavior. It seems to be more constructive when the students understand the value of what they are earning.

The token system takes planning but once it is set up it is not very time consuming. It is important to let parents know the system and get their feedback. Many times my parents reinforce the token system at home by encouraging their child to complete homework and earn the extra tokens.

The most important feature is to be consistent and fair. If the store lists an item for 30 tokens, then it should stay that for each child. The tokens will lose their meaning if their value is not steady. Because I teach high school, my students may use their tokens whenever they are ready. However, when I taught elementary school I found doing it once a week worked better. It allowed students to save up and buy larger items plus it helped them stay focused on class work. We would do store day every Friday at 2:00 and made almost play time out of it.

Once the token system is all set up and put into place you will find problems and or questions that you need to address. The great thing is that it is adaptable to most classrooms and there is no fixed way to do it. You will notice improved behavior and a decreased amount of time spent on getting students to work. Try it and see if it doesn’t work for you.